Calgary Families Feel the Pinch of Rising Rents

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The Struggle to Choose: Food or Bills? Calgary Families Feel the Squeeze of Rising Rents

It's getting tougher out there. In Calgary, families like the Barnfields are having to make difficult choices as they grapple with rising living costs. Gone are the days of leisurely monthly outings; now, the focus is on just keeping up with essential expenses like groceries, rent, and school fees.

Monthly Dates Turn Into Backyard Fun

Mark and Krystal Barnfield used to cherish their “monthly dates” with their kids, nine-year-old Matthew and 11-year-old Levi. These special outings included meals, bowling, swimming, or movies—whatever the kids wanted. It was a way to ensure each child got quality one-on-one time with a parent.

“We really loved those times,” Krystal recalls. “But now, with everything so expensive, we’ve had to cut back a lot.” Instead of trips out, family fun is now focused on outdoor activities that don't cost a dime.

Belt Tightening and Budgeting

The Barnfields are far from alone. Many Calgary families are cutting back to handle basic costs. The family rents the upper level of a house in Abbeydale, but the rent has spiked significantly, jumping from $1,420 before the pandemic to $1,875 after their last lease renewal.

“We were lucky to get a decent rate when we first moved in five years ago,” says Krystal. “But the rent has increased so much recently, it’s tough to keep up.”

Skyrocketing Rents in Calgary

The Barnfields' experience reflects a broader trend. Calgary has seen some of the largest rent increases in Canada. Reports from and Urbanation show significant year-over-year rent hikes, with more expected in 2024. Calgary now ranks as the 25th most expensive city in Canada for renters, with average prices for one-bedroom units hitting $1,736 and two-bedrooms going for $2,133.

The Alberta rental market is tightening, with a vacancy rate projected to drop to 1.1% in 2024 and 1% in 2025, pushing rents even higher.

One Income, Many Challenges

Living on a single income, with Mark working as a grocery store clerk, the Barnfields have had to make some tough financial decisions. “We’ve done the math,” Krystal says. “For me to get a job, I’d need to earn a high salary just to cover before and after school care for our kids.”

Child care costs are daunting. “It would cost us about $1,600 a month for both kids, and that’s not even full-day care,” Krystal notes. “Families with more kids or younger children not yet in school must be feeling this even more.”

Rising Food Costs and Transportation Woes

Food prices are another major concern. “I grew up knowing how to budget and make do with what we had,” Krystal says. “Still, we spend $250 to $300 every two weeks on groceries. A year ago, it was about $150.”

The family has switched to cheaper cuts of meat, often opting for ground pork, and has recently started relying on public transit for grocery shopping after losing their vehicle to engine failure. This change has brought some savings in gas expenses but comes with its own set of challenges.

Gas Prices and Tax Increases

Gas prices in Calgary have been rising, further straining budgets. Alberta’s gas tax was fully reinstated in April, adding to the federal carbon price and making gas even more expensive. For the Barnfields, not having a car has been a rare financial relief amid the ongoing increases in other areas.

School Costs Add Up

School lunchroom fees are another significant expense. The Barnfields pay $760 annually for their kids to stay at school for lunch, a cost they don’t qualify to have waived under current income thresholds.

“We make too much to get help but not enough to live comfortably,” Krystal says. “We’re often choosing between paying a bill or buying food.”

The Need for Change

Krystal believes that government policies need to be updated to reflect the current economic reality. “A livable wage is about $23 an hour now, far above the minimum wage,” she points out. “Families like ours need more support.”

Join the Conversation

The Barnfields' story is just one example of the financial struggles many Calgary families face as living costs continue to rise. How are you managing these challenges? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.