Thursday, March 26, 2015

CA Ontario Cost of Living - A reply to Gobbledegook

The following is my reply to Gobbledegook (a Singaporean) about managing finances when newly landed in Canada. Gobbledegook plans to reside in Markham, Ontario. In my usual cheong-hay (long-winded) style, I exceeded the 4,096 characters limit of a blog comment and thus this blog entry.

If any reader has information about life, finding work, etc in Ontario, please drop a comment at Gobbledegook's blog.

Aside: For readers heading to B.C. (British Columbia), please refer to my other blog post "New to BC, Canada" for some useful urls instead.


Hi gobbledegook,

Firstly, the DECLARATION and DISCLAIMER: The following is my personal opinion. I am not any way qualified to give financial and/or migration advice to anyone, and thus any content from me shall be construed as a sharing of personal opinion, not advice. I do not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information provided by me. Under no circumstances will I or anyone related to this content be responsible for any loss or damage resulting from any reliance on the information or other content posted or linked by me.

> We've decided to settle in Markham

Sorry, I don't know anything about Markham. I have been residing in Metro Vancouver since landing in Canada 4+ years ago.

> should be enough to tide us over for a couple of months in Canada

I don't know exactly how tight your finances are, but I strongly recommend that within the 1st week of your arrival, to visit a Service Canada office -- which you will have to anyway to apply for your Social Insurance Number. Remember to bring your signed COPR along, because it is your only piece of Canadian government-issued identity at that point in time. Ask the officer there about the Canadian Child Tax Benefit (CCTB) and Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB), and ask if there is anything else that he/she think you should apply for (accept any "free" money you can get -- policies varies from province to province). No worries, as long as you go during the off-peak hours, the officers are very patient and usually have lots of time to kill. :D Note: Peak hours are generally before 9am, lunchtime around 11am-1pm, and near closing time after 3:30pm.

Another strongly recommended approach is to visit several immigrant settlement services agency as soon as possible. Compare and contrast their services, and choose the one(s) you feel comfortable getting advice from. They may even be able to direct you to get "free funds" to help get your international (i.e. Singapore) credentials recognized and/or get related/relevant Canadian experience.

Here's what I did when I first landed in Canada.

> According to Virtual Friend, a family of 3 will require minimally CAD 3500 in Ontario

There are many ways to save money.

E.g. Buying winter/cold-weather clothes at 2nd-hand thrift stores, e.g. Value Village. Note: The kind of winter gear that you need varies from region to region. In Vancouver, winter gear needs to be water resistant/proof because winter here is cold AND WET. But in Ontario, it's probably going to be tens below zero, so the WET part is not so worrisome but you may have to look out for the wind-breaking ability (for WIND-CHILL) of your cold-weather suit.

E.g. Going to groceries stores just before 4pm, where you'll find the daily fresh items due to expire marked down by up to 50%. Also take time to go through the food aisles (especially perishables) to look for mark-downs any time of the day. "No Frills" and "Real Canadian Superstore" under Loblaws are generally cheaper (at least that is true in Metro Vancouver) because of their trade volume. Also look out for coupons (sometimes at stores, sometimes in the free newspapers, sometimes in your letterbox) and Groupons to cut costs.

E.g. Sharing an apartment as you've mentioned in your blog post. If you're lucky, you may even find a kind-hearted landlord willing to lease a single-bedroom in his/her single-family home for CAD500-650/month and allowing you to squeeze-in your family of 3 until cash-flow is more established... that's what my ex-landlord did for selected tenants. Note: Usually you'll need good referrals to get such deals.

E.g. Live near public transit and travel about with it, per your current plan. Consider buying monthly passes (or even better the Ontario's Metropass Discount Plan). When your budget is tight, a penny saved is a penny earned.

E.g. For various household items, first check out the dollar-stores (ask Virtual Friend for the common ones in Ontario) and compare prices. Remember that when supermarket chains have coupons/sales/clearance, they may sometimes be even cheaper than the dollar-stores.

