Deciding what to spend on is a perpetual trade-off, and what was once deemed essential may no longer be. It is a discussion we constantly have with ourselves and has become acute as the must-haves - education, food, utilities and medical costs - eat up more of our earnings. The delayed spending on nice-to-haves affects big and small purchases, and companies feel it. Plans for the new bathroom will be shelved because school fees need to be paid, and reserves must be kept for unexpected doctor visits. Summer pyjamas are not needed - an old pair of shorts and a T-shirt you would not let your child out of the house in will do. Don't they say necessity is the mother of invention? But when it comes to imbibing, South Africans resolutely stick to their guns. Some purchases, like liquid assets, it appears, are imperative. Results from companies that rely on consumers to spend have shown again this week that it is a struggle out there. At Woolworths, group sales for the first 20 weeks of the...

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