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Smaller turkeys, fewer gifts: How Canadians are preparing for an expensive holiday season

Faced with a more expensive festive season this year, shoppers might be looking for ways to scale back the cost of their celebrations — whether that means giving fewer gifts, sticking closer to home, or rethinking holiday feasts.

Inflation is up 6.9 per cent from a year ago, according to Statistics Canada’s most recent consumer price index data, with food, housing and energy prices all taking a greater chunk out of people’s money — making it a lot harder to budget for the holidays. 

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Here’s a look at how the cost of this year’s holiday season will compare to 2021, along with some suggestions for how to keep costs down. Experts agree that planning is key to celebrating on a budget, so be prepared to think ahead and make some lists.

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The big meal

A bird with all the trimmings will set you back more this year: Fresh and frozen poultry prices jumped in recent months, while fresh vegetables, including potatoes, cost about 11 per cent more than they did in 2021. Even stuffing is more expensive, thanks to rising bread prices.

Those higher food prices could require many people to rethink their plans for a traditional big meal, says Simon Somogyi, Arrell chair in the Business of Food at the University of Guelph in Ontario.

“What I’m hearing is more people are trying to cut back on excess,” he said. “Rather than cooking a massive turkey, it’s a slightly smaller turkey; rather than having five different types of sides, [have] three.”

Somogyi suggests planning your meal before you shop to avoid cooking too much food. “There might be some leftovers, but the leftovers aren’t going to go to waste.”

Holiday baking

If you’re thinking of baking for gifts, they may not be the cost-effective option they once were. Be prepared to pay more for raw ingredients: Flour and butter have soared in price this year by more than 20 per cent, while eggs and sugar prices have also climbed.

Again, Somogyi suggests reconsidering how much baking you really need to do.

“It’s going to be tricky this year for people who enjoy baking for the holiday season … It’s going to be a situation where people might be cooking a dozen cookies rather than two or three dozen cookies.”

Holiday travel 

After a couple of years of virtual visits, many people might be boarding a plane or hitting the road this month to see loved ones — and feeling pinched in the process.

Booking a flight or filling your vehicle’s tank costs about 18 per cent more than last year, according to Statistics Canada, although airline prices have fallen back somewhat after skyrocketing over summer. Taking a train or bus between cities is also more expensive than a year ago.

If you’re planning to drive, CAA has some tips for reducing your fuel costs, such as removing unnecessary weight from your vehicle, planning your trip in advance, and getting a tune-up to make sure your car is running efficiently.

Swapping gifts

Christmas trees are more expensive this year, and so are many of the gifts that might go under them.

While clothing and jewelry cost only slightly more than 12 months ago, toys and games will set you back nearly seven per cent more.

But some big-ticket items have fallen in price. If you’re in the market for a tech gadget, you might be in luck. Overall, prices for tablets, smartphones and smartwatches (Statistics Canada calls these “multipurpose digital devices”) are down nearly 13 per cent from 2021.

Higher prices have some Canadians rethinking their gift purchases. Marianne Allaert of London, Ont., says she’ll be buying smaller gifts and gift cards for her family members this year.

“My parents are elderly, they rarely go to restaurants, so I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to get a couple restaurant gift cards,'” she said. “So it’s an outing, an adventure, as opposed to giving them a thing when, you know, they’re elderly, they live in a house with too many things.”

Planning ahead can cut costs

When it comes to stocking your pantry for festive season meals, Somogyi recommends checking flyers for deals — and if you have the freezer space, stocking up on items while they’re on special.

“There’s good options for frozen, different types of fruits and vegetables, even meats and seafood as well, and they can be a lot cheaper,” he said.

smaller turkeys fewer gifts how canadians are preparing for an expensive holiday season
Shoppers are pictured buying groceries in Toronto on Nov. 25. The latest inflation figures from Statistics Canada show the prices of poultry, vegetables and baking ingredients have all jumped in over the past year. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Writing down lists of upcoming events and the people you need to buy gifts for can help you gain a clearer picture of how much the holiday season will really cost, says Taz Rajan, community engagement partner at Bromwich+Smith, a debt relief and consolidation service in Calgary.

“If you can have that list, if you can actually put a certain set dollar amount aside for the gifts, for the events, and really stick with it,” Rajan told CBC Radio’s Cross Country Checkup.

She also recommends people pay in cash or with a debit card, so they’re more aware of the money they’re spending — and if you do pay with a credit card, pay it off in full before it starts accruing interest.

smaller turkeys fewer gifts how canadians are preparing for an expensive holiday season 1
Experts recommend making a list of gift recipients and setting a budget to avoid breaking the bank this holiday season. Here, people are pictured shopping in Toronto during Black Friday sales on Nov. 25. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

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