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Saturday, December 07, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Keep clear of Caracas...Go Panama
Carnival maxing out your card this year? Or is your cashpoint balance fine for your dollar and wine? For everyone—party-goer, couch potato or frequent flier on an escape route to Tobago—personal budgets are off-centre this week. But, looking at the year ahead, how do our local living costs compare with others, across the Caribbean and worldwide?
The Economist Intelligence Unit has just published its annual cost of living survey, comparing costs in 183 cities.
Japan is notoriously overpriced; Tokyo and Osaka are the most expensive places to live. With the Aussie dollar sky-high, Sydney and Melbourne are third and fourth. In Switzerland, Zurich and Geneva are in the top ten, and Oslo in Norway is another costly capital.
Carnival in Caracas? It is the ninth most expensive place in the world, up 25 rungs in the ranking since last year. The Venezuelan capital also has the world’s sixth highest murder rate. So, it’s perhaps better to pick another party spot for now.
The cheapest cities to live in are Karachi in Pakistan and Mumbai. Indeed, India and its neighbours look excellent value—Delhi is third, and Kathmandu in Nepal fourth, while Colombo in Sri Lanka has the world’s seventh-lowest living costs.
In the wider Caribbean, Panama City is eighth best for worldwide dollar-stretchers—and 46 on the murder ranking, so just a little more dangerous than T&T. And they have a great Carnival.
Algiers, Tehran, Romania’s Bucharest and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia also have low living costs—but some of these are a tad more restricted in their street life.
However, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s list is somewhat specialised. It looks at living costs for expatriates, not locals, and is used by multinationals and diplomats to set salary weightings for overseas staff. Its basket of 200-odd essentials runs to high-end wines, maid service and private schools, as well as flour and light bills. They do a full check on nine Caribbean cities, but those results are client-only.
The Economist, worldwide weekly newspaper and sister company of the EIU, has since 1986 prepared its own rough and ready living-costs index, based on just one price—the Big Mac. That’s not so crazy as it sounds. A Mac is a standardised, mid-price product anyone might buy, and it builds in some of the costs which power the wider economy—bread, meat, low-wage labour, as well as rent and light for business premises.
That index, too, flashes a red light for Venezuela, with a burger coming in at more than twice the US price. Norway and Sweden are next, Switzerland is fourth. Australia is once more overpriced, but by just 12 per cent. India is again cheapest, with a Big Mac costing 62 per cent less than in the US. Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia are all around one-third below US prices.
T&T? A Big Mac alone costs $25, or US$3.90. That is a little more than ten per cent below the average US price of US$4.37, and 20 per cent less costly than a Euro-land Mac. In Caracas, you would pay more than double, and in India just US$1.67.
Big Mac comparisons within Caricom are harder. Outside Suriname, T&T and the Bahamas, the region is pretty much a Mac-free zone. But arch-rivals Burger King are in Jamaica, St Lucia, Barbados and Antigua, and true fast-food addicts can find substitutes elsewhere. Using EIU data, and converting prices to TT$, Port-of-Spain shapes up as a bright place to bite a burger. And Jamaica’s 25-cent advantage has probably been gobbled by their sliding dollar, even as I write.
As for real essentials, this also looks like a good place to buy flour—Central Bank data on soaring food prices notwithstanding. Competition between three local suppliers may be doing the trick.
Now take a semi-luxury—a bottle of wine. High taxes make this a pricey place to sip the vino. But wise shoppers in Trinidad can cut their costs dramatically by gulping from a three-litre box—oddly, that costs just a touch more than a single bottle.
And gas? Even premium at $5.75 looks good compared to London. But although burgers cost more when you are in Caracas, that city is still the place to fill up your tank.
The cheapest place to live? That depends on your income and your lifestyle. The best place to live? Need I ask? Tomorrow is J’Ouvert morning.
Source for price data: Economist Intelligence Unit and The Economist.
Average prices converted from local currency to TT$.
Burger, fries and a drink (TT$)
New York 57.92
St John’s, Antigua 47.41
St George’s, Grenada 37.33
Kilo of flour (TT$)
St John’s, Antigua 13.74
New York 9.28
St George’s, Grenada 8.50
Bottle of table wine (TT$)
New York 51.52
St John’s, Antigua 47.41
St George’s, Grenada 44.89
One litre gas, super (TT$)
St George’s, Grenada 10.74
St John’s, Antigua 9.39
New York 7.25
The EIU’s costliest ten
And their ten cost-savers
8 Panama City
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