Can you survive on a monthly salary in Canada? That depends on two obvious factors: What your job is and where you live.
Does it feel like you barely cover your monthly expenses when you take into account rent? You’re not alone. An online survey done in 2017 by the Canadian Payroll Association suggests that 47% of Canadians would have trouble paying their bills if one paycheque was delayed by a week. And about a third of Canadians feel overwhelmed by their levels of debt, especially home owners trying to meet their monthly mortgage payments. And in that kind of situation, saving becomes a distant goal for too many Canadian workers.
So, the question becomes: How far does your paycheque go in Canada?
That depends on two obvious factors:
- What your job is
- Where you live.
To untangle the web of Canadian personal finances, we’ve delved into a basic budget for a fictional family of 3 who are recent arrivals to the country and are deciding where to live in one of 11 Canadian cities from coast to coast. They are a couple with a young child in daycare and we’re going to try and find out if they can get by on one single paycheque. Will our fictional family – we’ll call them the Kumshars: Avid, Livid, and baby Priscilla – be able to pay their bills with only one of them working while the other studies and takes care of the young child?
It all depends.
Just Enough for the City
The following list of places takes into account living expenses across 11 Canadian cities. We based their living expenses on the cost of living data at Numbeo with some adjustments for categories like clothes, or sports & leisure expenses. We calculated the cost of renting a 1-bedroom in the city centre because in our first scenario we assume they don’t have a car and use public transport.
Now, most Canadians do in fact have a car, but in expensive cities like Vancouver around half of trips into town are done with public transit rather than a private vehicle according to a survey by CH2M and the Mustel Group. But because not having a car might be more of an inconvenience in smaller cities like Moncton or Regina, we add in insurance, gas, repairs, and car payments to our monthly budget for the Kumshars in our second scenario. We used the CAA’s figures for the average yearly cost of owning a compact ($8600) and divided it by 12 to get a monthly estimate of $720.
So, starting with some of the more affordable cities of Canada, let’s see where your paycheque goes further and where it falls short.
Monthly Cost of Living in Moncton, New Brunswick
It may not be Canada’s most sought-after Maritime destination with Halifax, Charlottetown, and St. John’s taking those spots. Of course, it helps to have an actual harbour on the Atlantic. It may not be a cultural hotbed or a high-tech hub. Unless you consider McCain’s frozen fries high tech because you have to use a microwave to heat them up.
But it’s reasonable as far as monthly cost of living goes:
- Without a car: $3449
- With a car: $4169.
So, we now ask what salary do the Kumshars need to pay the bills if only one of them is working full-time? Here are a few possibilities from Statistics Canada’s survey of employee wages by occupation for 2018. We’ve narrowed down our possible jobs to the following 4 categories:
- Service or Customer representative
- Care provider
- Nursing professional
- Education professional.
In other words, they either work at a call centre, are care providers, nurses, or teachers. While Canada offers an enormous number of occupations, these 4 are a good representation of the salary range that many immigrants to Canada will face when they look for work in their new country. So, do these occupations pay enough to get by on one salary in Moncton? Let’s see:
|Occupation||The Kumshars Take the Bus in Moncton: $3449||The Kumshars pile into their Kia in Moncton: $4169|
|Service Rep or Customer Service: $2972||-$477||-$1197|
|Care Provider: $3572||$123||-$597|
|Nursing Occupations: $5528||$2079||$1359|
|Education Professionals: $5640||$2191||$1471|
Forget about working as a customer service representative, whether it’s Avid or Livid Kumshar. It’s not going to pay their bills, not even in a fairly inexpensive town like Moncton. And a care provider is not much better as it barely covers the cost without a car and falls short with car expenses included. A professional nurse or a professional educator on the other hand, are jobs that cover their needs quite comfortably, even with the added expenses of owning a car. At least in Moncton. And that means they can start saving up every month for a down payment on a home.
