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Priced out: Some Richmond middle-class families are losing ground giving the rising living costs

Will the middle-class households be wiped out due to inflation?
Richmond middle-class households feel the pain of inflation.

By all accounts, Nancy Li has done everything right.

Li (not her real name) worked hard at a full-time job, rarely taking a sick day and working weekends when needed.

Her husband’s the same, and together they’ve lived a comfortable middle-class life, putting what they’ve earned into their mortgage and raising two daughters.

So she, more than anyone, was more shocked and appalled to find herself standing in a line-up outside the Richmond Food Bank earlier this week.

She said it was the first time in her life she has asked for charity, and it wasn’t easy.

“Saving face is very important in Asian culture,” Li told a Richmond News reporter, who accompanied her on that dreaded trip to the food bank.

She said she had tried to avoid what she believed to be the humiliation of turning to charity. 

"However, if I didn't go, I might end up losing my home. So I don’t care about losing face anymore," said Li. 

Li knows that some may say she’s to blame for her situation -- that she and her husband don’t work hard enough, they spend beyond their means, or don’t know how to budget.

To that, Li only shrugs and says she and her husband have done what most responsible parents do, create a safe and comfortable home for their children. However, their wages just don’t keep up with the rising costs of living.

After registering with the food bank staff, Li was given some yogurt, milk, six apples, two bags of carrots, two bowls of instant noodles, two packages of broccoli, a small packet of rice, beef jerky, a big bag of croissants, fresh loaves of bread and more. 

Li was grateful for the groceries and said they could easily feed her family of four for a week. 

Now, she hopes to have enough to pay for the family’s other expenses, which include the mortgage, car insurance, utilities, gasoline and daycare for two kids.

After that, “we’ll have nothing left," said Li. 

In fact, even with the food bank groceries, they still may not be able to cover everything.

“It’s not just food prices are on the rise. Everything is expensive nowadays. Being poor also takes us so much time since we are constantly worried about how to pay the next bill.” 

The latest poll from Angus Reid Institute found that the soaring costs of food is making most Canadians rethink their shopping habits to rein in their spending. 

The online survey found that four-out-of-five households are changing their shopping and menu habits to keep their budgets in check. 

More than three-out-of-five (62 per cent) said they are eating out less while 25 per cent are drinking less alcohol. Nearly half (46 per cent) said they have switched to cheaper brands and one-in-five (21 per cent) are buying less fresh fruit and vegetables.  

The report also pointed out that inflation isn't the only factor behind the rising expenses. The country's system of supply management is also pushing prices upwards. 

While some like Li are turning towards food banks, others are doing side hustles to help make ends meet. 

Richmondite William Wang, for example, would rather spend Sunday afternoon with his two children, but instead he’s racing through the aisles of Richmond grocery stores. 

Wang isn’t running errands for his family. Rather, he’s working for Instacart, an online grocery delivery platform that partners with most Canadian supermarkets. 

Instacart enables customers to shop from local grocery stores online and then send a "personal shopper" to handpick those items and deliver the orders. 

"After spending so much time working as a personal shopper, I know exactly where some popular items are located in various local stores. Even with my eyes closed, I can see what's sitting on different food isles," laughed Wang.

Speed is important, Wang adds, "(Because) customers usually reward me with a decent tip if I finish the task in less time.”

Wang said he can earn about $2,800 a month, which is what’s keeping him in the black – for now.

"I don't want to visit the food bank, but I don't know how long I can hang in there considering the high living expenses.” 

And there is the personal toll of spending his weekends shopping for others, after working a full-time job Monday to Friday.

"Sometimes I feel like Santiago in the Old Man and the Sea (a Cuban fisherman who works hard but has a string of bad luck.) I need to fight for a decent living for my family while facing struggles," said Wang.  “But I don’t know how long the battle will last.”