NEWS

Cost of living up 7 percent in first months of 2005

Mrs Ioulia Stavrianou successfully runs her household of four on her husband’s pension. On the first of each month, she gets the pension and then draws up the family’s basic budget. «I put the money I will need for utilities in one envelope and that for basic shopping in another,» she says. «A good housewife always knows what she’ll spend on food in a week.» But with each passing year, her budget gets tighter and tighter. «A few years ago I would make these accounts just to avoid wasting money on needless things, but now I have to be very careful just so I don’t end up in debt. I have stopped hoping that I will be able to put something aside,» she says. «I don’t know how the situation has come to this. All I know is that my father, on one salary, was able to provide a home for all three of his daughters. But our children will have to get a mortgage if they ever want a home of their own.» The rising cost of living has pounded nearly all Greek households. Parents can’t leave anything to their children anymore unless they take out huge bank loans. Everything from utilities to basic consumer goods has gone up, while salaries and pensions have stayed low. Today, most people can only afford a basket of groceries instead of a shopping cart full of them. Going out for a meal – or even going out at all – is quickly becoming a thing of the past. According to research by Kathimerini, Greece is competing with some of the European Union’s most expensive countries in terms of cost of living, a fact noted even in foreign reports on Greece as a tourist destination. The cost of living in Greece is increasing at an alarming rate, as one study by the consumer group INKA reveals. In the first months of 2005, the study shows, the monthly cost of living for a four-member family went up by 144 euros – a 7.35 percent increase from 1,959 euros on December 31, 2004 to 2,103 euros on April 30, 2005. Likewise, the monthly cost of living for a single person has increased over the past few months by 57 euros – an 8.07 percent rise from 709.35 euros to 766.57 euros. Consider the case of 27-year-old Athina, who moved back to Athens after spending seven years in London, where she studied and then worked. «Life in London is expensive, that’s true – from rent to taxis and food,» she says. «I thought that if I moved back I would be able to eat more cheaply, furnish my home cheaply, and move around more cheaply. Well, it’s been four months since I’ve been back and not once have I felt this comfort.» «Life here has become a lot more expensive and I only realized it now that I’m back for good. I went to the supermarket, got two bags of shopping, nothing special, and spent 30 euros. In England I would buy the exact same things and spend no more than 17 pounds (approximately 24 euros) and that’s supposed to be the most expensive country in Europe.» The young woman has also noticed a marked difference in the prices of clothing and footwear. «There are the same brands, the same clothes made from the same materials, but they are more expensive here,» she says. «I can’t understand why. I’m having trouble getting by and I’m working for the same company I was with in London earning quite a good salary.» The basic salary in the UK comes to around 1,200 euros, double that in Greece. According to INKA, a salesperson earning an estimated 934 euros a month would have to work 13 hours to be able to afford a pair of brand-name jeans at 75 euros. So it’s hardly surprising that the Chinese clothing stores mushrooming around the country are doing such good business. But these discounts cannot be found at restaurants or the cinema or other entertainment outlets. Spyros Flessas, a private sector employee, says he and his wife went out more often a few years ago. Now they must restrict their outings to once a month because they can’t afford to go out more often. «The purchasing power of my salary was much stronger four or five years ago,» Flessas says. «At the end of each month, I would always have some cash to spare. I could afford to buy a little extra something. Nowadays, not only is there nothing left at the end of the month, but sometimes I have to dip into next month’s budget just to make ends meet. Everything has become so much more expensive and prices just keep shooting up. Look at bread. Before the increase of value-added tax (VAT), bread cost 50 cents. Then, it went up to 55 cents. That’s 10 percent more. A bottle of wine at the supermarket cost 4.48 euros one day and 5.48 euros the next – one whole euro more.» And it gets worse, if you consider rising Greek inflation in the context of Europe, Flessas says. «Last year my wife and I went to Paris for a family matter,» he says. «We ate at a restaurant on our last night and paid 30 euros. The next day we came back to Greece and went to a small local taverna just to grab a bite to eat. We had grilled anchovies and salad, and paid 40 euros. Even the price for a cup of coffee in a central part of Paris, right next to the Opera, cost 3.50 euros when it costs 3.80 euros in Halandri.» Nevertheless, Greeks seem to manage even in this unsettling financial climate. «The secret lies in home cooking,» Mrs Stavrianou says. «With the 7 euros it costs to order a pizza, you can make a lovely bolognese and have it for lunch and dinner. Also, the Mediterranean diet is not just good for our health, it’s also good for our pockets. Pulses, for example, are excellent for the budget.» As far as entertainment is concerned, Flessas’s advice is «home gatherings. It’s no joke to say that poverty has strengthened our friendships.»