10 Ways to Not Become Poor in Canada

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Okay, we get it, the economy sucks. Every single day we are bombarded with stories of people losing their jobs, houses being repossessed and unhappy employees because “in this kind of economy, you don’t complain if you have a job in the first place”.

But at the same time, Christmas shopping is underway in most parts of North America and a lot of consumers took advantage of Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals.

So, how to not become poor in Canada? How to manage your money smartly?

Here are ten useful tips.

Get familiar with local products – Thanks to globalization, newcomers to Canada will likely be familiar with some brands sold here. Yet, a lot will be totally new. I strongly recommend you to adapt to local brands and products as soon as you can for two main reasons: first, foreign brands and imported products are typically more expensive; second knowing the prices of local products will help you budget in the long run.

Pack your lunch – You can never go hungry in Canada. There are fast-foods, restaurants, cafés and food courts everywhere and grabbing something on the go is always easy—easier than packing lunch, that is. But even though your daily $5 lunch may sounds cheap, it adds up. Besides, eating out all the time isn’t usually good for your waistline. Do yourself a favour and pack your lunch most days of the week to save both money and time at the gym later on.

Use your credit card wisely – You will need a credit card sooner or later to build your credit history, make online purchases etc. Credit cards are great financial tools but learn to use them wisely, especially if it’s your first one. Always pay the balance in full at the end of the month, don’t apply for too many cards and track your spending to avoid a big surprise when receiving your monthly statement.

Use cash – Most Canadian pay with debit or their credit card because it’s very convenient. However, bank fees can add up and it’s easy to lose track of how much you spend. A few years ago, I decided to withdraw a fixed sum every two weeks (usually between $200 and $300) to pay for all of my purchases, minus gas and monthly bills. I definitely spend less this way and I always know exactly how much money I have left for these miscellaneous purchases.

Monitor your bank fees – Bank fees can really add up. For credit cards, compare their perks wisely: some are free while others have an annual fee (usually between $30 and $100). It may be worth paying the fee if the card offers interesting rewards. Otherwise, stick with the cards with no annual fee. Make sure you select a banking package that fits your need: most banks offer up to ten transactions at no fee and then charge about 50 cents for each transaction. If you use debit a lot, pick a package with unlimited transactions. Finally, make sure to withdraw money at your bank’s ATMs, otherwise a service charge may apply.

Consider shopping in the U.S. – Even though the US dollar and the Canadian dollar are almost at par, Canadian prices are sometimes ridiculously higher than south of the border. Typical example: books. I usually buy them from Amazon.com. Even after shipping fees, it works out to be cheaper than buying them in Canada.

Resist social pressure – In North America, consuming is almost seen as a patriotic thing to do—yes, you’re helping the economy! But for your wallet’s sake, learn to resist social pressure and marketing tricks. For instance, the year is an uninterrupted series of events to celebrate: Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas, Boxing Day, Valentine’s Day, etc. You certainly don’t have to splurge every time. Similarly, new needs are constantly created by marketing campaign. For instance, while I encourage newcomers to buy a warm winter coat, most of us living south of Nunavut do not need a $700 parka designed for Arctic expeditions. Especially if you live in Toronto.

Learn to negotiate – If you are a good customer, take advantage of it and negotiate. For instance, when I switched bank, I made sure the new bank waived all banking fees for a year. It never hurts to ask for perks and special offers. Competition is stiff and good customers can sometimes be rewarded.

Take advantage of reward cards – Before the program changed for the worse, I had a free Shopper Optimum card and regularly got $5 or $10 off my purchases, with little to no efforts. I now have a Scene card and I regularly get free movie tickets just by using my debit card. Figure out what reward program works for you and take advantage of the perks!

Do you have any money tips for newcomers to Canada? How do you save money here?


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. I used to pay all the time with my credit card in order to avoid my checking accounts fees but you have to be good at managing you money in order to reimburse your balance in full at the end of the month.

    Also, I we shopped at the Salvation Army or online classified for big pieces of furniture or alliances. We got a dryer and washer for 125 CDN and they were like new!

  2. I agree with not having too many credit cards but I think it’s wiser to use a credit card wisely than using cash. It definitely pays to have a rewards credit card such as those that give 1% or 2% cash back for no annual fee. Amex cards have good rewards cards (such as Starwood Preferred Guest rewards) and the annual fee is waived for the 1st year… so I sign up, get the points, then cancel the card. I’ve got 5 free nights at Sheraton using the points so far 🙂

    Eating at food courts and the daily morning coffee expenses do add up to a significant amount.

  3. Hi Zhu,

    “Happy like Ulysses who has had a beautiful trip”, as an old French song goes.
    I am happy…
    for the experiences back in my family and homeland,
    and to be back to home base.

    I hope that you are doing fine and are ready to fly away soon.

    Grosses bises 🙂

  4. Very informative post Zhu…yes I do find the price higher in Canada than in US. I packed lunches most of the week because I don’t really like the canteen food and besides as you rightly pointed out…save time to go to the gym when we eat from home 😀

  5. Smartphones with NFC function, which doubles as wallet, are coming to town. So people will use ‘credit phone’ in future?

    I’m afraid that in future, you’ll see cashiers which don’t accept cash…

  6. Aren’t #1 and #6 sort of at odds with each other? i.e., “Buy local” and “consider shopping in the U.S.”

    If you live in a border town like Windsor, shopping in Detroit makes sense since it’s just a bridge away, but if you’re not close it’s not always worth it. If I’m already going to be in the U.S. I’ll buy certain things where I don’t care about the warranty, but making a special trip for stuff is often not worth the extra time and fuel.

    For photographic equipment you have to pay extra attention to the warranty, because there are restrictions on where you can have repair service under warranty. Depending on what you are buying (and this doesn’t just apply to photographic equipment), you may have to repair it in the U.S. and you have to pay for cross-border shipping if it’s not close to you, not to mention duty unless you can prove that you are not buying or selling the item.

    • By “buy local” I mostly mean “don’t try to look for products from home too much” because these can be expensive. Like French and their cheese 😉

  7. one tip is to weigh between “need” or “want”. avoid buying unnecessary stuff or any thing which you could live without. by using this rule you’ll save up a lot and will not get into the shoppers’ dilemma! 😀

  8. Hey Zhu,

    I am planning to move to Canada to get a better life rather than staying back in India , but going through your post makes me demotivated , about your views on people loosing their jobs, economy sucks….;-(

    Help me….

    • I’m not sure what you find depressing. Canada was hot by the economic downturn, less than the US and some European countries but it suffered. I’m not going to lie about it and claim everything is fine.

      It’s up to you to find opportunities and see whether Canada may be the right place for that 😉

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