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article imageBulk buying to bartering, shopping Argentines get creative

By Jordane BERTRAND (AFP)     Sep 24, 2018 in Business

As the prices of basic foodstuffs such as flour, eggs and oil have increased by anything from 40 percent to over 100 percent since the start of the year, Argentines are having to get creative when they go shopping.

The cost of living is on the rise as inflation keeps heading northwards, expected this month to reach 30 percent for the year -- but salaries aren't following suit and low-income households are feeling the pinch.

From bartering to bulk-buying and bargain-hunting, Argentines face a complicated task to get the most out of their pesos.

"It's become difficult to do all your shopping in the same place," says Augustina Saravia in front of the stalls at the weekly market in Nueva Pompeya, a Buenos Aires neighborhood of families on low to lower-middle incomes.

"You walk all day to try to find the best prices.

"Here tomatoes cost 50 pesos per kilogram, at the greengrocer they cost 30," added Saravia, before heading off to the supermarket to check the prices there.

Most customers in the street market spent their time similarly, checking prices, moving on elsewhere to compare, and sometimes returning to where they started before finally making a purchase.

According to Argentina's national statistics institute (INDEC), inflation over the first eight months of 2018 was 24.3 percent, while it is expected to reach 30 percent by the end of September.

Oil has increased in price by 40 percent, eggs by 56 percent but flour has more than doubled in price (115 percent).

- 'Prices have gone up' -

One method of keeping down the shopping bills is bulk-buying, something that is increasingly on offer in Argentina, although it is not always convenient.

Mother of four Vanessa Ledesma, who is training to be a nurse, traveled 40 minutes by bus south of Buenos Aires to reach a wholesaler -- but it was worth it.

"For the price of a kilogram of rice bought every day in my neighborhood, here I can buy two family packets that last the whole month," she said.

She comes once a week in search of the best prices.

This time, though, her shopping cart contains only four or five different products.

Barter markets are organized on Facebook  where members can receive requests and arrange exchanges i...
Barter markets are organized on Facebook, where members can receive requests and arrange exchanges in advance
EITAN ABRAMOVICH, AFP

"I didn't buy much because the prices have gone up," she said.

During August alone, the price of tomatoes increased by 10 percent, chicken eight percent, potatoes seven: the list goes on.

It has all come about because of a crash in the value of the peso, which dropped 20 percent in just two days in August and is down around 50 percent since the start of the year.

The peso is affected by a crisis of confidence, with investors preferring to exchange their unstable pesos for the greater assurances the dollar offers.

But you can only exchange your savings if you have some.

"They all want dollars but they don't realise that those who carry the can are the poor who don't have dollars," said Ledesma.

- Sugar for clothes -

In an open space behind the Monte Grande train station some 40 kilometers from the centre of Buenos Aires, 28-year-old Tamara has gone to take part in a barter exchange.

An unemployed mother of a young girl, Tamara has brought some packets of sugar she bought in bulk a few months ago.

"This is how I get by, I haven't been to a supermarket in two months," she said after exchanging some sugar for pasta, tomatoes and clothes.

"I buy everything at the barter exchange, I go three times a week."

Barter exchanges first sprang up during the much worse 2001 economic crisis in Argentina and since then they never went away.

This year's problems have given them added impetus, aided by social media.

"We use Facebook to organize ourselves and allow members to receive requests and arrange concrete exchanges ... because some people travel an hour," said Miriam Silva, a Facebook group administrator who organizes a barter exchange at Monte Grande every Friday.

Once at the exchange, buyers -- mostly wome --, are identified by numbered bibs or signs.

"We don't know each other, but we help each other," says Liliana Trobiano, 46, an auxiliary nurse brining up two children alone.

When it comes to medicines, the group has decided to set up a donation system rather than an exchange.

"We're also a solidarity network," says Silva.

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