Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Rising Cost of Living

Up, up and away. Fuel prices, food prices, the sky's the limit these days. My average monthly grocery bill for the past 6 months is nearly double what it was a year ago, but the amount of meat and vegetables purchased monthly has only increased by about 30%. Granted, before Little A was born, we didn't have a daily girl to feed, nor did I have all my meals at home as I have been doing since, but every trip to the supermarket lately sees prices of basic commodities rising.

As a single-income family, my role is to budget our expenses and make sure we stay within reasonable limits. While my husband's job seems impressive, the pay is not at all what people expect when they hear the name of the prestigious bank he works for, and we do have to live as frugally as possible to make ends meet. No expensive holidays or unnecessary purchases, and it was only after much discussion that we purchased a second, and secondhand, car this year.

Value for Money
I am by nature a bargain hunter. In the days BB (Before Baby) my favourite haunts were secondhand bookshops, where I found many a wonderful treasure, from out of print titles to nearly new books that made great presents. Big A and I have not seen a movie in the cinema for maybe 3 years, opting to wait until the DVD comes out or the film makes it to the small screen. While gift shopping is my weakness, I only buy things on sale, or after making sure I've gotten the best price for my purchase. (I'd like to think I'm not a cheap gift giver though, as my presents are always personalised.)

Likewise with groceries. We shop at 3 different supermarkets because certain things are cheaper at one than another, or not available at all. Kitchen towels and table napkins come from one supermarket, where their own brand of paper products is well-priced and of great quality. Meat and vegetables come from another, though we don't sacrifice our health as I buy good cuts of more expensive meat, believing it's better to eat healthier than pay for heart surgery later. Nappies and other staples come from a third supermarket, the one nearest our home. 

I've long since stopped buying fabric conditioner, and have spent the past year finishing off free samples of beauty products that have accumulated in a drawer over the years, meaning there has been no need to purchase shampoo, conditioner or shower gel for a while. Still, despite these "cost cutting" measures, the monthly supermarket bills have continued to go up.

Hand to Mouth
Despite our frugal lifestyle, there are always blessings to be counted. Our health is the most important factor, so costly vaccines are factored into the budget as needed. A detailed spreadsheet of our expenses to date shows us where there is room to relax and when we have to tighten our belts. Gifts from our families are welcomed - my mother and sisters have pretty much supplied Little A with all the toys, books and clothes he needs for the meantime, and my in-laws like to send batches of pre-cooked food every 2-3 weeks, which makes a change from the dishes our daily girl can make.

We are better off than most. Some people are not lucky enough to have a roof over their heads or food to put on their tables thrice a day. We do know how fortunate we are, and my husband always finds a way to help out those near us who need it most. Our failed experiments in giving Little A formula and vitamins have resulted in the building gardener's children being the recipients of full cans (save one scoop from each) of formula that cost more than some people's weekly wages, and Little A's excess birthday presents were passed on to our daily girl's two nephews. In these hard times, we need to look out for each other as best as we can.

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