Saturday, May 3, 2008

Canada / US Differences - Purchasing Power

On our recent trip through the States, we definitely noticed some differences between the two countries. Some were good, some were puzzling, and some were just... well... different! :)

The first was Purchasing Power. We definitely felt like we got more value for our money in the States! Especially now that the dollar is virtually at par. Gas was quite a bit cheaper, going as low as $3.16/gallon. Even when it rose to $3.75/gal on the last leg of our trip, it was still a better deal than the nearly $5.00/gal we're paying here in Canada. One man in Iowa said that he and his wife had planned to make a trip to Canada's east coast this summer, but decided to cancel it in light of the current high gas prices. I didn't dare tell him about how much we were paying in Canada! He might have had a heart attack! However, we found it interesting that a state like Iowa, which we do not normally associate with a high cost of living, had some of the most expensive gas prices. Could the biofuel industry be starting to have an impact on this corn-growing state?

Motel rooms were more for the money. In Canada (or in Ontario, at least), it's hard to get even a Motel 6 room for less than $70/night for 2 people. In the US, this price (and usually even less, depending on location) would get you a room in many higher quality motels like Comfort Inns, Quality Inns, Baymont Inns, La Quinta Inns, Heartland Inns, and more. And that includes high-speed wireless Internet service and free continental breakfast! Many are entirely smoke-free. Others, like Days Inn, Super 8, and even Motel 6, are even less. We used to frequent Motel 6 when we traveled as a family. Their "children-stay-free" policy made it hard to beat for price. But now that there's just the two of us, our standard for quality has risen a bit. We found some Motel 6s are simply takeovers of existing older motels and are thus not nearly as nice or clean as newly-built facilities. You usually can't tell which they are until you arrive there. And by the time you factor in the price of a second person, they're really (in most cases) only a few dollars cheaper than a somewhat better quality motel with free continental breakfast!

And food... the prices were cheaper and amount per serving was larger. A nice steak dinner that would cost over $20 in Canada usually cost $15-$16 in the US. Not that we did that very often, but hey, just because we've been married for a long time doesn't mean we still don't like to go out for a romantic dinner now and again! (and Burger King, Pizza Hut, or Denny's just doesn't cut it :) In reality, we often found it impossible to eat all of a single serving each. Several times, Kathy & I ordered only one meal and then split it. If we were planning to have a nice dinner together, however, we'd eat little or nothing for the entire rest of the day (except for our Starbucks!) in order to have room for it. This is rarely an issue in Canada!

We paid the US price for books and magazines! This was a welcome change from the relatively higher prices in Canada. Don't you find it ironic that even though the Canadian dollar is pretty well on par with the US dollar, they won't allow us to pay the US price on a book or magazine in Canada? We're still required to pay the significantly higher Canadian price printed on it. That just doesn't sound right to me... I think we should follow Oscar the Grouch's advice and "stand up and complain"! :) I'd suggest a boycott, but I know that many of us love our books and mags too much to stop buying them completely, even at the higher prices.

By the way, for those of you buying books from Chapters (a Canadian bookstore chain), you can often get the same book significantly cheaper (or at least somewhat cheaper) by buying it on-line rather than in-store. Why? Incentives? Lower overhead costs? I don't know. And shipping is free if the total purchase value is over $39 before taxes. Even at lower on-line costs, it would only take a few books to qualify for that.

More on other Canada - US differences later!


Geli said...

Mike, here in Alberta the books, magazines and greeting cards are sold at the US$ price at Walmart. Check it out where you are.

Myles also gets US prices on selected books he orders at our small town bookstore. That's probably because he's one of their better customers. And since they have Chapters online to contend with, he asked...they agreed and he spends his $$$ locally.
Now that's purchasing power.

Mike Steinborn said...

Good point, Geli. I do believe that I heard that about Walmart somewhere, so I'll check it out.

I guess it never hurts to ask, eh? I remember once going into an independent bookstore in Bracebridge where I got talking with the owner about our work in Africa. He seemed pretty interested and mentioned that he had a friend that had spent some time there.

When I finally found the book I wanted, I told him that in Africa we bargained over the price of things and offered him a price that was about half the amount on the price sticker. He laughed heartily and said, "Okay, how about I give you a 10% discount? Then you can feel like you've bargained me down a notch, and I don't have to haggle too much with you." I took it :)