One of the trickiest parts of moving to a new country is navigating the currency. I tell you now, that you need to try and see past the adorable beaver on the 5 cents, and the fact that a toonie is so named due to a singular dollar having a loon bird on it. The toonie actually has polar bears on it. This is your money now.
It can be quite satisfying (if you’re a brit – prior to potential Brexit) popping your currency into the Google currency exchange and seeing how many thousands of dollars your one thousand pounds is worth. This is a short lived luxury when you arrive and realise that you now have a limited supply of those pounds. It’s easy for the first couple of weeks to get by halving everything and thinking that products are generally cheaper or similarly priced to back home, except this changes when you start to work and live in dollars all the time.
Value the Canadian Dollar for what it is not how many pounds it could be
You need to start seeing the Canadian dollar for what it is; not compared to anything else. Think about in the UK, you know that a pound (frantically searches Canadian keyboard for pound sign to find it is not there ☹), is probably not enough to grab a decent sandwich at Tesco, you know that a pound might snag you a cheapy coffee somewhere and that it should buy you at least a chocolate bar.
You need to establish these cues in Canada immediately, before you find yourself converting your wages into pounds in order to calculate your monthly budget on groceries per pound. It doesn’t work, will stress you out and you’ll end up spending more money than you need to. Stop it.
In Downtown Toronto, 3 bags of milk (approximately 3 litres) is around $4.27. A good deal on bread is 2/$5. Chicken can be ridiculously expensive, I’ve seen $23 for 4 chicken breasts!
Do not view the Canadian dollar as the equivalent to your home currency
Avoiding this can be way harder than it sounds because this is absolutely how we operate on holiday and in the beginning, you’ll probably feel a little like you’re on holiday, we convert what we need and spend our holiday figuring out how much these flip flops were in pounds – what a deal! When you live in a new country, you can’t do this , because you can’t go home and make more of your home currency, or you can, but it would be very inconvenient. You’re making Canadian currency now, so you need to work entirely in Canadian.
Do not start trying to buy milk for $1 because it won’t happen. This is not Asda, this is Loblaws. This is not Tesco, it is Sobey’s. This is your new grocery shop mantra. You’ll also get really depressed at the conversion and will quickly decide you can never buy anything. It’s difficult, and it will mean that your budgets are off for a while.
Aside from groceries, working this way can screw you over in terms of rent, and the wages you’ll accept. A 1 bedroom condo in downtown Toronto is approximately $1500-1800 a month in the downtown core, so based on the rule that your rent shouldn’t be more than 30% of your income you need to ideally make 5000 a month to cover it. Or live with someone else.
Now, this also works in reverse. “$45 for a shirt!!” I hear you cry – thinking in pounds. This happens to me a lot! You are allowed to think a little about the conversion here, but only to keep you on track in terms of allowing yourself new clothes. A good way to cope and help to find those cues is to start to thinking in number of hours you work per item. If you’re on minimum wage, then a shirt is about 4 hours work. That’s a good reference point to go by. How many hours is this shirt – a strange but effective question to always keep in mind.
The minimum wage here in Ontario is about $11.25 an hour. Be thinking about that milk & rent price in comparison. $11.25 is not 11 pounds 25. Nor is it almost 6 pounds. It is 2 lots of milk bags and maybe some M&Ms.
Compare all the time, but switch currencies as little as possible.
TAX is sometimes included, and sometimes not
This is not a reason to not total your grocery shop as you go along. HST in Ontario is about 13% so add about 15% (because that maths is way easier) and settle in for a nice surprise at the checkout, rather than the nightmare of not doing so. Classic experiences I have had have included preparing the correct change to find I owe the cashier an extra $1.65. Fun. Sometimes however, you will be expecting to pay extra for tax and have find that it was already included on your way round. Hooray!
Things that are weirdly expensive:
- Chicken, as previously mentioned
- Makeup wipes, for some reason, feel extortionately priced, I have recently discovered that Winners do some excellent deals on makeup wipes –and they don’t burn your face off or anything!
- Shoes! I am yet to find the equivalent Primark/New Look kinds of deals on shoes, however as it’s currently summer Ardene do some lovely flip flop/sandal basic shoes. So those are an option, also, H&M do a bigger range of shoes here in Ontario than in the UK.
- Microwaves – just try and buy this handy appliance for less than $100. Would recommend Canadian Tire/Costco/Walmart for your hunt.
- This is generally food based because eating out feels a bit cheaper here. Tim Hortons for example is excellent for a snappy breakfast on the go. E.g my rushed breakfast this morning consisted of an Iced Coffee and a Cream Cheese bagel coming to the hefty total of $4! Timmie’s is a great spot to rely on in your first weeks in the country because there are so many of them and they are usually an excellent deal. It’s also one of those truly Canadian institutions, with Tim Horton himself being an NHL’er with the Toronto Maple Leafs back in the ‘60s. Speak to any Canadian about this and they will know all about Tim – this mainly happened to me while on my flight over. The tale of Tim Horton + the tale of his company is actually a really interesting one, despite partially marred by tragedy, but I digress.
- Elaborate cakes. Basically in all of the supermarkets I’ve been in there is a gorgeous section in Bakery, full of really ornate gorgeous cupcakes and cakes. Cupcakes are around $2-3 each and cakes are anything from $9-20 up. It’s incredible and will quickly become an essential.
Extra Money Info
- Tipping is far more part of the culture here. It’s pretty common to tip with each drink you buy at a bar and between 15-20% at restaurants. You also tip at the hairdressers, in taxis and especially when you order take-out. You can tip online when you get delivery here which brings up a whole new interesting debate of whether to tip when the driver arrives or online.
- Canada is phasing out pennies, so while if you pay by debit or credit you’ll still pay 57c or the .99, if you’re paying by cash it’s normally rounded up or down – so try not to hang around for your penny change, it’s not coming. However, if you do score a penny, they’re quite cute and have little maple leaves on!