Rocketing cost of living forces cuts in spending

The rising cost of goods and services is making people think twice before buying.
The rising cost of goods and services is making people think twice before buying.
Image: 123RF

Inflation is rising and has been since March, but most consumers have long been feeling rising prices in their household budgets.

According to data released last week, year-on-year inflation rose from 4.6% in June to 5.1% at the end of July - much as economists expected it would, given the increases in the cost of petrol, food, electricity and water.

Though it may not feel like it, the inflation rate fell throughout last year, reaching a low of 3.8% in March. That doesn't mean prices were reduced - they just increased at a slower rate.

If you don't think you had any relief in your budget, it is probably because your expenses are not in line with those measured for the inflation rate. It measures the increases in a basket of goods and services that reflects what the average South African household buys. Your spending habits are, however, unique to you.

If the amounts you spend on each item differs from the weights used to determine the CPI basket, your personal inflation rate will differ from the official one.

For example, transport makes up about 14% of the basket and education about 2.5%, but you may be spending much more.

If you are young and single, you may be spending more than the average (3.83%) of your money on clothes and inflation for clothes is only 2.2% - lower than the overall rate of 5.1%. Or, if you have stretched your budget to buy a house or are living at home with family to save money, you may be spending more or less than the average of 24% of your budget on housing.

Because our budgets are unique, Stats SA developed a personal inflation calculator. You can find it in the Tools section at the bottom of the Stats SA home page

The calculator allows you to capture the amounts you personally spend on a range of items and then uses the price changes in the official inflation rate to calculate your personal inflation rate.

While this will give you a more accurate indication of your personal inflation rate, it still may not be entirely accurate as the information requested isn't detailed enough.

Food is one item, but your personal food inflation, for example, will be determined by what you eat, which is likely to differ from the average.

If you are trimming your expenses with less meat and more vegetables, for example, your reduced meat intake will be increasing at just 5.6% but your vegetable costs will be rising at 8.8%.

When it comes to imported goods, the weaker rand will also make them more expensive, but stores may or may not pass on all of the changes in costs.

While you may be interested in your own inflation rate, your employer probably won't entertain it. You can, however, try to identify the rate that is most relevant to your employee group and use this when negotiating salaries collectively with your employer. For the rest you need to manage your expenses within your budget.

If you want to know what fellow South Africans are doing to cut costs, consider what data analysts Lightstone reported this week: fuel increases have hit consumers hard and forced them to re-examine their spending. Many only travel when necessary.

Tracking a sample of 250 000 vehicles in more than 500-million trips over the past 12 months, Lightstone found the distances covered in June this year were 8% down on those in July last year.

Trevor Holmes, the managing director at Lightstone Explore, says this indicates that travellers are making alternative travel arrangements such as car-pooling or public transport, or working from home.

Lightstone says it is not going to get better soon as economists predict that the fuel price will rise to R17.90 by the end of this year and up to R20 at the end of 2019.

In response, South Africans are shopping less: Lightstone looked at data from 1000 shopping centres and found visits in the first half of 2018 were 5% lower than the last half of 2017.

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