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Sunday, 14 July 2013

Vancouver - On a budget!

So moving to Vancouver can be pricey. We heard it before we arrived, we heard it when we got here, and we still hear it now. And I'm not going to lie, a lot of things you pick up, take one look at the price tag and put it straight back down again. Sometimes I get the urge to bellow 'Ian! Ian! Come and look at this!' across the shop because I can't quite believe my eyes.

So things that are expensive:
  • Food - Certain foods, such as chicken, sandwiches, (really, don't bother with them) most kinds of processed food, even some veggies are more expensive than at home. I got taken for a ride at a salad bar recently. I won't be doing that again.
  • Toiletries. Bring your own, as much as you can possibly pack. Its ridiculous.
  • Banking - Here it is normal to pay for your bank account, and the basic ones seem kind of reasonable but some of the crazy ones with all the bells and whistles are extortionate. Free banking is definitely something we take for granted at home.
  • Events and attractions - Lord some of these are really expensive, do your research before you turn up or you could end up forking out quite a lot to get in!
  • Transport - I have heard getting a car out here is ridiculous, and buying single tickets or dailies can soon push costs up if you're traveling regularly, which we were.
  • Tax - Its easy to forget that they add tax onto EVERYTHING. (OK not literally but onto a lot.) You pick something up and smugly have all the correct change clutched in your sweaty paws, and then realise when you get to the till that you forgot tax again and that's another 12% please.
Since we've been here we have devised quite a few little ways to save money, and it does soon all add up. We are in saving mode to be honest, so I thought I'd share a few little nifty ways we've devised/found to save ourselves some dosh!

To begin with I'll address the list above and how we have chosen to deal with them.
  • Food - So certain foods are expensive, but if you are careful with what you buy in supermarkets it can make a difference, bulk buy products when you see good deals (things like loo roll and meats tend to do this) and generally shop smart, you can really bring your total down. Helpfully a lot of places give prices per 100g/1kg so you can compare brands and get the cheapest. We shop at Safeway and they have a Club card, certain items throughout the store have special club prices for those with the card, which honestly can knock off quite a bit of money. When deals are on for non-perishable stuff grab it and store it somewhere.
  • Toiletries - Buying from supermarkets or cosmetics places seems nuts, get shampoo and soap from cheap shops like Dollorama or the Army and Navy shop, it's all the same stuff just with a smaller price tag.
  • Banking - If you're coming over a newcomer to Canada, I would recommend Scotiabank. They don't actually advertise it much but they offer a program called StartRight which is designed specifically for newcomers to the country. You get unlimited transactions and they wipe all account fees for the first year. So far they've been pretty good to us, they did accidentally charge us for the first month, but we got in contact and they quickly reversed the charge. We also get cheaper films as they have a deal with Scotia Theatre, where you earn points and then get free cinema tickets!
    Make Music Vancouver - One of many free events!
  • Events - Now this ones a favourite of mine. Vancouver so far has been awash with cheap/free events so far, we have managed to spend very little on days out and such. Keep an eye on events online and in local papers and advertising, there is so much free/cheap stuff to do! So far free events or attractions I've rocked up to include: Make Music Vancouver, the Chinese Night Market, the Dragon Boat Festival, Vancouver Jazz Festival, outdoor films, the Canada Day celebrations and Lynn Canyon. The Chinese Gardens are free for the last half an hour of the day, the Vancouver Art Gallery is entry by donation on Tuesdays, and things like Granville Island brewery tours offer 2 for 1 if you join their mailing list online. There are massive areas like Gastown, Yaletown, Coal Harbour and Stanley Park which are just gorgeous to walk around. Seriously, just go for a walk.
  • Transport - Living in Shaugnessy in May we soon wracked up quite a bill when it came to transport. We discovered you can get a monthly ticket for $90, on which you get unlimited travel within a zone of your choice. Fortunately for us we found our apartment in Downtown Vancouver shortly afterwards so our need for such a ticket disappeared as now we seem to just walk everywhere. But if you're living outside of Downtown or are going to be using public transport fairly regularly, it's worth looking into. (Note: They can be bought from around the 20th of the previous month and they do run out, so you have to be quick.)
  • Tax - Well, this one you can't really dodge, but do be mindful when you are buying things that just adding up the face value of what you're buying might not give you your total. They do add tax to a lot. Take note!

A few other little nifty tips we've utilized while here:

  • VPL - Vancouver Public Library has been amazing. Free books! I read a lot and without a library I would have for sure spent money on books by now. Even better they lend films, and have quite an extensive range to boot. Rather than signing up to any kind of film service like Netflix or Love Film we simply stroll to the library. They also lend graphic novels and I think CD's. Sorted!
  • Accommodation - If you are willing to share a place and lucky enough to find house share, you could save yourself a bomb. Splitting rent is a great way to save money, and with the right people a great experience. For us, we hardly see our housemates, so our space is mostly our own and we keep to ourselves. We might have less space than people who rent out whole apartments, but seriously how much space do you really need? Also, if you are lucky enough to get a place downtown chances are you have some sort of exercise facilities in your building. In ours we have a pool, hot tub, sauna and an exercise room with some machines and free weights. Why join a gym when there's a free one downstairs!
  • Birthdays! - Apparently (and I wish I'd known this when we first arrived!) when it's your birthday you can get a helluva lot of stuff for free. Google Free Birthday Deals in Vancouver, there's a lot of stuff! I have heard Blenz give you free coffee. If I'd have known that I'd have done a coffee crawl and OD'd on caffeine.
  • Coupons and competitions - we use coupons! The staff at our nearest Subway now recognize us we've gone there so much. We picked up some buy one get one free coupons, so we can eat a meal for the 2 of us for around $10. Local papers also print deals and coupons to cut out and utilise. I also won a $10 gift card for a coffee shop and I've seen others win quite a few bits and bobs, so it's definitely worth entering!
So overall Vancouver can be pricey, particularly if you're not very careful with your money, but keeping an eye out for any ways to save can really make a big difference to your costs. If anyone has any other money saving tips, please do comment and share ideas!


  1. The biggest tip I can offer you is stop going to Safeway and instead go to Costco and the Real Canadian Superstore

  2. Coast Capital Savings offer a free bank account, they also do a free credit card as well which is good for building up credit history in Canada, paying bills, buying online, etc.

  3. I'd also say that shopping in the independent grocery stores, for instance near Broadway and Macdonald are much MUCH cheaper than Safeway. Safeway is convenient because it's all there in one store, but if you're prepared to break your shop between different stores then you can save a lot of money.

    Also recommend finding a No Frills supermarket too, you can get all your canned foods and boxed items for dirt cheap there.

  4. Thank you for all the shop advice guys, we'll definitely check them out! And thank you for the bank advice Anonymous, we're not personally looking to build credit rating, but a good tip for those that are!

  5. Brillant advice im here 2 months now but i find nofrills on denman and presidnce choice on davie much cheaper for my food shopping :-)

  6. Seconding the Superstore recommendation - you can get a free bank account there too and earn points to spend in store. I buy gas there as well on my debit card, and then get coupons to buy groceries. Pretty awesome!

    My other tip for saving money would be to eat out less - it's so hard when you're in a new country as you want to experience new places/food etc, but I find eating out in Canada is so expensive when the tax and tip are factored in. It's slightly better than it used to be though, with the tax changes in March (7% less!!), so now I don't feel quite as bad when I go out ;)