John Mauldin makes an excellent point regarding inflation perceptions in this week's Thoughts from the Frontline weekly e-letter. In short, consumers pay more attention to the items they buy more frequently and, currently, those are the items that are increasing in price the most.
[H]igh-frequency spending items like gasoline, food, education, and medical care make up 50% of the Consumer Price Index. These are items which we buy on a regular basis. And they are going up at a weighted average rate of 6.8%, a lot higher than the 4% for the CPI as a whole.
The 20% of the CPI which are low-frequency items like furniture, appliances, vehicles, and so on are actually falling at a -0.7% rate. Since OER (equivalent rent) is roughly 30% of CPI and is rising at 2.8%, even as home prices fall the overall rate is about 4%.
Our tendency to notice the price increases in more frequently purchased items more than the drop in less frequent expenditures is known as salience. What we see every day is more visible to us and is on our minds. And because the reality is that those prices are rising much faster than headline inflation, we tend to think inflation is understated.