Welcome to my new “How To… Canada” series! In this series, I’ll try to put my knowledge to good use and shed some light on my new country: Canada. You will learn how some immigration tips and tricks, how to improve your proficiency in both official languages, how to find a job, how to settle in Canada etc. I’ll publish a new “How To… Canada” post every Saturday.
Money is always a bit tight for newcomers to Canada. Settling in a new country is expensive, especially between the immigration fees, the settling expenses and the fact you may not get a good job right away. Here are a few tips on managing your money in Canada.
First thing you need to remember, is that the prices you see in stores are before tax. This is very important because it adds up and makes a difference on the final price you pay!
In Canada there are three types of sales taxes:
- Provincial sales taxes (PST) — in every province but Alberta, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Goods to which the tax is applied varies by province, as does the rate.
- Federal Goods and Services Tax (GST) — the current rate is 5%
- Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) — this tax is the combination of the GST and PST into a single tax. There is a HST (instead of a GST + PST) in New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia.
In any case, the combined provincial and federal taxes are between 5% (Alberta) and 15.5% (PEI). Now, it may not make a huge difference on a bottle of Coke, but it does on a meal, a car or furnitures! And as I said, taxes are never included. So make sure you calculate the total price before making a big purchase.
North America, in general, is a country where supply and demand rule the market. Prices can be quite competitive and you may take advantage of promotions, deals and offers, for almost every kind of goods. You can use these following tips to make your money go further:
- Check stores flyers and promotions weekly. Many grocery store chains, such as Loblaws, Food Basic, Loebs or the Canadian Superstore publish weekly flyers and highlight discounted products, or “special”.
- Collect and use coupons: No, you won’t look cheap. Canadians love their coupons and you will see many people using them! You can easily save a few cents or dollars on products you would buy anyway. We usually have coupons booklets mailed at home. You can check these following coupon websites: Smart Canucks, Red Flag Deal or Save.
- Take advantage of the various reward programs offered in your favorite stores. Many popular chains, such as Shopper Drug Mart, Loblaws, Subway etc. invite you to apply for a free point card. This card, often given on-the-spot, will be swiped each time you make a purchase at the particular store and will eventually get you rewards. I personally have the Shopper Optimum card and get about $75 to $150 in reward every 6 months or so, just buying basic toiletry products — not bad! I also have a Scene card and I collect the point to get free movie tickets at Cineplex. Works well!
- Shop local: not only it’s good for the environment and it benefits local farmers and producers, but you will also get better deals. I find veggies’ price has really raised lately, but at the market, I can still find fresh zucchinis, peppers, beans, tomatoes etc. for a good price. Plus, veggies actually look like veggies. Phew, I’m tired of this unnatural shine and bright colors…
- Buy in bulk: stores such as the Bulk Barn are a great place to stock up on herbs, dry pasta, spread (hazelnut, chocolate etc.). No fancy packaging but great prices.
- Last rule is, stock up on non-perishable items when there is a promotion. Pasta sauces, soups, rice, canned veggies, toiletry such as soap, shampoo, toothpaste etc. won’t go bad and there are specials regularly on these products (and many others!).
The best part in Canada is that we have shops that cater to all kind of budget. You don’t have to stick to the cheapest ones, but still visit them once in a while and you will save on basic items. Get to know the shops in your neighborhood and compare the prices. Chances are you will notice one supermarket usually has good price on veggies, the other one has great fresh meat and fish, the third one is no-frills but has cheap cans etc. As for me, I shop at Food Basic for veggies (in the winter, since I go to the market in the summer), Loblaws or Farm Boy for meat & fish and then at ethnic stores for international food (the best noodles will always be found in Chinatown).
The hardest part I find in North America is to resist the sale pressure:
- Ditch the plastic: credit cards are great because they help you build a credit history but you I find you generally tend to spend more using them. Pay daily purchases with cash and you will realize how much you really spend.
- Resist sale pressure: chances are, you will be offered credit cards when you shop at department stores, paid “extras” when ordering food and special “one day only” deals anywhere else. There is nothing wrong with that. Just make sure you actually want the deals.
- Watch the interest rate: if you are short on cash, there are solutions. Usually not the ones advertised on T.V though. Beware of these “payday loans” and cash advances. The interest rate is just unbelievably high.
- Read the fine print: there is almost always a trick. Make sure the coupon you have in your hand is valid (typical for restaurants, the coupon won’t be valid Friday – Sunday), that all “extras” are included in the price and that you don’t commit yourself for longer than you wish (i.e cell phones plans).