MONTREAL — It has not been an easy year for Canadians financially.
Decades-high inflation and soaring interest rates have led many to take a closer look at their spending habits and, consequently, make some tough choices.
On Wednesday, the Bank of Canada hiked its key interest rate for the seventh time in a row, bringing it to 4.25 per cent – the highest it's been since January 2008.
The central bank's aggressive rate hike cycle, which began in March, is in response to Canada's drastically high inflation rate. After peaking at 8.1 per cent in July, the annual inflation rate has slowed to 6.9 per cent in October – still well above the Bank of Canada's target rate of two per cent.
These economic trends are effecting everything from gas prices to grocery bills to mortgage payments.
And in an effort to cut costs, Canadians coast-to-coast are making sacrifices and changes to their lifestyle.
'A real kick in the face': First-time homeowners face mortgage crunch
Former Olympic wrestler Colin Daynes and his partner, mixed martial arts fighter Lupita (Loopy) Godinez, describe paying eight per cent interest on the mortgage for their new condo as "a real kick in the face."
The pair secured the financing they needed to buy their first home together just a few weeks ago after a stressful, months-long search coinciding with rising inflation and interest rates.
They closed on their one-bedroom unit in a newly built condominium in Burnaby, B.C. on Nov. 28.
"It's a beautiful view. I love it," said Daynes.
The couple's offer to buy the condo was accepted at the end of July and their first broker indicated they might pay interest of around 4.5 per cent, Daynes said.
The 48-year-old wrestled for Canada at the 1996 Olympics and now works in the film industry, while Godinez competes in UFC bouts.
Daynes said they both earn "good money" and they're putting at least $200,000 down on a $525,000 condo, so thought it wouldn't take long to secure financing.
It ended up taking three months and two mortgage brokers, while interest rates rose in the meantime.
After two months without success, he said they switched brokers and ended up securing a mortgage through a non-bank lender at 7.99 per cent. He said Godinez's income from fighting doesn't follow a typical weekly schedule, which may have been an issue for some lenders.
"With all the stress and headache that we went through to get a mortgage, we're really just signing on to make the transaction."
He said they will be free to search for a better rate once 90 days have passed.
Daynes said it doesn't make sense that it was so hard for them to secure financing for an entry-level condo given their earnings and substantial down payment.
"If we're having a hard time borrowing $300,000, what kind of situation is everybody else in?"
— By Brenna Owen in Vancouver
'There's no big fix for all this': Ottawa resident bakes bread to save dough
The price of a loaf of bread at grocery stores these days is too much to justify for Ottawa resident Jeff Lowe.
So, he’s brought out the baking supplies.
“Instead of $5 for a loaf of bread, I’m making bread,” he said.
Lowe said he can bake about three loaves of bread for the price of one at a grocery store.
In the face of decades-high food inflation, he and his wife are finding ways to trim their grocery bills.
From baking their own bread to buying cheaper cuts of meat, Lowe said they’re doing what they can to limit wasteful spending.
“We're not cutting our grocery bill in half, but we're cutting out all the surplus,” he said.
The cost of food been rising at the fastest pace in decades. In October, grocery prices rose 11 per cent compared with a year ago, down slightly from 11.4 per cent a month prior.
And food prices are expected to continue rising next year.
According to the 13th edition of Canada's Food Price Report released Monday, the total cost of groceries for a family of four is expected to be $1,065 more in 2023 than it was this year.
In the meantime, Lowe will be making more frequent trips to the grocery store, looking for savings and ways to keep his budget in check.
“There's no big fix for all this,” Lowe said. “It’s small wins.”
— By Nojoud Al Mallees in Ottawa
'Travelling would be a luxury at this point': International student stays local for the holidays
Sarah Jourdain typically heads back home to the Dominican Republic for the holidays.
But the international student, who has been living in Montreal for the past four years, said the costs are too high for her to justify the travel this year.
When looking for a plane ticket last month, Jourdain said she was shocked to find prices for the normally $500 round-trip flight had skyrocketed to around $1,200.
It is generally advised to purchase an international plane ticket from Canada two months in advance of a departure, yet two months out, Jourdain said she was still met with unprecedented high prices.
“Given that [the Dominican Republic] is a very touristy location, you would always find tickets under $1,000,” said Jourdain.
Jourdain said she knows a number of other international students opting to not go home this holiday season because of the pricey plane tickets and overall increased cost of living.
Many students have other day-to-day expenses to consider before travelling internationally, Jourdain said.
"Travelling would be a luxury at this point," she said.
Instead of celebrating the holidays abroad, Jourdain will stay in Montreal and spend time with extended family and friends.
She plans to make her next trip home outside of a peak travel time.
— By Caitlin Yardley in Montreal
'Everything is expensive here': Mom of two adjusts to life in Canada
Misha Subramanyam wishes she could further indulge her nine-year-old son’s love of museums and art galleries.
The Toronto-based graphic designer said her family hasan annual membership to the Royal Ontario Museum to make it more affordable, but can't consider visiting others. Maybe next year they’ll get a membership for the Art Gallery of Ontario. Last year, they had one for Ripley's Aquarium of Canada.
“It's not like we can go to all of them at the same time,” said the stay-at-home mom of two.
“My son keeps asking to go back to the aquarium and I'm like 'No. We're not paying. Our membership's over so forget about the fishes.'"
Clothes and groceries also have less room in the budget for the family of four, who moved to Toronto from Brisbane, Australia in February 2020.
Subramanyam said Toronto was more expensive than Brisbane to begin with and expenses rose further over the past year, with the cost of dairy products a particular blow for her mostly vegetarian household.
“Just to buy a box of yogurt would be like five bucks,” says Subramanyam. “I make a big pot now."
She said they've come to terms with "the fact that everything is expensive here, starting with kids clothes.”
“(We’re) definitely buying less ... I can't remember buying anything for myself this season. I just decided to concentrate on the kids and what they need.”
She's continued swimming, skating and flute lessons for her nine-year-old, fearing that otherwise "he would miss out."
But Subramanyam said he did not get a big birthday bash this year, daycare for her 15-month-old son is on hold until she finds a $10-a-day spot and a hoped-for family trip to her native India this winter is postponed to the spring.
— By Cassandra Szklarski in Toronto
'It’s influenced me to travel less, or visit home less': Montreal resident makes fewer trips to see family
When Craig Fisher moved to Montreal in August 2021 after living in Winnipeg for a decade, he was eager to make regular visits to family in London, Ont.
At first, he expected to make the trip about once a month. But now that inflation has sent transportation costs skyrocketing, he said those trips are becoming less frequent.
“I do consider inflation to be a big factor,” the 31-year-old said during a layover between the two cities at Toronto's Union Station. “It’s influenced me to travel less, or visit home less.”
It's also changed how he gets there.
The first few trips, he took a plane. He was able to cash in on one-way budget airfares between Montreal and Toronto, sometimes for as low as $70. But as inflation started to take hold of the economy and travel restrictions lifted, he said those affordable airfares dwindled.
Air travel recorded the most dramatic year-over-year transportation-related inflation increase, jumping 18.5 per cent in October compared with a year ago.
When air travel no longer seemed viable, Fisher said he opted to drive his car. But then the increase in gas prices – a 17.8 per cent jump between October 2021 and 2022 – dissuaded him.
Finally, he decided to start making the trip by bus in early 2022. Since then, he said the cost has remained relatively flat. But, these days, he’s noticed an increase in ridership.
“I think that just goes along with people doing what I’m trying to do; save a little money while getting to the place they need to be.”
— By Jordan Omstead in Toronto
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2022.
The Canadian Press