Adding up the rising costs of convenience

People ask for tax saving tips. How about: “Stay out of the shops!

South Africans will pay R243bn in VAT alone this year! Our new consumer habits are not sustainable.”

Few can remember the excitement that existed when the first hypermarkets opened their doors in the 1970s. “Buy in bulk and save” was the way to go, and “convenience” was being able to shop once a month.

Grub at home was bearable until halfway through the month. By month-end, we were down to eating seeding cabbage from dad’s garden, perhaps with baked beans on top. Charging any excess to the credit cards was not an option.

That is all gone now. We have slipped into the age of the convenience store without noticing. Forget pubs and clubs — we now socialise among the shelves while we buy our daily supplies. They tell us it is all fresh and healthy.

But what is the cost of convenience? Start with the additional fuel for your car. We have forgotten about the oil crisis of 1974. At this rate, we will have another in South Africa by 2014. And that is before adding the carbon tax that is scheduled for 2015.

What about the extra in-store refrigeration? Buy cooldrinks, warm them up in the car and get them cold again at home? The mind boggles at how much of the electricity bill a convenience store is passing on to the consumer. Perhaps they are just adhering to the Eskom online casino call to “cool it”.

Then comes the torture of the sweet counters at knee level next to the tills so that screaming kids can shred their parents’ legs and credit cards. A monthly treat has become a daily extravagant cost.

Add a bottle store right next to the convenience store and there are more fridges cooling everything except the whiskey. Cheap booze is always on special, so laden with sugar and preservatives that consumers can no longer distinguish between being stone drunk and having a sugar high.

Every second truck on the highway is delivering tomorrow’s freshness. No wonder food inflation is rampant. This makes no commercial sense for the consumer. Surely the triple bottom-line approach to business requires a little more business imagination than just a corporate social investment programme and freshness for the consumer? Looking after the general good of people, the planet and the consumer’s pocket is also on the agenda.

Originally published in the Sunday Times: Money & Careers Tax Talk column.

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