NewsJust like in Mexico: Inflation forces Chileans to change...

Just like in Mexico: Inflation forces Chileans to change their consumption habits

SANTIAGO, Chile- Chile is one of the countries with the most stable economy in Latin America. As a neighbor of a country accustomed to prices that rise almost every week, Argentina, inflation seemed like a disease suffered by others, but that did not cross the Andes mountain range.

This, however, has changed for most Chileans. The inflation that is plaguing the world is also hitting consumers in this Andean nation with increasing force.

The Chilean Consumer Price Index has had an annual variation of 12.5% as of June 2022, according to the Chilean National Institute of Statistics (INE). By components, the prices of Food and non-alcoholic beverages have presented an annual variation of 18.5%.

To contain it, the Central Bank of Chile has implemented an aggressive policy of interest rate increases, which currently stands at 9.75%. In July of last year, the Central raised the rate from the technical minimum of 0.5% to 0.75%, recalls the Reuters agency.

“The deterioration of global financial conditions has been faster and more intense than expected,” the Central Bank said in a statement. “In the midst of high internal uncertainty, this has led to a sharp depreciation of the peso. In the short term, these developments will cause an additional rise in domestic prices, in a context in which inflation and its persistence are already high”.

Finance Minister Mario Marcel has said that although monetary policy is beginning to take effect, a marked decline in prices is not expected until the end of this year.

“Only towards the end of the year are we going to begin to see that (inflation) decrease as a result of the monetary policy that the Central Bank has been applying, and also the normalization of the exchange rate and a slightly more favorable evolution of international prices. ”, he said this Wednesday at a press conference.

With this scenario, Chileans of all social classes have had to adapt to high consumer prices, with changes in their consumption habits, which have ranged from changing the places where they buy, the products and the amounts they consume, and including their activities.

Avoid luxuries and buy what is fair

“Caserita, how much do I weigh?” is the question that is heard in each position.

Sellers are looking to end their products soon. It’s past 2:00 p.m. on Sunday — the day many people go to stock their pantry — and they still have a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables, ready to go in one of the carts of people, mostly women, who They come shopping for the week.

We are at the Yolanda Becerra Free Fair in Ñuñoa, a middle-class sector in eastern Santiago. The “fairs” are street markets, similar to the markets on wheels or tianguis in Mexico, where you can buy mainly fresh products, such as fruits, vegetables and some sausages.

The fair closes in less than two hours. After that time, they have to collect their stalls, which stretch out just a block on a sidewalk next to an elementary school, hence the rush to finish their products. “They leave everything clean, it seems that they have never been here,” says Luisa, one of the fair’s clients.

Luisa is Mexican and moved to Santiago de Chile five years ago with her partner. She is a UX designer and together with her boyfriend, a programmer, she lives in a two-bedroom apartment in this district of the Chilean capital.

“My friends criticize me for buying at this fair, they say it’s very expensive, but it’s the one closest to my apartment,” he says as we walk to the fair, about 300 meters from his house.

Luisa admits that she only goes to the market to buy the fruit and vegetables that she and her partner will consume during the week, so she avoids buying by the kilo and buys one or two pieces of vegetables such as onions, tomatoes and courgettes. “It is to avoid waste,” he is justified.

“Don’t you want to take the bunch better? If I only sell a beet, it will be much more expensive”, one of the vendors at the fair tries to convince her. “No, thank you very much, I don’t like beetroot, but I’m forcing myself to eat it,” he replies, to avoid buying five of the vegetables, which would end up spoiling in his refrigerator.

It is difficult to find prices lower than “one luca” (1,000 Chilean pesos). Some fruits, such as avocado (or avocado), even exceed 5,000 pesos per kilo, which is equivalent to more than 100 Mexican pesos, despite the fact that Chile is a producer. Despite the cost, Luisa takes two avocados.

“What always rises a lot in winter are peppers. Now each one costs a luca, when in the summer I could buy three for 1,000 pesos,” says Luisa.

Despite being in a market, most transactions are made through banking means, such as cards and transfers. Cash is a rare thing at the fair. “It is something that I really like about Chile, that I can pay for everything with the card, when I go to Tijuana —the city from which it originates— it shocks me to have to carry cash.”

Luisa clarifies that this is her complementary purchase. She buys most of her groceries online, through the Corner Shop application, of Chilean origin, but which was acquired a few years ago by Uber.

“My partner and I have tried to put together a pantry that goes between 100,000 and 120,000 pesos every fortnight (2,250-2,700 Mexican pesos). We try not to go over that,” he explains.

This fortnight, for example, Luisa comments that she had to remove a table of cheeses and cold meats from her cart in the application, a luxury that is sometimes given, because the total of the cart went very high. “We can live without it, you know.”

The UX designer says that where she has suffered the most from inflation is in restaurant prices. INE data shows that restaurant and hotel prices have increased 18.5% compared to last year.

“Before, a meal in a more or less good restaurant could cost you three or four lucas, now it can cost up to seven. That is why we have been going out less and eating more at home,” says Luisa.

However, the designer admits that she is in a comfortable situation compared to other Chileans.

“I am honest, I have not felt a radical change in my life due to inflation, but the truth is that we are in a good situation, we have savings. I don’t want to imagine how people who live with what is fair must be going through it.”

Find more income

“The day is slow,” says a fish vendor in the Central Market of Santiago. Normally Sundays are a good day, but for months there have been no good days for tenants.

Vendors and restaurant employees alike urge people strolling through the market aisles with their carts to stop and buy some more.

“People don’t buy the same thing anymore, now they buy more half kilos than full kilos or outright, they buy one or two fish,” says Leo, an employee at another stall, as he finishes cleaning a kilo of hake, a white fish.

Salmon, one of the star products on the market, is so expensive for some that they prefer to replace it with other cheaper fish.

“I’m still doing well, do you know what my secret is? I treat customers well. Thus, people recommend you with family, with friends. Who do you pay more attention to when they recommend something to you? To a friend, to your mom. That’s why it went well for me,” boasts the owner of another fish market, but at the same time, only a couple of customers have stopped at the store to buy a kilo of the cheapest fish.

One block from this market, there is a line to enter the wholesaler, a supermarket that promises to offer lower prices.

For Chileans who live on a budget, the increase in the cost of living, such as food and transportation – whose prices have increased 24.4% in the last 12 months – has caused them to look for new ways to earn more money and thus increase the family income.

One option some have turned to are Persians — flea markets selling second-hand items like clothes, shoes and household items — at rock-bottom prices.

“How much can I get? 10 luke? It’s not much, but at least with that I can go to the fair and buy the week’s fruit and I don’t spend my pension,” says Lita, a 67-year-old woman who sells at a fair near her home. in a neighborhood in the south of Santiago.

Like many people her age, Lita has to keep working even though her pension is long overdue, but it is so low that she is forced to continue working in order to survive.

We are in La Vega, Central, a huge wholesale market near the center of Santiago where many Chileans come to shop for better prices, as well as to get more variety of products.

At the end of the day, around 4:00 p.m., some people also search among the fruits and vegetables that the tenants brought out, one that can be used.

“I’m not ashamed to pick up. The fruit and vegetables that they take out are almost always still good to eat, you just have to wash them well, remove whatever is damaged. I chop it up and put it in the freezer. I just don’t tell my husband, it would embarrass him,” admits Lita.

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