Dealing with Bermuda’s high cost of living
Almost six months ago, we put out a short questionnaire to the readers of The Royal Gazette. Some of you responded, bless you, and I thank these reader participants so very much.
No one really likes to fill out forms of any kind, especially surveys. Next year, I will employ the use of the internet — where the entire survey can be filled out quickly online — assuming that readers again want to take precious time to participate.
The original article “Calculating the Cost of Living in Bermuda”, April 15, 2017 is linked here http://www.royalgazette.com/martha-myron/article/20170415/calculating-cost-of-living-in-bermuda
Participants were asked to provide their weekly/monthly cost of about ten household/living expense items. Their comments were also solicited as to whether they were out of budget (or had a cash surplus) at month’s end, were struggling to make ends meet, or are purchasing just the bare necessities. Their comments are unvarnished and revealing.
The survey did not ask for annual household income or size of housing units.
While, the number of participants was very small, relative to the type of phone surveys conducted by various research media, the results are very interesting. Certainly, the information is worth a discussion here, particularly, since anonymous participant opinions were freely expressed.
The biggest expense concerns cited by almost all:
• High cost of healthcare.
• Size of families ranged from one to four members.
• Weekly food costs were calculated with total cost divided by number of family members. Amounts spent per person ranging from $40 to $160 weekly. One family does not buy any meat; others have adopted very tight food budgets. All stated costs had risen.
• Renters versus homeowners had varied responses. Some renters had seen increases, others none, or relatively small.
• Electricity. All, but one cited increased cost. Some had already put utility savings measures in place, seeing a lowering of this expense from a year ago, while others were moving to that budgetary decision. Two families’ monthly cost was above $500, while all others were less. The most conservative usage totalled $130 per month for a single person.
• Vehicle gas, registration had seen no or small increases in cost, while the monthly usage amounts varied widely, probably due to family/work-related transportation needs. It was difficult to ascertain whether the costs were due to less usage, or continued lower gas prices.
• Mobile phone costs showed little increase, but several stated they had cut back substantially on the type of plan for economic reasons. One family had only the total basic — one phone $20!
• Cable and internet: only slight increases, costs varied again from very frugal to families tailoring plans to meet budget constraints with entertainment popularity.
• Healthcare: continuing to rise anywhere from 5 per cent to 10 per cent annually, with one family stating their health costs had increased every single year for six years. Another had seen three fee increases in a year and a half.
Property taxes, property and tenant insurance elicited differing opinions. One had increased, others appeared to remain static.
The final question asked elicited many frank responses.
Do you find your family out of budget at end of month, struggling to make ends meet, or are you just purchasing just the bare necessities, more than you used to.
• We are OK, budget-wise, but have cut back modestly. Main concern is high cost of health insurance — rate of increase much higher than planned for — with major medical unaffordable for someone in their 60s. May have to go on Future Care.
• Yes, we are at break-even at month’s end, just purchasing necessities.
• Definitely, out of budget. Constantly making decisions about what we can afford this month. Usually do without, sometimes, that includes food. Cannot save a penny — which is worrying because we are near retirement and have no emergency funds. No increase in salary, but employee deductions continue to erode net pay.
• Yes, out of budget — robbing Peter to pay Paul. Six years ago, my spouse’s net pay was $4,200 — there have not been any pay increases, just a wage stalemate. Steadily decreasing net pay to $3,500 due to increased employee deductions. The same job, it has not changed.
• He works one job, I work two jobs, one for an employer, one for myself. Without the third job, we would struggle even more at the end of the month.
• We are OK, but we dramatically cut back on all household expenses last year.
• We have always been extremely thrifty and budgeted sensibly. Even so, we have tightened up on spending again in order to save more in our emergency fund.
• Living in Bermuda is absolutely unaffordable for the ordinary person. If we did not have decent professional jobs, and have help from my retired family member who lives with us, we would be forced to leave Bermuda.
• Our concern is our vulnerability to job loss — what happens if one household member was made redundant? Finances are very tight. We do not know if we could survive here if we lost one working household member.
Overall, these results cannot be considered conclusive since the sample was nowhere near statistically large enough, but our participants had a chance to have their say expressing varying situations.
What about you? How are you managing your household budget?
And, let us not forget those who have no budget at all, barely able to get by day to day.
Lastly, dear readers, I did some research review of the 1993 Bermuda Household Expenditure Survey. Here are a few reported results from the middle (median) of the Income Groups, that is, those earning between $600 and $1,300 per week.
Table A. 4 pages 32-33.
Costs are stated for a 2.6-person family on a weekly basis.
Car / transportation: $19
Health insurance: $31
Simpler Times. Simpler needs. A simple, still pretty closed society.
Real food for thought. The debate on the high cost of living in Bermuda will continue.
Your comments and criticisms are welcome. Please feel free to contact me or respond on The Royal Gazette website.
Martha Harris Myron CPA, JSM, Masters of Law — International Tax and Financial Services: Pondstraddler life financial perspectives for Bermuda islanders with multinational families and international connections on the Great Atlantic Pond. Contact: email@example.com