Consumers are buying smaller containers of dairy products to cut costs. (Deb Meissner photo)

Consumers are buying smaller containers of dairy products to cut costs. (Deb Meissner photo)

Cost of living in the north strains budgets

Living further from services demands creativity for everyday living

With the consumer price index in Canada reaching a 31-year high of 5.7 per cent in February, many Smithers families are starting to feel the crunch.

But just how expensive has it become to live in Northwest B.C.?

Recent statistics from the Northern BC Northern Real Estate Board (NREB), indicate the average value of a single-family home in Smithers jumped 21 per cent last year from $362,000 to $438,000.

Ballparking the expenses tied to accommodations, a 20-year mortgage would run approximately $1,900 per month, with property taxes on top of that at approximately $250 per month. Add hydro, phone, heating and expenses just for housing are up to approximately $2,600 a month.

For a family of two, a very basic list of groceries and household items (see sidebar), will run around $628 per month and that doesn’t even include some staples such as peanut butter and jam.

Figuring in the cost of fuel at $1.95 per litre, because alternative transportation is a perennial issue in the north, and the monthly budget is stretched even further.

Even at a very conservative estimate of $80 per month to fill an SUV tank, the monthly budget is now edging closer to $2,700 per month and that is without any splurging for a beer on Friday night, a movie on cheap night (Tuesday) at the theatre, or things as basic as clothing.

With the average dual-wage household annual income in Canada at approximately $101,000, even relatively well-off people are now looking at about half their income going to basic expenses.

Turning to those who find themselves in lower-income brackets, the crunch is even more acute.

Currently, minimum wage is $15.20/hour, minus taxes, making the take-home wage closer to $12 per hour, or approximately 2,100 per month for a full-time earner.

Older adults/seniors are living on fixed incomes. According to the Canadian Pension Plan website the maximum amount a person can draw if they are 65 and worked (contributed) at least 39 years, is $1,253.

The website goes on to say if a person doesn’t qualify for the maximum, as most Canadians do not, the average amount for a new beneficiary is $703 as of October 2021.

Old Age Security is currently $642, with a 10 per cent increase (to $770/month) starting in July 2022. Combine CPP and OAS and the approximate average income is just $1,345/month. Clearly not sustainable without added income, or qualifying for low-cost housing.

Parents who are eligible can receive the Canada child benefit of up to $6,977 per year for children under six years of age and $5,903 for each child six to 17 to help with costs.

In order to work, however, a person can expect a monthly fee for child care in the range of $900 for an infant, $850 for a toddler and $780 for a preschooler according to the British Columbia’s Child Care Provider Profile Survey, although it does state costs can range much higher.

The Province of B.C. is accepting applications from licensed child care providers who want to provide child care for $10/day or less, but the actual program is not yet running, leaving parents to grapple with the high cost of licensed child care or finding an alternative.

People are looking for alternatives to alleviate the ever-increasing cost of living in the north. For many, now that spring is coming, a simple garden will make the difference in having fresh vegetables or going without.

Families are becoming more involved in child care. Homeowners are looking to renovations to their homes so they can rent out space and decrease costs.

Ridesharing is becoming more popular. More people are finding ways to work from home, or have more flexible hours from employers.

In years past, during financially difficult times, the barter system became popular, and may again going forward.

Difficult times, call for creative solutions, and for people in the northern regions who have to travel further for services, or pay more for basic necessities the need for creativity and flexibility is very real.


Packages of lean ground beef that were $5, have jumped recently to $8. (Deb Meissner photo)

Packages of lean ground beef that were $5, have jumped recently to $8. (Deb Meissner photo)