How to Fight the Inflation 'Thief' When You Invest

It's been called a "thief" and it's the bane of Wall Street and Main Street alike. But inflation, that old scapegoat, is a recurring part of our economy, like it or not. That doesn't mean, though, that you have to grin and bear it. You can fight back and help preserve your assets, even make them grow.

Today, inflation is a mere shadow of what it once was: 4.3 percent on the Consumer Price Index versus nearly 15 percent in 1980.

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There is small chance that the U.S. will suffer through anything like that in the foreseeable future. Still, it makes sense to have some inflation-fighting assets in your investment portfolio.

Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities — or TIPS — are bonds that adjust to match inflation. The principal of a TIPS increases or decreases with the Consumer Price Index for Urban Consumers, published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since TIPS pay interest twice a year at a fixed rate, if the principal increases, so do your payments.

When the TIPS mature, you reap the adjusted or original principal, whichever is greater.

You can buy TIPS for a minimum of $1,000 through a broker or a bank or directly from the Treasury by going online.

Or you can invest in a mutual fund that buys TIPS, like Vanguard's Inflation-Protected Securities (VIPSX) or Pimco's Real Return Fund (PRRDX) .

Another shield against inflation is the Series I savings bond, also issued by the U.S. Treasury, which you can buy for as little as $50. Unlike the traditional savings bonds you received as a kid (Series EE), which paid you twice your principal at maturity, Series I bonds pay a fixed rate of interest plus a rate based on inflation that is adjusted every six months. Interest is paid monthly and added to the bond's principal. You get the cash when you redeem the bond. Current issues are paying 2.4 percent.

Commodities and real estate are two investments that generally track inflation over the long run. But they can fluctuate wildly, regardless of inflation, and don't make great long-term bets. They are best used as a means to diversify your holdings.

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