Low loonie brings lustre to buying local, Joanne Seiff writes

Contemplating the cost of strawberries nearly made me keel over. How can I find anything positive when faced with the fast-dropping loonie?

In Florida, the pound of conventional berries was something like $2.99 US. Here, it hovered around $6.99

The loonie's spending power has dropped - but that makes local products more attractive, Joanne Seiff writes. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

As the Canadian dollar slides, it might be hard to believe those who say the Manitoba economy is doing well.

After we returned from a long-planned family trip to the United States, we reviewed our budget. We were lucky. We stayed with family and paid many of our expenses in advance. We withdrew U.S. cash from the bank before travelling, which allowed us to avoid the loonie's continuing decline. With credit, we would have been charged a fee as well.

Even so, I faced sticker shock upon returning to Winnipeg. How could I find anything at all positive when faced with the fast-dropping loonie?

The first stop was the grocery store. We'd left a nearly empty fridge. Contemplating the cost of strawberries nearly caused me to keel over. 

In Florida, a pound of strawberries was something like $2.99 US. Here, it hovered around $6.99. In search of something fruity and affordable, I saw a display of Nicola and Salish apples. To my surprise, at $1.26 a pound, these new Canadian varieties were a steal. My kids were thrilled by the chance to try a new B.C. fruit variety. I was thrilled by the opportunity. In the past, procuring Canadian-grown produce in the middle of the winter was a niche, luxury product. Now, even those with a stricter grocery budget get a chance to taste something grown at home.

Locally manufactured products

Michael Benarroch, dean of the Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba, says local manufacturing may see a boost with the lowered loonie. At the grocery store, I bought a 10-kilogram bag of flour. We grow grain on the prairies, and there's a local flour mill, Prairie Flour Mills, in Elie, Man. While home cooks see flour as a basic ingredient rather than a manufactured product, our grain must be ground into flour. This mill sources its wheat locally. When it's processed close to home, we save money on the result. While transportation costs may be down due to the lower cost of oil and gas, it still affects costs. 

If we purchase locally made goods, from flour to clothing and beyond, we see savings and put our money into our local economy. This can help keep our local financial situation a healthy one.  

Making things from scratch

It's only a short step from that flour sack to recognizing that if we make more things from scratch, we'll make a positive change. If you cook homemade foods rather than eat processed products, you'll save money and improve your health. If you prefer processed foods, why not invest in locally made products rather than those imported from elsewhere? This might mean stopping at a local restaurant, purchasing prepared deli food or simply reading the labels on the frozen dinners you buy at the grocery store. How many are made in Canada? Is the price of a locally made product comparable to or less expensive than one made overseas?

In the past, Canadian-made didn't mean less expensive. Lately, the numbers may have changed.

For those who make their own clothes or household goods, the same principle applies. In the past, I might not have prioritized buying Canadian yarns for knitting my family's woollies. Lately, I've noticed that the price of a Canadian-made skein of yarn — produced by Briggs & Little in New Brunswick, MacAuslands on Prince Edward Island or Custom Woollen Mills in Alberta — seems a lot more affordable.

Reuse, recycle

Ever notice how we dispose of clothing, electronics or other goods? People joke about how stores sell throw-away clothing so low-cost as to last only one season. Instead of spending more money on a new wardrobe item, it might be time instead to refresh something you already own. Darn a hole, dye something a new colour or dress it up with a new scarf or hat. It's a chance to see your wardrobe with new eyes.

Electronics can sometimes be repaired. If they can't, consider recycling your electronic waste. The parts of your phone or computer are valuable, and if recycled, can be reused or repurposed. 

Thrift stores are another way to reuse and recycle. Drop off that item you no longer need and go shopping (for less!) for something different.

Choosing to share

Despite our plummeting loonie, people all around me are sharing. We're doing boot and sock drives, trying to outfit the needy in our community. We're also mobilizing to outfit new homes and lives for our recent influx of Syrian refugees.

When it comes down to it, we live in a First World country, with First World concerns. Yes, we're challenged by the currency decline, but many of us still have extra and aren't afraid to offer it to those who need it more than we do. Our investments, in each other and to support the Canadian economy, will be well worth it in the long run.

Watching our province adjust to and embrace the changing situation has left me heartened rather than depressed. Travelling to the U.S. may be more expensive now, but there's still much to celebrate.

Joanne Seiff is the author of two books. She writes, designs and teaches in Winnipeg.