‘The money we’ve saved doesn’t get us what we want anymore’ – family with own business on the pressure to keep costs down

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Frederique van Buuren lives with her partner Jos and their two daughters – aged 12 and nine – in the foothills of the Wicklow Mountains. Originally from the Netherlands, they have been living in Ireland since 2007.

ut much as she loves living in Ireland, she said she feels “a lot of pressure to keep energy costs at an affordable level” – and an increase in costs has put plans for an extension and better insulation for their cottage on hold. “We will have to revisit our building plans as we simply can´t afford what we wanted to do,” she said.  

“At the moment, our mortgage and home insurance costs around €1,400 per month, car costs (insurance, maintenance, tax, etc) are €3,000 per year, and our electricity cost for 2022 is looking to be 20pc to 25pc higher than last year – with home heating oil 37pc higher.

“On top of that, our weekly shop has increased by 15pc over the last six months. As a homeowner I feel pressure to do as much as I can to keep our energy costs at an affordable level.”

As a business owner, Ms van Buuren – who together with her “partner in wool” Anouk O’Connell runs www.Olannmor.com, creating high-quality woollen and other natural products – said while her outgoings for the business haven’t changed too much as yet, a reduction in income is beginning to make life difficult.

“We operate from our homes, so we are lucky in that respect as we’re not dealing with additional rent or electricity bills,” she said. “So our operational costs are made up of our inventory, marketing costs, website costs, banking and phone costs – amounting to €40,000 a year.

“Our main issue is that income is lagging behind and we don’t know what consumers will spend this year (for Christmas). Despite a strong first quarter in 2022, we were well behind target for Q2 and the start of Q3, which we can mainly blame on pressure on spending power of our customers.

“We are putting in the same or more hours, and due to increases in costs for materials and transportation, we really wonder if it is feasible for us to continue in 2023 given that a recession is highly likely.

“We have invested in some training and assistance to have all the tools to sell our products in the right places with the right marketing in place. We really hope that customers continue to choose to shop local, and sustainably, and select from businesses like ours.”

Ms van Buuren is concerned about how the Budget will affect her customers.

“Our target market will first have to pay their bills – and whatever support consumers will get, for most there will be 15pc to 20pc less to spend over the coming months,” she said.

“This means that as a business, we have to be super-creative and inventive in finding the available income streams and will have to work really hard for each sale.

“But I’m also worried for a lot of people who are struggling to pay their bills and get a decent dinner on the table each day. So I think there should have been a huge push to help home owners make their homes more energy-efficient without having to finance everything themselves up front.

“I’m not concerned about surviving the next winter for ourselves… we can manage. However, we feel there aren’t sufficient supports to upgrade our home to an energy-efficient home in the short term, which is very frustrating. The money we have saved doesn’t get us what we want any more – and we would like to live a bit as well.”

Ms van Buuren said although there don’t seem to be any measures with regard to sustainability in the Budget, there are some positives.

“The energy credits will certainly help in covering the additional costs we’re facing for the coming winter,” she said. “And the extra child benefit payment is certainly helpful.  

“It is also important that the Government is looking at the short term first and is making sure that people have food on the table and can get through winter reasonably well. But so far I’ve not seen anything for the longer term when it comes to energy efficiency or reduction of energy usage.

“We can only hope that shoppers will remember to shop local, shop sustainable, and not just go for the easy cheap option… keeping the local economy in mind.”

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