How people are coping with the rising cost of living

Aum Pem and her daughter

Aum Pem, 65, sells vegetables door-to-door in Thimphu to make ends meet. She does whatever it takes to help her 31-year-old daughter who works at the Tech Park and earns a basic salary of Nu 13,000.

“My daughter says, Ama, there is no need to work at this age,” said Pem.

Aum Pem is worried about her daughter’s frail health and surgery, and so continues to do her job of selling vegetables to ensure that they don’t run out of money.

Aum Pem’s husband passed away fifteen years ago when their only child, the daughter, was in the eighth grade in school.  As a single mother, she had to manage her daughter’s school expenses, and look after her old mother.

She also worked hard to pay back a Nu 34,000 loan, which taken to cover her late husband’s funeral ritual expenses. The daughter also worked after school to pay back the loan.

“My daughter and I used to work equally. She went to work at her part-time job immediately after school and also worked on weekends. That’s how we were able to pay back the loan that was borrowed from the bank for my husband’s funeral,” said Aum Pem.

“My daughter was still working when she was in class twelve; it was difficult for us to make ends meet then, and it’s still tough now with the rising cost of basic necessities,” she continued.

Due to the influx of new vegetable vendors into the city, selling vegetables has grown difficult than before, said Aum Pem

According to Aum Pem, “I make up to Nu 10 to Nu 200 at the most, or to nothing in a day, and I still do this because I believe, at least we do not have to buy vegetables.”

Their livelihood is impacted by more than just the rise of vegetable vendors. Their ability to maintain their way of life is hampered by the rising cost of basic needs, like groceries and house rent.

“Yes, the cost of goods, like rice, oil, and other food items has gone up. Before, the cost of the commodities was lower. We settle for the cheapest rice, which costs up to Nu 1,000 to Nu 1,050, because the best grade costs around Nu 1,300 to Nu 1,500, and we cannot afford it,” said Aum Pem.

Even though both Aum Pem and her daughter work, however, the money they bring in is insufficient. They say it is difficult for them to sustain their livelihood, as the have the additional responsibility of caring for the old mother in the village, and for them to eat and travel.

Aum Pem and her daughter pay Nu 4,000 per month in rent for their modest four-room traditional Bhutanese home in Babesa.

“We spoke with our landlord, who was planning to raise the rent, but I begged him not to and informed them that the money we make is insufficient for our survival,” said Aum Pem.

Aum Pem wants to return to her village in Chukha, and live there, but the lack of a home in the village prevents her from doing so.

“I do not intend to build a big house; a small house made out of stones and wood would have been enough. However, we do not have the money to do so. The money my daughter and I make is barely enough to get by,” explained Aum Pem.

The struggle to live in the capital city is also felt by the current college graduates and recent high school graduates due to the high cost of living.

Bhima Rana

A high school graduate, Bhima Rana, works as a cashier in one of the clothing shops in Thimphu. She has a combined monthly income of up to Nu  30,000 and resides with her husband and his sister in a rental apartment at Nu 9,000 per month.

“Even if I make a large amount of money, it is still insufficient for us, and as the cost of products rises, it gets more expensive for us to purchase stuff,” said Bhima Rana.

She stated, “The price of Raj Bhog, which we used to get for Nu 950, has increased to approximately Nu 1,100. The price of oils, which we once purchased in five-liter bottles for Nu 450, has increased to approximately Nu 500 to 600, depending on the shop.”

Bhima recalled, “It was during the COVID-19 lockdowns and after that, I have observed an increase in the price of the goods and it is still increasing.”

Even though consumer costs for necessities, like food and clothing are rising, she continued, “I still have to buy it because I need it to survive. Today, the amount of money my husband and I earn is barely enough to cover our expenses. It is hard for us to save any money.”

Kinzang Lham

Kinzang Lham, a recent graduate of the Gedu College of Business Studies, who is currently working as a data analyst, makes up to Nu 17,000 as her monthly income.

Kinzang said, “With the amount of money that I make, it is just enough for my daily expenses. Currently, I am living with my brother and his family,” and she further added, “I fear living on my own with the amount of salary I make because one-fourth of my pay will go to rent, excluding all my personal expenses.”

“The current inflation rate makes matter worse for new worker like me, with the daily necessities becoming more expensive than previously, although my purchasing power decreases, I still have to buy things,” she added.

Kinzang is hopeful that the inflation rate decreases so that she, like the many others struggling to live in expensive Thimphu, can keep her head out of the water each month.

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