Vancouver Personal Finance

A couple of weeks ago, TeacHer Finance wrote a post asking whether or not personal finance advice should depend on geography. I say YES. When I read some of the advice out there, some of it falls short for me as somewhat of a fable or an out-of-reach ideal.

Eemusings discussed what it’s like to live in NZ, covering everything from the environment to the culture, and today I’m going to talk a little bit about PF in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Vancouver is the most expensive city in North America. Wages are lower than average; housing is ridiculously expensive and that’s just the price of living in this wonderful metropolis.

This is coming from somebody who grew up in a town that was much more manageable regarding living costs. I moved from a nice, new, 800 sq foot condo with a pool and 7 minutes from work in my hometown for just over $1000/month to an old (albeit optimal location), 480 sq foot basement for $975/month hours away from anywhere you can find work when I moved to Vancouver. So the cost of things in Vancouver, needless to say, shocked me a bit, especially coming from a smaller town where $400,000 could buy you a newer, nice house.

That doesn’t happen here. Ever.

Housing

Housing in Vancouver is the reason for it being the most expensive place in North America. When house hunting, the best deal we could find was a 60-70 year old house (they didn’t know), about 1800 sq feet in a far-off suburb of the lower mainland for $370,000. This was an absolute steal; it was a foreclosure. If we had enough money to even look at living in Vancouver itself? Well, let’s take a look.

This dumpy house is selling for $629,900 and is not even in a good neighborhood. It depends on who you ask, but I would definitely not want to live on Vancouvers East Side – it’s one of the poorest neighborhoods in Vancouver and depending on where you are on the East Side, it’s dangerous.

The lot size is only 3200 sq feet, meaning it’s tiny and the houses are insanely close together. The modest, 1248 sq ft floor space inside includes the only partially finished basement.

Shit’s expensive. Can you imagine living in a decent house?

Food

I wouldn’t say that food at the grocery store is any more expensive around here than the rest of Canada, but meat, cheese, and other dairy products are substantially more expensive in Canada than in the States.

Additionally, we don’t really get coupons. We might get $.50 off of something that is already pretty expensive, but we can’t do the extreme couponing thing at all.

Example: a 500 gram block of Cracker Barrel cheddar cheese is around $10-11 depending on where you go. Sometimes, Walmart has a sale on it for $8 and we stock up.

Even fast food is substantially more expensive in Canada. Case in point:

We went to Dairy Queen last weekend to get ice cream and we both got a small blizzard. It cost $10.60.

When I go to the States I’m always shocked at how cheap the fast food is. I remember going through a drive through and being able to drive away with a burger, fries, and a drink for $4.

Drinks in Canada – forget about it if you’re on a budget. Alcohol in general is freakin’ expensive and usually only sold at liquor stores, not convenience stores like in the States. My favorite wine is about $11 for a bottle but it depends on the store.

Entertainment

We’re lucky in Vancouver in that there is a ton of outdoor space to hang out in. There are big parks, and if you have the transportation there are cute little lakes and nice hiking trails everywhere. Plus lots of mountains to climb.

Entertainment doesn’t have to be expensive. But for instance, if you go to the movies, general admission to the Scotiabank Theater downtown is $12.99. Some admission is $13.99-$15, some is $11.99 but it usually floats around that price depending on the theater.

After having checked the prices for the theaters in my hometown, they are $10.75 at the absolute most expensive, and $9.75 for the smaller theaters.

This just shows that even places that are only a couple of hours away from one another can have very different prices.

Transportation

I could break this up into a few different categories, between public transportation and driving costs.

First of all, though, lets look at gas prices. 

Vancouver: $1.45/litre (Wednesday last week). In US$/gallon, gas is $5.49/gallon in Vancouver.

When I went home for Easter, the gas there was $1.29/litre.

Across the border, in Bellingham, Washington (just 45 minutes away from Vancouver), according to gas buddy the prices are $3.93 at Costco. In Canada, that would translate to $1.04/litre.

So, needless to say, the prices are different everywhere. Vancouver is expensive for gas. Lots of people go across the border to fill up.

Public transportation is a lot more reasonable. A single fare for the Skytrain or bus, depending on how many zones you need to travel through, starts at $2.50 for one zone, and goes up to $3.75 for four zones one way. You can buy a monthly pass, prices for which I’ve included below (it’s a screenshot). 

