By Joe Shortsleeve, WBZ-TV

LEOMINSTER (CBS) — By the time you fill up your tank and buy some groceries these days, there usually isn’t much money left over.

Richard from Leominster Declared his Curiosity when he heard reports inflation is pretty much non existent. He asked, “How does the Federal Government determine inflation is flat? Are they on another planet?”

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Don’t tell Linda Banks-Santilli of Waltham there’s no inflation. She feels it as she loads up her trunk after doing some warehouse shopping. “I have noticed lots of increases in prices; gas prices specifically,” she said.

WBZ-TV’s Joe Shortsleeve reports.

But the federal government does say that inflation is at historically low levels.

Jon Gruber, an economist at M.I.T, told us it’s true that inflation is way down. He said the rate is monitored by the Consumer Price Index. “They try to include a representative sample of what people are consuming,” he explained.

Many of the things we depend on most have shown steep declines over time.

For example, compared to 1980 and using real dollars, ground beef is down 32 percent.

Coffee has fallen about 56 percent.

A personal computer has plunged 81 percent.

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If that’s the case, then why do so many of us feel strapped every time we go to the grocery store?

First, there’s the general state of the economy. Gruber explained, “We’ve had this huge decline in our incomes over the past few years, so we feel like we can afford less. I think that it’s less about what’s happening to prices, and more about what’s happening to our incomes.”

The standards for the average consumer have changed too, and what were once luxuries are now considered necessities. Who wants a cup of coffee when they can have a latte?

The average family now spends thousands of dollars a year for high speed internet, cable, and cell phones.

“Now every one has a cell phone and you have to have unlimited texting, but a lot of people still haven’t given up their landlines,” said Gruber.

“20 years ago, if I didn’t have a flat screen TV, it wasn’t a big deal. Now everyone has a flat screen TV,” he added. “We don’t want a constant standard of living. We want an ever improving standard of living.”

Most consumers have a hard time believing overall energy costs have not really gone up all that much compared to 30 years ago. Still one shopper told us, “My main concern is gas, fuel that is steadily creeping up.”

It’s true gas has been spiking lately. Gruber says something like that colors our view of everything else. “They are focusing on the elements that are going up in price. You know, a McDonald’s hamburger is less than a dollar, and when I was a kid a McDonald’s hamburger was 50 cents. It’s not really gone up that much for a lot of things we consume, and I think there’s a natural tendency to focus on those outlying examples that are more expensive.”

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There are a couple of areas that have truly surged over the last couple of decades: health care and higher education.