Monday, 21 January 2013

The Butternut Index

The Butternut Index
21 January 2013

Forget about the JSE, the FUTSI, the DAX, the HANG SENG, the NASDAQ, the NIKKEI, the price of Gold Bullion and Brent Crude Oil.  The true measure of the state of any economy is the Butternut Index.

The Butternut Index you ask?  What is that?  Well don’t you know?  Any economist with his fingertip on the financial pulse and who is worth his proverbial weight in gold, platinum or diamonds should know.  After all it makes perfect sense.

My beloved sister, Foefie, a.k.a. Katrine, has spent two quite long stints living in the UK.  In fact she is still living there now.  She hasn’t travelled much in Europe, but she has gone to both Italy and Wales.  Lucky bum.  Luckily for her she never went to Venice, otherwise I would have been forced to take her off my Xmas card list.  Venice is my dream and one I’m selfishly not willing to let anyone else experience.  I know – I’m very mean.  Alas, as often happens to me, I get distracted.  Back to the Butternut Index.

Foefie’s husband, Robin, often jokes that whilst shopping, she always looks at the price of butternuts and marvels at the cost.  And then when shopping elsewhere she compares the cost.  It is sort of her benchmark for the state of the economy and what money is worth.  What you actually get for your buck.  She also dabbles a bit in the Mango Index.  And that one is quite harsh.  Mangoes are her absolute favourite fruit and apparently they are shockingly expensive in Europe.  Whenever anyone goes over to the UK, we send her some dried mango – a poor substitute for the real thing, yet it’s still a little taste of home.

Personally, I’ve been shocked at the cost of food lately.  I am feeding five people every day.  Most of the time six, because my domestic worker has breakfast and lunch at work too.  And every so often the kids have friends over.  Something I delight in as I just love a busy house.

However, just of late, I’ve really noticed a sharp and alarming increase in the price of food.  Perhaps the jump wasn’t even sudden.  Maybe more gradual and it just sort of crept up on me, whilst I was snoozing.  Like a ninny, I do daily shopping.  Always popping in at the shops on my way to fetch kids from school or some or other activity.  I do obviously have certain goodies at all times, and my freezer is stocked with the usual suspects – chicken breasts, wors, etc.  However for any specific meal, I have to go to the shops.  A few years ago, I would go to the shops and spend about R100 – R150.  And now I’m spending between R250 to R300.  We’re not eating better.  We’re not eating more expensive food.  It’s not as if we’re doing steak every day.  Hardly ever chops.  Even just the basic daily fresh produce – milk, bread, fruit and veg is pricey. 

I am by no means affluent.  Heavens alive!  If only I was.  We are a two income family and both Grantie and I contribute to the pot.  Neither can afford to just sit back.  Grant works for a set monthly salary and my income fluctuates with my Jumping Castle business.  It is very weather dependant.  And in winter time, things are really tight for us.  How do others cope?  I know what I pay my domestic worker.  And it’s above the recommended wage set by our government.  She supplements her income by working every second weekend.  She also gets a government grant for her children.  Yet her food costs the same as mine.  Milk is milk.  Bread costs what it costs.

I look forward to my sister’s next visit to SA, to hear her latest take on the Butternut Index and how we’re fairing here in sunny SA.  Is it any better than across the waters? 

Sadly with the very nature of the Butternut Index, one is not able to stockpile for the future.  Buying low and selling high is not an option.  Rather it is a continual and draining exercise, putting immense pressure on one’s financial resources.  Over a prolonged and rather extended period of time.  As in forever.  As in for the rest of your life.

In the interim, I might have to roll my sleeves up and invest in a little veggie patch of my own. 

Drat – I forgot.  I’m a serial plant killer.  This will never do.  How shall I overcome this?  It’s obvious – stop eating butternut. 

Bull market?  Bear market?  Butternut market for sure.

This stuff is a more accurate measure of a country's economic state than their stock exchange

Stock exchange mumbo-jumbo

Look at all the pretty colours..... Looks a bit like a medical chart to me. I hope the patient will live.

I'm thinking the green uppity arrows mean good and the red downity arrows mean bad. Or perhaps not? Depends if you're buying or selling? Because if you're buying you want to get them on a red down, right? And if you're selling you want to get them on a green up, right? So what happens if you're colour blind??? And you're not good with directions? Hah! Then you've really had it!


  1. Hi Helene I have been to Venice, but Im not on your christmas card list so itsok :) xx
    I also have noticed the price of food my gripe is chick peas as a vegetarian they are my staple food and they have gone up a lot! xx much love xx

  2. Fun idea, H. Rob speaks of the MacDonald's burger index which is the same in every country he reckons!

  3. Hi Helene,
    I discovered butternut during my first time in Za. I ordered a butternut soup in a restaurant and had one of those experiences in my life you are not the same person anymore. Coming back to Belgium, I had to wait one year to see them appear proudly on the shelves of my grossery store , waiting for me with their funny shape and colour . A Glimpse of ZA in my grossery. Can you imagine? Life is getting very expensive for a one salary woman in Europe. But I will never Deprive myself of buying my sweet butternut.