I remember being able to buy a bus pass in my hometown when I was a teenager for $30/month. I just looked to see how much they charge and it’s now $60. There has been some talk about raising the prices in Vancouver; I don’t know if that has been approved or denied.

I should mention that I’ve never used the 1 Zone ticket.

The layout of the Vancouver area and surrounding cities is as such:

As you can see, there are many cities in the “lower mainland” region, other than Vancouver. I don’t live in Vancouver itself, but in one of those surrounding cities.

When I see financial advice such as “ditch the car and take public transit”, I can’t fathom being able to do that. I work in one of these cities, and live in another, and go to school in an entirely separate city. It takes about 30 minutes to get from my home to my work because it’s against traffic, and it takes about 35 to get from home to school if it’s a low traffic time.

However, to get to school from my house takes 1 hour and 14 minutes on public transit, and I have to walk, take two sky trains, two busses, and then walk again.

To get to work from home is even worse, ringing in at 1 hour and 33 minutes one way.

As an example (and I don’t live in either of these cities but it’s an example), the bus from Langley doesn’t even run to Abbotsford.

Bridges and infrastructure is interesting in the lower mainland, for the simple fact that one of the bridges to get across that little river you see in the map? Is tolled. If you are driving a normal passenger vehicle, it costs $4.10 to go over one way. You can have a discounted rate if you get a pass. 

They are tolling a major bridge too, when they finish construction, and I’d wager a bet that it’s the biggest bridge and the most used to get from one side of the Fraser river to the other. That’s the bridge I’d have to take to get to work. I can get a pass for $2.90 one way, but that’s still damn expensive.

Taxes

Taxes vary province to province in Canada, not necessarily city to city, but the federal income tax rate is 15% for earnings under $42,707. Anything over that is taxed a federal rate of 22% up to $85,414. Over and above that amount, it`s 26%, up until $132,406 at which point one is taxed $29%.

Provincially, it varies. Below is BC`s tax rate.

About 25% of my paycheques are gone by the time I get them in my bank account.

Bridget, Mikhaila, and other Albertans have a flat provincial income tax rate of 10%.

As far as taxes on goods and services, it depends on the products as well. BC gets taxed a GST (government sales tax) of 7% and a PST (provincial sales tax) of 5% (I could be getting those backward). Alberta only has the GST, and does not charge PST.

Health Care

This title is a new edition to this post because as somebody pointed out, much of our taxes goes toward health care, so the 25% isn’t bad.

Truth! All of Canada has universal health care. We’re lucky. We don’t’ have to deal with having to have healthcare accounts, and if we get pregnant or fall sick, we can just walk into any doctors office, hospital, etc with no worry about our pocketbooks.

We do pay for it, in our taxes, as well as MSP – I’d be lying if I told you I knew what that stands for, but it’s a monthly cost that most employers cover for employees that people over a certain income have to pay (usually around $50) toward healthcare costs.

We also have, depending on the province, a very generous maternity leave/paternity leave program. I believe we are allowed almost a year – I could be a month or two short – so we get paid 55% of our incomes for that period of time when we have kids.

Saving Money in Vancouver (or BC in General)

There is a joke about British Columbia that BC stands for Bring Cash (depending on who you ask, they might say it also stands for Bring Cannabis, but that’s another story).

Saving money in Vancouver is really not an easy feat, especially since if you were to ditch the car to save money you’d have to live closer to Vancouver itself, which is damn expensive.

To save money in this metropolis, there are a few options. You can live in an area which is a little worse for the wear (or a lot), but most of the bad areas are truly bad. I live in an apartment that is a pretty run down apartment, but it’s tolerable, and our rent – not including any utilities (hydro, not even laundry, electricity, internet or phone) is almost $900/month. If we include all of the above listed utilities, we’re looking at almost $1200/month, depending on the weather.

You can live farther out – ie in Abbotsford, which is seen as the sticks in most areas and can be very isolated. If you live in Abbotsford, most people wouldn’t consider you to live in even the Vancouver area (by any stretch of the imagination), and the closer you get to Vancouver, typically the more expensive it is.

Since we’re so close to the border, to save money on gas, groceries, or alcohol – even clothes and gifts – lots of people go over the border to fuel up and stock up.

Luckily there is a lot to do in this area without having to pay for anything; entertainment can always come free.

