Buenos Aires: Argentine retiree Susana Barrio says she no longer invites her friends over for the traditional asado barbecue, long a key part of social life in the South American farming nation. Fast-rising meat and vegetable prices have made the meals hard to afford.
Inflation in the country likely topped 200 per cent last year, one of the highest levels in the world. Grocery costs rose particularly fast, hitting people's wallets as salaries and pensions have failed to keep pace.
"We've had to eliminate things that made life a little brighter," Barrio, 79, said. "That joy it gave me to invite my friends for a barbecue, which is typical here, now that's impossible." Inflation was likely around 28 per cent in December, with food prices up even more after a sharp devaluation of the peso currency, a Reuters poll of analysts showed. Official data will be released later on Thursday.
While high inflation has dogged Argentina for years, the rate of price increases is now at the highest level since the start of the 1990s, when the country was emerging from a period of hyperinflation.
"You totally lose track of prices," said Guillermo Cabral, a 60-year-old owner of a butcher shop in Buenos Aires, who said he had once mistakenly told a customer the price for some meat was 35,000 pesos ($43) instead of 15,000 pesos.
"The customer took out the money to pay it all the same." President Javier Milei, a political outsider who rode to power on the back of voter anger at the worsening economic situation, is looking to employ tough austerity measures to bring down inflation, reduce a deep fiscal deficit and rebuild government coffers.
But Milei, who has been in office a month, has warned it will take time and that things could get worse before they get better. Many Argentines are further tightening their belts, with two-fifths already in poverty.
"Nothing is cheap," said Graciela Bravo, a 65-year-old retiree, who said she now carefully counted how many potatoes she bought.
"Before you would purchase by the kilo, now I get three potatoes or four potatoes so they don't spoil." Alejandro Grossi, 49, a lawyer, said he was wearily used to rising prices after years of inflation.
"I buy fewer things for myself than I would like, you adapt," he said. "It's like we're used to it, it's already something so natural here: inflation and changing prices."