‘The fruit bowl is emptier and petrol is shocking’: a family’s experience of soaring cost of living

In a deep dive into the finances of the average UK household, a recent article from The Guardian illustrates how the cost-of-living crisis is eroding household finances for families across the country.

Jon Daly has noticed it in the family’s fruit bowl, which isn’t as well-stocked as it used to be. His wife, Jess, has noticed it at the weekends, when the cost of filling the family’s car means thinking twice about long trips out. Inflation has hit the UK, and for households up and down the country rising living costs mean tough choices have to be made about spending.

The most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that in October the cost of living was 4.2% higher than in the same month of 2020. As some countries emerge from lockdown, consumption has increased across the globe, driving up demand for goods and services – and their prices.

Beneath the headline rate of inflation – the highest in almost a decade – are some even steeper price rises for many daily essentials, such as energy. This week, Citizens Advice warned that one in 10 families were facing a financial crisis this winter, and for all but the wealthiest households there are shocks at the checkout or when bills land in the inbox or on the doormat.

A comparison of current prices with those they paid in late December shows peppers, cauliflower, potatoes all cost more now

Jon and Jess, both 35, live in Norwich, where he works for the insurance company Aviva and she works for the University of East Anglia. The couple have an eight-month old daughter, Robin, and a cat called Polly. The family is well-positioned to spot rising prices: they keep a spreadsheet of their expenditure and can track their household finances back to 2018.

But what they have noticed will be familiar to many – and underlines the stark choices facing households as they battle the biggest squeeze on incomes in years. “The main price rises we have seen are food and petrol,” Jess says.

“The cost of petrol is just shocking at the moment.”

The Dalys say they are lucky enough to have choices about what they do with their money.

With both in work, they know they are more fortunate than many families who are on the breadline this winter, forced to rely on food banks and unable to afford to heat their homes.

Like many households, they tend to do a main food shop – every couple of weeks, and either in Morrisons or Asda – then top up with some items from a local corner shop and small supermarket, in their case Tesco.

With a young child and lockdowns to contend with, they have not been able to go out for restaurant meals this year, so their grocery budget accounts for pretty much all of their food spending.

“We don’t eat out any more, so I do like to cook nice things,” Jess says. “I allocate a certain amount to food and we go over it every month at the moment. I look at the budget and where I can cut down costs so we don’t need to scrimp on food.”

The couple don’t eat most meat, which is one saving. But they have noticed rising costs in the things that they do buy. “Fish is expensive,” Jess says. “We really can’t afford to eat fish more than once a month at the moment. You buy a couple of pieces of salmon and it’s £7 or £8.”

Fruit, too, seems pricey, and Jon says he’s noticed that they don’t buy as much these days. A family shopping list they have shared with us shows how some things cost more this month than they did at the start of the year.

A comparison of current prices with those they paid in late December shows peppers, cauliflower, potatoes all cost more now than they did then.

These are all things that vary in price throughout the year but the ONS figures show an upwards trend in the cost of fresh fruit and vegetables since October 2020, with inflation in both categories running at 1.9%.

Source: The Guardian