Pensioner struggling with cost of living goes to four stores to fight rising food bills

With a fortnight budget of just $100 (or sometimes less) to spend on her grocery bill, every dollar counts for this Sydney woman.

For Sydney pensioner Norma Wannell, the act of buying fortnightly groceries is a lengthy process that spans three suburbs.

She begins at Aldi and then Woolworths in the Bass Hill Complex in Sydney’s western suburbs. She then drives eight minutes down the road to the George’s Hall IGA.

Finally, the 72-year-old drives a further 13 minutes, or 6.4km, to the Coles at Chipping Norton.

The supermarket is further out of her way but they have weekly half-price specials which makes it “more than worthwhile to go there,” she told news.com.au.

“Now $80 gets you just two little bags. It just shows you how much things have changed and for a lot of people it’s for the worse,” she said.

Living off the pension on $900.80 a fortnight, she estimates around $100 to $120 of that goes towards food.

“Sometimes less, if I can’t afford it,” said Ms Wannell. For example, if she’s been hit with a mechanic bill or an unexpected expense, she’ll be forced to reduce her food budget.

Her meals are also greatly affected by how far she can stretch her purse strings for that fortnight, and what specials she’s able to find in the four stores. Armed with a series of “screen shots,” she uses the photos to help her navigate the aisles.

“I’ve had baked beans on toast twice this week. Woolies had those instant noodle soups for $2, so I got a few of those,” she said.

“I try to get something like cheese or tomato to bulk it up a bit.”

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With inflation increasing the cost of food, fruits and vegetables and meat by a combined 4.3 per cent (according to the Consumer Price Index), Ms Wannell said she is not always able to buy fresh produce.

“I rarely buy fresh veggies because they go off too quick. So I have to buy frozen,” she said.

With the CPI reporting that the cost of fruits and vegetables has increased by 6.7 per cent year-on-year, Ms Wannell notes that a bunch of kale has increased from $1.99 to $4.90. The cheapest she’ll be able to find it for is $3.90.

Getting access to meats and proteins is also a concern. Sharing photos of her fortnightly shop, her product is limited to a bunch of bananas and a carton of strawberries. She also adds vegetables to her diet through a frozen ‘Winter Vegetables’ mix and some pre-made meals.

“The meat I rarely buy half a kilo of anything. Instead I buy pre-packaged meats that come marinated in sauce,” she said.

“I can get three meals out of a $12, if I have it with some mashed potatoes or mixed greens or veggies.”

As one of Australia’s 4.6 million pensioners, Ms Wannell is one of the many who are struggling with rising cost of living and inflation.

While around 41 percent of Australians are now accepting a future where they may have access to less money as a result of the pandemic, this has disproportionately affected older Australians.

Recent research released by insurance group Australian Seniors from their Quality of Life Report 2022 found that running out of money was a key concern for mature Australians.

In fact, 32 percent of respondents said it was among their biggest concerns for the future. Others common responses included health issues, where the world is going, welfare and happiness of their family, navigating the aged care system and losing control.

For Ms Wannell, she said she’s definitely noticed that everything is more expensive than it was months ago. While she’s lived frugally since a workplace injury forced her into early retirement in 2011, she says the pressures have only increased.

“I’d say I noticed that things became a lot harder in the last 12 months and they’re gradually getting worse. Things are still going up,” she said.

As the owner of a chihuahua, a cat and a rabbit, she jokes that her pet rabbit eats more vegetables than she does.

“My main thing is that I make sure the three animals I’ve got are fed properly. I can go without but they can’t, they don’t know any different,” she said.

With costs predicted to increase further, Ms Wannell’s growing financial struggles have asked herself some uncomfortable questions.

“Can I can kind of afford to keep doing this or how much more do I have to delete off my list just to survive,” she said.

“Where am I going to end up? That crosses my mind quite a few times.”

Originally published as Pensioner struggling with cost of living goes to four stores to fight rising food bills

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