Inflation topping 20 percent a month is forcing Brazilians to change their lifestyles in order to survive an economic crisis that has no end in sight.
July's monthly inflation of 24 percent was the second-worst in Brazil's history. The government's aim is to keep inflation this year to 600 percent, but economists expect 700 percent at least.Vacations, private education and luxury foods like cheese are being dropped from many middle-class family budgets as real wages are eroded.
A recent television report showed a 7-year-old girl who had attended nine schools since the academic year began because her parents kept shifting her to less exclusive establishments as school fees skyrocketed.
Brazil is not alone in Latin America in its inflation agonies. Argentina and Peru have been suffering similar dramatic price rises. But that is small comfort for Brazilians who say they have never known a worse economic crisis.
"If things keep on at this rate certain professions will be exterminated," said Luiz Carlos Silva, a hairdresser who has been deserted by many of his clients. "It'll be like my aunts, who cut each other's hair during the post-war years."
Between January and May the average worker's monthly salary was 12 percent lower in real terms than in the same period in 1987 and 26 percent lower than in 1986, according to a government and trade union report released in July.
"It's disgusting. You work more and earn less," said Flavia Lanzana, 27, as she inspected cheese prices at a Sao Paulo supermarket, finally walking away empty-handed.
A recent opinion poll showed that inflation was the chief concern of the public in Sao Paulo, Brazil's biggest city. "It is the talk of the town," said Lanzana.
The surge in prices is splashed across the nation's newspapers every day. Somber comparisons are made with Germany's catastrophic hyperinflation of 1923 when housewives loaded wheelbarrows with banknotes to buy modest items like butter.
Some economists say the comparison with Germany's 1923 nightmare is valid, at least in that a huge outflow of money abroad was partly responsible in both cases for high inflation.
Germany was paying war reparations. Brazil is servicing a $121 billion debt, biggest in the developing world.
The cruzado currency, born in February 1986 when President Jose Sarney launched his ill-fated Cruzado Plan to try to control inflation, is now worth a fraction of its original value.
At birth it was officially set at 13.8 to the dollar. The official rate is now 251 cruzados to the dollar and the black market rate is 374.
Because the cruzado loses about 1 percent of its value every day, Brazilians often advertise property for sale in dollars. Shops, hotels and schools frequently quote prices in treasury bonds called OTNs whose value is adjusted daily.
One Sao Paulo jeweler is selling silver rings for 2.5 OTNs ($20). For window shopping in Brazil you need a pocket calculator in one hand and today's newspaper for the OTN rate in the other.
Brazilian consumers keenly follow tips on how to stretch their money. Financial experts and amateur economists on radio and television offer all kinds of advice.
The basic strategy is to spend the money in your pocket as soon as you can before it loses value. Pay day for many Brazilians is the 10th of the month and on that day the shops are full to bursting.
Government savings accounts are also a must because they give a small real return, even after inflation of 24 percent a month.
The credit card, which in other parts of the world is regarded as a convenience, here is considered an inflation-fighting necessity by many middle-class Brazilians. With 40 days to pay, the credit card effectively makes life much cheaper.