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More booze, fewer bras: what we spent money on in 2020

Working in 2020. Photo by BRUNO EMMANUELLE on Unsplash

In 2020, Belgian households spent on average €35,209, some €200 less than two years previously, according to figures from the national statistics agency Statbel.

The largest portion of the budget, not surprisingly, goes to household expenses – rent, water, energy, maintenance and other costs – which account for 31.8% of disposable income.

Those figures include an average of just under €200 for tap water, €730 for gas and just over €800 for electricity. These costs rose from an average of €10,837 in 2018 to €11,347 in 2020, a rise of 4.7% over two years.

Of course, 2020 was not a year like any other, so comparisons are difficult. In fact, the rise in spending was almost three times the rate of inflation over the period, which was 1.6%. It is also worth bearing in mind that a large proportion of the workforce was forced to work from home rather than in the office – a factor that saw people spending more time at home and therefore spending more on domestic bills.

As far as water bills are concerned, since the final reckoning is only likely to come through this year, spending could be even higher than projected.

According to consumer organisation Test Achats, water bills could be €240 to €360 higher than in the previous period, as a result of people being at home more: more use of the toilet, longer showers, coffee machines, dishwashers.

Next in line comes food and drink (and tobacco), which accounts 18.1% of income, up from 16% in 2018.

That includes on average almost €40 a year for potato chips, roughly €175 for chocolate, a generous €200 for soft drinks, €150 for beer and almost €350 for wine.

Thanks to lockdowns, spending on restaurants was down by one-third, to €1,550, while spending on food delivery services tripled, but only to an average of €200 per household.

Likewise, cafes and bars were closed for long periods, but we made up for it by spending more – around 10% – on alcoholic drinks, about €600 a household. That includes 7% more on wine, 13% more on beer, 18% more on liqueurs and spirits and even three times as much as in 2018 on soft drinks with alcohol.

Finally, 6.7% goes on things like furniture, domestic appliances and maintenance products and tools for home and garden.

Clothing purchases dropped by 30%, for obvious reasons – we were all going about in our pyjamas. Men spent about €230, 30% less than two years earlier. Women spent around €450, but that is in fact 35% less.
For example, men spent 38% less on jeans or trousers, half less on shirts and even 71% less on suits.

Women spent 27% less on jeans and trousers, 27% less on dresses, 39% less on blouses and 22% less on bras. On average per household, just under €100 euros was spent on men’s shoes (down 8%) and €130 (down 15%) on women’s shoes.

Statbel surveyed 6,000 households across the country, which is used in part to figure out the country’s equivalent of the retail price index: the amount by which inflation has increased over the two-year interval, which will affect things like pay discussions, pensions, rent increases and so on.

In 2020, Belgian households spent on average €35,209, Flemish households €36,447, Walloon households €34,096 and households in Brussels €32,057.

In 2018, Belgian households spent an average of €35,764. In Flanders it was €36,895, in Wallonia €34,589 and in the Brussels-Capital Region €33,356.