The cost of living a decent life in Finland: food

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Today, we discuss what is the cost of living a decent life in Finland. Our discussion is only partial as we solely discuss the cost of food today. Naturally, being able to live a decent life consists of more than eating. Other aspects of a decent life include, for example, housing, healthcare, and clothing.

We base our focus today on a recent research publication by researchers at the University of Turku and the Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare. They are Boris Bakkum, Anna Grahn, Justus Jokela, Susanna Mukkila, Lauri Mäkinen, Janne Salminen, and Outi Sarpila.

This research publication is a product of a research project at the University of Turku. That research project examines the cost of a decent life in Finland. It covers all those additional aspects as well but their most recent publication is on the cost of food. 

This particular research project is part of a large research flagship project INVEST. This large conglomeration of research projects focuses on studying the welfare state. 

Before we get to the costs themselves, we’ll first discuss what the researchers mean by decent life and how they came up with their reference budget. We’ll also briefly tell you what reference budgets are and how they are used. 

In some of our previous blogs, we have discussed the cost of living in Finland. We’ve based those on consumer prices of different product categories or on other measures of standard of living. This discussion is different as it is not a comparison between countries. Rather, it’s about how much what is the cost of living a decent life in Finland when it comes to food costs. 

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What defines a decent life and what is a reference budget?

The goal of this research project is to determine what it costs to live a decent life in Finland in the 2020s. 

They define a decent life to mean a life in which people are able to fulfill their social roles and participate in society in those social roles actively and autonomously. 

This definition, then, goes beyond mere survival. It means being able to live in society as mothers, fathers, workers, spouses, students, or citizens.  It means being able to make their own decisions as to how and when to participate in society. Being able to live a decent life also means having the resources to fulfill the psychological, social, and physical needs associated with these social roles. 

Thus the project wants to discover how much it costs to live a decent life in Finland when decent life is defined like this. 

In order to discover this, the researchers use reference budgets. Reference budgets are baskets of goods and services that are necessary to reach a certain standard of living. The standard of living aimed at dependents on the goal of the study in which reference budgets are used. In this one, the standard of living aimed at is the afore-mentioned “decent life” in Finland. 

Reference budgets are always tied to the particular study, its premises, and the particular place, culture, and time in which it takes place. Thus reference budgets are not comparable across nations unless they are specifically meant to be comparable (see eg. The European Reference Budgets Network). 

Reference budgets usually include different types of representative households. To make calculations as accurate as possible, researchers make certain assumptions about these hypothetical households. This is because consumption varies significantly according to the size of the household as well as the age and gender of its members. 

Building the food basket for the reference budget of a decent life in Finland

The food basket the University of Turku and the Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare used to calculate the food budget included food items as well as kitchen utensils. It also included other common items needed to prepare and preserve food. These are items such as a can opener, kitchen knives, plates, and cups. But they also included large items such as a microwave oven, a dining table, and a fridge. 

The core of the budget, however, relies on an example menu of a week’s worth of food. The foods they selected satisfy the Finnish nutritional recommendations for different age groups and genders. These recommendations are based on the estimated calorie intake men and women of different ages and activity levels are thought to require.

They also made certain assumptions about the eating habits of example households. For example, that kids would eat some of their meals at school or daycare centers. 

The example menu did not include sweets or alcohol. 

After coming up with a sample menu and a list of necessary kitchen items, the researchers subjected the contents of their food basket to public review. Based on the survey results, they modified the contents of the basket somewhat.

For example, survey respondents said that living a decent life in Finland includes being able to invite friends and family over for coffee or a meal. Living a decent life also means that one doesn’t always have to go for the cheapest option while grocery shopping. 

Based on the survey results, the food basket used allows eating out once a month, inviting friends over a couple of times a month, and having 3 holiday meals (like Christmas dinner) a year.

When choosing which kitchen utensils and items to include, the researchers decided that if 80 % of the survey respondents said the item is necessary, it should be included in the list. 

In order to get the cost of such items, the researchers defined the life span of each kitchen item. They then divided the cost of the item by months of use and included that cost as the monthly cost of an item.  

Sample households

The researchers came up with 12 different example households that fairly well reflect typical households in Finland. 

These were:

  • A man under 45 years of age living alone;
  • A woman under 45 years of age living alone;
  • A woman over 65 living alone;
  • A man over 65 living alone;
  • A couple (man and a woman) under 45;
  • A male single parent living with a 4-year-old daughter;
  • A female single parent living with a 10-year-old son;
  • A female single pare, living with a 10-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter;
  • A couple (a man and a woman) living with their 14-year-old son;
  • A couple (a man and a woman) living with their 4-year-old daughter and their 10-year-old daughter;
  • A couple (a man and a woman) living with their 10-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter.

The researchers acknowledge that their background assumptions about these hypothetical households influence their research results. They assumed that the household members:

  • do not have allergies or other health issues that would influence what kinds of food they can eat;
  • are able to cook healthy meals economically;
  • can preserve food in the fridge and/or in the freezer;
  • are able to compare prices and are able to choose items that provide the best value for their money. 

Their assumptions do not take into account cultural or ethical food preferences. Thus their results have certain limitations. Nevertheless, they contend that their calculations can be used to estimate what is the cost of a decent life in Finland in terms of food costs today. Comparing their calculations, for example, to the level of basic social security benefits in Finland allows us to consider to what extent living a decent life in Finland is possible if one has to rely on it. 

The cost of living a decent life in Finland

The researchers calculated the cost of living a decent life in Finland in terms of food by looking at the prices of the selected food items in Prisma. They selected three Prisma stores from around the country to take regional price differences into consideration. The price they then used is the average of those three prices.

The prices for kitchen utensils and other items included in the basket came from Prisma, Jysk, and Tokmanni. With these, they took the price of the least expensive item that satisfied the quality requirements for such an item.

Below, the price for the social function of food (eg. entertaining friends and family) is given separately.

Here is the cost of living a decent life in Finland in terms of food for childless households (€/month).

Woman, 45 yrs. oldWoman, 65 yrs. oldMan, 45 yrs. oldMan, 65 yrs. oldA couple, 45 yrs. old
Healthy food210188240215450
Kitchen utensils and appliances1010101011
The social function of food2020191938
Total (€/month)239217269244499
Based on Table 7. of the report on p. 28

The researchers note that the reference budget for women is smaller than for men. This is because the required nutritional intake of women is smaller than for men. Similarly, women over 65 need fewer calories than younger women. Thus, their reference budgets are smaller than those of younger women.

Here is the cost of living a decent life in Finland in terms of food for households with children (€/month).

Male single parent + daughter 4 yrs. oldFemale single parent + son 10 yrs. oldFemale single parent + son 10 yrs. old and daughter 14 yrs. oldA couple + son 4 yrs. oldA couple + son 14 yrs. oldA couple + daughter 4 yrs. old and daughter 10 yrs. oldA couple + son 10 yrs. old and daughter 14 yrs. old
Healthy food320384562530623692801
Kitchen utensils and appliances11111414141616
The social function of food33315450536671
Total (€/month)364426629594690774889
Based on Table 8. of the report on p. 28

In their conclusions, the researchers emphasize that living a decent life is the right of every citizen. This means having the means that go beyond mere subsistence.

These calculated budgets give us an idea of what living such a life in Finland might cost. Obviously, these calculations have certain built-in limitations starting from the included food items. Nevertheless, these budgets give us a starting point for our discussions on what it cost to live a decent life in Finland today.

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Minna
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