Sandra Wekesa @Andayisandra
As he babysits his three-year-old baby, Steve Umeme reminisces how life was 10 years ago. That time when he would just spend his Sunday afternoon taking his children for play dates as his wife attended chamas and wouldn’t have to worry if that would spoil his budget.
He recalls how simple life was when he was starting his family in 2007. Just Sh300 would take him and his wife for two days. “We started life in Murang’a, and back then, life was so simple. We used to do shopping that would take us a whole month. So on a normal day, Sh300 would see us buy a quarter of meat at Sh100. Fruits and vegetables were available in the farm since we were staying in the village. We had no children then. So we would effortlessly afford basic needs and other amenities,” he says.
In 2009, he relocated to Machakos together with his family. Things took a different turn. With his firstborn in the picture, the Sh300 that would last them two days lost value. Their spending tripled,” says the audit consultant, adding, “We moved because of job transfer. Life in Machakos wasn’t easy. We had to change the way we used to do things. Instead of buying things in small quantities or at a local kiosk, we would buy at wholesale price at retail shops. At that time, we were expecting our second born, so we also had to establish a way that we would fix the children in our budget.”
To Steve, making sure his family was comfortable without having to strain became difficult, especially since he was the sole provider. “Since my wife wasn’t working, I had to ensure what I did and how I spent my money would accommodate all our needs,” he explains.
This has become the trend over the years for Steve. The cost of living has risen even as his family kept growing, thereby increasing the family’s budget. “At the moment I have three children. There are bills to be paid— school fees, rent, electricity, food and still save for the family’s future. It is not easy,” Steve says.
And though his wife doesn’t work, Steve doesn’t exclude her when making family decisions, especially those that involves finances. They budget together. And this rising cost of living has not just affected Steve. Many families are struggling to do things, which they did five years ago with ease. Therefore, families are coming up with different coping mechanisms. Isaac Irungu says his family runs multiple service businesses.
The most demanding time is at the beginning of the term. Irungu has to pay Sh75,000 per term for each of his three children who study at Consolata Primary School. “I pay Sh40,000 rent per month and Sh75,000 per term for each of my three children. I drop them to school every morning and pick them in the evening to reduce on transport cost. I spend Sh1,000 a day on fuel, Sh48,000 per year on insurance and Sh3,500 per month on electricity, among other bills. Nowdays, I get fresh fruits, vegetables and cereals from upcountry. Many a time, we don’t meet the budget and are, therefore, forced to cut down on some items,” Irungu explains.
With all these bills that need to be paid, it is no wonder that Irungu says, he sometimes spends sleepless nights as he ponders on what tomorrow holds for his family.
A preliminary report of a study conducted by Consumer Downtown Association (CDA) indicates that the nation is currently facing a high cost of living and there has been a continuous loud outcry from families and consumers, who need this to be addressed.
According to Japheth Ogutu, executive director of CDA, the inflation rate has been increasing steadily this year since January and hit the highest monthly inflation rate of 6.58 per cent in April 2019.
David Ngugi, Investments Analyst at Cytonn, says the main issue with the elevated cost of living is that it has been pushed by the cost of basic needs, which the common citizen cannot live without. “When we say that the inflation rate has hit 6.58 per cent, it simply means the money that was used to purchase something last month might not be enough to purchase the same good this month. This means you would be required to top up the money in order for you to be able to purchase the goods. The price of everything else also goes up mainly because of the additional fuel, electricity and transport cost,” he explains.
Ogutu says that the inflation rate has increased by 1.88 per cent in a period of only three months, and there is fear that it could increase even more due to high prices of goods and the increase of fuel prices. “The monthly high rate of inflation experienced is a key indication that the lives of common citizens are becoming more unbearable,” he says.
According to CDA, an overall analysis on prices of basics commodities including; maize flour, fuel, milk, bread, vegetables and drinks shows that prices have been steadily increasing from last month of April in all the major cities.
Quality of living
Many families are struggling to buy two kilogramme packet of maize flour, which is costing Sh120 to Sh150. The same packet was costing Sh90 less than two months ago.
“It is sad to see citizens straining to survive in the country, struggling to meet basic needs such as food, rent, transport and school fees. Many Kenyans in cities such as Nairobi are forced to walk long distances to work; others take fewer meals a day to cut the cost of day-to-day expenditure. The high cost of living has also contributed to low value for money,” he explains.
Sadly for many, the family’s income has remained constant, while some businesses are closing. “With the income held constant, coupled with a rise in commodity prices, definitely scaling down has been a consequence. Inflation basically mean the persistence increase in the price level over time,” he says.
Ngugi says high cost of living causes strain in the quality of living, as most of the households’ income has to be directed to only the basic goods and services.