Talking about money is the last taboo in the face of the rising cost of living

Matthew Riley with his sons Kendryk, left, 4, and Koltyn, 6, in Abbotsford, B.C., on July 26.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

After-school activities were off the table for Matthew Riley and his three young boys this summer, except for a free pass to the local swimming pool.

Soaring daily living costs amid inflation have been tough on the divorced single dad, especially after a year of growing financial stress during the pandemic. He was forced to downsize his home in Abbotsford, BC. the three boys aged 6, 4 and 2 now share a room. Mr Riley also struggled to keep up with car payments, gas and electricity bills. The father and his sons now occasionally rely on a non-profit grocery store that prepares $5 meal kits for low-income families in the neighborhood.

While talking openly about financial struggles remains taboo for many, Mr Riley, 37, finds solace in sharing his experiences. Honesty, camaraderie and help came from strangers in both of her parent groups. The men in his twice-weekly fathers group are also suffering financially: some are getting second jobs, others are running out of goods to sell online. In her mixed parenting group, the mothers tend to be more vocal and share advice.

“Going to these groups lately has been an eye opener for me. I’m not the only one struggling,” Mr. Riley said. “Once people understand that it’s a safe environment to talk, we all support each other.”

As inflation tops 8% this summer, a new franchise is emerging as more people talk openly about financial constraints and sacrifices. Frank conversations about money open up an area previously navigated alone.

Matthew Riley, 37, finds comfort in sharing his financial experiences with strangers in both his parent groups.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Families are talking candidly with their friends about cutting back on vacation plans, postponing home improvement projects and selling the second car. Moms are sharing coupons and other money-saving tips through parent groups on Facebook. Thanks to a popular Canadian personal finance forum on Reddit, hundreds of people have shared their tips for tackling the daily spike in inflation. Many have talked about giving up takeout and food delivery apps. Some talked about eating less meat and having a drink in the park, not the pub. Some recommended doing laundry and running the AC during off-peak hours. Several had canceled streaming subscriptions, while others gave up on manicures, pedicures and hair coloring. As one user summed up the new frugality: “Use it, wear it, and do it without.”

For many Canadians, this wave of inflation comes with a personal judgment about money, security and stability. The moment serves as an epiphany on living beyond their means, competing for a reality no one could afford in the first place. Financial experts hope this time will lead to a reset – not just more honest, empathetic and literate conversations about finances, but a fundamental shift in our relationship with money.

“It offers a reality check,” said Sam Maglio, associate professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Toronto Scarborough and the Rotman School of Management.

“When people who were otherwise in debt hear other people now having candid conversations about coupons or carpooling, it changes their calculus.”

Professor Maglio said he believed this moment would begin to lessen the shame of financial stress, just as the pandemic has lifted some of the stigma around ‘mental health: not well’, for financial health.

More than half of Canadians said they felt overwhelmed by the daily cost of living and would be unable to cover an unexpected $1,000 expense, according to a February poll by Angus Reid. At the end of last year, families owed $1.86 for every dollar of disposable income, a record according to Statistics Canada. In February, households held some $80 billion in credit card debt, up nearly 9% from 2021, the agency said.

Matthew Riley plays The Game of Life board game with his sons Kendryk, left, 4, and Koltyn, 6, in Abbotsford, British Columbia, on July 26, 2022.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Low-income families have been hardest hit: already struggling, they grapple with soaring rents and a widening income gap, with pandemic benefits expiring at the end of last year. Food banks across the country have seen demand soar as Canadians try to cope with the rising cost of food.

“People on low incomes don’t have the luxury of not talking about finances because it’s constantly a top concern,” Professor Maglio said. “Now, finance and budgeting issues are becoming increasingly overwhelming for a larger percentage of the population.”

In her office and in her personal life, Moira Somers, financial psychologist and family wealth consultant from Winnipeg, hears conversations about changing money.

“People are becoming more aware of the flow of money in and out of their lives,” said Dr. Somers, who hopes this moment will force more Canadians to live with less assumptions and secrecy around the world. ‘silver.

“We often assume that if people live in middle-class or upper-class neighborhoods, they don’t have money problems. We have to realize that we have no idea what goes on behind closed doors. We can see outward signs but we don’t know the financial reality of people’s lives,” she said. said.

“If this ends some of our crazy, ambivalent and contentious relationships over money, yay we. I’m not sure I’d color myself as optimistic. We tend to drift over time, but life has the gift to give us small tweaks on our chain from time to time.

Kelly-Ann Robertson was stunned by a recent bill for a modest pile of groceries, including bananas, spinach, broccoli, a bag of flour, steel-cut oats, oil of olive and peanut butter.

The 34-year-old administrative manager in Toronto snapped a photo and shared it with her mothers’ group on Facebook: “$100 food at Loblaws everyone,” she wrote, ending with an emoji in tears. The post sparked many discussions online, with friends acknowledging they were feeling the pressure.

The instability of that moment made him think.

“Inflation is a buzzword that everyone is throwing around, but it has a lot more to do with corporate greed, supply chain issues and global conflict,” Ms Robertson said. “I have a deep sense of concern that this is just a piece of a bigger Jenga tower that is about to collapse. This is just the beginning and I don’t think the people realize that.

Amid all the new commiseration about money, Dr Somers urges people to try to move beyond anxiety to help each other.

“It’s about saying, ‘Can I do something to help? …Do you want to place a Costco order? Or split some loose items? Do you want to cook meals together for the week on some Sunday afternoons? These are strategies that help build relationships and community.

Women who meet for free at virtual financial empowerment sessions offered by the Women’s Center of York Region share tips for minimizing their daily expenses, ranging from coupons and using public transportation instead of the family car, giving up coffee. The six-week sessions help women become more economically independent; topics include budgeting, debt management, saving, and investing.

“When they hear other people’s stories, they understand that they are not the only ones having this fight,” said host Rabiya Sheikh. “They are less ashamed.”

According to Ellyce Fulmore, a financial educator in Calgary, part of the collective shame around debt stems from not learning about money growing up.

“With a lot of my clients, they have this idea that they should just know what to do with their money,” she said. “Everyone carries this shame of not knowing. They think everyone knows, so they don’t want to admit they don’t know.

Ms Fulmore would still like to see more sincerity about financial realities: “We need to normalize talking more about money in every way and not just when we’re in crisis.”

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