Budgeting ‘out the window’: How inflation is putting the squeeze on a B.C. single mom

Click to play video: 'Out of pocket: Inflation forces B.C. mother to give up retirement saving'
Out of pocket: Inflation forces B.C. mother to give up retirement saving
A B.C. mother says she has had to stop saving for retirement to cope with the rising cost of day-to-day expenses. Kylie Stanton has more – Jan 17, 2023

Over the next six weeks, as part of the ‘Out of Pocket’ series, Global News will examine how inflation is impacting Canadians from coast to coast.

If there’s one place in Canada with a reputation for being expensive to live, it’s Metro Vancouver.

Now try doing it on one income with two children, with inflation at the highest it’s been in a generation.

That’s the case for thousands of British Columbians, including North Vancouver’s Vanessa Molloy, a restaurant manager and server with two sons, aged nine and 14.

Click to play video: 'Managing rising food costs as a single parent in B.C.'
Managing rising food costs as a single parent in B.C.

“Gas is more expensive, my car insurance is more expensive, suddenly groceries are more expensive, and any budgeting I had has gone out the window,” the 39-year-old said. “It used to be I’d have a little bit left for some fun extras, but now, whatever I would have had isn’t and is used for the essentials.”

Molloy isn’t alone in feeling stretched. An Ipsos poll of 1,004 adult Canadians conducted exclusively for Global News between Dec. 14 and Dec. 16, 2022, found 36 per cent of respondents had reduced spending on non-essentials like entertainment and travel, while 27 per cent had cut back spending on essentials such as food or clothing to pay for other basic needs.


Those pressures are particularly pronounced for single parents, who are disproportionately women, said Vivica Ellis, executive director of the non-profit Single Mothers’ Alliance BC, which advocates for universal school lunches and free transit for youth under 18.

Click to play video: 'Low-wage earners hit hardest by soaring prices'
Low-wage earners hit hardest by soaring prices

Ellis’ group is in the midst of a federally-funded study on the effects of the pandemic on single mothers, but she pointed to a 2021 child poverty report card, which showed even in 2019, nearly half of children in B.C. one-parent families lived below the poverty line.

“The feedback that we’re getting on a weekly basis is that single mothers are having to make very tough choices now about things that they didn’t used to have to,” she said.

“The majority of children and youth and parents actually in poverty in British Columbia are in single parent-led families, and already these families are struggling with the cost of housing, the cost of food and many things … so inflation right now means that they’re actually starting to buckle.”

Single parents, Ellis added, are disproportionately affected by precarious work and precarious housing, meaning a financial emergency, job loss or even sick day puts them even further at the mercy of rising prices.

Balancing the basics

Nothing has hit Canadian families’ bottom line harder in the last 18 months than the rising cost of the basics.

As prices at the pump shot up last year, Molloy considered selling the car she relies on to get herself to work and her kids to school, but said the math didn’t work out once she factored in travel time and the cost of transit.

Click to play video: 'Out of Pocket: Inflation having big impact on Nova Scotia business owner, investment advisor'
Out of Pocket: Inflation having big impact on Nova Scotia business owner, investment advisor

“So it’s kind of ‘bite the bullet’ a little bit and keep the vehicle, but then its only use is for absolute necessities — picking up the kids, groceries, all errands done, all within the same trip so I am not going back and forth and I am not driving multiple times a day to multiple different places,” she said.

“I try to really budget my gas, even.”

The price of fuel in Metro Vancouver hit an astounding all-time high of $2.42 per litre in September 2022. And while it’s since fallen to about $1.65, Molloy let out a grim chuckle when she said she now considers $1.50 “cheap.”

The supermarket has become its own weekly challenge. Inflation statistics for B.C. from November 2022, the latest data available, show the cost of groceries was up 10 per cent year over year.

Click to play video: '‘2023 won’t be much of a break’: Food prices expected to keep soaring in 2023'
‘2023 won’t be much of a break’: Food prices expected to keep soaring in 2023

That’s left Molloy balancing fewer car trips with shopping for deals — a process she likened to having a second job.