Monthly Cost of Living in Winnipeg, Manitoba
As we’ve written here, there’s a fair bit of culture in Winnipeg, even though it has two main downsides: It’s really cold in winter and it’s really cold in winter. As well, some areas of the city have a problem with gangs and crime levels. But it’s a city that welcomes immigrants and is a growing destination for new Canadians. Let’s see how our Kushmars would do in Winnipeg.
|Occupation||The Kumshars Take the Bus in Winnipeg: $3610||The Kumshars pile into their Kia in Winnipeg: $4330|
|Service Rep or Customer Service: $2972||-$638||-$1358|
|Care Provider: $3572||-$38||-$758|
|Nursing Occupations: $5528||$1918||$1198|
|Education Professionals: $5640||$2030||$1310|
As one can see, the only occupations that cover the Kumshar’s living expenses in Winnipeg are professional nursing occupations or professional education occupations. You have to have a job that earns close to $4000 if you don’t own a car in other words. But given winters in Winnipeg the Kumshars might decide that waiting for the bus when it’s 35 below zero and blowing hard is something to avoid at all costs. That means that if you just have to have that little compact car, then you’re going to need a salary of around $4,500 per month or higher. Or both parents will have to work and hold off on further studies.
Monthly Cost of Living in Halifax, Nova Scotia
If you’re planning on moving to the Maritimes, this is the city you’ll likely end up living in. Halifax is a regional visual arts production hub as well as a port and also a regional services centre. It’s also where the monthly cost of living cracks the 4K level coming in at $4003 without a car and $4723 with a compact car. How do the Kumshars fare with our 4 occupations in Halifax? Let’s see.
|Occupation||The Kumshars Take the Bus in Halifax: $4003||The Kumshars pile into their Kia in Halifax: $4723|
|Service Rep or Customer Service: $2972||-$1031||-$1751|
|Care Provider: $3572||-$431||-$1151|
|Nursing Occupations: $5528||$1525||$805|
|Education Professionals: $5640||$1637||$917|
We’re only at Halifax and already if our Kumshar family owns a car, having one breadwinner in a professional nursing occupation is cutting it close with only $805 to spare after paying the bills. In other words, it barely pays to be nurse in Halifax unless your partner is also working full-time or perhaps part-time. In fact, education professionals (on average) will only have $917 left over after paying the bills when they own a car. That means that the only way to have enough every month to put around $500 away in an investment account when you live in Halifax and are a family of 3 with a young child, is to not own a car.
Monstly Cost of Living in Montreal, Quebec
How’s your French? Because if Montreal is quite a cheap option next to cities like Vancouver and Toronto, or Calgary for that matter, it also requires you to have a working knowledge of French at a minimum. But for one of Canada’s largest metropolitan areas with a sophisticated mix of cultures and entertainment options – as well as a diverse and growing local economy – this city is a bargain.
|Occupation||The Kumshars Take the Bus in Halifax: $4013||The Kumshars pile into their Kia in Halifax: $4733|
|Service Rep or Customer Service: $2972||-$1041||-$1761|
|Care Provider: $3572||-$441||-$1161|
|Nursing Occupations: $5528||$1525||$805|
|Education Professionals: $5640||$1637||$917|
As you can see, the cost of living in Montreal is nearly identical to that of Halifax so the Kumshars options for relying on a single salary basically boil down to professional nursing occupations or professional education occupations, with the only comfortable outcome being an education occupation with no car. Of course, home prices are higher in Montreal so if the Kumshars are doing without a car in order to save up that down-payment on a mortgage in Saint-Telesphore because Avid found work in Hudson, then it will take them a few more years than in Halifax.
Monthly Cost of Living in Regina, Saskatchewan
Not quite as cold as Winnipeg, but just about as freezing during a cold snap, of which there seem to be more than a few in Regina. While the resource and agriculture jobs are elsewhere in Saskatchewan in places like Lloydminster, Regina is where the arts and culture happens to be. As well as a reasonable if not quite booming local economy. And it’s a little more expensive than Montreal. That means that the job options for a single bread-winner are pretty limited. We’re now in No Country for Single-Earner Families, folks.
|Occupation||The Kumshars Take the Bus in Regina: $4056||The Kumshars pile into their Kia in Regina: $4776|
|Service Rep or Customer Service: $2972||-$1084||-$1804|
|Care Provider: $3572||-$484||-$1204|
|Nursing Occupations: $5528||$1472||$752|
|Education Professionals: $5640||$1584||$864|
As in the case of Montreal, a fairly well-paid teaching position is the only way the Kumshars are going to be able to save up for a detached bungalow in a nice part of town. That’s assuming they own a car. And of course, they should scrape together a down payment in less time than it will take them in Montreal, given house prices in Regina.
