What are the cheapest cities in Canada?

Keep in mind that unless you live off of investment or retirement income, most people also need a city where they can find work in order to live there. And the cities with the most jobs in Canada are precisely – you guessed it – the most expensive to live in.

For example, according to the Fraser Institute, between 2008 and 2018 in the Greater Toronto Area, including Oshawa, job growth totalled 17.3%. In Ottawa it came to 9.7% over the same period. For the rest of the province of Ontario, job growth was barely 2%.

And of course, no one can say exactly how the labour market across Canada and in each city will pick up after the COVID-19 lockdowns are lifted.

So to find out what the cheapest cities in Canada are:

  • We’ve narrowed our list down to those over 100,000 people and
  • we’ve used the www.numbeo.com monthly cost of living metric (excluding rent or mortgage payments) for a family of 4 as well as for a single person.
  • We’ve also included numbeo’s price index which compares the cost of living to that of New York City which is the base of 100. In other words, if a city’s index is 65.0 then that means that the cost of living comes to 65% of what your living expenses would be in NYC. All our cities are below 70.0 which means their cost of living is less than 70% of that of NYC.
  • We then took zoocasa.com as well as other sources to find out what an average apartment or condo costs in each of our cities.
  • We determined average after-tax income both from zoocasa.com and from areascore.com in order to see how many months of saving up it would take to put a down payment on an apartment or condo (rather than a house) in each of the cities.
  • Although banks will often accept only a 5% down payment, we decided on a down payment of 10% to account for new Canadians who haven’t perhaps had time to fully build up their credit scores since arriving in the country.
  • Finally, we determined that 25% or a quarter of your income is saved towards a down payment. Please note that we assumed only one income earner in each family. If the spouse/partner were able to find at least a part time job, that would make the goal of saving 25% of the main breadwinner’s salary more than reasonable.

So, here’s what we found out about Canada’s cheapest cities to live and work in for 2020:

 

12. Halifax, Nova Scotia

Halifax via https://pixabay.com/photos/halifax-nova-scotia-waterfront-2370263/

[Public domain]

Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia, is the 13th largest urban area in Canada and the largest in Canada's Maritimes, meaning it is the economic centre of eastern Canada.

  Cost of Living Family of 4 Cost of Living Single Person Cost of Living Index Condo Price Down Payment of 10% Average Annual Income in Halifax Months to save for down payment
Cost (CAD$) $4,356 $1,214 69.39 $299,900 $29,900 $39,915 36 months

Remember that the Cost of Living (the first 3 columns in our table) excludes your monthly rent or mortgage payments.

As we can see, it would take 3 years to save up for that modest condo or apartment with an average salary in Halifax. If you can add another salary and save a little more, then that time frame comes down. Further, average incomes are somewhat higher than many of our low-cost cities coming in at nearly 40K per year.

Halifax is the biggest and most diverse economy in the Maritimes and job opportunities in everything from a new aerospace sector to financial services are available. It is also a regional film and media centre.

House prices are at the higher end of the cities on our list, but that’s to be expected when you have a hot local economy.

 

11. Kingston, Ontario

Kingston via https://pixabay.com/photos/marina-harbor-kingston-ontario-379618/

[Public domain]

Kingston is the 25th largest urban area in Canada and the 11th largest in Ontario, Canada's most populous province. Kingston is a 2 1/2 hour drive from Toronto, a 3 hour drive from Montreal and only 2 hours from Ottawa.

  Cost of Living Family of 4 Cost of Living Single Person Cost of Living Index Condo Price Down Payment of 10% Average Annual Income in Kingston Months to save for down payment
Cost (CAD$)

$4,035

$1,122

68.45

$335,400

$33,540

$42,592

48 months

While the cost of living in Kingston is lower than the cost in Halifax, buying a condo is definitely more expensive. And that shows up in the fact that it takes 4 years to save up for a down payment under our assumptions (saving 25% of the main earner’s salary every month). That’s a whole year more than in Halifax.

 The city itself is a cozily prosperous place with a major university and a community college as well, along with research facilities and medical facilities that provide well-paying jobs.

 Its location is ideal – near Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal – and it’s definitely a family-friendly place to raise your kids.

 

10. Edmonton, Alberta

Edmonton via https://pixabay.com/photos/edmonton-canada-city-cities-77798/

[Public domain]

Edmonton is the capital of Alberta, the 5th largest urban area in Canada and the 2nd largest in Alberta.

  Cost of Living Family of 4 Cost of Living Single Person Cost of Living Index Condo Price Down Payment of 10% Average Annual Income in Edmonton Months to save for down payment

Cost (CAD$)

$4,191

$1,183

65.86

$183,800

$18,380

$42,360

21 months

While the monthly cost of living (as always excluding rent or mortgage payments) in Edmonton is close to Kingston’s, the much cheaper house prices means you can save up for a down payment in less than 2 years in Alberta’s capital compared to 4 years in Kingston.

And it can be argued that Edmonton’s government and service-based economy is somewhat more insulated from the really tough hit that the energy sector in Alberta has suffered due to COVID-19.

Yes, it’s colder in Edmonton in winter but Jasper and the Rockies are a few hours away by car. Not a bad deal.

