Tracking Inflation: Consumer Price Index Explained – Infographic

The U.S. government tracks inflation in many ways, and one popular way is the Consumer Price Index (CPI). This index is then used to adjust everything from income tax brackets to Roth IRA contributions limits to pension payouts to the return on inflation-linked bonds (TIPS). There are then sub-indices for different groups and regions.

Each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics gathers 84,000 prices in about 200 categories — like gasoline, bananas, dresses and garbage collection — to form the Consumer Price Index, one measure of inflation. [...] The categories are weighted according to an estimate of what the average American spends, as shown below.

The NY Times put together a nice interactive infographic that helps explain the ingredients of the CPI and their relative importance:

You can hover your mouse, and zoom in/out as you like. Does it match your personal spending and inflation rates? Probably not, so it’s good to note the differences. For instance, actual housing prices are not included in the CPI, but instead “owner’s equivalent rent” (24% of CPI) is tracked which is defined as what homeowner’s would pay to rent their home. And once I get my mortgage paid off, I’ll be more worried about other things like health insurance (only 6% of CPI).

Link via the Betterment Blog (Betterment review upcoming).


  1. It looks like a stained glass window.

  2. Unfortunately spending time analyzing the CPI is a waste. CPI is nothing more than a government hack job to reduce their required outlays for programs like social insecurity, military retirement, etc. If you want to see true numbers of inflation, unemployment, etc. spend some time reading John Williams stuff at, I think many would find this site matches more of the gut instinct they have had about why the government numbers have never ‘felt’ quite right.

    Good day.

  3. The CPI is meaningless at the personal level. What the number fails to account for are choices in spending. The key/best number each person has to track is ones OVERALL spending (ie budget). The CPI can go up 10%, but if you changed your spending choices and didnt go out or skipped a vacation, your BUDGET maybe went up 2-5%. When planning retirement spending, it is PERSONAL inflation that has to be managed, not CPI.

    I checked my budget numbers from 1995 on. My PERSONAL inflation rate turned out to be 3.75% per year. By CPI numbers, the “official” inflation over that time was 2.4% per year. If I live by CPI numbers, my retirement planning will be out of whack….


  1. [...] by the US government that pay interest which is linked to inflation. Inflation is measured by the Consumer Price Index [...]

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