As we embark on the second half of 2024, stock trading volumes are low but interest in travel is starting to perk up. At the same time, election-year news is gaining traction in the media and apparently, somebody is trying to spin inflation as a “fun” phenomenon.

You’re surely heard of stagflation and maybe you know about “shrink-flation,” in which companies offer smaller-sized products for the same price. Now, as bizarre as this might sound, the media is evidently trying to add “fun-flation” to the financial lexicon.

It’s been several years since the COVID-19 lockdowns, but it seems that U.S. consumers are still expressing their pent-up demand for travel and entertainment experiences. According to Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst at LendingTree, the COVID-19 pandemic “changed the way so many people view their spending, and the result is that people are more focused on the ‘right now’ than thinking about 40 years from now.”

This “right now” mindset helps to explain why Americans carry a mind-boggling $1.13 trillion in credit card debt. It also accounts for the “fun-flation” phenomenon, in which U.S. consumers are willingly paying higher prices for live events as they seek to make up for the experiences they lost during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

It’s another sign that the government’s claim that consumer prices rose only 3.3% year over year in May doesn’t tell the whole story. Oil prices happened to decline temporarily during the reporting period, so this skewed the calculus and gave a false impression that the Federal Reserve somehow “defeated” inflation.

Courtesy: @FIREDUpWealth

Meanwhile, in the real world, middle-class Americans can barely afford to take their families to fast-food restaurants anymore. McDonald’s has given up on its dollar menu, and multiple fast-food chains are hoping that limited-time $5-to-$7 “value” meals will entice consumers back to their restaurants before they hike the prices again.

Fast-food meals might be considered a necessity for time-constrained, budget-conscious parents who have to feed hungry kids. In contrast, movies, theaters, concerts, and sporting events are discretionary categories and perhaps even luxuries, given the price inflation of these experiences.

The government and Federal Reserve can brag about 3.3% inflation all day long, but shockingly, admission prices for U.S. sporting events surged 21.7% year over year in May. It used to be a common American family event to attend a sporting event, but apparently those days are over.

Attending movies, going to concerts, and enjoying an event at a theater also used to be a reasonably affordable luxury for families in America. These weren’t things you’d do every weekend, but they were bonding opportunities that created lifelong memories.

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    I’m not suggesting that consumers are entitled to these experiences, but making them inaccessible seems like an act of cruelty. With price inflation for movies, theaters, and concerts rising nearly 17% in just three years, one might assume that Americans have no choice except to stay home and watch Netflix movies every weekend.

    Courtesy: CNBC

    Nevertheless, Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at Bankrate, observed that there’s “still a lot of demand for out-of-home entertainment.” This, to a certain extent, “reflects a ‘you only live once’ mentality that intensified during the pandemic,” Rossman explained.

    In other words, nothing’s going to stop many Americans from going out and having fun – not even “fun-flation.” AAA expects 70.9 million people to hit the road for the July Fourth week this year, up 5% year over year, which would make it the busiest Independence Day holiday on record.

    Also, a record 5.4 million people are expected to fly this year, which is good for the airline industry but it raises questions about whether Americans are saving as much money as they ought to. Believe it or not, a Bankrate survey indicated that 38% of adults plan to take on more debt to travel, dine out, and see live entertainment this year.

    So, the “money doesn’t buy happiness” concept doesn’t seem to capture the zeitgeist of 2024. There’s nothing “fun” about “fun-flation,” but it’s evidently here to stay and for the time being, many among us are willing to play now and pay later.

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