Tough times have a way of drawing people together. More often these days we find ourselves swapping stories about price hikes with strangers in supermarket aisles, or sharing a grumble at the cost of a cup of coffee.
Virtually everyone is seeing more money go out the window. The costs of everyday essentials — food, heat, fuel — are climbing at shocking rates. Bills have never been nice, yet now for more families they are becoming a serious burden.
But we're all in this together, and it's time we shared more than dismay at the latest price rise.
That's why the Belfast Telegraph is launching Pricewatch – our new campaign to make sure you don't get ripped off just because you're trying to live your life.
From today, Pricewatch will be in your corner for the fight against inflation.
We'll be keeping a sharp eye on how much shops are charging for the essential items you buy every week.
We'll also be offering tips for cutting costs and making savings where you can.
We'll hunt down the bargains and best buys. And where retailers are sticking the arm in, we won't be afraid to say so.
When it comes to fighting back against the credit crunch, the Belfast Telegraph will be leading the charge.
All this week and beyond we'll be comparing prices and weighing up value for money among some of our best known retailers.
Today we're reporting the exclusive results of a major report by Millward Brown Ulster, formerly Ulster Marketing Surveys, that compares key prices between Northern Ireland's main supermarkets and convenience stores.
We found price variations from shop to shop — including gaps of 157% in what some shops charge for similar items.
We'll also be looking at petrol prices and the cost of living in Northern Ireland, as opposed to just the cost of living. We continue to pay more for many goods and services than any other part of the UK — where we find that's the case, we'll say so and we'll ask those charging the higher prices to tell us why.
We all know how the economy has taken a turn for the worse over the past year. Annual food bills have soared by as much as £1,400. Electricity and gas prices took extra jumps just last week. Home heating oil has rocketed up by almost 80%. Petrol and diesel prices are curbing our journeys and turning the daily commute into another whack on the wallet.
According to the General Consumer Council, two-thirds of consumers are struggling to pay their household bills.
People are making tougher choices. For many of us, buying what you want now comes a distant second to buying what you need.
Single mother Maureen Wishart, from Belfast, tells us today about buying “just the bare minimum” when it comes to food and clothes, because the cost of her weekly shop has already climbed at least a third.
And pensioner Francis Hughes said he's switching supermarkets and looking at ways to cut electricity and heating oil bills in order to make his fixed income go further.
We want to hear your story, too. Our reporters need your tips for cutting costs. We need your eyes and ears to help us find the best bargains and the rip-off retailers.
Email your tips to email@example.com.
We're battling for you. Together we can weather the hard times.