Vancouver and the lower mainland of BC area has a lot to offer, but cheap living isn’t included in that. Unfortunately, much of the ‘advice’ that the surprising amount of personal finance bloggers from Vancouver frequently read about on other blogs would never be able to apply to us.

How about you? Is your region unique in the lack of advice you can actually enact? What is the most expensive thing in your city?


Comments

Vancouver Personal Finance — 64 Comments

  1. Your housing prices don’t faze me. Our cities have some of the most expensive RE in the world. I’m (almost) past moaning about it. Oh, and you reminded me that I forgot to mention that we don’t have coupons with in my NZ post!

  2. I live in a suburb just outside Dallas, so our cost of living is VERY reasonable. But the trade-off is, you live in a conservative, backwards state with the highest number of uninsured children, highest dropout rates, poverty, obesity, and the leader in creating MINIMUM WAGE jobs. For 3 months out of the year our temperatures are above 100F (40C) – if I was religious I would consider this hell on earth. And outside of Austin, TX, there isn’t a lot of free stuff to do. If you want to leave the house, you either go shopping or eat out. The way I see it, Vancouver (and the rest of Canada) has its problems but not like the US.

    • San Antonio has some cool free stuff to do. But yes, we have great living prices here in Houston as well…just make sure not to cause someone road rage – they may be packin’. :razz:

  3. Seriously? Dude, living in Vancouver, and Canada is such a rip! $10.60 for 2 blizzards? That’s nuts! I know the city where I live is expensive, but Vancouve is ridiculous. My only question though is…healthcare? We pay a lot in the US for not a lot of great care. Don’t yoru taxes go towards your healthcare? That makes your 25% tax rate seem not as bad.

  4. I agree with you! I live in Toronto and although I think real estate is more expensive in Vancouver, Toronto is a close second.

    Real Estate prices are just crazy. When I travel to the states and see house prices for $70,000 and look at house prices here for $400 – $500k. It makes me wonder.

    • What you are looking at with $70,000. is likely in a depressed area. The states with the highest foreclosures and a lot of unemployment. Not all areas got hit the same, especially the more expensive states to live in, as there was no “craze” to develop within. It seems to be mostly within the lower warmer states and CA.

  5. I didn’t realize Vancouver was so expensive. I always assumed that New York was the most expensive North American city.

    Where I live on the east coast of the US, the cost of living is probably a little lower than our national average. Our rent is very reasonable for a decent apartment, food is manageable, and although there isn’t a good public transit system in my city gas prices are below the national average. After looking at your numbers, I’m thankful to live where I do :smile:

    • NYC is definitely expensive but I think the consideration with Vancouver is it takes into account income vs. housing, etc. Our incomes are lower in Vancouver than in NYC so it’s comparative. They have more expensive housing, I think, particularly rentals.

  6. Thanks for the reminder to look into moving from Vancouver! It is super expensive to live here. I’ve just lived in BC my whole life and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. I’ll have to get my shit together and build up my online biz enough to move to a small city. It just isn’t realistic to even consider settling down here.

  7. Mr. BFS and I live right outside Houston, TX. Our 1750 sq.ft. home was built in 2004 and we got it in 2007 for $114,000. Property taxes are 2.8% total. We don’t have state taxes but we do have an 8.25% sales tax on all non-grocery items. Overall, cheap costs of living. BUT, it’s usually hot, has humidity of 90-99%, hurricanes seem to hit us hard every few years, and 80% of the population owns a gun or multiple guns (and half of us really do not have the mental capacity that I would deem enough to own a gun…).

  8. I have visited Vancouver twice, though I live in Chicago (far away, obviously). I see Vancouver as a beautiful city with a lot to offer.

    That being said, the price of housing seems crazier than that of San Francisco, which is ridiculous to being with. It seems as though real estate prices in Canada – some places anyway – are simply out of control. I wonder if a big price correction is inevitable at some point.

  9. Wow! I didn’t realize that it was that expensive to live in Vancouver. Based on your assessment, the cost of living is extremely high, and it makes me wonder how folks even manage to survive.

    As you put it, ditching your car might work if you live close to your employer and within the city limits, but it’s also expensive. This is also true in some parts of the US.

    It seems like the only advantage that you have is your universal healthcare program. Here in the US, there are debates going on about creating it here, but I’m scared that if that happens, the cost of living will increase astronomically.

