Where are the French, how are they living this period of inflation unprecedented for forty years? Individual testimonies tell of the difficulty of making ends meet, but how to change scale and measure the share of the French population which has already started to tighten its belt, in this first half of 2022? A vague and difficult concept to grasp, over such a short time, by statistics. Le Monde has therefore sought to bring together indicators, from public data to weak signals, to reflect the weight of inflation in the daily lives of the French.

INSEE gives us a first indication: household consumption in France is down, by 0.4% in April, after -1.4% in March. In the social aid monitoring table kept by the Department of Research, Studies, Evaluation and Statistics (Drees), we also note that 2,698,600 meals at 1 euro were distributed in March to students precarious, scholarship or not – a higher since the generalization of this aid to all students.

But the number of recipients of social income from activity (RSA) or recipients of housing aid remains on the decline. No sudden deterioration therefore, as long as you keep your job, while unemployment, at 7.3% in the first quarter, is at its lowest level since 2008.

And as long as you keep your accommodation. Again, no alert at this time. Neither in HLM nor in private rental is there any increase in unpaid rent, the rate of which has so far remained below 3%. Soaring energy costs have not yet translated into higher tenant charges. “The problem is still before us, because the real cost of the expenses appears at the end of the financial year, when the provisions are regularized according to the real expenses. This could hurt in a few months, ”warns Marcel Rogemont, president of the National Federation of Public Housing Offices.

Increase in unauthorized overdrafts

If tenants ultimately manage to pay their rent, not all do so without difficulty. The field branches of the major solidarity associations observe this every day. “Here, requests for food aid remain stable, but there has been a marked increase in requests for financial aid to pay rent or a bill, testifies Houria Tareb, secretary general of the Secours populaire de Haute-Garonne federation. The missing sum is then paid directly to the owner, the social landlord or EDF. »

From January to the end of May, the departmental branch established 1,521 financial aid application files, twice as many as a year ago over the same period (769 files), with a sharp increase since mid -march. Mostly to pay rent. Sometimes for gasoline. “These are solidarities that we had to put in place to prevent certain people from losing their jobs. Until now, we weren’t really asked for that, “says Houria Tareb.

Another obvious sign of the difficulties of some French people during this period can be seen directly in their bank accounts. “We are seeing more incidents on the current accounts of individuals, an increase in unauthorized overdrafts and overdraft ceilings, notes the boss of a retail banking giant in France. We are coming out of an exceptional period: during the Covid, we saw payment incidents drop to an unprecedented level. »

The latest figures from the Banque de France confirm this. Registrations in the FICP, this file which lists credit repayment incidents and overdrafts used “abusively”, increased by 14% over the first four months of the year compared to the same period of 2021. The number of unpaid checks increased by 12%, with more than 222,000 NSF checks recorded between January and April. These amounts remain lower than those of 2019, but the dynamics are closely monitored by the financial authorities.

Danger of over-indebtedness

At the same time, the amount lent through revolving loans or personal loans increased by 13% and 16% respectively in March 2022, compared to March 2021. Loans that are not without danger, and can if they accumulate push households into over-indebtedness. However, they have the advantage of avoiding the spiral of bank charges, which are often very expensive for the most modest.

Several establishments have also taken advantage of these obvious needs for new money to offer offers with great publicity, such as LCL, with its “instant mini-credit”, launched in mid-April, from 200 to 2,000 euros available without proof for eligible customers, and reimbursable in three months, for a fixed fee, varying between 2 and 20 euros depending on the amount chosen. The bank registered 15,000 subscriptions in six weeks.

To analyze the budgetary difficulties of its customers, Crédit Mutuel immersed itself in their accounts, by extracting anonymized data, as part of a partnership with the Economic Analysis Council. The mutual bank has examined the consequences of the rise in hydrocarbon prices. She finds that the “shield” on energy prices (electricity, gas) has worked quite well, with average monthly spend increasing by 3% between April 2021 and April 2022.

On the other hand, average monthly fuel expenditure jumped 44% over the same period, despite the 18 euro cents per liter fuel rebate introduced by the government since 1 April – the impact being stronger for rural and peri-urban dwellers.

Home-to-work carpooling on the rise

One figure in particular catches the eye: for 10% of the bank’s “moderate income” customers (the most affected by price increases), the cumulative weight of energy and fuel expenses now represents 19.6%. monthly resources. Crédit Mutuel thus says it has detected “more than 100,000 customers who are in particular difficulty, due to the rise in fuel prices”, to whom it will offer “budget points to enable them to pass the course”.

To cash in on these spectacular fuel increases (30% for diesel over one year, 27% for unleaded 95), some borrow more. And those who can adapt.

By carpooling, for example. According to data compiled by the Institut Paris Région based on attendance figures for private networking platforms, home-to-work carpooling has experienced a strong recovery since mid-January, and in April reached its highest level since that this count exists. On the occasion of the inauguration of BlaBlaCar’s new headquarters on June 1, Nicolas Brusson, its general manager, communicated on “record” figures: the carpooling platform recorded an 80% increase in the number of places offered between January and May, reaching 500,000 places per week in May. “The cost of energy is driving for our two activities, bus and carpooling,” he said.

The search for savings can also be seen in the sudden boom in superethanol (E85), this fuel resulting from the fermentation of sugars present in cereals or beets. At 78 cents per litre, the fact that it is 2.5 times cheaper than 95 unleaded has escaped no one. At the end of April, the union of agricultural alcohol producers reported a 52% increase in consumption over one year.

