Most people across the Middle East spend more in Ramadan, mainly on food and groceries. Despite the price cuts and often dramatic discounts that retailers apply to attract sales during the holy month, they often still make significant profits because of increases in volume and increased demand for goods.
Due to the increased hospitality that takes place in Ramadan, with people inviting family and friends for traditional Iftar meals, there is increased demand particularly for food. Family shopping patterns and consumption surge, with vegetables, fruit, and meat, all eaten during Iftar meals, all seeing increased sales.
Desserts like konafa, qatayef and others also see a spike in sales, along with the nuts that are used to decorate them and are used in many famous recipes.
Clothes sales also go up in Ramadan, especially for the qaftans worn by women. New clothes are bought by all during the second half of the holy month, due to preparations for the Eid Al-Fitr, the holiday that ends Ramadan.
Prayer beads and prayer rugs also see a spike in sales. The ingredients of Ramadan drinks like tamarind, licorice, natural juice, and coconut milk all sell more than usual. Dates are sold in much greater numbers than during the rest of the year, and there is increased demand for bread, beans, and cheese, all eaten for Sohour meals before the fast begins.
The sales of children’s toys also increase in Ramadan, perhaps to make children even happier amid the wonderful atmosphere of the holy month. As millions of Muslims prepare for the Eid Al-Fitr, health and beauty, fashion, food and drink, and even home products are all sought-after products.
Mariam Mahmoud, a 33-year-old engineer in Cairo, shared her family’s Ramadan preparations. “We decorate the house and plan various religious rituals every day so that we are fully prepared for the holy month. We buy a lot of dates, dried fruit, soup ingredients, and salad ingredients. Prices have already increased for these things, but I only buy what we consume, so I don’t think I will be changing any of my spending habits,” Mahmoud said.
Raghda, 34, an economic analyst, said that for her “getting ready for Ramadan depends on my mood. But I’ve made lots of changes about the house. Our budget goes on food in general and desserts specifically. Things are already getting more expensive, but regardless of the prices, we will be enjoying both the Ramadan food and decorations.”
Ahmed Sharaf, a 38-year-old engineer, said that in his family “my wife decides on Ramadan spending. We have a higher domestic budget for the month, with most of our food spending going on vegetables and fruit. Prices this Ramadan are likely to be high, and we may have to reduce our spending by 15 per cent and change our consumption.”
“After the price hikes that have taken place, it is not the fault of retailers if there is a rise in prices, especially because of the rise in the price of the dollar and the general instability,” said Mohamed Al-Said, a 45-year-old supermarket owner in Cairo. Commodity prices were expected to go up by 10 to 15 per cent, he said, as a result of the depreciation of the pound against the dollar.
“Retailers, supermarkets, and small stores cannot be blamed for the rise in prices, which are due to rises imposed by producers, importers, and manufacturers,” Al-Said said. Increases in prices are also not in the interest of retailers, since they often reduce profit margins and sales.
Samia Gamal, a 50-year-old Cairo office worker, said that in her family “my preparations for Ramadan include buying a good amount of butter to make desserts, buying nuts, coconut, and raisins, and special spices and chicken. Meat prices otherwise are way too high for me.”
“This year, I have already noticed the rising prices even before Ramadan begins. Everything has gone up by LE10 to LE40. I’m not sure how we will get through it,” she said.
Dina Mohsen, a 32-year-old housewife, and Eman Magdi, a 32-year-old business owner, said that their families’ food budgets are the same as in any other month. Ramadan is a spiritual experience, they said, not a matter of buying more food.
“I decide on the family shopping. I haven’t been shopping yet, but I think prices will be affected this year due to the dollar rates. I will try to minimise my spending, but I can see myself spending a lot on oriental sweets for Iftar – these always absorb a significant part of my budget,” Magdi said.
Mohsen said that she “would rather go for simple decorations and music than buying more food in Ramadan. Ever since I had my first baby, I have started to change my consumption habits. For me, the purpose of fasting in the holy month is to discipline our demanding inner self, not the opposite.”
For many people, it may be difficult to keep track of finances when going out to Iftar gatherings with family and friends, shopping for the Eid, and donating to charity. Spending too much money could derail short-term financial goals. As a result, many people also see the holy month as an opportunity to assess their financial situation and establish sound financial habits for the future.
Instead of buying something new for Ramadan, consider reusing something you already have. Consider wearing older outfits rather than buying new ones and repurposing decorations from earlier years’ celebrations. Break your fast with family and friends at home – it may be easier to stay on top of your finances because of Covid-19 regulations.
When breaking your fast, don’t be overzealous. With an empty stomach, it can be easy to misjudge your appetite and spend more on food than you need to. Many people might overeat when they break their fast, even damaging their health.
Muslims across the world fast from sunrise to sunset in Ramadan, abstaining completely from eating, drinking, smoking, and other sensual pleasures in order to fulfill one of Islam’s five pillars and to gain in self-discipline, self-purification, and compassion for those who are less fortunate than themselves.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 31 March, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.