  10. Wow! This is really thorough. I’m glad I live in a cheaper part of the US. But even still, if you drive one hour south of my house, the price of housing, living, taxes, etc almost doubles. Its crazy how much of a difference there can be. But people will pay substantially to live near the big cities!

  11. Excellent post Daisy!

    Vancouver and Toronto have always been expensive, with Calgary holding the next most expensive spot.

    I love living in Canada except when it comes to the cost of everything, and how long it takes us to get from point A to point B.

    In terms of grocery prices, I think that they are quite similar from coast to coast (could easily be wrong though). I noticed in the last 2 years that prices are constantly increasing.

    Why are we paying so much for chicken, cheese, milk, eggs, etc?

    There is a site that I follow from a woman in Toronto and she posts her grocery shopping each week. She pays the same prices that we do.

    And the Dairy Queen blizzard made me laugh! My husband and I split a medium size one last week and it cost $9 as well.

    Over all it is very difficult to find grocery deals in Canada. There is all this talk about Target moving into Canada this year, but now it sounds like they will be charging CDN prices and not US prices like people had first hoped.

  12. Yep, GST and PST are swapped. We both pay the government the same GST, and our tax is 5% in Alberta.

    I’m thinking I should do one of these on Edmonton. I loved reading both yours and eemusing’s assessments.

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  14. ooh nice post! I’m tempted to do one about YEG now… though I don’t know how different it would be, while Vancouver holds the top spot, we’re not that far behind sadly (it just means all our cities are cool right?)

    And you did get the numbers backwards — 5% GST ;) it’s really nice. I can’t imagine paying more. Like I bought $120 shoes on Saturday and they came to $126 total… to think that would have been $134… gross. And for everything. Yikes!

  15. At least you have the best rock band touring now, the Japandroids.

    I live in a midwest USA city that was listed among the best costs of living in USA. For half the price of that dump house, I could buy a mini mansion that is three times as big.

  16. Dang girl, there’s a lot of cool research here :shock: . You must have spent hours on this post. Very interesting. I’m always curious to know what other Vancouverites think about this city. I agree about the expensive food here. You’ll likely go broke from eating fast food before you can get fat.

  17. Wow! I can’t imagine having to pay that much money for basic living expenses. I’m glad Louisville, KY is a pretty cheap city. You reminded why expensive cities like Vancouver are great to visit (I been once when I was 10 and I would love to go back) but maybe not so great to live in when you’re looking at it from a purely financial stand point.

    • I agree with you. My house was 88k and i thought that was expensive for how old the house was and what neighborhood. I feel like i got it for a steal!! I guess I get used to complaining about our high taxes in comparison to other parts of the state or US and forget about other parts of the world.

  18. The last time I went to Vancouver, I was shocked at how expensive everything was! It’s more expensive there than Manhattan, in my experience. Sheesh! Also I am old enough to remember when my dollar went farther in Canada than the US, and I get a little sad, reminiscing about better days.

  19. I moved to Vancouver from the States three years ago and it has been a huge adjustment to get used to the cost of living here. I previously lived in Washington DC, which is expensive by American standards, but Vancouver is completely ridiculous.

    Don’t knock the east side though! That’s half of the entire city and the great majority is beautiful and not at all dangerous. Vancouver is ridiculously safe compared to most American cities.

    • You’re right. I know that not all of the East side is dangerous but it’s definitely not as safe as lots of the rest of the lower mainland. And you, again, are right about how safe Vancouver is compared to most American cities.

  20. I think the biggest things readers don’t realize while reading this post is how incredibly BEAUTIFUL BC/Vancouver is!!! I would certainly deal with those prices (even if I hated the gas prices/commuting restrictions since I love my bike so) to live in this area of bliss.

    But at the central theme, you’re absolutely correct—PF advice cannot be applied to every geographic area in the same way. I could only wish to be able to buy a home for $160K or less!!!!

    • Oh, you are spot on. That’s why home prices are so expensive – there’s a premium to live in such a beautiful place. I love leaving my apartment and seeing how green everything is and the beautiful mountains and lakes and planes. So nice!

      • That’s how I felt living in Colorado, which is part of the reason I cannot. wait. to. go. back. I lived at the top of a mountain pass; talk about epic views the moment you wake up each day!!