Monthly Cost of Living in Edmonton, Alberta
While Halifax, Montreal, and Regina are clustered together in terms of cost-of-living figures, Alberta’s provincial capital is in another, higher-cost group, forming a trio with Ottawa and its Southern Albertan counterpart, Calgary. Edmonton is cold, cultured, and costly. And its local economy is stable. It’s really a more expensive and somewhat safer version of Winnipeg, except with world-class skiing fairly close by in places like Jasper or Banff and Lake Louise. Which are wonderful places to visit any time of the year, naturally. How would the Kumshars fare in Edmonton with just one parent working full-time? Let’s find out:
|Occupation||The Kumshars Take the Bus in Edmonton: $4437||The Kumshars pile into their Kia in Edmonton: $5157|
|Service Rep or Customer Service: $2972||-$1084||-$1804|
|Care Provider: $3572||-$865||-$1585|
|Nursing Occupations: $5528||$1091||$371|
|Education Professionals: $5640||$1203||$483|
If the Kumshars decide that they need a car in Edmonton, then they’re going to have to hope that Avid or Livid get a job as a teacher basically, or some other educational professional. That’s because a nursing job barely covers living expenses in Edmonton with a scant $371 surplus each month, an amount that could easily be gobble up by unexpected expenses. That would mean going into debt without even having a mortgaged home to show for it. Not a lot of fun for any family of 3 with a young daughter.
In fact, even a teaching job only covers the cost of living by slightly less than $500 a month. In other words, Edmonton is the first city where both parents will almost certainly have to work. Perhaps one of them part-time but the other will not only have to work full-time but will have to work in an occupation that pays around $5,000 a month. If not, then both Avid and Livid will have to work at full-time jobs. Like most Canadian couples.
Monthly Cost of Living in Ottawa, Ontario
The traffic is worse than you might expect. The green beltway of parks is nice and there’s some skiing in Gatineau and up the Ottawa Valley. And there’s a fair bit of technology that provides good jobs for those with the right skills. But Ottawa is still very much a government town and employs people to work for various departments and crown corporations. It’s well-paid work but not the easiest to find seeing the Federal government has fairly rigorous hiring standards. Perhaps Livid has a degree in statistics and ends up working at a great job at Statistics Canada. Or maybe has to find a job in our 4 occupations. If it’s the latter case, how does the family do?
|Occupation||The Kumshars Take the Bus in Ottawa: $4604||The Kumshars pile into their Kia in Ottawa: $5324|
|Service Rep or Customer Service: $2972||-$1632||-$2352|
|Care Provider: $3572||-$1032||-$1752|
|Nursing Occupations: $5528||$924||$204|
|Education Professionals: $5640||$1036||$316|
From these figures, it’s clear that the only way for the Kumshars to save is to not own a car. Ottawa has a good transit system, but if they want to escape to the countryside for a weekend at a rented cottage on a lake in the Upper Valley, then a car is a basic necessity when it comes to those kind of weekend getaways. And that means that the other partner will also have to take up working at least part-time.
Monthly Cost of Living in Calgary, Alberta
Slightly warmer than Edmonton – especially when a Chinook rolls down from the Rockies. Slightly more expensive and definitely more entrepreneurial than Edmonton. Calgary, in fact, has become one of the top 5 if not top 3 destinations for New Canadians. Especially if you work in energy.
But the local economy in Calgary is about a lot more than oil & gas, including logistics & transportation, film and television, as well as technology and financial services. Calgary wants your business and the job opportunities are there to be had, assuming you’re qualified enough. If Edmonton meant both Kumshars getting a job, then it looks like Calgary will be even more of the kind of city where a decent but average single salary is not enough to make ends meet. Let’s dive in and look at the numbers:
|Occupation||The Kumshars Take the Bus in calgary: $4691||The Kumshars pile into their Kia in Calgary: $5411|
|Service Rep or Customer Service: $2972||– $1719||-$2439|
|Care Provider: $3572||-$1119||-$1839|
|Nursing Occupations: $5528||$837||$117|
|Education Professionals: $5640||$949||$229|
So, similar to Ottawa and Edmonton, you have to go without a car in Calgary if you want to get by on a single salary. While all three cities (Edmonton, Ottawa, and Calgary) have good public transit systems, not having a car can be a real pain especially when it comes to dropping off and picking up little Priscilla from her daycare. As well, the shortfall from service & customer rep as well as care provider jobs is so large that if Avid or Livid work in those occupations then the other partner will definitely have to get a full-time job as well.
