A couple weekends ago, we visited good friends of ours in Stratford, Ontario. I’ve known Sarah since we were both eager, upwardly-mobile twenty-somethings in search of good jobs (we’ve both found them) and good men (we’ve both married them) and, in some ways, even though we no longer live in the same city, our lives are playing out in very similar ways. Sarah and I are both in two-income relationships, we each have two kids and we each value education, the arts and justice for all.
As our kids played together, we caught up. “I’m not sure why,” I ventured, “but life seems to have become a lot more expensive over the past year.”
Sarah’s eyes widened. “Vic and I were just talking about that! Why do you think that is?”
Neither of us lives extravagantly. And, in fact, I’ve been making an effort to pre-cook the week’s meals so we can avoid spending needlessly on takeout or prepared foods. In the past year, we’ve gone from a two-vehicle family to a single vehicle. So why aren’t we saving the pots and pots of additional money I expected to save?
Here’s my theory:
Food is more expensive. Even though we’ve been cooking more from scratch, the price of groceries is up. Statistics Canada has been tracking the cost of common family food items, including stewing beef, milk, corn flakes and baked beans. Between April 2011 and April 2012, the cost of each has increased 88 cents a kilogram, 10 cents a litre, 70 cents per 675 g box and 12 cents a can, respectively. Over the course of a year — heck, over the course of a week’s grocery bill — all those seemingly little increases add up.
Gas is more expensive. And we aren’t driving any less. Yes, we have one fewer car, but since I’ve mostly taken public transit all along, and because Matt’s previous car was supplied by his employer and was almost exclusively used for his work (he had to pay taxes on the personal use portion of his driving, such as dropping the girls off at daycare), our current-day single vehicle does about the same amount of driving as we did before.
The kids are getting more expensive. The girls are eating more (when we do go to a restaurant as a special treat, Bronwyn can now eat a full meal — at full, adult price), they’re still growing (and outgrowing their clothes; plus, most of Bronwyn’s clothing staples are too worn out to pass along to Isobel, so we are now replacing clothes for both girls) and their interests are becoming more costly. Bronwyn has been invited to dance again with the National Ballet School’s Associates Program, and the 2012/13 season requires her to take four classes a week. Gulp. Isobel is campaigning to play hockey starting in the fall. Double gulp.
So what can we do to save money? Matt is making a more concerted effort to bring his lunch to work whenever possible (he’s been slacking a bit). But that’ll make minimal impact.
We’re considering taking the girls out of daycare, as they’ll both be in full-day school starting in September. Savings: $1,500 after-tax dollars a month. But Bronwyn is still too young to look after herself and her sister after school, so if this plan is to work, both Matt and I will have to get our employers’ buy-in. Matt would start work at 6:30 so he can pick up the girls at 3:30; I’d have to get the OK to arrive a little after 9 in the morning so I can be in charge of drop-off. It sounds exhausting, but the savings are too tempting to brush off. Two months of no daycare pretty much pays for Bronwyn’s full year of ballet! But I’m already tired thinking about it.
I’d love to hear from you: Has your family found life more expensive lately? Are you able to cut any corners to make life more affordable?
Photo by Rick via Flickr.