Transportation costs may not have immediate effects on the prices of other goods, but as they start to build up and the trucking companies' hedges expire, everything gets more expensive.
Here are 11 prices that are sure to rise along with the price of gas:Air travel is, of course, thing number one. Expecting an unusual number of trips to conferences this summer, and watching the price of a barrel of oil tick higher and higher, I snapped up tickets as soon as I had the cash on hand rather than waiting until the almost-last-minute (my usual m.o. is to wait for fare sales).
I needn't have rushed; the last few price increase attempts by airlines haven't yet been "sticky" -- a few airlines will test the water with a $4 or $8 or $10 increase, waiting to see if other airlines on that route match the price before letting it fall back to its former level. But prices have been up between 6% and 17% all year compared to the same time in 2009, and the continued test increases say that airlines will keep pushing the fare envelope.
Fast food. Want burgers and fries? If you're a regular visitor to one of America's finest purveyors of cheap fattening food -- say, a few times a week -- you could end up spending just as much, if not more, at McDonald's and Wendy's than you do for gas. Price increases haven't been announced yet, but it's safe to say that $0.20 or $0.30 more on your favorite menu items isn't out of the question. Depending on your orders and frequency, this could add up to a few hundred dollars a year.
Bananas and potatoes and tomatoes, oh my. Rising produce prices have been a problem almost all year, and bad weather in Mexico is still depressing prices. Canadians saw an especially nasty increase in the price of fruits and vegetables in March, 3.3% sequentially; year-over-year, average nationwide prices for fresh produce were up 9.8% in March. You'll continue to see especially high prices on tropical fruits and those vegetables that are out of season in your neighborhood (think tomatoes and strawberries for most of the U.S.). Reports from local farmers here in Portland, Ore., have me worried that the wet weather is going to mean scary prices for fresh peas and lettuce when they start appearing in the market next month.
Stamps for postcards and packages. You know who uses a lot of gas? The people in the business of delivering letters and packages to your door -- the ones you're ordering online so you don't have to spend money for gas. Well, there's no such thing as free transportation (unless you're a bicyclist or pedestrian, I suppose), and the USPS and its private competitors are going to have to pay more for trucking packages and mail across the great U.S. of A. While regular first-class mail stamps will stay at 44 cents each, postcards will go up a penny; larger envelopes and packages will cost more per ounce, as will mail to some international destinations.
Beef and bacon. We've already seen indications that bacon prices will skyrocket this year; the raw ingredient for bacon, lean pork bellies, is up 50% so far this year. Beef prices are the impetus for Wendy's to raise prices -- they use fresh beef and can't hedge costs quite as easily at McDonald's by stocking up. Even if we don't see any other price pressures this year, the USDA predicts consumers will see 6.5% to 7.5% increase in the price of their meat.
Coffee. From Starbucks to Maxwell House, coffee prices are up as much as 56% since last year. My favorite coffee-and-pizza shop is now a pizza shop alone, thanks to rising coffee prices. The culprit is the skyrocketing price of green arabica beans, the building block of any good coffee. Unseasonable rains and frosts in Mexico and other tropical locales are the culprit; they send the harvest quantities downward and are creating such havoc in the markets that some coffee growers are hoarding beans, hoping for a huge payday to make up for the depressed yields.
Orange juice. Another victim of that unseasonable freeze in tropical areas -- this time, Florida -- Tropicana is raising prices on its orange juice. Prices are expected to go up from 4% to 8%, says Pepsi, its corporate parent. Last year, the company didn't raise prices exactly, but it did downsize its packaging. One of its popular sizes went from 64 ounces to 59 ounces. Next year, will we see 55-ouncers, I wonder? How low can you go?
Chocolate. So, we've got Middle East tensions...two years of bad weather in Florida and Mexico...rising transportation costs...and dwindling supplies of pork bellies. What else could go wrong? In the Ivory Coast, political turmoil has caused cocoa bean costs to go way up. Sugar is more expensive, too; that's what caused Hershey to raise wholesale prices for its chocolate by as much as 9.7%. I don't watch prices of this sort of chocolate closely enough to know how that's impacted Easter candy -- some chocolatiers are absorbing the costs for now, it seems -- but I think I'm going to stock up on my own favorite brand. In desperate times, a girl needs fair trade organic dark chocolate. You know?