by Trung Hieu
HA NOI (VNS)— For most Vietnamese families, preparing an adequate supply of treats to share at Tet (Lunar New Year) has almost become as traditional as the festival itself.
But with the country facing economic difficulties, this expectation has caused a headache for many people, particularly those working in the capital.
Most workers have seen their monthly income and Tet bonus reduced and this put them in difficult circumstances ahead of the annual celebration.
Nguyen Thi Nha and her husband left their home village in the northern province of Thai Binh six years ago, to become workers at North Thang Long Industrial Park in the hope of earning better wages.
Compared to other workers who rent houses on the same street, this couple's life is much harder because they have two young children and an elderly mother. The couple rent a 20sq.m room that they pay VND2 million (US$98) per month for.
They struggle every month as their wages are just enough to afford a frugal existence for the family. If one of their children were to fall sick, their lives would become even more difficult.
Looking ahead to Tet, Nha says the couple's monthly salary of just VND8 million (US$392) is barely enough for rent and feeding the children, so they don't have any savings to utilise.
"This year it has been too hard to make money, while at the end of the year we still cannot earn much so we have to prepare for a modest Tet. We are still waiting for the Tet bonus and won't be able to buy much without it. We hope it will be equal to one month's salary, because then we could return to our home village to enjoy Tet there."
While many say they don't have much money to buy supplies, shops and supermarkets are full of goods for Tet.
According to the Ha Noi Department of Industry and Trade, trading plazas and supermarkets including Metro, Big C, Hapro, Fivimart and Intimex have stored essential goods for Tet worth about VND2.3 trillion (US$109 million). The Ha Noi Beer, Alcohol and Beverage Corporation said it has 10 million bottles of wine and more than 50 million litres of beer ready to quench the market.
Thousands of tonnes of confectionery are delivered by the city's Hai Ha, Trang An, Huu Nghi and Ha Noi companies, while Ha Noi craft villages are estimated to supply over VND140 billion worth of goods for Tet.
Traders in markets also open shops earlier and close late at night, in a bid to attract more customers.
But unlike previous years, most businesses are concerned that products are not being sold because people cannot afford Tet shopping.
Supermarkets now offer many varieties of gift baskets for Tet which look very eye-catching, but not tempt people to purchase them.
While the supermarkets and shops are full of goods, the majority of citizens say they're unlikely to buying much from the bulging shelves.
Doan Thi Huong, 27, who works at a computer company and was walking around Metro supermarket, said: "I don't intend to buy much today, perhaps I will buy things nearer to Tet on my way back home. My husband had five months without pay this year while I received only one extra month's salary. That's why we have to spend economically."
Nguyen Phuong Thao, a State employee living in Kham Thien Street, said she loved to go window-shopping at supermarkets rather than actually buying anything.
"This year, our budget is stretched so my husband and I decided not to spend much. Our wages are still enough to live on, but these days we begin to worry, especially when holidays like Tet can easily cause us to over-spend," she explained.
While many residents are struggling with their sums, economic experts are warning that the reduced purchasing power will see consumers tighten spending further.
Deputy director of MTV Vissan Company Nguyen Ngoc An said: "We acknowledge that as a result of the difficult economy, people's income remains low, so purchasing power will be weaker compared to previous years."
Ha Noi Supermarket Association chairman Vu Vinh Phu said this year the Association expects purchasing power to be down 18-20 per cent compared to last year.
"Therefore, most enterprises producing goods for Tet are acting cautiously. But we don't lack goods, I'm just afraid that people don't have much money to spend on Tet. People tend to consider more carefully before paying, looking for cheaper items and visiting supermarkets with attractive promotions."
The owner of a series of grocery shops in Lo Duc Street, Nguyen Khanh Tu, said because people's purchasing power is weak, her company has cut back on orders.
"We know average spending is likely to be lower, so we have to open the shop earlier and close the doors later to serve more clients," she said.
As for low-income people, preparing an ample Tet remains a headache.
Nguyen Thi Binh from northern Bac Giang Province, who works for a company in Gia Lam District said: "Every year, people at my company would talk noisily about Tet spending while our departments were busy calculating workers's bonuses, but this year everything is silent. Working over the whole year, we can set aside very little money, so we just have to hope for a good bonus before Tet so we can afford gifts for our loved ones."
She added: "The Lunar New Year is a chance to rest, feast and socialise, but if we have to struggle with little money, I'd rather not have a Tet." — VNS