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Inflation Calculator

2024-04-26 // Nick End, Founder

Open Inflation Calculator

Our inflation calculator in Row Zero lets you enter any number of expenses and calculates the equivalent value of the U.S. dollar in any year from 1913 to 2023. The calculator uses yearly average CPI data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. For more information, continue reading or use the table of contents to skip to a specific section.

  1. What is inflation?
  2. How is infaltion measured?
  3. How is the Consumer Price Index determined in the United States
  4. How can you use CPI to calculate the value of money in two different years?
  5. Is inflation good or bad?

What is Inflation?

Inflation is the general increase in the price of goods and services in the economy over a period of time. As general prices rise over time, one unit of currency buys fewer goods and services. It is typically measured as a percentage change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is an index that tracks the average prices paid by consumers for a basket of goods and services.

There are several factors that lead to inflation, including increases in demand for goods and services, increases in the cost to produce goods and services, increases in the money supply, and expectations about future prices.

How is Inflation Measured?

Inflation is usually measured using a consumer price index (CPI). A consumer price index is the price of a weighted average market basket of consumer goods and services.

In the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) measures inflation through a series of price indices. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) measures changes in the prices paid by consumers for a basket of goods and services over time. The BLS collects price data from thousands of retail outlets and service establishments across the country to compile the CPI. The basket of goods and services includes items such as food, housing, clothing, transportation, medical care, and recreation. The CPI is calculated on a monthly basis and is used to track inflation at the consumer level. There is also a “core CPI” that leaves out certain commodities that have highly volatile prices, like food, energy, and housing. The idea behind excluding these commodities is that because their prices can fluctuate a lot in the short-term due to changes in supply and demand, they may skew CPI data.

How is the Consumer Price Index Determined in the United States?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics uses the following steps to determine the Consumer Price Index:

  1. Basket of Goods and Services: The CPI starts by defining a "basket" of goods and services that represents typical spending patterns of urban consumers. This basket includes items such as food, housing, clothing, transportation, medical care, recreation, education, and communication.
  2. Price Data Collection: The BLS collects price data for thousands of items in the CPI basket from various retail outlets, service providers, and other sources across the country. These data are collected on a monthly basis.
  3. Weighting: Each item in the CPI basket is assigned a weight based on its relative importance in the average consumer's spending. For example, housing costs may have a higher weight than recreation expenses since consumers typically spend more on housing.
  4. Price Index Calculation: The CPI is calculated using a price index formula. This formula compares the current cost of the basket of goods and services to the cost of the same basket in a base period, which is assigned a value of 100. The percentage change in the index from the base period represents the inflation rate.
  5. Index Components: The CPI is composed of various components, including:
    • Core CPI: Excludes volatile items like food and energy to focus on underlying inflation trends.
    • All Items CPI: Includes all items in the basket, providing a comprehensive view of inflation.
    • CPI-U: Represents the overall urban population.
    • CPI-W: Represents urban wage earners and clerical workers.
    • Chained CPI: Adjusts for changes in consumer behavior in response to price changes.
  6. Use in Economic Analysis: The CPI is widely used by policymakers, economists, businesses, and the public to monitor inflationary trends and assess purchasing power, adjust wages, benefits, and tax brackets for inflation, and make informed decisions about monetary policy, investment strategies, and budget planning.

Overall, the CPI is a crucial tool for understanding changes in the cost of living and its impact on consumers and the economy.

How Can You Use CPI to Calculate the Value of Money in Two Different Years?

You can use CPI to calculate the value of money in 2 different years by using the formula below.

Amount in Year 2 = Amount in Year 1 * (Consumer Price Index in Year 2 / Consumer Price Index in Year 1)

Is Inflation Good or Bad?

Generally, moderate inflation in the 2-3% range is considered beneficial for the economy because it encourages people and businesses to spend money, stimulates demand for goods and services, and helps debtors by slowly eroding the real value of debt. However, high inflation and deflation are generally considered bad for the economy. High inflation reduces purchasing power, distorts decision making, and harms savers and fixed-income earners. Negative inflation (deflation) reduces consumer spending and increases the real burden of debt, making it harder for borrowers to repay loans.

This is why for the last few decades, in the United States and most other countries, the government has made controlling inflation one of its primary goals of monetary policy. In the United States, the Federal Reserve tries to maintain an inflation target of 2% for the economy as part of its monetary framework to meet its mandate of keeping prices stable over time.


Inflation can have a significant impact on investments. For example, during periods of high inflation, assets like stocks and real estate may serve as hedges against inflation, as their values can appreciate over time. However, fixed-income investments like bonds may lose value in real terms if their returns do not keep pace with inflation. To better inform investments and compare the relative cost of products over time, use an inflation calculator to make sure your money isn't losing value.

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