People trying to cope with rising living costs

The China Post news staff

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Many Taiwanese are changing their lifestyles when the money they earn now can purchase less and less.

Continuously rising living costs and constraints on income are gradually forcing people to try every possible way to cut corners in order to cope with price increases across the board. Aside from the soaring vegetable prices due to typhoon damage and the government’s inability to ease import shortages efficiently, prices of almost all daily necessities are on the upswing.

Prices of eggs, cooking oil, traditional steam buns, lunchboxes, Western style bread, beef noodles, and tuitions have already moved up. Some vendors of shuijianbao — water fried dumplings with vegetables or pork as stuffing — have added a 20 percent hike to NT$12 each from NT$10, citing rising material costs. Those who decided not to raise prices simply reduced the size of their products in an attempt to retain as many customers as possible. Reflecting the rising wheat prices on the international market, flour prices went up again in early October. But flour producers said another price hike is likely before the end of the year because the prices of wheat show no signs of falling after successive rises in 2008. The prices for oil products, including gasoline and other fuel products, are set for another jump later this week in accordance with the floating-price formula pegged to the import costs of crude oil. Starting Nov. 1, a 10 percent taxi fare hike will take effect for passengers in the Greater Taipei area that covers Taipei City, Taipei County and Keelung City. Taxis in other regions around Taiwan are expected to follow suit. Many restaurateurs had to downsize their staff in view of rising materials costs reduced customers who now opt for eating at home for dinner or during weekends.

Some were forced to shut down completely under the added pressure of rental hikes. Consumers are adopting various ways to make ends meet. For housewives, many started shunning supermarkets for the “sunset markets” where vendors line up at a specific area for customers who can make purchases after getting off from work and on way home. Lower prices enable them to bring home extra items like fruit or toast.

Many financially strapped housewives also decided to return to the job market and work at least part-time as store clerks or helpers at restaurants because their husbands’ pay is not enough for the bills. “You can rely on no one except yourself,” most of them said, complaining about politicians’ spending their energy on empty ideological issues rather than focusing on ways to improve people’s daily lives. Some said they have realized only recently what real impact election outcomes can have on their lives. To cope with soaring fuel costs, some people living in the Taipei area but working in Taoyuan decided to stay in company dorms on work days and return home only for weekends, so that there is money available for children’s supplementary classes after school.

More motorists, who used to ride motorcycles but upgraded to cars in recent years, have now shifted back to scooters to save on fuel costs, as well as parking and maintenance fees. Many retired people living on interest earnings from bank deposits now cut back on travel and even trips abroad because even interest payments have shrunk. Some college students complained that their fixed amount of pocket money from their parents is not sufficient to keep up with the spiraling prices that have severely restrained their extracurricular and social activities.