Wednesday, 7 January 2009

What Price Life In The West Indies?

Something that I continually wonder about is how people cope here with the high price of life (apart from the civil servants with their 40% salary increase to cover that!). The cost seems so surprising, as I would have presumed that life away from the UK would have been cheaper. Furthermore, as the pound drops against the euro to pretty much parity, things become even more expensive in my view! When I considered something that was €5 to be £4, that was one thing, but to think it is £5 makes me reconsider my purchase! And given that salaries here are much lower (not to mention jobs much rarer), it is not surprising that I hear often that the population survives on credit and debt.

In addition to food (even locally produced), petrol (still towering at €1.19!), all goods, mobile phones and internet access, rent, eating out and visits to museums/parks etc (tend to range from €5-€12), we discovered another very expensive commodity today: water!

The water bill came through and we were pretty shocked to find that it will be about €300-€400...for the quarter! Water is in high use here, with 7 of us in the house having 2 or 3 showers a day, not to mention all the washing, washing up, cleaning, drinking etc. We will definitely be more frugal with it now we realise what a luxury it is!

So what is cheaper here, I asked myself, and came up with the following...
Going green can be a lot more fruitful than back home. For example, there is a great solution to the water issue, and that is - rain! It is rather frustrating to see all the masses and masses of rain that falls and goes to 'waste' in the sewers, when it could be collected and used for most the household needs. A friend of ours has three huge tanks holding up to 2 thousands litres of water, and if we were here longer it would definitely be worth investing it. Unfortunately the in-laws aren't particularly interested in this solution, pity!
In the same way, solar energy is a wonderful resource here which could be harnassed a lot more with great savings.
The heat definitely saves money, as there are no heating bills (although this is replaced with electricity for fans and air con), and fewer clothes and shoes needed.
Whilst toys and trips out don't come cheap, we do of course have the most delightful free entertainment, available the whole year round: the beach!
Being small means there is less cost in travelling round the island (I am sorry to note that train fares are zooming up yet again back home). Also, as every visit can be made in a day, or in an hour even, people don't go away for the weekend as much. That's a saving! But if you did fancy a trip to a hotel, be warned it is very pricey, especially now we are in the midst of peak season!

So with all that being the case, does it balance out the cost of living here? Hmm, as long as food bills remain high I fear not.

On the theme of money, we got CassCass' Child Trust Fund summary through this week and the credit crunch hit home - her fund has gone from £258 last Jan to £176 this year! Amazingly, they are still telling us to put our own money in the account - what, so we can lose a few hundred more?!

And having spent hours on my budget yesterday for the next six months, I would like to take the opportunity to say how much I admire all those who are self-employed. It is no easy task! Life (and budgeting) was so much easier when we had a fixed sum coming in on the same day each month, tax already taken out of course. My main challenges here are that people pay by 12 hours rather than the month and holidays mean a huge drop in income, so I have to work out how to make sure the money is still there at the right time! However, our clients are all very reliable payers which is a blessing. It is also a bother having to go to the Post Office to cash cheques, as it is such a lengthy tiresome process. (The queues I mean!) Additionally, I tried to put cash in our account recently and was told I would be charged because I had no proof on me that I was the account holder....ridiculous!

As for tax etc, we still have no idea how all that will work out. From my investigation, we won't be liable for general tax as it is based on salary and how many children you have (I think we would need to be earning €22 k a year to pay it). But there is the securite sociale which is a lot more expensive and also local tax I think. It appears that self-employed (professionals liberals) are taxed very hard in these areas, but we won't find out until at least March when the forms get sent out.

I would like to highlight I don't particularly worry about all these issues, as our lesson for the year is that God provides, but I find it interesting to think about them!


bachman said...

On top of which I still marvel that you are even thinking or looking up about a family holiday at christmas over here, when I can't even see how you are going to be able even to afford to come back - and with an extra 2 million unemployed by then and the CRB taking over 10 weeks to get through what chances of a job, regular or otherwise before Christmas, and putting down three months rent, blah, blah, blah!

Hevs said...

Thanks for that bit of post Christmas cheer!! Actually, that is a good point about the CRB it will be worth us looking into whether we can begin the process here.