Four things Canadians can do to save money on their groceries during inflation

Canadians continue to feel the pressure of inflation as the rising cost of food is forcing many to rethink their shopping choices as a way to cut back on spending.

On Wednesday, Canada’s inflation rate hit 6.8 per cent, in comparison to March’s 6.7 per cent. The latest increase is largely due to the rising cost of food and shelter, with prices at the grocery store reaching a 9.7 per cent increase since April 2021.

“It’s certainly taxing Canadians,” associate professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics Stuart Smyth told CTV News Channel on Wednesday.

“Every time you go to the grocery store it seems like one of the staples that you buy on a weekly basis has gone up another couple of per cent,” he said.

Nonetheless, there are still ways consumers can shop strategically and look for wiggle room within their budgets. 

Check for unit pricing and sales

Checking for sales and discounted items is a no-brainer when shopping, however what can be overlooked is checking for unit pricing.

Personal finance expert Kerry Taylor says shoppers should look at unit pricing, which measures the amount of product per item, since shrinkflation is happening as inflation rates spike.

“Shrinkflation is when you’re buying an item for the same price but at a smaller portion size,” Taylor told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Wednesday.

By comparing unit pricing, shoppers are able to pinpoint where they might be spending more on groceries so in turn they can search for options that carry more product and last longer to avoid extra spending.

Taylor says checking for unit pricing between brands is especially important since some normally affordable brands might actually be more expensive depending on the quantity of product.

“It’s really sneaky because you can’t really tell. So you need to be on the lookout for shrinkflation because you could be overspending money on an item and not even realize it,” she said.

Non-perishable items have an extended shelf life so Taylor recommends stocking up on any products a household uses the most if the price is right.

Additionally, checking for sales doesn’t necessarily mean having to switch grocery stores.

Canadian food retailer Loblaws reported earlier this month that their discounted stores including No Frills and Maxi saw an increase in customers. However, Taylor says it’s important to only visit stores that are accessible since spending time and money on travelling to the next grocery store could end up costing you more.

“Ask yourself, is this a good use of time to save a dollar here and there? Or is it more worth your time to figure out how to use the ingredients you have in-house to the best of your ability,” she said.  

Finding alternatives and homemade meals

While nearly all food prices in stores have shot up, Canadians are still recommended to look for alternative items for their meals. Taylor says she was shocked to find the eight-pack of canned lentil soup she often buys went from $9 to $14.99 at her local grocery store.

“These are all the base ingredients that we use to build meals when we’re on a very, very tight budget and they have all gone up, so it’s frustrating,” she said.

Among the products that spiked in price the most included fresh fruits and vegetables. Pasta saw an increase of 19.6 per cent from April 2021, according to statistics Canada.

As an alternative, Taylor says she switched to purchasing a bag of lentils to make at home. A ritual she is now practicing more often as she says cutting back on packaged foods and take-out could help soothe costs.

“It’s always a hard one but there’s lots of fun recipes out there that include ingredients like cans of tomatoes, beans, so you can make something quick and nutritious.”

Cut back on food waste

Unlike inflation, food waste is something Canadians can control and can use to avoid the repeated cycle of over-spending on food for it to only end up in the compost.

“Canadians waste just over $1,000 a year per household which is about $92 a month, $21 a week or $3 a day,” Taylor said.

To avoid food waste, Taylor recommends gathering any leftover ingredients from meals into one bowl and taking one day of the week to use all those ingredients in a simple recipe that can be paired with any carbohydrate.

“Think, can you possibly expand this tossed away food with rice or a wrap? Can you add a sauce to it to make it more delicious? Maybe you can make it in an omelette or a stir fry?” she said.

Keep items necessary to you

Lastly, Taylor says Canadians do not have to completely cut off all products they deemed necessary.

“If buying certain products at the grocery store means a lot to you and enhances your life and makes you happy then you should go for those items and look at where you can cut elsewhere in your life,” she said.

In order to keep any items deemed essential, Taylor recommends looking at other expenses that hold less value which could be streaming services, old automated credit payments or the frequency of online shopping.

“There’s an opportunity cost to every dollar we spend and we just have to make these tough decisions but look at your budget, look at what you can cut or add.” 

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