Cost of Living: Weekday Groceries

One of the most common questions I hear when people from anywhere but here find out where I live, aside from “Are you crazy?” is “How much do you spend on groceries/gas/hydro/etc.?”

I thought I’d share a few examples of our cost of living, as they come up.

The average total individual income in my town, according to a community profile released by the municipality this year, is $43,761. The average family income is $101,431. I can assure you we are nowhere near that level.

That being said, we don’t really want for groceries and usually just buy what we need, regardless of what’s on sale, or we’d have a house stocked with college student staples. I’m a believer in spending extra to eat real food, despite the fact that local and organic is near impossible to achieve at our local grocery store.

It’s funny because it’s all relative– compared to my family and friends in Southern Ontario, I’m spending a disturbing amount of money just on living. But, we head to the little city nearby to shop because it’s cheaper, and I know they complain about prices, too. Matt’s family comes down here from up North to shop because the groceries are cheaper, meanwhile, I’ve had friends in Thunder Bay complain that food is just too expensive. I know full well that people further North than us have it much, much worse, but it doesn’t make it any easier for us to swallow.

I spend, out of my bank account alone, several hundred dollars on groceries every month. Aside from rent (and oil last winter, in our terrible old house), it is the number one biggest expense we have.

I joke that I can’t get out of the grocery store without spending at least $20 and for the most part, it’s true. When we’re buying everything for a meal, it’s usually over $50. One time Matt bought the ingredients for two medium-sized homemade pizzas and wound up cursing because it would have been far, far cheaper to order out and have them delivered.

On Tuesday, I dropped by the store on my way home from work to buy potatoes for supper. We also needed kitty litter, some sandwich items for lunches during the week, and fruit so I could stop coveting Matt’s ice cream sandwich stash.

This is all run-of-the-mill non-organic food. For those who can’t read the photo, I bought:

  • Kitty litter (4kg) bag – $4.89

  • Head of red lettuce – $1.29
  • six pitas – $1.99
  • small bag of red potatoes – $4.29
  • deli turkey – $6.39

  • bananas (1.05 kg) – $1.83
  • grapes (.87 kg) – $8.03
  • blueberries (11 oz.) – $2.99 ($4.29 regular)
  • raspberries (6 oz.) – $1.99 ($3.09 regular)
  • strawberries (16 oz.) – $3.49

So, with HST included, I spent a grand total of $38.82 on ten items. I’ve honestly lost track of what normal prices for groceries are, but as an experiment, I decided to check out the online flyer for the Loblaws right near my sister’s house in Ottawa.

If she went there to buy some of the same things I did, she could get two pounds of blueberries for $5.99, grapes for $2.49 a pound (way cheaper than my grapes), and two pounds of strawberries for $5, just as examples.

Spending $20 to $40 just on a quick jaunt to the store after work certainly adds up, and the ever-so-often cupboard and fridge re-stocks we do are that much more expensive. We haven’t had to do that recently, but I’ll share the cost next time.

What would you pay for similar groceries? Do ours seem expensive or am I off base? Are there any other Northern costs of living you’re curious about?

Using Traditional Snowshoes: Hardwood and Rawhide

Traditional Snowshoes

My First Excursion on Traditional Snowshoes

I actually didn’t know that anything other than traditional snowshoes existed until I moved up to northern Ontario, which seems sort of backwards, to me. I always thought that snowshoes referred to the big, wooden, beaver-tail shaped monstrosities that always seemed to be in our basement when I was a kid — a kid who, for what it’s worth, grew up with parents well-versed in northern Ontario life.

Turns out modern snowshoes are lightweight, synthetic and small — but that’s not what we have. We have traditional snowshoes.

My father brought me my mom’s old traditional snowshoes from when she was working in geology in northern Ontario, and Matt’s father gave him a pair from his family camp, way up north. A year later, when two weeks in November gave us enough snow to bury everything, we set out on our first adventure. It was my first time strapping snowshoes on, and I thought it was stupid– why would I wear giant shoes when I could just walk? A quick five-minute jaunt through the same snow in my boots made me realize the “extra flotation” thing isn’t a lie.

After that excursion, our neighbour dropped by our house one morning to make sure we didn’t need help — given that we were outside for quite some time, trying to jump my truck since the battery died in the cold — and he told us about a neat little trail that would take us to a waterfall. It sounded like fun, so we headed out, with our traditional snowshoes.

Step one was to shovel out a parking spot for my truck on the side of the road. Half of everyone that drove by asked us if we needed help because they thought we drove off the road into a ditch. By the time we got the shoes on and started out on the trail, the sun was starting to sink down behind the trees and I knew we’d be trekking home in the dark.

The first section of the trail was easy walking– it was broken in, with a few snowshoe tracks and the occasional boot print; likely hunters checking on a feed pile and a motion activated camera set up further down into the trees. The further we ventured, the more blowdowns and sort-of-creepy tunnels of trees we encountered, but the going was easy and the scenery was pretty.

About halfway through, the hunter’s trail ended, and Matt took the lead, breaking trail through heavy, powdery snow that looked completely untouched. Did I mention it was seriously freezing cold? My hair grew frost.

Suffice it to say, we didn’t even make it to the waterfall. Matt could hear it, but it was getting darker and colder by the second, nobody knew where we were but our neighbour, Matt’s legs were about to fall off, and my night vision is essentially non-existent. We headed back, snowshoeing through the dark, empty forest.

It took over half an hour for the truck’s windows to defrost upon our arrival, and by the time we got home, we were both so ravenous that we inhaled a large Hawaiian pizza, thus negating the 2000+ calories burned from snowshoeing for four hours. The good thing is, now the trail has been walked over four times, so maybe our next attempt will be a bit quicker and easier.

Using Traditional Snowshoes

Tips for Using Traditional Snowshoes

First and foremost — go slow. Once, I pretended that I was going out of control and was going to fall… and then I fell, flat on my face. Traditional snowshoes add a lot of square footage to your feet, and you need to get used to it before you try to pick up speed.

As with most winter activities, dress in layers. It’s surprising how much you can work up a sweat while snowshoeing, but at the same time, you’re out in the cold and you definitely want warmth as an option. If you’re out during the day you may need sunscreen and other sun protection even if it’s the dead of winter.

REI has some good technique tips for snowshoeing as a beginner, though they might not all work for traditional snowshoes. I recommend tromping around on easy terrain before you head out past your comfort zone by accident. And, as always, remember that however far you go, you need to be able to get back, so factor that in when planning your trail!