Avoiding inflated shrinkage is difficult, but these shoppers have some tips

“It’s very basic: plus, minus, division, multiplication,” says Stefani Balinsky, a Montreal mom, about shopping. “It’s about determining how much you get, down to the smallest unit.”

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Stefani Balinsky not only brings her list when she goes shopping, she also brings a calculator.

Often, Balinsky, the mother of a teenager and a 20-year-old, finds herself standing in the aisles calculating whether she will get the best deal for every dollar spent. It is her way of fighting against inflationary contraction.

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He recalled his most recent trip to a local grocery store in Montreal. She looked at a variety of cheeses, both with and without offers. While a deal for two blocks of cheese seemed attractive, she said she was getting less per unit of weight for the price, compared to those without deals.

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Smaller boxes of cereal, lighter bags of chips, and shorter strips of spaghetti are common examples of inflated shrinkage: items that have the same price even after reducing their weight or size. It’s less noticeable than a higher price, but the food is more expensive because shoppers get less for their money.

With rising food prices continuing to be a strain on household budgets, many Canadians are keeping an eye on grocery store items that have been reduced.

Confectionery products, such as cookies or chocolates, are more susceptible to shrinking, said Marissa Alexander, co-executive director of Food Secure Canada.

“It’s easier for anything that’s packaged (and) processed to get away with it because it’s less obvious,” said Alexander, who is also a registered dietitian.

“The problem now is that many of the companies that are creating the same products are making inflationary contractions,” he added, leaving fewer options for consumers.

The main reason is affordability, Alexander said. “Businesses are also feeling the pain with our food system: processing food, transporting it and exporting/importing it is very expensive,” he explained.

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But consumers remain the most affected, as high costs are passed on to them in a misleading way.

Jay Jackson, director of policy and strategy at the Consumer Council of Canada, said shrunken food has become another irritant shoppers have to deal with along with high food prices.

But he adds that consumers know what to do when they feel they are being deceived.

“When prices are outrageous, they know how to switch to lower-priced products, or just walk away and find another way,” he said.

For Deidre Cross, an affinity for loyalty cards and brochures has saved her from paying full price from time to time and helped her grocery bills go down year after year.

“I’m a big fan of using loyalty programs that stores have (and) I’ve signed up for all of them: PC Optimum, Air Miles,” said Cross, who runs social media channels called Ohh You Budget.

While inflation has lightened his cereal boxes, he manages to accumulate enough points to sometimes complete a month-long no-spend shopping challenge. He points out that many people don’t realize what they can get with loyalty rewards.

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“I showed it to my followers on social media: They see me getting free food, they see me getting free car washes and free gas,” Cross said. Her audience is often surprised to see her spending money on loyalty points for expensive grocery items, she added.

“It’s because I see the end result,” Cross said.

He suggested downloading apps that can manage all your loyalty cards in one place, like Stocard, and following discount apps like Flipp to find the best deals.

For Balinsky, avoiding shrinkage isn’t about sale stickers, giant store banners or packaging. It’s his calculator.

“It’s very basic: plus, minus, division, multiplication,” he said. “It’s about determining how much you get, down to the smallest unit.”

Balinsky’s calculator strategy is a lesson passed down from his mother, who shared the tactic nearly 15 years ago during a different economic crisis. While she hasn’t always used a calculator over the years, it comes in handy during tough times.

He often goes shopping with his mother and divides up bulk produce, such as large bags of carrots and lentils.

“Take your girlfriend. Let’s go shopping for food together. I’ll take the dairy, you take the meat, divide it that way,” she said.

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Buying dry staples at dollar stores is also proving to be a cost savings for Balinsky.

“The dollar store was a surprise,” she said, finding deals on rice cakes at the best prices, even better than Amazon or Walmart.

“I’m just a mom, trying to feed (my kids) and not spend so much money each week on food that will rot in my refrigerator or sit for years on my shelves,” she said.

Balinsky is now teaching his children to watch out for bogus deals and get the most out of their investment.

“When I send them on an errand, (I ask them), ‘Is this the best price?'” Balinsky said. “Either they go back and do the math or they say very proudly in their sing-song voice, ‘Yes, mom, I did this, blah, blah.'”

Someday, he said, “I know when they’re alone and it’s their money, they’ll do it.”

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