Monthly Cost of Living in Vancouver, British Columbia
Our Kumshar family are now in the Alpha-city class with Vancouver and Toronto the only members of this expensive club, and it’s clear from the numbers outlined below that one job is not enough, especially with a young daughter in daycare. Vancouver has a better healthcare system and more spectacular recreational opportunities nearby, but Toronto is probably where the Kumshar family is more likely to find a job. So, let’s take a gander at how expensive it actually is for our intrepid adventurers and their daughter.
|Occupation||The Kumshars Take the Bus in Vancouver: $5481||The Kumshars pile into their Kia in Vancouver: $6201|
|Service Rep or Customer Service: $2972||– $2509||-$3229|
|Care Provider: $3572||-$1909||-$2629|
|Nursing Occupations: $5528||+$47||-$673|
|Education Professionals: $5640||$159||-$561|
How expensive is Vancouver? Expensive enough that if the Kumshars own a car, they will have to rely on 2 salaries to meet expenses, even if Avid or Livid manage to find work in the education professional occupations category. A single salary with an average Canadian wage does not meet expenses for a family of 3 in Vancouver. And even if they don’t own a car, a single salary in nursing or teaching barely covers their monthly cost. So, Vancouver either means getting a much better than average job or both parents working, most likely full-time for both, while Priscilla attends her daycare.
Monthly Cost of Living in Toronto, Ontario
Guess what? Toronto – according to our data – is more expensive to live in than Vancouver, assuming you’re renting and not scraping together that enormous down payment for a tiny 2-bedroom apartment an hour’s drive from Stanley Park or Yonge & Bloor and spending the next 25 years paying off the mortgage. And the difference in the monthly cost of living between the two cities is several hundred dollars: nothing to sneeze at if you’re an average family of 3 in Canada trying to make ends meet. What do the numbers for T.O. show? Let’s find out:
|Occupation||The Kumshars Take Toronto’s TTC: $5810||The Kumshars pile into their Kia in Vancouver: $6530|
|Service Rep or Customer Service: $2972||– $2838||-$3558|
|Care Provider: $3572||-$2238||-$2958|
|Nursing Occupations: $5528||-$282||-$1002|
|Education Professionals: $5640||-$170||-$890|
Do you notice what’s missing in this final table? Hint: a single salary that covers monthly expenses. None of them do, whether the Kumshars have a car or not. Either Avid or Livid get a really good salary or both parents work to meet little Priscilla’s daycare expenses. And at least one of their full-time jobs will have to pay a minimum of $4,000 a month because 2 low-paying (less than $3,000 per month which means a service representative) jobs just don’t cut it in T.O. Consider the following pairs of occupations from our list of 4 average Canadian jobs we’ve been using:
|Pair of Occupations||Combined Monthly Salary|
|Service rep + Care provider||$6544|
|Care provider + Care provider||$7144|
|Nurse + Service rep||$8500|
|Teacher + Service rep||$9512|
|Care provider + Nurse||$9100|
|Care provider + Teacher||$9212|
|Nurse + Teacher||$11,168|
|Nurse + Nurse||$11,056|
|Teacher + Teacher||$11,280|
So, this clearly shows how important a double-income family is nowadays for Canadian families living in major metropolitan areas. With 2 reasonably well-paying jobs, our Kumshars can not only make ends meet but start saving up for that mortgage. But remember, these are average salaries and if you’re new to Canada and your qualifications mean you have to start at an entry-level nursing or teaching occupation (assuming you’ve got the necessary credentials) then your salary might be lower than the average we’ve used from Statistics Canada.
Finally, below we have a table showing just the living expenses from the cities we’ve covered so you can match your projected salary against the costs you’ll be facing when you arrive in Canada. Hopefully you’ve noticed how important financial planning is in Canada. Fortunately, Canada’s excellent financial system will be more than happy to help you plan out your savings scheme in order to purchase and pay off the mortgage on your new home. But first, both Avid and Livid will need to find a full-time job that gets you to the end of the month with enough left over to start investing in your future.
Let us know what you think below and good luck!
|City||Without a Car||With a Car (Compact)|
|Thunder Bay ON||$3702||$4422|
Riley Haas has been a leading expert since 2011 on immigration matters, with hundreds of publications online. Published author of three books about political philosophy, the Beatles and the Toronto Maple Leafs, respectively. BA from Bishop’s University, MA from McMaster University. You follow Riley on Substack https://rileyhaas.substack.com.