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November 25, 2020

Women bear the brunt of rising cost of living


November 25, 2020

LAHORE: As almost 60 percent of the discretionary spending in a family is done by women, they have been devastated by the unprecedented increase in cost of living during the past two years.

Usually men are the bread earners of a family in Pakistan, but it is the responsibility of the women to manage the household budget within the income earned by their men. In cities, women also work and supplement the family income, still the decision of what to buy and where to spend money largely lies with them.

Men relegate the responsibility of managing monthly budgets to women because they are smart bargainers, better judge of quality, and are aware of the buying priorities. Retailers know that selling substandard products to women is difficult as they research their purchases carefully.

Women have an intelligent sense for the worth of the product and a comprehensible sense of their own preferences. Women make quality products instantly successful, while flawed products become junk immediately after its launch. This perhaps is the reason that we see more women in advertisement campaigns of even products that women do not use.

Women are quick to adjust to the changes in incomes. In good times they save discreetly to spend on rainy days.

They have the ability to adjust to changing resources more quickly than men. In case of financial constraints, they set the priorities where the resources need to be used first.

Unfortunately, the last two years of misgovernance has jolted most housewives. They are finding it hard to balance their budgets.

Their men and children balk when any of their needs is not fulfilled. The infightings at homes have increased. Violence against women has also increased in these testing times.

The bread earners that have not seen any decline in income cannot comprehend why their women are unable to balance their monthly family budget.

Those that have seen incomes reduced (there are many) also blame their women for being unable to adjust to lower incomes the way they did in the past.

Women are more depressed than men. They realise that most of their men work to the best of their ability.

They toil hard in the day but when they come back from work, they want some peace of mind.

When children tell them that the books and stationery school has not been purchased, they get depressed because earlier these needs were taken care of by their wives from the monthly money they provided them.

When they ask their wives, they are told that most of the money has been consumed in buying rations and paying utility bills (almost doubled in the last two years). This frustrates them as they do not have any additional resources. This triggers tension between husband and wife although it is not the fault of any one of them.

All this is happening despite the fact that women cast an eagle eye on price and value. They evaluate the quality minutely before buying.

They have an idea of the retail and stock price of the product and they know how to bargain for the best price. In cities, middle-class women work hard to live a quality, balanced and independent life.

They are smart bargainers and adopt well defined strategies for the things they want to buy.

They save as much money as possible. All these qualities and expertise are of no use when the prices go out of reach.

This perhaps is the reason that the ruling party is more unpopular among women than men.

In a typical Pakistani household, bulk of the discretionary spending is in the hand of women. Men usually have a say when it comes to buying furniture, television sets, other home appliances and things like buying a car or a house.

Housewives from middle class families have altered their grocery buying as the prices heat up. Instead of processed chicken for instance, they buy chicken meat from the neighborhood.

They then process the meat into different products and freeze them. In the process they realise that the homemade burger patty has higher protein content than branded burger patties.

Branded chicken patties have 19-25 percent chicken, while the rest are cheaper additives. Home-made patties have 80 percent chicken and 20 percent additives.

Same is the case with other branded chicken products. It may well reduce consumption of branded processed foods when normalcy returns in prices. Some households have shifted from branded water to the water they can get from filtration plants installed in neighbourhoods by different NGOs.

All these changes have been happening on household level, but they impact the overall consumption and spending patterns in an economy, especially during a downturn.