Here are examples of a break-down of my expenses (single person) back in Oct-2010, when I first landed. I suggest adding an estimated 50% for the spouse, add-on child-related costs (remember that you'll be receiving CCTB and UCCB), inflation and adjust for differences between Vancouver and Ontario, you should be able to get your "stingy-family's estimated budget" (which may possibly be below CAD 3500/month).

FYI, for inflation, if you're mathematically inclined, check out Statistics Canada's excellent list of CPI (Consumer Price Index). The followings lists some tables for Ontario, for 2010 to 2014 data.
Overall CPI:
Clothing and footwear:
Health and personal care:
Household operations, furnishings and equipment:
Recreation, education and reading:

In fact, Statistics Canada has various other data tables that you may find of interest, such as the Average Household Food Expenditure (Ontario)*, etc. *Note: Bear in mind that average data can be skewed by extreme tail data-points on either-end, and thus a better measure would be the modal and/or quintiles data.

Bottom line to estimating funds needed: When you land, you may be asked to provide proof of sufficient funds which stands at CAD18,260 for a family of 3 for 12 months currently (year 2015). Of course, you can expect Ontario's cost of living to be higher, but the above amount is all you need to show the immigration officers.

IMHO, the cheapest way to get this amount of CAD from your SGD, is to change SGD to CAD at the money-changers in Singapore and then travel over (i.e. land in Canada) with the cash. The last I remember, 2nd floor of The Arcade at 11 Collyer Quay (Raffles Place MRT) has many money changers, and thus provide one of the best exchange rates. Years ago, you need to register if you change a sum of SGD5K and above each day (note: money changers do not like to have to do this additional paperwork). To circumvent this, just limit your purchase of CAD to below SGD5K per transaction. (I learned too late from another migrant that...) It is ok to carry above CAD10K in cash when you land, you just need to declare it on the Customs Form.

Ok, that's all I can think of about the financial management aspect of migration for now. Migration is a big step into the unknown. There will be a lot of stuff we won't know until after we land and figure out our way around. Good luck!

Cheers, WD.


[Addendum on Mar-16, 2015, at 13:50hr]

Ok, if you're not good with numbers, here's a quick estimate of what you'd need for a family of 4 (i.e. 2 adults and 2 children; not 3 -- 2 adults with a child). Based on the Low-Income Cut-Off (LICO) tables from Statistics Canada, Ontario inflation rate (from 2010 to 2014) and the City of Markham population size of 332,000 people (year 2014).

2010 low income cut-off for family (2 adults, 2 children): $29,510 
2010 Ontario CPI: 116.5
2014 Ontario CPI: 125.9
Estimated 2014 low income cut-off for family (2 adults, 2 children): 
$29,510 * (125.9 / 116.5) = $31,891

[LICO(s) is the Canadian term for "Poverty Line(s)". So, compared with the CIC estimate for a family of 3 (which is usually on the low-side), somewhere between CAD18,260 and CAD31,891 (for a family of 4) would be sufficient funds for a family of 3 to survive 12 months in Markham, Ontario, currently (year 2015).]

Data sources for the above quick calculation:

Also for clothes, you can check out the clearance section of budget/mid-range retail shops like Old Navy. Sometimes one can get brand new items at similar prices to thrift shops (like Value Village) simply because the store director wants to clear-off the remaining stock. Depending on each store's management, the clearance items may be place together with the regular-priced items (look-out for different coloured price tags), or in a separate clearance section.

Also check out my other blog post on "Managing Personal Finances". There are some urls listed there that may be of use to you too. E.g. Canada Revenue Agency, and Financial Consumer Agency of Canada.

One more tip: If there are Chinese/Cantonese food-court stalls, you may want to check out if they have the same practice as in Richmond, B.C. 

In the food-court of Yaohan (No 3 Road), Richmond, B.C., there are 2 Chinese/Cantonese economic rice stalls 经济饭 side-by-side. Near the end of the day, from 7pm onwards, there will be a massive sale of their economic rice 经济饭 dishes, and the servers will pile huge servings into the 打包 take-away boxes (they call it "TO GO" here in B.C.) -- the sooner the servers empty out the food trays, the earlier they can knock-off work. So for the price of a slightly discounted meal, I get enough to feed myself 2.5 to 3 meals in a box. :)

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