Let me paint you the picture.
I brew my own coffee just in case my beloved pre-pandemic $2.36 social break at Starbucks was making me poor. Feng only buys meat when he finds cheap cuts. I swear by Nivea, the best affordable skincare available in Canada. Feng only takes the car out for the school pick up/drop-off routine and for heavy groceries. I have a “cheap” phone plan ($40/month) and Feng doesn’t even have a smartphone. We haven’t bought clothes in Canada for over two years, except for Mark. We don’t travel in Canada—gas, plane tickets, and accommodation are too expensive. We don’t eat out or have food delivered because we just, you know, cook at home. We’ve been living like grad students at the same address for twenty years—think mismatched IKEA furniture and white walls that never got painted professionally. And yes, we travel, but we’re backpackers so street food, buses, and Airbnb apartments… do I need to mention again that I’m still working when I’m on the road?
By North American standards, we’re living cheaply. No debt! Only one car! No cottage! No fancy sporting gear! No finished basement and equipped backyard! No season tickets! No plans to buy a bigger house!
It works for our small family. We both grew up poor and consumerism is an acquired taste we’ve never developed.
In fact, maybe that’s why we’re cheap.
It’s not like we found a trick to eventually stop living pay cheque to pay cheque—no family money, no lottery ticket, no lucky investments. Any money we’ve managed to save is money we earned working two, sometimes three minimum-wage jobs for years, before moving on to better-paid opportunities.
We had our share of luck along the way. No student debt, for instance, since I completed university in France and Feng worked as a co-op student. Occasionally, we were at the right place at the right time. In 2009, I got a two-month contract translator job because I passed a test and someone believed in me, and I found both a career and a calling.
In a way, we epitomize the “Canadian dream,” where anyone educated or trained, flexible enough, and willing to work hard can reasonably hope for a middle-class lifestyle. Don’t hate the player, hate the game. This system I don’t even believe in worked for us… to a certain extent.
But the system is failing.
Everything costs too much. Canada is no longer affordable.
In April, Canada’s inflation rate jumped to a new 31-year high of 6.7%. Food was disproportionately impacted—food retail prices rose by 8.7 percent in March compared to the previous year. Gas prices have just set a new record last weekend in Ontario—$1.95 per litre today.
I’m scared. We don’t have debt, but we don’t own anything. We don’t live pay cheque to pay cheque but we don’t have a steady pay cheque either since we’re both self-employed. We’re trying to think long-term and save money because we won’t have a pension or any other source of income.
In capitalism, there’s no one to catch you when you fall.
Yet, it’s hard to make drastic lifestyle changes. How are you supposed to cut back on spending when you don’t spend much in the first place?
Half of the hacks to cut your grocery bill seem to involve budget-friendly recipes starring rice—hello, Chinese household here, we’ve been buying 50 lb rice bags for years, long before transitory-not-transitory inflation.
But few people enjoy eating rice and beans every day. We need proteins, dairy, fruits and vegetables, bread, and more.
You can’t just stop driving in a country designed for cars, not pedestrians—not to mention public transit is both limited and expensive, plus six months of winter. I wish I could lower our Internet and phone bills—not exactly a luxury when you’re working from home, right?—but inconveniently, Canada’s wireless costs are among the highest in the world.
And we’re not the worst off. I have no idea how bigger families, low-income households or anyone on fixed benefits can survive these days.
Much like during COVID, it feels like watching a tornado getting closer and closer and having no shelter.
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