Aaron Vincent Elkaim/The Canadian Press

A story on the Globe website caught my eye this week because it may signal the beginning of a consumer backlash against soaring living costs.

The movie theatre chain Cineplex CGX-T announced a $1.50 booking fee for ticket purchases made online and through its mobile app. This goes against all the rules of online economics, which is that you get a price break for not taking up a company’s time and space. But the response to the Cineplex price hike suggests a broader anger. People are fed up with rising prices.

Our story about Cineplex was one of the most widely read on our website that day, and it generated a lot of comments. There was also a lively discussion about the announcement on the Personal Finance Canada thread of the online forum Reddit. I did not see much acknowledgment that Cineplex theatres were closed during pandemic lockdowns, and that COVID has hit few sectors harder. Instead, people sniped at the price increase from all directions.

Grouchy comments online are standard these days. But the Cineplex price increase seemed to punch above its weight in engaging readers. Isn’t the biggest expense in movie-going related to the gross size and cost of snacks?

Statistics Canada said this week that the cost of living in May jumped 7.7 per cent, the highest year-over-year rate since the legendary inflation days of the early 1980s. We are hip deep in a wave of price increase driven partly by weak supply lines and partly by raging demand from households that stockpiled cash in the pandemic and are eager to spend on certain goods and experiences like travel.

One of the things we need to see for inflation to cool down is less consumer willingness to pay today’s high and rising prices. The latest Consumer Spending Tracker from RBC Economics said we’re still buying more than we did before the pandemic, but there are signs that spending is plateauing.

A loss of momentum in spending could be described as inflation exhaustion, but there’s a backlash element as well. Businesses seen to be part of the inflation problem could be punished, a point that was made by Abacus Data CEO David Coletto in a tweet this week in reference to young adults. “If you’re under 40, inflation is an entirely new phenomenon…Every sector, brand, and org needs to understand this.”

Companies like Cineplex are in a bind – they may have suffered during the pandemic, or they may face rising input costs. Costs must to some extent be passed along to customers, who have so far been willing to pay up. The inevitable backlash may have started this week.

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Ask Rob

Q: The market value of my RRSP portfolio of mutual funds has been decreasing for the last few months due to market fluctuations. If I were to move to another RRSP product, I would certainly take a loss. Do you recommend just staying the course and hoping that market rebounds to a more positive outlook?

A: The real question is how your funds have done over the past three to five years, including the stock market crash of March 2020 and the huge subsequent rebound. Jumping in and out of funds based on short term results is a good way to lock in losses and miss out on gains to come. By the way, even portfolios following the classic rules of diversification have been hit hard this year. You are far from alone in seeing declines in your RRSP.

Do you have a question for me? Send it my way. Sorry I can't answer every one personally. Questions and answers are edited for length and clarity.

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