 

9. Calgary, Alberta

Calgary via https://pixabay.com/photos/calgary-canada-downtown-cities-70848/

[Public domain]

Calgary is the 4th largest urban area in Canada and the largest in central Canada (aka the Prairies).

  Cost of Living Family of 4 Cost of Living Single Person Cost of Living Index Condo Price Down Payment of 10% Average Annual Income in Calgary Months to save for down payment
Cost (CAD$) $4,110 $1,154 65.37 $247,300 $24,730 $44,957 26 months

While you might wonder why Calgary is one place above Edmonton when house prices are higher and it takes about 5 months more to save up for a down payment, look at average incomes. They’re about $2,500 higher in Calgary and by waiting 5 extra months you’re buying into a home that will inflate in value at a faster rate than those in Edmonton.

So, given that and the fact that Calgary’s Cost of Living index is slightly lower, it earns ninth spot on our list of affordable cities.

Yes, jobs have been lost due to the price of oil and COVID-19, but Calgary’s business-friendly spirit ensures that those jobs will come back when energy prices rise after the quarantines are ended.

 

8. Saint John, New Brunswick

Saint John via https://pixabay.com/photos/saint-john-water-harbour-bridge-3556952/

[Public domain]

Saint John is only the 56th largest urban area in Canada and the 3rd largest in New Brunswick.

  Cost of Living Family of 4 Cost of Living Single Person Cost of Living Index Condo Price Down Payment of 10% Average Annual Income in Saint John Months to save for down payment
Cost (CAD$)

$4,205

$1,176

67.98

$162,000

$16,200

$30,105

26 months

This is the odd one in our list, but according to www.numbeo.com the city’s cost of living index is a surprisingly high 67.98 which is much higher than the previous two entries (Edmonton and Calgary).

While house prices are lower so are average incomes, so the amount of time it takes to save up for a down payment is identical to Calgary and above Edmonton’s.

As well, the job market here is nowhere as robust as its provincial rival, Moncton.

So, while it might be cheap to pick up an apartment or condo, you’d better have some savings to pay the mortgage. That’s why Saint John isn’t higher on our list.

 

7. Regina, Saskatchewan

Regina by Daniel Paquet from Regina, Canada / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

by Daniel Paquet / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

Regina is the capital of Saskatchewan, the 18th largest urban area in Canada and the 2nd largest in Saskatchewan.

  Cost of Living Family of 4 Cost of Living Single Person Cost of Living Index Condo Price Down Payment of 10% Average Annual Income in Regina Months to save for down payment
Cost (CAD$)

$4,012

$1,124

64.66

$179,300

$17,930

$38,768

22 months

Regina is basically similar in cost of living figures to Edmonton, Calgary, and Saint John and is somewhere in the middle as far as home prices and job opportunities go.

The time to save up for a down payment is a month more than in Edmonton, which is still a very reasonable 22 months.

 

6. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Saskatoon by Natasha Yokoyama-Ramsay / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

by Natasha Yokoyama-Ramsay / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

Saskatoon is the 16th largest urban area in Canada and largest in Saskatchewan.

  Cost of Living Family of 4 Cost of Living Single Person Cost of Living Index Condo Price Down Payment of 10% Average Annual Income in Saskatoon Months to save for down payment
Cost (CAD$) $3,945 $1,131 64.40 $169,500 $16,950 $36,930 22 months

While we’ve now dipped below $4,000 in terms of our monthly living cost (minus rent or mortgage) for a family of 4, we’re still basically in the same cluster of affordability as our previous entries when it comes to Saskatoon.

Incomes are similar to Regina as are apartment/condo prices.

Are there the same job opportunities as in some of our other cities? Perhaps not but overall Saskatoon is still a bargain.

 

5. Kitchener, Ontario

Kitchener by Ryan Hodnett / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

by Ryan Hodnett / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

The Kitchener-Waterloo area is the 10th largest urban area in Canada and 4th largest in Ontario. Kitchener is an hour and 15 minutes from Toronto, in no traffic, and some people actually commute from KW to Toronto, where salaries are higher and there are more job opportunities.

  Cost of Living Family of 4 Cost of Living Single Person Cost of Living Index Condo Price Down Payment of 10% Average Annual Income in Kitchener Months to save for down payment
Cost (CAD$)

$3,786

$1,071

61.16

$371,923

$37,192

$41,628

43 months

This is another odd case in our list. Kitchener is next to Waterloo and house prices have been soaring over the past few years. That means the city has the highest house prices on our list.

On the other hand, the Cost of Living index is a modest 61.6.

Of course, average income is high in Kitchener but with house prices at that level you have 43 months of saving up to do before you have a down payment on an apartment or condo.

As far as jobs go, it’s a great place with Waterloo right next door.

 

4. Moncton, New Brunswick

Moncton by Stu pendousmat at English Wikipedia / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

by Stu pendousmat / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Moncton is the 28th largest urban area in Canada, but the largest in New Brunswick and the 3rd largest in the Maritimes. It's less than a 3 hour drive from Moncton to Halifax, the region's largest city.

