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How we spend our money

Future social historians will have a mine of information when they examine the Household Budgetary Surveys issued periodically. The often repeated saying that our forefathers survived the severe economic challenges of lean years by saving for a rainy day in good times may still be partially valid.

The 2015 survey compares Maltese households’ expenditure with that of 2008. One striking detail is that, between 2008 and 2015, the average family’s expenditure increased by just 14.2 per cent and totalled €22,346. Yet, in 2015 each family managed to save €4,263 – three times more than it did in 2008.

It is a fact that when disposable income increases, people are more inclined to put money aside in savings or investments. The good performance of the economy and the low unemployment rate in the last few years has increased the disposable income of many families.

Dietary habits also seem to be improving. According to the survey, Maltese families’ expenditure on fruit in 2015 increased by more than a third over 2008 while spending on soft drinks and juices dropped.

It is no surprise that a fifth of families’ income goes to buying essential staple food and beverages including, meat, bread, cereals, dairy products and eggs.

The Maltese love affair with private transport shows no sign of abating. In 2015, we spent €9 more per week on transport-related items like fuel, air fares, purchase of vehicles and ferry tickets. Evidence of a well-performing economy may also be confirmed by the increased expenditure on holiday travel that doubled in the seven-year period to 2015.

More money was spent on rent, essential utility services and gas, up 14.5 per cent since 2008. The average €36 weekly spend on these essential services matches the expenditure on hotel accommodation and dining out. No wonder restaurants seem to be sprouting out in every location and it is not just tourists who frequent such places.

A similar amount of €35 per week is spent on leisure-related and cultural activities. One optimistic interpretation of these figures is that it seems that Maltese families are discovering more the benefits of eating well and exercising.

Some sobering statistics relate to the field of education. While in 2015 weekly expenditure on education grew by 82 per cent to €12 per week, families where salary earners had a tertiary level of education spent 24 times more on education than those who have no schooling at all or just primary level of education.

Some may find the information contained in the 2015 Household Budgetary Survey rather amusing. Other information is worrying. Even allowing for inaccuracies that are bound to creep in a survey where respondents are expected to give expenditure estimates without producing documentary evidence like receipts, it is clear that average levels of income expenditure could hide some uncomfortable realities.

The survey does not highlight, for instance, how many families are struggling to rent a family home because of spiralling rent costs. Neither does it measure the widening gaps between the haves and have-nots in our society. The working poor are an ever-increasing reality where lack of education exposes many to precarious work conditions, especially in the underground economy.

Quality of life is not just about how much more we can spend.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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