Hide your wallet! Secure your piggy bank! Stash a little cash under your mattress! Looks to me like you're going to need it all-and maybe sooner rather than later.
Oil prices, the experts say, are headed north. Oil has lollygagged around $75 a barrel for a long time now, but get ready for the slippery stuff to slide up to $100 and beyond. And as oil goes up, so will everything that uses oil to become what it is. That's almost everything you can think of-the vinyl fender of a new car, the hard plastic frame around a 48-inch widescreen TV, or gas for a trip to Grandma's house for Christmas.
Interest-the cost of using someone else's money for a little while-is also headed up. That's partly because there's no room left for it to go down. For several years now, the Federal Reserve has pretended that things are better than they are, and that we can all just go on spending money we don't have. And it has made that easier by keeping interest rates artificially low. But there comes a limit, and now we've crossed that boundary line. When you keep on pretending, things get riskier and riskier. When risks increase, lenders want a better return on their investment. It may have been fun to enjoy the bargain-but the fun's probably over.
So the widescreen TV itself will cost more, and it will cost more to put it on your credit card. But that's just the beginning.
Taxes are also sure to go up. I know we've worried about that for years. But over the last generation, we've done two profound things that have snatched from the government all the options it used to have to raise or lower taxes. On the one hand, we've borrowed so much that there's almost no more money to borrow. When they can't borrow money, governments print it. But perhaps more significant, while we used to excuse about one citizen in five from federal taxes, we've increased that now to more than half of all citizens. So the huge repayment assignment now has to be divvied up among substantially fewer people. Do the math-but don't expect it to be pretty.
Healthcare, everybody agrees, will cost you more next year. That will be true if we get Obamacare at full dosage; it will also be true if we get Obamacare lite. Think of it this way: If there are 40 million Americans who weren't getting care last year but will get it next year, the demands on the time of the healthcare professionals who look after them will be acutely increased. Amending the law of supply and demand is beyond the power even of this arrogant Congress, and the price of such increasingly scarce services can go in only one direction.
Given all that, maybe 2010's a good year not to buy a new car but a used one instead. Problem is, the price of used cars has jumped along with everything else. Seems that Uncle Sam's "Cash for Clunkers" program was something of a clunker itself. "Cash for Clunkers" deliberately and radically depleted the nation's availability of good used vehicles-and that pesky supply and demand factor just keeps imposing itself.
Wherever you stand on increasing our forces in Afghanistan, you'll have to concede that war is expensive. In round numbers, by some estimates, it costs us a million dollars per soldier per year to send someone to Iraq or Afghanistan. The church where I worship has six young men and women in various stages of deployment-and I'm glad the attendant costs haven't been assigned to our church treasurer.
Even the local thrift stores are hiking their prices for used clothing.
Global warming was supposed to prompt comprehensive price increases-like forcing you to pay a premium for those curlicue light bulbs. But remarkable reports are coming from England about the blatantly dishonest "research" the global warming "experts" have given us (see "Cooking up a heat wave," Dec. 19, 2009). Maybe we'll be cut a little slack on that front.
But mostly-up, up, and up. Yet even in the context of all that, let me tell you how God is still good. The cost of His mercy and grace hasn't gone up a penny in recent years. And the cost of tithing, I'm told, has also been remarkably stable.