Opinion

COLUMN: Are the ‘savings’ really worth it?

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Cross-border shopping is, it appears, the activity “de jour” these days. Border crossings are up so much we just hit a 15-year high in the number who sally south of the line to get gas, groceries and other perceived bargains.

Close to 14 million people on the Lower Mainland lined up at the four crossings serving our area to spend their dollars and ultimately deny our economy a substantial cash-flow – money that keeps people employed on this side of the border, money that in taxes helps support our social network which includes health care and education, money that might, should local merchants see it, actually end up lowering prices here.

To make things easier, the provincial government has erected big reader signs on the freeway and near crossings indicating wait times to cross –and many times I see 20 or 30 or even 60 minutes of idle time on those signs. If it takes that long to go through U.S. customs, it must take equal minutes to get back home.

So how much is your time worth? Figure on a busy day, two hours to negotiate the back and forth across the border, at least an hour’s driving time, probably $20 in fuel, to save $50 on a $300 grocery buy in B.C.

Lest you think I’m above reproach, I must confess that until the turn of the new millennium, I frequently killed an afternoon shopping for fishing, hunting and camping gear in Bellingham and environs. They had cool stuff you couldn’t get here, at very reasonable prices.

Also, back in the ’80s when I had a truck that got nine miles to the gallon, empty or loaded, city or highway, I did occasionally buy fuel across the line. But never did I buy groceries, or big box items. It was too much hassle to deal with duty that would often result in a bargain “gone south.”

Recently, however, the federal government provided a bonus to cross-border shoppers, greatly increasing the duty-free limits. Of course, you have to spend a few more days, and a lot more dollars, renting hotels and buying meals to take advantage.

And that again brings up the question: how much is your time worth?

Convenience and similar quality keeps me and my money on this side of the line, and I can’t justify wasting hours to theoretically save a couple of bucks.

I won’t argue against people trying to hedge their budgets, and if you combine the “savings” with a family outing, then perhaps it makes sense. But that “sense and savings” comes at a cost to where you live. Because, for every loonie spent outside our country everything will continue to get more expensive here, thanks to the demands we make on our government to maintain the quality of life we are accustomed to.

We want to be paid more, we demand faster (and free) health care, and we want a protected environment. Much of that comes from retail cash flow and taxes to our government. None of it comes from an American merchant or the U.S. government.

Admittedly, on one of my only two trips south since 9/11, I did buy a puppy from Oregon and I’ve also purchased online a couple of unavailable-up-here products.

Is it my place to tell you not to shop for presumed savings in the U.S.? No, but you might pause to wonder why there are often vehicles with Washington State plates in the Costco parking lot in Abbotsford.

markrushton@abbynews.com

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