“I am constantly writing lists of things, what’s on sale where. Even if some place has most of the things I need at a better sale but the other place may have two or three things, I just forgo those things so I don’t have to go to several different places,” she said.

“I go in and I spend $100 and I look at it and, you know, 18 months ago I would have gotten double this for $100 — and now I don’t even get everything that’s on my list.”

With supermarket sticker shock in place, Molloy said she now regularly watches flyers and monitors two-for-one deals.

In-store brands are a must, as are healthy foods that don’t go bad quickly like root vegetables and apples. She buys less meat, and chooses things like bone-in chicken that allows her to make soup or a second meal.

There are other areas where Molloy has managed to avoid the worst of the crunch.

She’s been in the same two-bedroom unit for a year, and said rent that would seem “extremely expensive” to most, in Metro Vancouver’s white-hot market now seems like “a steal.”

The latest data from Rentals.ca pegged an average two-bedroom unit in Metro Vancouver at $2,820 per month, up 15.1 per cent year over year.

She has also been able to rely on her older son for most child-care needs, but said she’s forced to take time off work when her youngest is sick, meaning a cut to her income.

Click to play video: 'Metro Vancouver breaks gas price record'
Metro Vancouver breaks gas price record

'You have to get creative' on the extras

With the family budget under pressure to cover basics, inflation has changed the way Molloy approaches so-called “extras” — self care, fun activities for the kids, or the occasional restaurant meal.

“As far as eating out, we don’t even do that anymore.”

Working at a restaurant, Molloy has access to a free meal on her shifts that she brings home for the family, but otherwise, going out is limited to the occasional stop at Starbucks for a treat.

Free or discounted activities, like Toonie Tuesday at the local pool or a trip to the Burnaby Village Museum or Christmas light displays, are now a staple.

“But in previous years when we’d do that, we normally would have gone for a fun dinner at White Spot, and we just didn’t do that this year because it wasn’t in the budget,” she said.

This summer, rather than take the boys for an overnight summer trip to Cultus Lake, Molloy opted for a day trip. And she said she started taking the family to the park with a camp stove to do cookout picnics when the weather was nice.

“Trying to make little things, that weren’t really going to cost us a lot, seem like fun — you have to get creative, for sure.”


She said her kids understand that the family is on a budget and that things won’t be like this forever.

But she said it’s still tough as a parent to feel like she is “saying no all the time.”

“It’s tough because, you know, there’s other kids who are going off to Disneyland for spring break, and I’m like, ‘Well, we’re going to the grandparents’ house,'” she said.

“It’s really hard as a parent having to explain like, “Well, we don’t make Disneyland money so we can’t go.'”

Click to play video: 'Managing the cost of transportation in Metro Vancouver'
Managing the cost of transportation in Metro Vancouver

Managing the stress

Amid trying to balance work, raising two boys and balancing the budget, Molloy said she’s also worried prices will continue to rise, while her income remains flat.

What’s more, she’s noticed some restaurant customers are tipping less as they feel the squeeze too.

She said she’s gone from comfortably making ends meet to falling behind, and is sometimes left juggling credit cards or being forced to choose which bills she can pay in full.

“It’s almost like feeling like you want to put your head in the sand and not think about it, but you know that’s not the reality — you can’t ignore these things.”

Whenever her car makes a funny sound, she said she feels a pang of anxiety, wondering if it will put a thousand-dollar hole in her budget.

“You don’t think a couple of weeks ahead, you’ve got to think months ahead in how you’re budgeting and how you’re going to see things through,” she said.

“Now that we’re over the holidays, we’re going to head into spring … I’ve got to start thinking about summer and, well, how am I going to be able to do one special thing with the kids?”

The pressure is enough that Molloy has investigated local support organizations like the Harvest Project and the food bank.

So far, she said, she’s been able to make ends meet, but every month is a stretch.

“I guess my feelings were, well, my fridge still has food in it, my cupboards still have food in it — there are people that are worse off than I am. So while I considered it, I am not quite there yet,” she said.

“I am pulling it together as much as I can right now. I think it’s part of the shameful pride of mine. I like doing it on my own.”