What the weakening dollar means to you

The U.S. dollar recently fell to its lowest level in six weeks. Unless you are about to travel outside the country, you might not immediately notice the impact of a weakening dollar, but if it continues to slide it could have a profound effect on your investments and your budget.

A weak dollar can lead to inflation, which would be especially damaging to savings at a time when bank rates are extraordinarily low. This may be a good time to consider some ways of protecting yourself against a weakening U.S. dollar.

Why the dollar is slipping

The value of the dollar has slipped in recent weeks when measured against a broad spectrum of foreign currencies. Currencies can be hard to track -- it's a little like judging someone else's speed when you are in a moving car. However, when the dollar is falling relative to a variety of other currencies rather than just one, it is fair to say this is a sign of weakness in the dollar rather than strength in all those other currencies. Notably, prices on commodities such as gold and oil have also been rising -- another sign that the value of the dollar is weakening.

The root cause of the dollar's woes are concerns about the U.S. economy. One after another, reports on economic indicators have been disappointing so far this year. Among other things, the struggling economy is leading investors to speculate on whether the Federal Reserve will have to rethink its monetary policy.

Not-so-easy money

In each of its last two meetings, the Fed has announced that it is beginning to tighten monetary policy by cutting back on its quantitative easing program. The thought was that the economy was strong enough to survive without that artificial stimulus. However, if growth continues to sputter, the Fed may have second thoughts about scaling back quantitative easing.