Trying to balance the books is just becoming impossible for far too many families. Finding ways to cope requires some tough choices.
One of the problems is that we have developed some poor shopping strategies. Supermarkets very cleverly organise their products to tempt people to buy items not originally on their shopping list. One obvious ploy is BOGOF – Buy One Get One Free. Thus we end up buying two items when we really only needed one. Sweets displayed at the cash desk look very inviting as we wait our turn. It is so easy just to pick up a chocolate bar as we stand in line.
Alcohol is cheaper by far in supermarkets. Frequently cans are sold in packets so it is easier to buy four or six rather than a single one. Frequently bottles of wine are displayed at a reduced price, although are still not cheap. Brightly coloured labels are more eye-catching and thus more tempting. Lower priced items are not at eye level, but often on the bottom shelf. Buying a large packet may look like a bargain until you check the cost per 100 grammes and see that they are not as cheap as you might expect. One of the more annoying things is to want to buy just one lettuce, but be confronted with two wrapped in plastic. The temptation to rip open the packaging is strong. The same goes for onions, carrots and other vegetables. Buying basic ingredients and cooking them yourself can save money. It is much healthier even if more time consuming than buying a ready made meal to put in a microwave oven. Going with a shopping list and sticking strictly, though, requires serious willpower to overcome inevitable temptation at every turn in the supermarket environment.
Going without meals to try to save money sounds good financial sense. The trouble with this is that we then get very hungry and probably overeat the next time we have a meal. It is obviously not a healthy option. Take ready meals. Much of what they contain are far from ideal. With rents and mortgage payments ever increasing, balancing the household budget becomes very difficult. Trying to save for a holiday becomes an impossible dream. The now almost essential requirement to own a mobile phone is a very expensive outlay. Many of us have managed for most of our lives without them. Today we are encouraged to get a smartphone and then add a million apps so that we can function in the modern world. Owning a mobile is not just like having a landline; every member of the household has to have one, a massive drain on budgets. When confronted by a bank cashier to get something sorted on her mobile phone, my wife told her she did not own one. The look of disbelief was clear to see. How on earth was my wife to cope in the modern world without such an essential item? Buying into TV platforms to watch sport is a large monthly outlay that can be avoided. There are thus many ways that we can try to live within our means. The ever-growing number of foodbanks and food hubs demonstrates that even with the most careful use of scarce resources lots of people still cannot manage. The move to provide all primary school children with a hot meal would seem to be an essential step if we are to avoid growing numbers of starving children. If only it was easy to make ends meet. There are no easy solutions. In an advanced industrial country we should be ashamed that this has come to pass.