Why Price Doesn’t Matter For Some People



The rising cost of living is in the news almost daily, though people are never more aware of the situation than when they go for groceries, scan thinning flyers, and partially gas-up a vehicle. The problem is not regional, and it’s not going away any time soon.


Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, unstable prices in the Canadian market and in other parts of the world have increasingly impacted millions of Canadians. And this inflation is not just an unfortunate coincidence. Rather, it is an indirect result of the pandemic itself.


Higher prices are one of the many negative impacts felt during the pandemic, especially for those with reduced income due to lockdowns, individuals who have lost their jobs, and the working poor.


Canada’s Food Price Report, published annually by Dalhousie University and the University of Guelph, indicates that we will be paying more for basics this year and for years to come, but how much more can Canadians afford to pay?


An April 2022 study of adults age 50-plus suggests that as much as 38 percent of Canadians are at or near their threshold when it comes to price. We’re not talking about luxurious products. The research looked at over a dozen everyday items, from milk and peanut butter to toothpaste and shampoo. These are basics that are quickly becoming luxuries for more and more people.


While the price of goods, including food, has been forecast to increase by as much as 30 to 35 percent in 2022, almost one in three people (29%) surveyed said if prices increased by even 5 percent, they would have to change their buying and consumption habits. If prices increase by more than 10 percent, the number of habit-changing consumers grows to 38 percent. Already people are looking for less expensive options and going to more stores in search of savings. Further changes could mean reducing or eliminating some purchases altogether.


Experts warn to expect empty shelves, higher prices and smaller products.


Throughout the pandemic, news outlets have regularly alerted consumers to new and impending price hikes from major companies like Procter & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark, Coca-Cola and Frito Lay Canada. Often the increases are related to offsetting commodity costs. One of the more recent updates comes from Reuters, which revealed that the cost of Colgate brand toothpaste is now as much as $10 US ($12 CAD). Before that, the 14.9 percent increase in the price of milk made headlines in Ontario, as did the price of produce, up 5 to 6 percent.


If prices aren’t going up, the size and weight of packages are going down; less is more. Consumers are receiving less product for the same or a higher price. By now we have all experienced this, however, clever packaging often helps hide the reality. In one such instance of late, a popular brand of bathroom tissue decreased the number of sheets per package by 7.5 percent. As one would expect, the savings were not passed onto the customer.


Then there are those for whom price doesn’t matter. The cost of everyday items could go up two and threefold without any further cause for concern. You might be surprised to learn that we are referring to people who are homeless or precariously housed.


Of the ten thousand people who are homeless on any given night in Toronto, price is often not an issue as buying is not an option. They can’t afford to buy simple necessities like toothpaste, shampoo, socks or shoes. When prices go up, the most basic items are even further out of reach, requiring people who are homeless to find an alternative source or go without. Their reality goes beyond food and personal care products.


An elderly homeless man needs new socks every ten days, and their one pair of shoes – that should last years – lasts mere months. That helps explain why 40 percent of people who are homeless wear shoes that are the wrong size; they take what they can get for free, forgoing the risk and reality of future foot and health problems.


Cellular phones and access to the internet are also basics that many homeless people cannot afford. In going without, they become disconnected and isolated, a situation that can lead to increased loneliness and the risk of depression and other health issues.


One downtown Toronto drop-in centre is providing more basics to more people impacted by poverty, homelessness and isolation.


Open every day all year, Haven Toronto provides clients with healthy meals; showers and personal grooming products; laundry facilities; and access to an Emergency Clothing Room. The drop-in centre also offers free WIFI, access to computers, and a program whereby qualifying clients receive a free, entry-level mobile phone and service plan.


Every support that Haven Toronto provides is made possible by donations at www.haventoronto.ca.


The only drop-in centre in Canada dedicated to elder homeless men age 50-plus, Haven Toronto serves, on average, 400 clients a day and thousands of clients annually. For 89 years now, the charity has helped reduce barriers to health care, housing and food security for some of the most vulnerable people in the community.

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