Page last updated at 16:29 GMT, Monday, 19 January 2009

Squeeze panel: Andrew Smyth

Andrew Smyth and his partner Simon Rea
Age:25
Job: Project officer, Belfast
Income: Joint income: 40-50,000 per annum
Lives with his partner Simon (shown on the right)
Andrew Smyth is 25, and a project officer from Belfast.

He lives with his partner Simon who works as a business excellence manager.

He graduated from University three years ago, and has finally cleared all his student debt.

Andrew and his partner bought a house recently, taking advantage of the fall in property prices.

DECEMBER

This has been an interesting month financially. It really does feel as though life is getting cheaper in many aspects, certainly where fuel and electrical items are concerned.


We called into a large Woolworths store where we had been shopping for many years at the weekend, and it was like attending a wake
However, food prices do not appear to have fallen by any significant measure, and with the recent cold snap we are really beginning to feel the hike in gas prices. Our usual monthly top up on the meter ran out after a fortnight!

But I'm not going to complain when there are so many people who have been affected worse than us. We called into a large Woolworths store where we had been shopping for many years at the weekend, and it was like attending a wake.

I can't imagine what it must be like to have your job security taken away in the run up to Christmas, although I have noticed that a lot of people seem to be determined to enjoy this Christmas while they still can, and worry about paying it off in the new year.

I think that uncertainty is the worst thing at the moment. January is always a depressing month, and it seems that a lot of bad news is being postponed until then.

I strongly suspect that 2009 is going to be the most difficult year we have faced in a generation.

NOVEMBER

November has been an interesting month for us, prices have dropped dramatically on the petrol forecourt and we're hoping for a drop in the cost of gas and electricity prices.

There's uproar over here with regard to the price of home heating oil which most people depend on.

Consumers are paying nearly double today what they were paying when the price of crude oil was at the same level some time ago.

We have had to spend a bit less on food this month as our car needed major work done.


We're going to have to be very careful with our Christmas spending


The unforeseen expense has also rather scuppered my plans of trying to prepare early for Christmas.

As a result we're going to have to be very careful with our Christmas spending.

But saying that we have been able to enjoy ourselves a little more this month than in previous months.

The pressure does seem to be off a little, however we are aware that things remain tight across the country at the moment.

I've heard lots of stories from friends who are at the end of fixed rate mortgage deals, only time will tell if the recent rate cut will make any difference to them.

OCTOBER

This month has actually been a little easier - we appear to have established a routine of shopping around for the best buys and stocking up with the essential items, particularly in frozen food.

We've also been making a lot more soups and stews out of vegetables that would ordinarily have been wasted.

The price of fuel remains a major concern. We made sure to top up the meters at the beginning of the month with gas and electric, but as the price increases take effect this month we're aware that the usual amount of credit simply isn't going to last anywhere near as long.

INFLATION CALCULATOR
This month's personal inflation: 4.2%

The price of diesel has come down about 12p from the summer and I'm fortunate that my aged car can usually manage 50-60 miles to the gallon, but it still hurts at the pumps - particularly as the price of crude oil has come down so much!

We sat down this month and went through our monthly spend to establish exactly how much we have and how much we can portion to the various necessities. The result was depressing but a useful exercise in reminding ourselves in how tight the budgets need to stay.

I had to make a trip to England at the beginning of the month and I was horrified at how much more budget flights now cost. Booking about the same time in advance, they seem to have gone up about 50% from last year.

I'm also very aware that Christmas is coming up fast, and this is definitely going to be a year for planning well in advance and shopping around rather than a last minute dash to the shops.

SEPTEMBER

This has been an interesting month. Various bills have coincided and our finances have been stretched more than usual.

Interestingly, we have discovered that Asda (there only are a handful of Asda stores in NI) are significantly cheaper than Lidl for many items, so we are developing a pattern of shopping in different supermarkets for different things.

INFLATION CALCULATOR
This month's personal inflation: 3.8%

We stocked up on a lot of frozen food over the summer, and I'm very glad we did as it seems that every time we pick up the basic groceries the prices have risen yet again.

Both our electricity and gas providers have announced a 20% price hike due to take effect on October 1st, so we're more than a little concerned as to how that is going to affect us. We have certainly become much more energy conscious, but the recent weather hasn't helped with avoiding using the tumble dryer etc.

I find myself trying to drive as economically as possible and cut out journeys which are all but essential but it still stings at the filling station.

The most striking example of the credit crunch to date has been that a house which we were considering buying in February advertised at 145,000 is currently advertised at 99,500. The sad thing is that I doubt if it will sell even at that price in the present market.

We are finding now that, within a week of payday, we have no money left for anything, bar planned essentials.

AUGUST

WEEKLY STAPLE FOOD BILLS
Coffee 4.87
Coke 1.49
Sausages 2.09
Chicken Breasts 8.72
Breakfast Cereal 2.79

This month we have been particularly aware of the price rises as we have needed to stock up on items that we haven't purchased in a long time - one classic example is a Calor gas refill which early last year cost 18.50 - now costs 26. Thankfully, diesel has come down in price slightly this month. A few garages who were selling at 1.33 a per litre a few weeks ago, are now retailing at 1.28.

The recent announcements regarding price increases are a major concern for us especially as living in Northern Ireland we don't have the luxury of being able to switch providers, however we do have the advantage that being on a prepayment meter over here, which means a slight discount even if the standard rates are more expensive to begin with.

We won't be able to afford a summer break this year, however we are trying take the occasional weekend break. I've noticed that more and more of our friends appear to be doing that this year also - the current exchange rate with the Euro seems to be the final straw for many people who have ruled out long haul holidays due to the credit crunch.

We are managing through careful budgeting at present, however there is little slippage within our finances to cope with a major emergency situation.

JULY
Having gotten myself to the stage where I should be able to enjoy a slightly better standard of life I actually find myself pinching the pennies even more than I did while I was at University.

Once I've paid food, fuel and housing I'm lucky if I have anything left, never mind luxury items.



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