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Small beans still count

Published May 21, 2022


LAUGHTER erupted on the couch last week.

Twice, in fact.

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Okay, so it was more high-volume hysterical hyena cackling than a happy outburst. However, it was a natural, unforced reaction and not inspired by anything to do with suggestions that we can make ourselves feel happier by faking cheery chuckles.

The source was unexpected. There I was, quietly going about my day job and checking Saturday’s main story. Gloom was descending as the extent of our economic doom was spelt out: fuel up, electricity up (when we have it), food prices soaring, inflation ascending, unemployment disastrous and then, suddenly, there was the line: Saffers must start saving.

My, how the mirth exploded. It was more like a punch in the solar plexus but it did add to the laugh lines.

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The next disbelieving outburst was at the “how”: cut discretionary spending. Who even has that anymore? A suggested action was for Saffers to delay their holidays.

Of course, there will always be some who can swan off to the Maldives without a thought. But seriously?

Fortunately, the separation anxiety the couch would suffer precludes this mad going-on-holiday option. It has always been a bit of an issue, but it’s now terminal. The last time we were separated was for three days some years ago, when my sister, Jan, and I ran off to Kamberg for some quiet time. I’m enormously grateful my last discretionary spending spree was with her and we had a wonderful time.

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When I was in hospital, the fur family would not eat, so I will discretionally cut medical bills and die in my bed. Or on the couch.

Our household has been tightening our belts so much I wish my waist measured up. Or down, really. I would have the most hour-glassy late-middle-aged waist where there is no waist.

The outlandish couch research showing that people who are extraordinarily lucky to have jobs are also feeling the pain was backed this week by a press release. It came from a bank which said it estimated that it took an average of five days for a middle-income consumer ‒ those who earn between R180 000 and R500 000 a year ‒ to spend up to 80% of their monthly salary.

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How do they make it last so long?

Not a second passes after my pay hits my account before the phone lights up with pings telling me the bucks aren’t stopping there. What really irritates me is that, no matter how closely the items have been scrutinised and considered, it’s all stuff that is hardly discretionary. All that was turfed right at the start of Covid.

The press release hit the “no sh*t, Sherlock” peak by saying its finding was one of the indications that the average consumer is stretched financially, with little chance of saving anything.

But as hard as the middle is hurting, we must also step back and translate that into the enormity of the problems felt by people without an income or support system. Remember that to you a packet of maize, beans or rice, a bottle of cooking oil or a packet of pet food, may be small, but for someone else it may mean fending off yet another day of hunger.

Small beans, but they count.

  • Lindsay Slogrove is the news editor

The Independent on Saturday

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