Against the "better off" message pushed at the Democratic National Convention, there remain some sobering facts: It costs more to be an American in 2012 than it did in 2008 by many key measures.

Prices for health care-related goods and services, higher education and food have all jumped over the last four years, according to the Consumer Price Index.

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Inflation isn't to blame -- in fact, inflation has been remarkably low since 2008 -- but stagnant wages, high unemployment and dropping net worth are making these costs sting more than ever for American households.

"Overall prices have been pretty modest but [consumer pressure has come from weak] wage growth," said Chris Christopher, director of U.S. & Global Consumer Economics for IHS, an information company.

He noted that the price volatility of gasoline especially hurt consumers. "The way people buy gas impacts consumer mood more than any other price other than food prices," he said.

Four years ago this week, gas was only a smidge cheaper than it is today. But over the last four years it has fluctuated wildly, hitting a low of $1.68 per gallon in December 2008 and rising to nearly $4 in April 2012. It surged again this past Labor Day weekend.

Even as some things like milk and vegetables are slightly less expensive when compared to 2008 prices, overall food costs have risen 8.5 percent in the last four years. The cost of meat has jumped significantly since Bush was in the White House: Both bacon and beef prices are up more than 20 percent compared to 2008, according to the Consumer Price Index.

This week, food aid groups issued warnings that shortages could be on the horizon as food prices surge following this summer's drought, which has damaged corn and grain crops.

But not everything is more expensive than it was four years ago: The natural gas boom has kept electricity bills down, while the eurozone crisis and China's weakening economy have also led to lower prices for consumer electronics, according to Christopher.

Still, drowning one's economic sorrows with a glass of whiskey is more expensive today; whiskey prices are up more than 5 percent from 2008.

We have growing affluence around the globe to thank for that. "In places where the economy is doing well like Russia, they start drinking fancy stuff," Christopher said. "There is only so much Scotch whiskey you can produce."

Check out how consumer prices have changed from 2008 to 2012:

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