Vietnamese turn frugal as prices soar

By Pham Nga   June 26, 2022 | 05:00 am PT
Nguyen Thu Trang has been going to the supermarket late at night for the last month knowing meat and vegetables are cheaper then.

The Hanoi housewife of four years knows however they will not be as fresh as earlier in the day.

"Since the prices of everything have gone up, I have to change my shopping habits and doing so helps me able to buy produce at lower prices," the 28-year-old says.

She and her husband, Tinh, had their first son more than a year ago before having a pair of twins. Tinh is the sole breadwinner and he had to stay at home for three months when Covid-19 broke out last year.

"We even had to sell our gold wedding rings to stay afloat," she says.

After Covid subsided he reopened his store distributing beverages, but barely makes a profit since gasoline prices have been soaring since April. Besides, many of his customers have greatly reduced their purchases.

Some grocery stores only order a few five-liter bottles of water, but he still must travel dozens of kilometers by truck to deliver them.

"If you do not keep prices low, customers will leave," he explained once to his wife when she asked him why he did not raise them considering the market situation.

While their income was down, the prices of milk, cooking oil, fish sauce, eggs, and others have all increased by 10-20 percent, and Trang is forced to cut her spending.

She is now very active on online free giveaway groups, trying to get as many kids’ clothes, shoes and other items for her family.

Besides shopping at night to buy vegetables and meat cheap, she also asks her family in the countryside in Ha Nam Province to send more eggs, rice and other items.

To save transport costs, she often asks people traveling from there to Hanoi to carry those items with them.

"Sending a box of goods from the countryside used to cost VND20,000-30,000 ($0.86-1.30), but now costs up to VND50,000. Thanks to a friend, I was able to save nearly two batches of milk for my children."

Thu Trang hoards food sent up from her hometown, in addition to foods she bought from the market late in the day. Photo courtesy of Trang

Thu Trang gets foods sent by her family from her hometown and buys late at night from supermarkets when prices are cheaper. Photo courtesy of Trang

A rise in the prices of gasoline, food and some other goods has sent the consumer price index rising by 2.86 percent year-on-year in May.

Global gasoline prices have shot up while the rising costs of raw materials and ingredients pushed up food prices, according to the General Statistics Office.

The month-on-month inflation rate was 0.38 percent with culture, tourism and entertainment products rising by 0.74 percent as tourism recovered.

Prices rose by 2.25 percent in the first five months against 1.29 percent in the same period last year.

The rising prices also impact people’s health and nutrition.

Vu Minh Tien, head of the Institute for Workers and Trade Unions, says a survey done last year found that 21 percent of workers had to eat more instant noodles, 48 percent had to reduce their daily meat intake an 22 percent had to switch from shopping themselves to eating food provided by family and friends.

According to Pham Khanh Nam, dean of the faculty of economics at the University of Economics in HCMC, the rapid and continuous increase in prices soon after Covid has had a double impact, making it difficult for people to go back to their pre-pandemic lives.

"Saving and changing buying habits are the best things to do at the moment."

With her monthly income of VND15 million, Hoang Ngoc Ha of Hanoi's Nam Tu Liem District says rising prices have not significantly impacted her life, but to save a small amount, the 30-year-old is forced to cut back on four major spending categories: food, beauty and entertainment.

She has been walking two kilometers to work every day for the past month. Since walking counts as exercise, she has foregone her monthly gym membership.

"I used to be afraid of dust and the sun but now I'm afraid of rising fuel prices."

She shops online instead of at a traditional market. Her company is affiliated with a number of e-commerce platforms, has many employee discount programs for food purchases and offers cash back for downloading the app.

"Although it takes some time to install, it helps save tens of thousands of dong a day."

She cooks rice to take to office instead of buying lunch, no longer goes to the movies, rarely meets friends, and works hard to find discounted clothes and cosmetics rather than branded items.

People buy food at the end of the day at a supermarket in Hanoi on June 22, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Nga

People buy food at a supermarket in Hanoi, June 22, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Nga

Though her family does not face financial stress unlike many others, Thu Hien, 37, of Nam Tu Liem District is still surprised at the sharp rise in prices.

But rather than cut back on spending to ensure they maintain their normal saving rate, she and her husband have decided to save less to maintain their standard of living.

They recently booked a vacation as they normally used to before Covid. When Hien made the bookings, she was shocked to see airfares and food and hotel prices had all doubled.

"A round-trip ticket for adults and children is VND16 million, which is equivalent to a month's salary," she says.

The couple decided to use their savings to pay for the trip since they did not want their children to miss out on their summer vacation.

With gasoline prices constantly rising to new highs, many travel companies have raised tour prices by 5-10 percent.

The cheapest return airfare during the peak summer vacation season has risen to VND 2.5-4 million, or VND500,000 more than in the past.

Nam warns that controlling inflation is not easy. Besides, reduced taxes mean less revenues for the government, less public spending and fewer job opportunities, creating a vicious circle.

But despite their struggles, both Trang and Ha find the current situation much easier than when Covid was raging.

Trang is no longer reliant on social media to seek donations of milk for her children. She now sells fruits online.

"There is still a chance to go out on the street and make a living.

"It was frightening to want to work but be forced to stay at home due to the epidemic."

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