Did inflation get you down? At least you don’t live in Argentina.

BUENOS AIRES—Trader Jonathan Faez has some advice for inflation-obsessed people around the world: Relax.

“I have friends in the United States and Spain and they tell me that they are going crazy with their annual inflation of 5% or 7%,” says Mr. Faez, owner of a lingerie store. “Here we reach 4% almost every month!”

Welcome to Argentina, where high, almost uncontrollable inflation, now at an estimated 55.1% over the last year, is as natural as the country’s juicy sirloins and sultry tango shows.

With the rest of the world experiencing higher inflation, a byproduct of supply chain crises, heavy stimulus spending and the war in Ukraine, Argentina offers something of a window for those who worry about how high inflation will be. and what it will mean for your daily life. it lives.

They have had practice: in the late 1980s, runaway government spending caused inflation to soar above 3,000%, and after a period of relative stability, the figure has risen again, reaching 6.7%. in March alone, the highest in 20 years.

“Here 40% is normal,” says Mr. Faez. “And when we go over 50%, it doesn’t scare us, it just annoys us.”

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Store owner Jonathan Faez says inflation doesn’t scare him.

Most Argentines have developed strategies to deal with rising prices and other features of the country’s economy, such as the falling value of the currency, the peso. He is a bit like the old “Dr. Classic Strangelove” about nuclear war, with a twist: “How I learned to stop caring and love hyperinflationary policies.”

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With money deposited in a bank account rapidly losing value, Argentines deplete their paychecks almost as soon as they are received. A trip to the supermarket often yields a week’s worth of food and supplies, from non-perishables like shampoo and canned goods to frozen meat stuffed into freezers. People look to exchange their pesos for US dollars, which provide protection against inflation. And they readily take out loans, which become easier to repay over time due to the weakening of the currency.

Yolanda Mastripólito, a 70-year-old lawyer, said one of the tactics she uses is to pay her taxes late, knowing that if she procrastinates she can cover the bill with money that has less value. And like other Argentines, she has learned that the government will not charge interest on a past due bill.

“You save a lot of money,” he explains.

Hoarding is a must. “I came to this market and bought as much toilet paper as I could for the month, more than 20 packs,” Melanie Lichtensztejn, a 24-year-old college student, said on a recent day. And not just toilet paper, there were also cleaning supplies, bottled drinks, milk. “I try to buy as much as I can because I know next month it will cost more to buy,” she said.

At the fruit stand on the outskirts of Buenos Aires where Sofía Finot works, she says her competitors fight inflation by adding water and ice to their fruit smoothies. “It’s more water, less fruit!” she says, adding that she doesn’t resort to such tactics, instead relying on buying frozen fruit to stock up before prices rise. “They will keep for a year,” she says.

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A shopper buys basic items in the Belgrano neighborhood.

In southern Argentina, butcher Exequiel García uses humor to lighten the mood, placing handwritten signs outside the store with phrases like “Look at our prices and cry” and “Eat meat at Easter! It is not a sin.

How bad has inflation been?

According to the Argentine Institute of Fiscal Analysis policy group, Russia ranked first in the world in March and Argentina was second (Venezuela, which does not regularly publish fiscal data but is believed by economists to have an annual inflation rate of 251%, is not t included in the institute’s estimates).

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The Once neighborhood on Corrientes Avenue.

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A street scene in Buenos Aires, where some workers are now paid in crypto instead of the volatile peso.

With the peso falling and inflation rising, workers are getting paid more and saving in cryptocurrencies. “They prefer the volatile asset of bitcoin over the peso, where they know they will always lose,” said Damian Di Pace of Focus Market Consultancy in Buenos Aires.

Argentines who haven’t caught on to bitcoin are looking for other, often ingenious, ways to stretch their beleaguered weight.

Raúl Ramos, 36, a construction worker, said he and his wife look for deals at the giant Carrefour store they like.

“I come to Carrefour looking for 25% to 50% sales,” he said, explaining that at the start of the school year everything from books to backpacks to notebooks was three times more expensive than a year earlier. “I don’t do it to save. I do it to have money at the end of the month. I’m used to fighting.”

María Oyhanarte, 67, and her husband, Gustavo Pastrana, 68, say they are looking for specials for the elderly in the newspaper La Nación. “We bet on those specials,” says Ms. Oyhanarte. “We go, we look and we make a big purchase once a week.”

She admits it’s a losing battle and explains that with inflation so high, the couple has had to cut back on some of the things they’ve bought in the past. “Meat, for example,” she says.

Mr. Pastrana, who has a cafe next to his wife’s bookstore, says he sees people come in and read all day, just having a coffee, even though he is aware of raising prices. “I’m in a low-margin business,” he said.

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Gustavo Pastrana and Maria Oyhanarte, in their bookstore, have stopped eating meat.

Others in Argentina buy in installments, from groceries to clothing and household items.

Cecilia Luna, 50, says her monthly income from working as a building superintendent is not enough, so she will buy what she needs in small payments spread over long periods of time. At the moment, her family is building a small house in a poor community on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

“We are buying all the construction material with deferred payments,” said Mrs. Luna, noting that the material for the roof is paid over 12 months, without interest. In other cases, Argentines know that the interest payments are usually less than inflation, so their money can stretch further.

“We are experts in the economy so that we can make ends meet,” said Ms. Luna. “That way, we can stay calm and not have to borrow money.”

write to Juan Forero at [email protected]

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