Easy to calculate ‘personal’ inflation

National Statistical Committee offers every Belarusian the chance to calculate own consumer price index
By Timofey Vinyaminov

Few can deny their interest in the dynamics of prices for basic goods and services. The topic of rising utility prices, alongside those for food, fuel and public transport, is one seemingly on everyone’s lips. Of course, since everyone’s weekly ‘basket’ differs, estimates offered by the National Statistical Committee apply only to an imaginary average. However, everyone now has the chance to calculate their own index, entering prices for items we buy regularly. The ‘Personal Inflation Calculator’ is available online (via the NSC site) to allow us to compare our ‘basket’ with that used nationally. No doubt, some will find that their situation is somewhat better and others perhaps worse. Those who don’t smoke will be unaffected by price rises on cigarettes, while regular users of public transport manage to avoid hikes on fuel prices.

“It uses the same formula as that of the consumer price index, which collates data on retail prices and service tariffs,” explains the Chief of the General Office of the National Statistical Committee of Belarus, Alexey Yarkovets. “However, this simplified version looks at price changes for personal sets of goods and services.” Calculating inflation, specialists at the National Statistical Committee use two sets of information: data on the structure of expenditure (from a sample survey of farms); and consumer prices in shopping centres. In all, 450 items are monitored across 7,000 trade and service outlets, comprising goods and services with a share of at least a 0.01 percent of consumer expenditure.

After studying the experience of a number of European countries, the National Statistical Committee chose the same model as that used in the UK and Netherlands, rather than the Russian version. Mr. Yarkovets explains, “Our eastern neighbours use prices from the same store every month but this only works if items are available on the shelves. It’s easier to look at how much has been spent on food, or how much on transport or new clothes, as a whole.”

The Belarusian calculator will use the amount of expenditure on various product groups rather than individual prices. So, users simply need to enter the amount spent on meat in one month in total, how much on fruit and vegetables, how much on fuel, and so on. Several periods of comparison are accessible: monthly — for regular expenses; yearly; and every three years — for durable goods and long term services. Expenditure on hairdressing or holidays is likely to fit best in a yearly calculation. In addition, the programme requires users to name their region of residence. Without doubt, prices differ across the nation. Users can save the programme on their home computer to look at how their income is being spent (even viewing within graphs and tables). It will allow us to see our ‘personal’ inflation over various time periods and may even inspire people to alter their spending habits. “If you look at your individual data it may be more accurate than using averages,” notes Mr. Yarkovets.

Data entered into the ‘Personal Inflation Calculator’ won’t be available to outside users, or to the National Statistical Committee, but the latter will monitor use of the programme online. It also welcomes feedback on the usefulness of the innovation and hopes to refine the database to become even more effective. 
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