  21. I have lived in Vancouver proper for almost eight years (a block from city hall can’t get more proper), I agree with your sentiments as to the expense of the city and think your research is wonderfully thorough. However, it isn’t going to get me to move anytime soon. I love everything that Vancouver has to offer, my husband and I manage to share a car with him biking or taking transit and me commuting against traffic.
    Apart from work I don’t need to drive we can walk everywhere or take transit. Vancouver is an amazingly gorgeous city and with continued attention from Asia house prices will continue to skyrocket. My husband and I currently rent while saving for a down payment. A three bedroom condo just sold two buildings over from our apartment for $950,000 with a monthly condo fee of $900, with no amenities. We will probably more a bit away from our current neighbourhood but want to stay with in walking distance.
    It is a wonderful place to raise children, which is what we hope to do here soon.

  22. OMG the houses in Vancouver are total sticker shock for me. I live in the midwest and the houses here cost a tiny fraction of what Vancouver costs.

  23. Great post, Daisy.. Really fascinating stuff. I had heard that Vancouver was expensive, but you guys really put other “expensive” cities like Chicago and even L.A. to shame.

    I think that just maybe I’ll sit tight here in the midwest, where I can get big two-story, four bedroom freestanding home with a yard for under 200k.

  24. I lived in Vancouver right after university in the early 1990s, and it was crazy expensive then! Now, living in Winnipeg, even though (I think!) our housing market seems high, compared to Vancouver or Toronto, it’s fantastic. I’d make more $$ in either city, but not enough more to compensate for the difference in cost of living.

    Your food prices definitely seem way higher though – I can generally find cheese for much less than that. Dairy Queen costs about the same though! :P

    • I’m from the prairies, live in Ontario now. I love trolling the mls listings to see how I could live in the peg or just outside of it. Makes me miss home and the big prairie sky!

  25. Yeah I live in Auckland (same as eemusings) and it’s just gross. I don’t want to live here or in Vancouver! I want to live somewhere affordable, back in the US midwest. :)

  26. wow, cost of living is cheaper in Michigan than other areas of the country, mostly due to the fact that Michigan was probably hit the hardest by the economic downturn in 2008 with the auto industry and all. It is a bit odd to see wages lower than the average while cost of living is so high though, kinda makes you think how long that will go on for.

  27. I can’t stop looking at this post (and yes I know I commented before already ha)! That’s really insane that the house you posted is that much. A house like that would only cost around $10K where I live.

  28. WOW. I’d probably have to quit cheese if I moved to BC! Overall, it’s a more expensive place to live than Los Angeles. You guys have inspired me to do an LA post. I think it’s surprisingly affordable here in some respects: Real estate and Maseratis not included :grin:

  29. Yes! Living in Vancouver is EXPENSIVE! I live in Vancouver myself and I rarely buy gas in Vancouver, BF and I usually go down to the states every 2 weeks to fill up our cars and buy our groceries. It’s ridiculous! Not to mention, our property tax and our utilities are about $3000 a year! Tack that on to our car insurance…. which ranges between $2000 – $2500 per car!

  30. WOW! That is expensive. I’m in the same boat (juuusssttt graduated, finally landed my first job)… and I live in SW Ontario (not Toronto or the suburbs, thankfully) and the boy and I are looking for a house. We hoping to get a 3-4 bdrm house in the middle of ‘nowhere’ for 300,000 and do some fixin up ourselves. Here’s to hoping and thanking my lucky stars I don’t live in the city!!

  31. Wow! Monster expensive housing. I like the idea of talking about personal finance as a regional discussion. I live in Texarkana, Texas, where nothing is really expensive. You’re right…fast food is really cheap, but people are really, really fat….so it’s not really glamorous.

  32. Geography absolutely plays a part in finances. I’m way too cheap to ever move out west, everything seems so expensive.

    In these parts, houses are pretty reasonable, if not slightly inflated due to the big local work project bringing in lots of contractors. Taxes are pretty low, but we don’t get much in the way of services for the taxes. I think the big difference between here and the city is that there isn’t a lot of competition which makes it hard to get good deals in things like landlines, tv or internet. Also, I have to drive everywhere because public transportation doesn’t exist out here, so I can’t do much about my transportation costs.

  33. I would like to applaud you for your effort on writing such a well researched article. It would have taken weeks to collect all that information. This article would be very helpful to a person who would be planning to move to Vancouver

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  43. I live in perth, australia and it is more expensive here. Tax is 33% for up to about 70k, everything you priced on your post add 25-50% more and that is what we pay.

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