Manitobans shopping in the U.S.: Experts say it’s not as good a deal as before

Southern Manitobans have a history of travelling down to the United States to check some items off their grocery lists. But better pricing doesn’t seem to be the carrot on the stick it once was.

Santiago Silva, a former Winnipegger now living in North Dakota, said about a decade ago, searching for cross-border deals had become a way of life.

“Even though I was living sort of on both sides, I would oftentimes — when I was with my wife in the States — I would just fill up my van at the time with groceries and then when I’d be home for a week or whatever in Winnipeg, then I didn’t really have to go shopping,” he said.

But times have changed. Inflation is lower in Manitoba than in the U.S., and the exchange rate is high, prompting a question: Is it worth the trip?

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“There’s still cars coming and going (across the border), and … I am a bit surprised. Maybe it’s the gas that’s still a lot cheaper down here,” Silva said.

Rob Warren, a marketing instructor with the University of North Dakotac, said despite relatively even prices, there is a magnetism to the United States retail experience — making Canadians a big economic influence on nearby areas like Grand Forks, N.D.

“The one thing I hear from Manitobans is, ‘Hey, I can find things in Grand Forks that I can’t find in Winnipeg.’ It could be a size, it could be a colour combination, whatever it is,” Warren said.

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He added that the selection of retailers and the feeling of “getting away” are also factors.

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Nick Gamble, a policy analyst with the Manitoba Chamber of Commerce, agrees.

“I think for a lot of people it’s a fun weekend, right? They go and they stay in a hotel, they do some shopping, they turn around and they go, ‘Yeah, this was a fun weekend.’”

But he said fun can be had in Manitoba too. It’s just not as well-known.

“I certainly would like to call on a place like the Clear Lake region, because they’ve got lots of cool little retail shops and really unique accommodations in that area that I think a lot of people haven’t visited,” Gamble said.

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He noted that shopping and touring within the province can add up when it comes to supporting local systems, like health care and infrastructure.

“If you’re going to take the time to hop in and do a road trip, for Manitoba’s economy it would certainly be better to do it and stay here in the province,” he said.

For that reason, Gamble hopes that those considering a road trip think again about staying north of the border.

“If you just think about one transaction, it’s not all that big, but it’s really the run-on effects,” he said. “If everyone’s chipping in and going, ‘Yes, I’m going to go for a tourism experience in, the Whiteshell or in Gimli, instead of going down to Grand Forks, that will add up over the long run.”

Warren said Manitoba, and Canada in general, has a lot of things to offer.

“Shreddies cereal is another one you can’t get down here, and Canadians love Shreddies. Tim Hortons Timbits — it’s tough to get a decent donut in Grand Forks,” he said. “Rye bread is another one. I constantly get requests for people who want rye bread because that’s a real Canadian thing.”

Gamble said it’s remembering and exploring the good things in Manitoba that will generate reasons to boast about it.

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“We have a lot of Manitobans that talk down about being from Manitoba. I think we’re our own worst enemies when it comes to that because every little experience can matter.

“If you say to your Alberta family, ‘Hey, why don’t you come to Manitoba for the summer?’ Maybe that will all generate a little bit more growth for our province,” he said, adding to check out for inspiration on where to go.

As far as stretching a buck goes, Jillian Taylor-Mancusi, the CEO of LCTaylor, said there are several tactics Manitobans can take.

Creating grocery lists, planning ahead, buying in bulk, coupon clipping, thrifting, using active transportation and budgeting are all ways she recommended to help make ends meet.

For those struggling to keep up in this roller-coaster economy, she said reaching out to a licensed insolvency trusty could be beneficial.

“Not only do we have things like bankruptcies and consumer proposals in our toolbox, but we can also teach you about budgeting and financial counselling, and give you some tips so that maybe you don’t have to file a bankruptcy or consumer proposal,” she said.

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