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      Food, gas drive up U.S. consumer prices

      Americans feeling the pinch from increased food and gas prices.

      COLUMBIA (WACH, AP) -- Rising gas and food prices pushed the U.S. cost of living to its largest year-on-year gain in 15 months.

      According to data released Friday by the Labor Department, the consumer-price index increased 0.5 percent in March.

      While the economy is hurting most Americans, it's helping financial experts do what they love.

      I think people are getting to a point where they realize they have to make a change, says financial advisor Gabriel Penfield.

      It seems that we equate a budget with not able to do things, adds certified financial planner Patrick Burgess. So what I advise my clients to do is give them permission to make certain expenses, but just create some limits on those.

      With the national unemployment figure at 8.8 percent and wages falling, Midlands residents like Rob McCue are learning to plan ahead.

      Things have definitely changed, says McCue, who owns Get Bent Massage and Stretching. Gas prices made me really think about how I get around town.

      Friday's consumer-price index showed fuel costs up nearly 6 percent in March, which is almost 28 percent higher than a year ago.

      It gives me an understanding of when my parents and grandparents said ~I remember when, TM McCue says.

      But it doesn't stop at the pump, food costs also rose last month 0.8 percent.

      While the reading of both commodities is in line with economists expectations, Penfield believes the additional expenses aren't something everyone has budgeted.

      We really have to prioritize what it is they are spending money on."

      Both Penfield and Burgess agree that consumers need to be aware of what could take them from a lifeboat of financial security to a sea of red ink.

      (The Associated Press contributed to this report.)