  Cost of Living Family of 4 Cost of Living Single Person Cost of Living Index Condo Price Down Payment of 10% Average Annual Income in Moncton Months to save for down payment
Cost (CAD$) $3,840 $1,065 61.17 $202,400 $20,240 $29,210 33 months

The cost of living index is identical to Kitchener’s, but house prices are 45% lower in Moncton and yet it has managed to build a strong and surprisingly diverse economy, including everything from the insurance industry to mid-sized manufacturing and service based companies often geared to the export market.

Throw in tourism and healthcare and you have Eastern Canada’s fastest growing metropolitan economy, although Halifax might have a thing or two to say about that.

While average incomes might be just a little lower than its provincial rival Saint John, the job opportunities are clearly superior.

A robust job market (COVID-19 notwithstanding), very reasonable house prices and a cost of living index that’s in the lowest quartile of our survey means that you have a very attractive destination for working families looking to establish themselves in Canada.

 

3. Winnipeg, Manitoba

Winnipeg via https://pixabay.com/photos/winnipeg-canada-night-evening-76909/

[Public Domain]

Winnipeg is the 7th largest urban area in Canada and the largest urban area between Toronto and Calgary.

  Cost of Living Family of 4 Cost of Living Single Person Cost of Living Index Condo Price Down Payment of 10% Average Annual Income in Winnipeg Months to save for down payment
Cost (CAD$) $3,829 $1,070 60.66 $229,593 $22,959 $32,865 34 months

As our readers will know, we’ve covered Winnipeg several times when analyzing home prices or looking at job opportunities, for example. And each time the city has proven a surprisingly attractive value proposition. Yes, it’s cold in winter. Really cold. But Winnipeg has just about everything to offer.

House prices are less than Calgary’s but a little more than Edmonton’s, and much less than in cities like Halifax or Kitchener.

And the cost of living is noticeably cheaper than most other comparable major urban centres in Canada, coming in at nearly the same level as Moncton. Incomes are a little higher than in Moncton so that evens out the higher apartment/condo prices and means you take about the same time (34 months) to save up for a down payment.

Overall, the message seems to be: if you can get a job in Winnipeg, take it and move your family to Manitoba’s capital city.

 

2. London, Ontario

London via https://pixabay.com/photos/urban-downtown-london-ontario-2004489/

[Public domain]

London is the 11th largest urban area in Canada  and the 4th or 5th largest urban area in Ontario (depending on whether or not you include Hamilton as part of Toronto). Without traffic it is about 2 hours from Toronto.

  Cost of Living Family of 4 Cost of Living Single Person Cost of Living Index Condo Price Down Payment of 10% Average Annual Income in London Months to save for down payment
Cost (CAD$)

$3,646

$1,013

58.96

$315,000

$31,500

$32,599

46 months

Another one of our odd entries, and one which is certain to keep growing more and more expensive as Kitchener-Waterloo grows and becomes pricier and people and companies look to neighbouring London as a more attractive opportunity.

This is a prosperous, pleasant city that has historically been a regional centre for the insurance industry, as well as home to University of Western Ontario, a major academic institution. That makes its cost of living index level of 58.96 more than a little surprising.

Apartment/condo prices are the third highest after Kitchener and Kingston so, even with a healthy average income level, it’s going to take you almost 4 years to save up a down payment for a condo or apartment. That’s a few months more than in Kitchener, and 2 months less than in Kingston.

With lots of green spaces, if you already have saved up for a down payment and have a job offer, London is a very affordable city for families or individuals looking to escape the big city rush.

For now, at least.

 

1. Sherbrooke, Quebec

Sherbrooke by Metl3 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

by Metl3 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Sherbrooke is the 22nd largest urban area in Canada and the 4th largest urban area in Quebec. It is less than two hours east of Montreal and only two and a half hours south of Quebec City.

  Cost of Living Family of 4 Cost of Living Single Person Cost of Living Index Condo Price Down Payment of 10% Average Annual Income in Sherbrooke Months to save for down payment
Cost (CAD$)

$3,206

$878

52.01

$180,200

$18,020

$28,242

31 months

You may not have heard much about this smaller city located in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, but it shares a few characteristics with cities like Kingston or London.

It has several post-secondary institutions - both English and French speaking if you include Bishop’s University in Lennoxville which is really a suburb of the city nowadays - as well as a lively cultural life for such a small city. Academic institutions and healthcare services are the main employers and the city has a very large student population.

It’s also dirt cheap compared to the rest of the cities on this list as well as being a transportation hub with connections to New England the Maritimes. (Boston is only a 4 hour drive. Saint John is only 7 hours.)

And of course, it is mostly francophone. You will still find Anglo-Quebecers scattered amongst its residents, especially in the suburbs, but you have to speak French to function here.

Average incomes are also the lowest of all cities so saving up for a down payment on that dirt-cheap apartment will still take you about 31 months on average.

Finally, if you like to ski and enjoy outdoor winter activities, this city takes the cake as it is in the heart of the Townships skiing region and a short drive from the skiing in Vermont, New Hampshire and New York.

If you’re up to improving your French, and can find employment, Sherbrooke is truly Canada’s bargain.


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