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People dine at a restaurant on Queen Street West in Toronto, on April 1.Galit Rodan/The Globe and Mail

The first time Ana Chicaiza set foot in a restaurant again in mid-March she was nothing short of elated at the thought of seeing her friends over a meal she wouldn’t have to cook herself.

“I felt like I was a little kid excited to go to the park,” said Ms. Chicaiza, who is a cancer survivor and has been especially careful about limiting social contact during the pandemic because she is immunocompromised.

Ms. Chicaiza and her party spent more than four hours at a local Keg steakhouse, talking, laughing and catching up. But the 39-year-old elementary school teacher and single mother of two said the mood at the table changed abruptly when the bill came. For shared appetizers, a main course and a ginger ale Ms. Chicaiza’s tab came to a $87, around $30 more than what she remembered paying for the same meal pre-pandemic. (The Keg did not respond to an inquiry about whether it has raised prices since early 2020.)

While COVID-19 restrictions are falling away from coast to coast, soaring prices are the new obstacle to socializing. With Canada’s annual inflation at a three-decade high of 5.7 per cent, virtually everything is more expensive – restaurants, movies, concerts and the pub – and Canadians are finding that having fun is much more expensive than it used to be.

Dine-in menu prices haven’t matched Canada’s staggering 7.4-per-cent annual increase in the cost of groceries, but they were still up a whopping 5 per cent in February compared with a year earlier, according to Statistics Canada. And ordering a beer if you’re eating out will cost nearly 5 per cent more than it did just a year ago, the data shows, though prices haven’t risen as much for wine and other alcoholic beverages.

People wait in line outside The Great Hall in Toronto. With Canada’s annual inflation at a three-decade high of 5.7 per cent, Canadians are finding that having fun is much more expensive than it used to be.Galit Rodan/The Globe and Mail

Sticker shock may be especially severe if you’re hoping to see a live event. Average concert prices on Ticketmaster were up 14 per cent in North America in 2021 compared with 2019, according to parent company Live Nation Entertainment Inc. And rates are likely to climb further as fading pandemic concerns bring out more fans. In late February, the entertainment giant boasted about having already sold 45 million tickets for 2022 shows, with pricing on the most popular tours up more than 20 per cent compared with 2019.

Even getting to the show may burn a hole in your pocket. As more Canadians start to move about, demand for ride-shares, for example, is sometimes outpacing the number of available drivers, which results in fare increases, Lyft told The Globe. The company said it has added thousands of drivers to its platforms to improve both pricing and wait times.

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But with gasoline prices recently breaking through $2 a litre in some parts of the country, driving yourself isn’t exactly a cheap option either.

Some patrons are taking these cost increases in stride. Over the past two years Canadians have collectively squirreled away around $300-billion more in savings than they likely would have without the pandemic, estimates show. Now that pile of cash, which is concentrated among higher-earning households, means many consumers don’t have to trim spending because of higher costs.

In Pickering, Ont., Paul Bannister, 46, a semi-retired transportation consultant and father of two, is among them. His family can shoulder the steeper prices and has no intention of cutting back on eating out now that life is going back to normal, he said.

“We haven’t done this in a couple of years so now that we can, we may as well.”

Dine-in menu prices haven’t matched Canada’s staggering 7.4 per cent annual increase in the cost of groceries, but they were still up a whopping five per cent in February compared with a year earlier, according to Statistics Canada.Galit Rodan/The Globe and Mail

Others, though, are dismayed not just at how much they’re paying but also at what they’re getting in return. In Edmonton, Scooter Baines, 48, a mother of two who works in the travel industry, was sorely disappointed to see that the chicken and mushrooms in her fettuccini were sliced “paper thin” during a recent trip to Boston Pizza even though the dish was more expensive than it was prepandemic, she said.

In an e-mailed statement Boston Pizza said that while it hasn’t altered its recipes or the amount of ingredients in them, sometimes its dishes “may appear a little different” owing to supply chain issues. The restaurant chain did not say whether it has raised prices since the start of the pandemic.

Still, after a similar experience at another chain that used to be a family favourite, Ms. Baines says she’s going back to pandemic comforts such as board-game and movie nights with friends instead of dining out, at least for the near future.

Sticking with such activities is one way to socialize without breaking the bank, said Danica Nelson, a Toronto-based personal finance educator. Picnics at the park, bike rides and long walks with friends remain low-cost forms of entertainment, especially as the weather warms up, she noted.

A less extreme but still budget-friendly approach is to not order as much when you’re out, Ms. Nelson said. Meeting your friends for coffee instead of dinner, for example, will keep the bill in check.

Taking advantage of unused credit card points accumulated during the pandemic can also help defray the cost of things such as movie tickets, she added. Another way to score cheaper tickets is to head to the movies during the week: Cineplex, for example, offers reduced pricing on Tuesday. And Costco sells movie-package deals that often include tickets, popcorn and a drink at a discount.

If you’re using a ride-share service, booking your ride a few hours ahead of time can help you avoid surge pricing, both Lyft and Uber said.

To put a cap on your social spending, you may also want to keep your “fun money” separate from the rest. Ms. Nelson suggests using a reloadable prepaid card for your entertainment expenses: Once you run out of funds for the month, it’s time to stay in. Or, if you prefer a more old-fashioned approach, you can also set aside your fun money in cash.

It’s also a good idea to set boundaries with families and friends, letting them know your entertainment budget has limits, Ms. Nelson said. If you only had an appetizer and tap water you shouldn’t have to split the tab equally when the rest of your party ordered entrees, drinks and dessert. But she recommends having that conversation before dinner starts rather than waiting until the bill comes.

For her part, Ms. Chicaiza has scrapped her plans to go out every weekend.

With prices as high as they are, she said, “I have to choose maybe once every two months.”

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