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For Estonian families, cost of living rise transcends purchasing power loss

Milk and dairy products on a supermarket shelf. Photo is illustrative.
Milk and dairy products on a supermarket shelf. Photo is illustrative. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Recent years' increase in the cost of living affects many families in Estonia, but on top of the decline in purchasing power, it's also affecting people's work and family lives as well.

Kadri and Tarvo Veski are raising three children. They've been building a life in the Valga County village of Karula, where both of them are self-employed; Tarvo works in the construction field, while Kadri runs a veterinary clinic in Antsla. And for Kadri, it's precisely the vet's office that gave the first tipoff that the economy has changed.

"People are trying to get things as cheaply as possible," Kadri said. "Sometimes they'll come in and just ask for stuff – that maybe they can just get medications [for free], maybe they don't have to make an appointment. Or they'll brutally try to stiff [us] – that they'll just stop in the clinic as they were passing by and ask a lot of questions and then simply go, 'Oh, but I don't even have my wallet on me!'"

But there are signs at home as well that things have changed. Tarvo and Kadri felt the first and most direct impact of their changed purchasing power right after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine began, when they had undertaken renovations to their home. Thanks to rapid inflation, part of the work went unfinished and remains waiting to be wrapped up to this day. Their family has a mortgage on their home as well, but it is a small one, sparing them from the brunt of high interest rates.

"We have to pay around €50 more each month now," Kadri said. "But in that regard we feel like this situation is alright, at least for our family. Friends and family have seen tenfold hikes in interest."

She couldn't really comment regarding the family's grocery bills, as they never really recklessly spent on food to begin with.

"What I can say, though, is what has changed is that when I'm at work, then I don't go out to eat anymore," she added.

While Kadri claims her grocery purchases haven't changed much, supermarkets are seeing that shoppers have changed their habits.

The Coop supermarket in Rõuge serves a large area, with customers coming in to do their shopping both from villages in the area and from town.

"Seasoned roasts and meats aren't moving like they used to last year, and [shoppers] have started buying more franks and cooked sausage," observed Rõuge Coop store manager Siiri Saal.

"It seems as though people are cooking more themselves to save money too," Saal explained. "And of course our sales of frozen chicken and meat have gone up because their price per kilogram is significantly cheaper than chilled chicken."

She added that shoppers are also buying more porridge ingredients, and that they're choosing differently when it comes to sweets and snacks as well.

"It seems as though people have indeed started baking more cakes and things themselves," the store manager noted. "We've cut back on those quality candies that got expensive. Lollipops and the like that are still priced okay are still moving."

At the store, shoppers' views on the impacts of inflation differ.

Rein, for example, said he hasn't felt the effects of the recession or noticed any changes to his habits. "In that sense I can't really tell at all," he said.

"Of course we've considered what to buy and what not to buy," Maie acknowledged. "As long as I can, of course I'll continue supporting my grandkids and kids. Essentials – winter boots and a winter jacket – and I haven't given a single thought to traveling for several years now already."

"I do sometimes think that I have no idea how much one has to make here in Estonia to live hand to mouth," Christel said. "That also depends on how much people have hoarded up, and I've apparently hoarded up quite a bit."

The effects of the increased cost of living go beyond just the fall in purchasing power, however.

"Because life has gotten more expensive, then I need to try harder, work more, and as a result we don't have time for our family," Kadri Veski admitted. "Nothing goes unbought. Generally speaking, we can manage. But precisely that not having time for family, or to go out, or to go on a trip; we'd have to work really hard indeed to afford that."

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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