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Under pressure: ‘Why our R4 000 grocery budget is not a luxury’

The rising cost of living is seeing many people carefully choosing what to spend their money on. Picture: Pixabay

The rising cost of living is seeing many people carefully choosing what to spend their money on. Picture: Pixabay

Published Aug 2, 2022


The story of a Durban couple who shared their monthly budget and struggle with a R4 000 grocery bill has garnered much attention, with many people recognising their plight and others lambasting them for “bragging” about their luxurious lifestyle.

The couple, Marian and Lisa Cunningham*, live in Umbilo, Durban, and have three children – a son who has special needs and two pre-teen daughters.

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The original article published by IOL yesterday received hundreds of comments on the IOL News Facebook page, many of which had merit and others which the family claims were missing the point of the article. To help clarify their situation and the extent to which inflation and rising interest rates are impacting families from all backgrounds and income class levels, they have responded to some of these comments:

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“Something is definitely wrong in that house hold, they really need help R4000. For groceries alone? Too many cooks in that kitchen , and not budgeting correctly.” – Florence Longman

The R4 000 allocated towards groceries is not for food alone. As we stated, this amount is to cover all household expenses, including food. For example, this includes household cleaning products, washing powder, sanitary items, toiletries – including toothpaste, toilet paper, deodorant etcetera, as well as our meals. In a seven-day week we spend R142 a day which helps, and an eight-day week the amount is R125 a day. Every day five people have to eat breakfast, lunch – the kids needs lunches sent to school, and five people eat dinner. And have you seen the price of cereals lately? Despite some people’s comments, we do not eat takeaways or shop at Woolworths. We shop at Spar.

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“They are not in need, speak to those who earn R4000 per month to see what a battle putting food on the table really is.” – Magda Flores

We are by no means comparing ourselves and our struggles to the plights of others. We are well aware that there are families who do not earn our salaries and have to make do with so much less than we have. In the same way, there are families who earn more and are also struggling. In the article we do indicate that our joint income would be considered a luxury for many; we are not bemoaning our income. We are merely highlighting that, even though we are professionals and could be considered a middle-class family, we are struggling with the rising costs of living.

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“The only thing excessive here is the credit card and electricity this is something they can try and cut back on.” – Magda Stahl

The credit card is not something we attained in order to live a life of privilege. The card was applied for a couple of years back purely because we had an emergency that we needed to fund immediately. The amount was significant. We are paying that back still and only use the card for expenses that arise suddenly and are not in our budget. For example, when our children were selected for sports teams at school and needed certain kit and equipment, or when they are in need of certain clothing items. We also have to pay cash for any medical consultations. This is not in the budget and so paid for with the credit card.

We do not use much electricity, and only use the stove to cook dinners. We also switch our geyser off during the day. We send our readings each month and have our meter read when the municipality sends someone. We aim to get a pre-paid meter, but in order to do this we need to pay off our bill in full first, which we are trying to do.

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“Get rid of pets move closer to school kids can share rooms and walk to school.” – Refilwe Masopoga

Unfortunately our pets are our family so we cannot just take them to the SPCA as some readers said we should. Our daughters do share a bedroom. Our fourth bedroom is tiny and used as a home office – only big enough for one of us to work in. The school is too far to walk to. And a monthly rental of R7 000 is not high as many people said it was. In many areas you cannot even rent a granny flat or one-bedroom apartment for less than R6 000.

“Where is medical aid payments? Vehicle payments? If the vehicles are paid in full, you can pay way less on insurance. We pay half of that on unlimited Fibre.” – Lizelle Kotze

Our medical aid is about R9 000 a month for the family, and our contribution is deducted from one of our salaries, with the other half being covered by our employer. So it was not included in our net income as it has already been deducted.

Our medical aid ‘savings account’ is depleted early in the year as the monthly prescription medication has to also come out of this cost. So we have to now pay for any medications and doctor’s consults with cash.

Our vehicles are both fully paid, and not luxurious either. Both are 2012 models of very average cards – one a Hyundai sedan and the other a Nissan hatchback. Our fibre cost is R1 000 a month, uncapped. The R500 data is used to top-up our cellphones as often we have to conduct work meetings while waiting outside their schools, or being outside of the home.

“Their lifestyle is a problem, not the income.” – Mondli Smindlo Dube

We hardly live a luxurious lifestyle. There are no holidays, or spend on entertainment. We go to the beach and public parks on the weekends, and we pack our own food to take with. And in response to other comments, we do not smoke, drink, or have DSTV.

“Breed what you can feed, if you can't afford to feed yourself, then don't be breeding, starting a family is a choice, you don't fall pregnant.” – Michael Soane

We can afford to feed ourselves, and our children do not go without anything. They have a good education, medication and medical aid for any hospital visits, clothing, a roof over their heads, lots of love, and three meals a day, plus snacks. The point of us sharing our story was not to paint ourselves as victims, or for publicity, or claim to be worse or better off than anyone else; it was merely to show how the costs of living have left our family with little choice on what we can cut back on. Everyone is struggling financially, and yes, to different extents. But as the saying goes: “While we are all in the same storm, our boats are different.” And this is our boat for the time being.

Thank you to those who offered us good, practical advice.

* Names changed for privacy