Manufacturers of conversion boxes, allowing you to run on E85 without damaging your engine, have seen an explosion in demand in recent months, with peaks as soon as unleaded 95 comes close to 2 euros per litre. Around 1,000 euros per installation, the investment pays for itself in around fifteen fill-ups. In March, the company Biomotors recorded an increase in sales of 186% over one year. At its competitor FlexFuel Energy Development, 30,000 units have been ordered since the start of the year, six times more than last year over the same period.

The pursuit of promotions

The same spirit of adaptation can be seen in retail: those most affected by inflation are cutting back on spending by chasing down prices and tracking promotions. “Already, consumer trade-offs are being felt, notes Dominique Schelcher, CEO of Système U. Some customers buy less meat, less fruit and vegetables. They also buy fewer national brand products and replace them with private label products, including entry-level Super U products.” Sales of the Prix Mini brand, selection of low prices for everyday products, ” take off,” he explains. And “we’re only at the beginning”.

A study by NielsenIQ shows these trade-offs, highlighting the 12.2% increase in sales of first-price private label in mid-May (over one year), and a 6% decline in organic sales over the same period. period. Low-income households have also reduced more than others their spending on fresh produce, fish, cheese and meat, as well as spending considered more festive: beer, strong alcohol, or “relaxing” ice cream.

At Casino, “the products from the ‘Lower there’s no’ corners are selling very well, says a spokesperson for the retail group, especially for fresh products – fruits and vegetables, butchers, fishmongers…”. In mid-February, on the occasion of a promotion on a variety of “French origin” apples, sold for 60 cents per kg, the distributor multiplied by seven the sales of these fruits compared to a classic week.

Motorists have also spotted the “fuel at 1 euro” operations (0.85 cents per liter with the government discount), launched in February at the gas stations of Géant hypermarkets or Casino Supermarkets. These promotions (reimbursement in the form of a voucher, under certain conditions) led to an increase in footfall of 50% on average in stations and 10% to 20% on average in stores, compared to a weekend. -end without operation.

A study carried out in March by NielsenIQ for Tiendeo, a platform specializing in offers and promotions, suggests that “60% of French people now choose their place of shopping according to the offers and promotions offered, especially among the youngest and women “.

The hard-discounters Lidl and Aldi continue to grab market share, reaching 11.3% in the spring, according to NielsenIQ, while the hard-discounter excluding food Action climbed to third place in the favorite brands of the French (behind Leroy-Merlin and Decathlon), according to the firm EY.

“Arbitration Logic”

Cultural expenditure is also subject to trade-offs. At the start of the year, the BearingPoint firm carried out a survey on “the subscription dynamics of French households to paid digital cultural offers” which attests that these platforms (Netflix, Deezer, Disney, etc.) have generally garnered more subscriptions compared to 2021.

At the same time, cinema attendance fell 28% in May compared to the last comparable year, May 2019, with 11 million admissions. Since the beginning of the year, the cinemas have totaled 33% less admissions than over the same period of 2019. “Given the price of a cinema ticket, Netflix will be the last subscription to be canceled”, explains Nicolas Redone, partner at BearingPoint. The price of a subscription varies from 9 to 18 euros per month for an unlimited number of viewings, while a cinema ticket cost an average of 7 euros in 2021, with full prices at 13.90 euros at UGC Ciné Cité Les Halles, in Paris, or at 12.50 euros at the UGC in Lille.

The network of Cash Express stores, which buy and sell second-hand items, also continues to see its turnover climb. Not thanks to remarkable increases in store traffic, but above all thanks to the increase in the average basket, by 45% since 2019. difficult. Rather people who are there to continue to have fun, either by buying the same products cheaper, or by going upmarket at a reduced cost, on smartphones for example, “says Arnaud Guérin-Collet, co-president and director of the Cash network. Express.

So many behaviors that testify to a “get-together economy”, as the director of the opinion department of the IFOP, Jérôme Fourquet, and the journalist Jean-Laurent Cassely have baptized it in their book La France sous nos yeux (Seuil , 2021). “This practice has been structured for more than twenty years, recalls Jérôme Fourquet. It affects the last five deciles of the population. For the most modest, it is a question of survival. But a growing share of middle and working class households, close to the “yellow vests”, are using it today more than yesterday, in a logic of arbitration to maintain their standard of living. Even if it means skipping over certain things, like doing a little carpooling to maintain the vacation budget. The more painful inflation is, the more trade-offs there will be. »

Use of rental

As a second-hand specialist, the Leboncoin site thus notes the recent development of another phenomenon: the use of the rental of everyday consumer goods. Since the beginning of the year, around 30,000 items have been offered for rental per month, an increase of 17% year-on-year. This concerns DIY and gardening tools, bicycles, household appliances, and recently even clothing and toys. Tenants spend less on a one-time item, and landlords find a small additional cash flow.

In the same spirit, there is a craze for private car rental. OuiCar (50 million euros in revenue in 2021) saw the number of its rentals triple between summer 2019 and summer 2021. Since the start of 2022, activity has grown by 70 %. Prices are 30% to 50% lower than those of traditional rental brands, whose prices are rising, since they are faced with a reduction in the number of cars delivered by manufacturers, due to the shortage of components. According to OuiCar, the individual renter can receive 300 to 600 euros per month in this way, i.e. a significant number of fill-ups.

To this series of weak signals of the tightening of the national belt, Jérôme Fourquet would add another: the excellent results of the Française des jeux in the first quarter. Stakes have thus increased over one year by more than 15% for the lottery, and by 19% for scratch cards. “A modest public who sees in these games the prospect not of buying a castle in Spain, he says, but of making a little nest egg and finding additional room for maneuver. »