AMMAN // In a culture where generousity is considered a virtue, the economic recession is forcing Jordanians to learn to spend less.But that may not be so easy to do as this summer presents a perfect opportunity for extravagant spending, huge banquets and gifts: the wedding season kicked off in June, families are welcoming back Jordanians working abroad and Ramadan starts in about a week.
To avoid embarrassment for those who cannot afford to splash out, the notables of several villages surrounding Ajloun, 60km north-west of Amman, signed a code of honour in June to encourage citizens to curb spending during social occasions."Instead of having a groom pay money for printing wedding cards and then drive from one house to another to distribute them, he can just place a printed advertisement at the mosque. In this way, he will spend less money," said Ibrahim Abu Qasem, 73, one of the notables of Rasoon, a village near Ajloun, who signed the agreement.
"We also want to sign another document this month to unify the size of dowries and cut down on expenses associated with weddings. The demands have placed a lot of stress on people. Many are refraining from getting married."In the past year, Mr Abu Qasem said, citizens have already started to trim their spending. "People are making less mansaf and inviting fewer guests," he said, of the traditional Jordanian dish made of lamb and fermented yoghurt that is often served to celebrate a special occasion.
This is not the first time that village leaders in the country have set guidelines for spending, but it comes as the country struggles with an economic recession as a result of the financial crisis. In the first quarter of 2009, economic growth fell to 3.2 per cent compared with 8.6 per cent during the same period last year, according to the Central Bank of Jordan. The recession has already forced nearly 30 per cent of Jordanians to cut household expenditures, according to a study conducted between May 26 and June 28 this year by Bayt.com, a leading job site, and YouGov, an international internet-based market research firm.
"The region's consumers are cutting back considerably on their spending. Now, despite some signs of optimism at the grassroots level in the global economy, it seems the trend of being more price conscious looks set to continue, at least in the short term," said Nassim Ghrayeb, the regional CEO of YouGov.Last year, inflation climbed to nearly 15 per cent, spurred by a surge in oil prices, a Jordanian dinar pegged to a weakened US dollar and the increased global demand for commodities.
Although the department of statistics' latest report on inflation showed that the consumer price index rose by just 0.5 per cent year-on-year in June, there is a general sense that life is getting more expensive in Jordan.In the first six months of this year, the price of meat and poultry increased by 10.3 per cent compared with the same period last year, while the price of cereals grew by 15.5 per cent.
The cost of transport, energy and vegetables, however, fell by 16.1 per cent, 9.8 per cent and 7.8 per cent respectively in the same period. "Inflation did not increase much, but economic activity in the commercial and service sectors fell nearly 35 per cent this year as a result of the financial crisis," said Imad Hmoud, an economist and the director of a business website, malnews.net. "This has affected the liquidity in the market and prompted many Jordanians to cut down on their expenses.
"Even if the prices of vegetables fall, school fees went up nearly 30 per cent." As a result, Jordanians have started to tighten their budgets. "My husband and I started going out once a month to restaurants rather than every weekend as we used to," said Rawan Adnan, a 28-year-old teacher. "Instead of buying fresh local meat that cost nearly US$12 (Dh44) a kilo, I have been buying a sack of frozen meat at $30, which lasts us two months."
Mrs Adnan's mother-in-law said she had stopped inviting newly married relatives for lunch and dinner. Instead, she visits them and takes a present with her.At a vegetable market on the outskirts of Amman, Jawdat Adnan, a 37-year-old vegetable vendor, complained that demand had slowed."Those who used to purchase five kilos of fruit and vegetables are now buying two. This inflation is outrageous," he said.
"The prices are increasing by the day; we are selling less than before. I even started smoking less. I used to smoke three packs of cigarettes a day and now I smoke two. "My brother has even taken his children out of a private school and enrolled them in a public one because he cannot bear the cost any more."With Ramadan approaching, the price rises are causing concern even for the government. In the past week, the price of imported meat increased by up to 25 per cent to as much as $9 a kilo. A tonne of sugar now costs $75 more at almost $650.
"The ministry will follow up on the price increases and ensure that importers commit to their promises not to increase prices during Ramadan," Muntasser Oklah, the secretary general of the ministry of industry and trade, said in a meeting with shop owners last Sunday.email@example.com