Manitoba

'It's frustrating': A Manitoba mom's fight to tame her family's grocery bill as inflation spikes

Diana Kessler-Kochie and her husband, Ryan, have accepted that they can't take their kids on vacation this summer, though they've been itching to travel for the last two years. That's because the money they might have used for the trip has been eaten up by rising food costs sparked by Canada's high rate of inflation.

Don't buy at the last minute, take advantage of deals, researcher suggests

Diana Kessler-Kochie, husband Ryan Kochie, and three of four kids: Clara Kessler (in turquoise), Logan Kochie (in red) and Amelia Kochie (in yellow). The oldest, Ryder Kessler wasn't ready for supper. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Diana Kessler-Kochie and her husband, Ryan, have accepted that they can't take their kids on vacation this summer, though they've been itching to travel for the last two years. 

That's because the money they might have used for the trip has been eaten up by rising food costs sparked by Canada's high rate of inflation.

"We wanted to see the Toronto Zoo, and we were hoping to go to Niagara Falls and see the African Lion Safari, but … all of our money that we would normally put into our savings is now being spent on groceries and gas," Kessler-Kochoie said. 

With four kids, two dogs and four cats, Kessler-Kochie and her husband have a full house. 

It was already difficult to give everyone their favourite foods, watch their nutrition and stay on a budget last year, Kessler-Kochie says. However, what was once challenging but doable is now near impossible. 

"A year ago, I was spending around $1,200 to $1,500 a month on groceries. Now, with the cost of everything going up, I'm spending approximately $2,000 a month," Kessler-Kochoie said.

The hard work of hunting deals 

A large, spiral-bound notebook shows proof of her efforts. A  diligently planned list of meals for the week appears on one page. A flick of the page reveals a detailed grocery list. 

Kessler-Kochie plans her meals and groceries for the week. She says its important if she's going to be able to afford food for her family. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

However, even with  the best plans the increasingly unwieldy supply chain conspires with inflation to break her budget. 

"When I go to the grocery store and I notice that their cereal is not there, not only do I have disappointed kids but I have to find an alternative," she said,"and a lot of the time the cereal that I would buy as a backup is very expensive." 

Kessler-Kochie says she's had to redo her whole meal plan in the grocery aisle because the meat or vegetables in her recipe were unavailable. 

She also uses an app to check nearby stores for discounts and to plan her route so the cost of the trip doesn't cancel the savings. 

The real costs of high groceries 

Kessler-Kochie worries her kids aren't getting enough fresh fruits and vegetables. 

"It's something that I want them to have in their diet on a daily basis … it helps with brain function, and it helps with their bodies that are growing," she said. 

She also hates devoting so much of her week to tracking prices, planning meals and buying groceries. Her shopping trips alone take three to four hours. 

Diana Kessler-Kochie and her four-year-old twins Clara Kessler, left, and Amelia Kochie. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

"I'd rather spend my time playing with my kids or I have a whole house to take care of and I have my job that I usually do a lot of work after hours," she said. 

A tighter budget also means fewer nights out for the couple. It means less ordering out for food, even when the parents are too tired to cook. 

It means less flexibility for unexpected costs, such as the $200 prescription for one of the kids and a leak in the roof brought on by the heavy snow.

Practical tips for consumer savings 

Canada's Food Price Report 2022 predicts that food in Canada will cost five to seven per cent more in 2022 than last year. A family of six will likely spend a minimum of $19,223.46 this year. 

Stuart Smythe, an associate professor in the department of agricultural and resource economics at the University of Saskatchewan who worked on the report, says rather than buying at the last minute for summer picnics for example, a shopper might look at the report and start pre-buying foods that are likely to be cheaper now than in the next three months. 

Stuart Smythe, an associate professor in the department of agricultural and resource economics at the University of Saskatchewan, urges shoppers to start buying foods now that are likely to be more expensive in the next three months. (Contributed )

Finding equally nutritious, low-cost substitutes can be another key to savings, such as alternating fresh vegetables with frozen vegetables in the winter.   

Smythe says consumers should also be aware of "food branding," for example, organic foods "can be a minimum of 50 per cent higher" with "no enhanced safety."

A desire to help others

Sitting at her table with her family for supper — steamed rice, salsa chicken and asparagus — Kessler-Kochie's work is still not done. 

After planning, purchasing, preparing and plating the food, she now pleads with her kids to eat their vegetables. 

Kessler-Kochie says she is anxious about other Canadians who are in the same predicament when it comes to making a food budget work. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Amelia, 4, first to the table, says "Yuck!" when she sees the asparagus. 

"Oh, we love this!" her twin sister Clara says, taking her seat. 

"Yummy!" Clara say, biting a stalk. 

Kessler-Kochie says she is anxious about other Canadians as well, and that's why she's sharing her family's story.

"I think it's really important to share some ideas for saving that I've found, and I think I've learned a lot of things along the way," she said. 

How has inflation affected your personal finances or your workplace? What are the top issues you want CBC to cover? Fill out our survey here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Wildes is a reporter at CBC in Manitoba. You can reach him at andrew.wildes@cbc.ca.

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