The cost of living has risen 5.7 percent in the past year, but if you avoid things with rapidly rising prices (tobacco and airline tickets, for instance), don't need medical care and shop the sales for apparel and groceries, your own cost of living is rising at a considerably slower rate.

Just about all big-ticket items - cars, houses, furniture, electronics - are on sale these days. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that some elements of its consumer price index are falling.Why isn't the index itself declining? Blame the stuff whose prices constantly defy gravity: health care, personal services such as haircuts and dry cleaning, entertainment, transit fares and utility bills. For the year ahead, the news looks better: The official inflation rate in 1991 should run about 3.5 percent.