We flew to Nigeria with 13 pieces of baggage, acting on the recommendations of colleagues and blogs about the high cost of items here. Three months since we arrived we have a fair idea of our monthly expenses, and while it is almost double compared to Islamabad, it is not as bad.
Here is what I learned from studying our grocery receipts, at $1=N150 exchange rate.
Local produce are still reasonably cheap. A kilo of red onions, potatoes, avocados, and pineapples only cost $2. Locally manufactured products are also not bad: 70 cents per 12-ounce bottle of Pepsi Light and 80 cents per 330ml can of Heineken. Even a liter of UHT milk is only $2, while a dozen eggs is $3.
But the “exotic” items that are clearly sought after by expats are a different story. I was shocked to learn that a kilo of rice is $12. This is usually basmati rice, although Thai rice and jasmine rice are also sold in most groceries. Coking oil, whether it’s corn, sunflower, vegetable or olive oil is about $25. We were told ice cream is $10, but we soon learned that a local brand or locally manufactured Nestle ice cream is $10 for 2 liter tub, while a pint of Snickers cost as much. Cheese is also expensive, but at least they’re available in great variety from cheddar to mozzarella, ementhal, edam, and so on. We paid nearly $7 for a 225g slice of cheddar cheese. On the other hand wine is surprisingly affordable, from $8 and up, especially for labels from South Africa. Instant noodles and pasta are also cheap, less than a dollar for a pack. Another affordable item is tea, like $1 for a box of 25 Lipton bags.
So clearly what drives the price of these items is influenced by the cost of shipping and distribution, not to mention what expats — usually employed by oil companies and multinational corporations — are willing to pay for. And speaking of expats, there are many Indian and Lebanese nationals here. They own the grocery shops we frequent, and it is nice to have access to spices, parathas, and biryani rice mixes. Not everything imported is pricey, those with Arabic or Russian print on the label cost less than the same brand from the US or UK, like toilettries. A generic or unknown brand of wipes is 50 percent cheaper than Pampers or Huggies, which cost about $6.
If we want to save on grocery expenses we obviously need to review what we consume, and that is what we’ve started doing: less cheese or fried food, more local fruits and vegetables. But our cook loves to bake and prepare cheesecake, pizzas, lasagna, omelette muffins, and quiche! She used to work for an American family with 2-3 children, and got used to preparing Western dishes. My husband and I were speechless when she gave us a shopping list for exotic items like cheese (ricotta, cheddar, mozarrela, cottage cheese and feta), pine nuts ($7 for a pack), stuffed olives, sesame seeds (very common in islamabad but haven’t seen any in Lagos yet), and red wine vinegar (easier to find balsamic and white wine vinegar for some reason). She is such a good cook anyway I told my husband let’s see and find out first what she’s going to make out of these.
To my joy, we just bought 2 kilos of fresh prawns for $30 when a frozen pack costs $20 for half a kilo. The caretaker of the school’s beach house actually brought 8 kilos worth, and it came down to 2 kilos after the cook cleaned it and removed the heads and shells.
I guess the trick here is to browse and try different places, until one has a fair idea on the price of goods and services. The one thing that is different here in Lagos is different stores carry different brands for the same products. Which means we usually need to go to two-three different places for basic staples like bread and butter (Shoprite), cooking oil and rice (Dream Plaza), and beer and wine (Game). It’s not fun when traffic is so unpredictable. At least in Bangkok, Cebu, and Islamabad the stores carry the same brands and we can get everything in one place.