Cost of living crisis: The “food or fuel” decisions facing some

Jessica, Charlie and Annbelle Craig.

Families in Mullingar are already turning down their thermostats and turning off the lights in a bid to keep their skyrocketing electricity bills down. Last week, when a new series of rides was announced, Eilis Ryan went to test the temperatures ahead of what is shaping up to be a particularly tough winter – and found that some people were already making tough decisions.

Families prepare for a cold winter

When Jessica Craig received her last electricity bill, the reality of this new, more expensive world hit home: the amount owed to the electric company was an exorbitant sum.

“I just called my electricity company to change supplier. I had been with the same company for about two years, but my bill was almost €900 for two months.

The family is taken aback: “We almost had a heart attack! It’s crazy. We only live in a small cottage on the outskirts of Westmeath in Clonkill.

The bill was three times what they were used to: “Before that, our bill would have been around €300.

When Jessica started ringing to see if there was a cheaper provider she could sign up with, she was offered a contract that would have seen her unit cost reduced by 35% from what she was paying: “And then when it happened, my original company called me back, and then they gave me a better discount, so it pays to shop around: if you call the different companies, you get better value- price. »

As a mother of school-aged children, Jessica’s planned strategy to cut costs is to try to get everyone to turn off what they don’t use, and the family also uses timers to regulate the use of certain devices.

Sandra, Ellen and Alex Scally from Mullingar. Photo by Thomas Gibbons


Also a mother of school children, Sandra Scally from Mullingar is doing her best to stick to her budget – but a fourfold increase in her electricity costs has made it difficult.

“It really worries me,” says Sandra.

“We now pay almost €90 a week – and that’s prepaid. Before, it was €20 per week.

“We are starving ourselves to put BSE out so the kids can have normal things. It’s impossible, it’s absolutely impossible.

Sandra isn’t considering switching providers since they’ve been working at their current company for less than a year, but again she’s not sure it would make much of a difference: “They’re all the same: the prices are exorbitant. ”

There are three children in the house and the family uses a range of strategies to try to reduce usage.

“When you have children, it’s very, very difficult to reduce your electricity consumption.”

That said, she does use tricks like trying to do as few washes as possible: “The stove doesn’t even come on that often,” she says.

The struggle is very real: “They expect us to live on nothing – and there are worse people than us, who are hungry and all. It’s ridiculous; absolutely ridiculous. It’s either keep warm and have BSE or have food. It’s one or the other.”


“It’s going to get worse,” predicts Gerry Byrne, a Ballymore man, who isn’t convinced the current payment system is doing anything for the consumer.

“Turbiniers get so much tax and you pay a tax on your electricity bill for it,” he says, exasperated by what is happening.

Gerry has already noticed a substantial increase in the cost of his electricity bill: “It’s gone up 30-40%, and that’s for a one person household – although there is a cattle pump which works a lot of the time during good weather, but the pump wouldn’t matter.

When it comes to keeping his house warm for the winter, Gerry will rely on solid fuels.

Will it do the job? “I hope: I don’t have the means to emigrate! He’s joking.

Jerome Carpio at Harbor Place. Photo by Thomas Gibbons

Almost 350 €

Lakepoint’s Jerome Carpio finds himself turning off the lights and reminding his children to be smart about how they use their gadgets as he tries to reduce the amount of electricity the Carpio family uses.

It’s hard to get teenagers to understand why they need to save electricity now, but, says Jerome, the energy crisis is making “a lot of adjustments” necessary.

“I’m worried because in recent months our energy bill has actually been over an additional €100.

“Before, we were paying, I estimate, around €220 or €210. Now our last bill was around €340.

“If you actually only have a normal income of around €500 or €550 a week, imagine: they take that much extra money from your savings.”

Jérôme works as a catering manager in a restaurant and soaring energy prices are forcing staff to do things differently.

“In our work environment, we have to turn off some ovens – so rather than leaving them on for 10 to 12 hours, you know, we turn them off after just eight hours of work. Everything is now affected. We probably won’t be using Christmas lights anymore.

Tommy Kelly from Teg. Photo by Thomas Gibbons

hitting the business

Businessman Tommy Kelly, director of engineering firm TEG, is very aware of rising electricity prices. “Private bills are going crazy and so are business bills: for TEG they have more than doubled compared to last year.”

Say it fast and it won’t really matter how big the impact is – but when Tommy puts it in cash terms and explains that last year’s electricity bill was around €120,000 and that this year’s should be a quarter of a million, the significance becomes clearer.

TEG is an engineering firm, engaged in heavy and precision machining, which makes it an energy-intensive business.

“It takes a lot of electricity to operate,” he says.

“It’s really hard to cut costs because you have the same units we used before and you’re probably doing more work. So we have tightened almost every route we can on use – but the prices just…

“It’s definitely going to cost jobs across the country,” he continues. I’m not saying it will cost TEG jobs: we’re doing well so far, but we’re certainly suffering from the extra costs. »

Not a shock

Martin Aughey of Killucan estimates that in recent months his electricity bills have increased “by at least 30-40%”. It wasn’t, he admits, a total shock: “We all knew it was coming, but sometimes seeing the numbers can make it worse.”

Like most people, he’s worried about how serious the situation will be from now on. “You never know what’s around the corner, especially with the way the world is.”

Living in a 300-year-old house makes installing insulation difficult, so Martin’s plans to get through this winter without freezing or breaking the bank need to be more careful. “That’s all you can do,” he said. “Put a kettle on the stove instead of overboiling a kettle; use the hot air fryer instead of the big oven all the time. Little things like that.

Joan Colgan of Mullingar. Photo by Thomas Gibbons

hard times

D’Alton Park retiree Joan Colgan has always had to budget carefully to ensure her pension covers her living expenses, but it’s never been more difficult for her than this year promises to be.

“I got an electricity bill just this week and it was €178. Before that it was only around €75. She points out that her bill is particularly high considering that the bill is so high after deducting the discounts she receives as a senior citizen.

“Of course I’m worried: you would be when you put on 200 pounds a week,” she says.

To try to cut costs, Joan turns off the lights; does fewer washes but fills the machine more. She only goes downtown once a month to save on the cost of a taxi to take her shopping home.

“Look at the price of fuel,” she continues. “It’s €7.50 for a bale of briquettes. I would still have my fuel every year at this time, I have the shed full of briquettes and my piece of wood. And this year, I had absolutely nothing with the price. Even wood has now risen to €500 for a trailer load. »

Dean Harris of Mullingar. Photo by Thomas Gibbons

Workers’ concerns

Dean Harris is a newly qualified carpenter and for electricity he uses a prepaid meter system in his apartment. “I was probably paying €15 for a week’s electricity; now it’s €25 for the week.”

Fortunately, the apartment is well insulated, so he doesn’t have to worry too much about the cold for the winter. The cost of electricity is a concern for Dan, as many of the heavy tools he uses need to be charged before use.

“We all charge our own batteries,” he says, adding that sometimes it can mean up to 10 items to charge overnight.

In order to limit costs, he tries, as far as possible, to recharge his tools when he is on a construction site.

And like any true Irishman, he will be careful in his use of the immersion heater.

Julio V. Miller