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I am finishing my taxes, I have a pretty good handle on what it cost us this past year overall for basic living expenses vs past years ... I can tell ya we cut some corners to reduce costs and still spent approx 20% more this year vs the previous one on just basic living expenses

My basic living expenses have been pretty flat for the past couple years. The only real increased spending was in one-time purchases or expenses, not ongoing stuff.

The price of pasta (in all forms) is up from 50-cents per lb (2-3 yrs ago) to about 75-80+cents per lb today. But that is a wheat product, so no surprise there. Hence, the same situtation with cereals, etc.

Chocolate is up (bummer). I *was* able to stockpile a year's supply of coffee ON SALE (*less* than half price) over the 2010 summer <G>.

Gas was down, went up, went down, and is now going back up. And guess what farms use a lot of? Gas/fuel. So, with gas prices up, it is no surprise certain commodity food prices are also up. Plus with increased demand by China and India driving higher prices--it is not just problems in the Middle East. It will likely become higher permanently because the demand IS there and is not going away. Thus, unless the US reduces its own demand for oil, that higher price will impact the consumer directly. Reducing demand for oil in the US (esp gas) will lessen the impact on consumers and boost the economy as a whole.

I have to wonder whether we are actually in the midst (or mist <g>) of some more fundamental changes beyond the obvious recession - recovery thing?

There is fundamental change occurring--but the economy has not yet figured out what that change is/will be. Which is why it *is* in flux (left out the capacitor <g>). Until the boomer retirements begin in earnest (by 2015, but starting in 2012), businesses won't move forward. Once that happens, then major changes will begin to take place--especially where they NEED people (and can NOT automate those jobs out of existence).
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