By Hayley Doyle
There was nothing remarkable about my weekly shop at the supermarket the other day.
We’d just come back from our holiday and had an empty fridge, so it was a bigger shop than usual. But, like I say, unremarkable. Only something was different. A small shift had happened. I found myself being extra cautious about what I threw into the trolley. In particular, certain brands and bulk buying. Normally, I wouldn’t think twice about getting my solid essentials, ie the staple orange-coloured “foods” that my kids eat, and then plonk an extra box of fish fingers in, you know, just in case. But I flinched at the actual cost of 10 frozen slithers of cod in breadcrumbs. Had they always been that expensive?
The cost of living is closing in on us all like moving walls in a computer game. Even if some people are lucky enough not to worry too much about it right now, the word is firmly on the street. It can’t be escaped. From the biggest companies to the smallest businesses, change is coming. Fast. Everywhere is becoming more expensive and everything is coming at us with a higher cost. As figures rise up and up, slowly, we’re all sinking. For those at the top, they have staff to consider. And for those further down the line, already just about getting by on their salary, how will they survive? How many adjustments can a family make realistically?
Even as I write this, I’m sat in my local coffee shop, and I can’t help but pick up on other conversations on the tables around me. The coffee shop is small, cosy. Customers do chat, loudly. I don’t mean to eavesdrop, but hey, it happens. And I’ve literally just heard a woman say, “Yes, I am worried. But we just won’t go out for dinner anymore. We’ve made that decision.” Just as everybody was once talking only about that coronavirus, now everybody is only talking about this. During my holiday last week, the chit-chat around the dinner table often swayed to where we would be financially this time next year. Only this morning, I reminded my husband that we needed to pay our childminder her monthly fee, the last chunk before our daughter starts pre-school in September. He replied with, “That’s good.” My instinct was relief; we’d soon be saving what’s been a big outgoing for the past couple of years. But my husband hadn’t finished speaking. What he meant was, that’s good, “because we’ll need that money to go towards our energy bills next year.”
It’s possible that we could be feeling the effects of this crisis even more since the world has opened its doors again after the pandemic. While we’re not out of the woods with Covid-19, we’re able to live more normally and travel with more ease. Holidays are being booked. Families are reuniting after years apart. All of those weddings, birthdays, anniversaries are being celebrated in abundance, partying like there’s no tomorrow. Because we know what it’s like to be told, “No, you can’t”. And now, because we can, come rain or come shine, we will damn well do it…
Which also comes at a cost.
But we spent the best part of two years at home, didn’t we? Our money went on online shopping - some more than others, I’m sure - but really, that was it. Now, we’re eating out again, seeing friends, going on weekends away and filling our hearts and souls with live music and theatre. We’re taking the kids on much-needed day-trips; even a soft play involves buying an overpriced coffee and a couple of snacks and suddenly, that’s a pretty pricey morning out. And all of this has hit us with the rising costs of living.
It’s difficult. We don’t want to hold back. There’s such a push on social media for protecting our mental health and living your best life. Financial worry stands firmly in the way of making anything enjoyable because you’ll always be burdened with the possible consequences of your actions. The guilt. The what-if I didn’t? Or what-if I did? But what’s the alternative? To shut ourselves away? To stop living?
It reminds me of that fantastic, but poignant Netflix drama, Maid. Honest, painful and at times warmly humorous, it tells the story of Alex, a young domestic abuse victim and her baby girl trying to make ends meet. With every cent that Alex spends, she sees her small savings pot decline. As a viewer, we see the figures on screen, hear the jangle of coins. For Alex, it’s all she can see with every breath she takes. Without money, she and her daughter have nothing. Nothing. They cannot move one step forward. Once she has money, they at least have something. They can get from A to B. At one point, Alex uses her last couple of dollars to buy her kid a toy mermaid because in that moment, it was more important than food. And this TV series isn’t fiction. It’s based on a true story. Alex and her daughter exist everywhere.
So what’s going to give? I just don’t know. I have no answers. I’m not here to write about government plans and schemes, or what the opposition is saying they’ll do to help the situation. It’s all hearsay, anyway. What I do know, is that the rising costs of living are as real as the continuous conversations surrounding me. I’m shocked at the price jump in butter. I’m grateful I don’t need to buy nappies for my kids anymore. But honestly, I’m burying my head. I do tighten my belt if work is quiet. Then again, I always say, yes, to dinner with friends. I never swoon over luxury items. But I do constantly think about my next holiday, even if it’s almost a year away. I’m not making many major changes right now.
Perhaps, I should.
Maybe I will continue to think twice about buying extra bits during my weekly supermarket shop. I guess it’s time to wake up. I’m a freelancer and people are already asking me for my lowest possible rates…