The rising cost of living is leaving many Canadians struggling to stay afloat, says StatCan.

Over the past year -- just as we’ve started to dig ourselves out of the pandemic's chaos and disruption -- inflation has steadily increased, resulting in price hikes in everything from groceries to gas. Heightened consumer demand and supply chain challenges are partially to blame.

Canada’s inflation rate reached a year-over-year increase of 6.8% in April (not that anyone needs the reminder). 

To understand how rising prices are contributing to financial concerns or influencing the financial decisions of Canadians, Statistics Canada (StatCan) conducted the Portrait of Canadian Society survey from April 19 to May 1, 2022. Tellingly, it found that nearly three in four Canadians reported that rising prices are affecting their ability to meet day-to-day expenses like transportation, housing, food, and clothing. 

As a result, many Canadians are adjusting their behaviour to adapt to this new reality, says StatCan, including changing their spending habits and delaying the purchase of a home or moving to a new rental.


Regionally, there was little variation between province, says StatCan -- most Canadians across the board are feeling the impacts of inflation. Naturally, those in lower income quintiles, however, are more concerned about and affected by rising prices.

StatCan highlights that during the past year (April 2021 to April 2022) the price of food rose by a notable 9.7%. Canadians had to pay much more for basic food staples like fresh fruit (+10.0%), meat (+10.1%), and fresh vegetables (+8.2%). With rising costs in other areas such as shelter and transportation, Canadians have also been less able to budget money for food.

When asked in which area they were most affected by rising prices during the six months preceding the survey, 43% of Canadians answered food. After food, the most affected areas were transportation (32%), shelter (9%), and household operations (8%). Urban residents reported being most affected by food costs (44%). In contrast, transportation costs were of greater concern for rural residents. More than two in five individuals living in rural areas (43%) reported that transportation was how they were most affected.

Irrespective of province of residence, transportation costs were of great concern for the majority of Canadian drivers (and that was before last weekend's record-breaking prices at the pumps). Among Canadians who buy gasoline, 94% reported they are very (67%) or somewhat (27%) concerned about rising gasoline prices, says StatCan. 

Sadly, as a result of rising prices, 20% of Canadians reported that their households are very (7%) or somewhat (13%) likely to obtain food or meals from community organizations like food banks, community centres, faith-based organizations, school programs, or community gardens, over the next six months. StatCan points to a recent study that estimated that fewer than 2% of households used a food bank in the early months of the pandemic; then the latest statistics from Food Banks Canada that indicate that the need for and use of food banks has been increasing since June 2020. 

Households with at least one child under the age of 18 were almost three times as likely to say that they are very likely to obtain food or meals from a community organization, compared with households without children (13% vs. 5%).

evictionPhoto by stevendamron on / CC BY

Not surprisingly, given the country's red-hot housing market of recent years, another major area of concern for many Canadians is housing costs. 

Around 56% of Canadians are very (30%) or somewhat (26%) concerned about whether they can afford housing or rent. Shelter prices, including rented accommodation, owned accommodation and water, fuel, and electricity, rose 7.4% year-over-year in April 2022 -- the largest increase since 1983. 

Differences between age groups were particularly significant. Younger Canadians aged 15 to 29 (53%) and 30 to 39 (39%) were more than twice as likely as those 40 and above (20%) to report being very concerned about their ability to afford housing or rent. This could be because older Canadians are more likely to have purchased and paid off a home.

These concerns have led to changes in behaviour among Canadian youth and younger adults, says StatCan. Over the six months preceding the survey, 39% of those aged 15 to 29 and 38% of those aged 30 to 39 said that they wanted to buy a home or move to a new rental but decided not to because of price concerns, compared with 24% of the overall population.

The survey highlighted how inflation has resulted in changed spending and behavioural patterns among Canadians. In order to deal with rising prices, half of Canadians said they have sought out sales and promotions in the six months preceding the survey. Meanwhile, 47% have found themselves purchasing cheaper alternatives, brands, or items and 45% have delayed making a purchase in response to rising prices.

In addition to making changes to their spending habits, more than one-quarter of Canadians (27%) reported that they have had to borrow money from friends or relatives, take on additional debt or use credit to meet day-to-day expenses in the six months preceding the survey. Several groups were more likely to report borrowing money: those in the bottom two household income quintiles; younger individuals (aged 15 to 39); households with at least one child aged 17 or younger; persons with a disability; and individuals belonging to racialized groups.

Rising prices are also affecting Canadians' ability to save. About 24% of Canadians said they have had to draw on their savings in order to pay their expenses. Another 29% said they were saving less, and 19% reported they are no longer able to save each month

Personal Finance