It’s no secret that Vancouver is extremely expensive. Cost of housing and rent alone means that a good chunk of your income will be gone at the start of the month before spending anything else and unless you are okay with closing your eyes and tapping your credit card, you will need to use the rest of whatever money you have left wisely and stretch it to balance essentials and necessities with luxuries and fun. Here are a few tips in order to live frugally and on a budget in Vancouver.
1- Spend less than you make
The first rule to be able to save money is to spend less than you make and the first step to do so is by creating a budget. Budgeting may be a nightmare and may feel like torture for some but it is the only way to be able to identify what your income with, distribute it efficiently and know what you can spend. Once you’ve identified that, you will be able to avoid overspending, going into debt, and identify areas where you can spend less and add money to a savings account.
2- Don’t eat out
With a lot of restaurants everywhere and most people working two jobs, the temptation to eat out can be high! If you’re frequently tight on money but often eat out (and assuming you made a budget), look at how much money you’ve spent on eating out versus groceries. The worst thing about Vancouver and Norther America is the “we only add the taxes afterwards” meaning you may be ordering with a specific budget in mind, then once the bill pay, you add your generic taxes, your liquor taxes, your tips and before you know it, paid 30% more than what you initially planned. Remember that eating out is not a necessity and if you can’t afford it, there’s no reason to go broke just because your friends are all in debt and want to eat out.
3- Don’t order delivery, get take-out!
Now we all have days where we don’t want to cook and even when we were really tight on money, there’d be days where we would just order and have a warm meal without worrying about chopping or dishes. However, I once randomly popped into a restaurant and got take out and then later on went onto one of the delivery websites to reorder the same meal. I noticed that the basic price that was listed, excluding taxes or fees or tips, was already higher than the total I paid with tips in the restaurant. I knew the delivery websites took a portion of restaurant’s profits forcing them to increase their prices on those sites. This led to some of the smaller restaurant having to increase their items’ prices by a dollar or two.
Ever since, we started getting more take out instead of ordering and the bill was sometimes 15-20 CAD cheaper. Now imagine how many times you paid more than you should have because of it!
4- Keep an eye on your hydro bills
Being minimalists, we don’t have a lot of electronics or stuff in general, which means our hydro bill always remains on the lower side. However, we noticed our average overall bill went up by over 5 CAD a month once we got a television! Now we unplug our television when not in use not just to save money, but also to save energy overall.
But keeping appliances you don’t need unplugged instead of on standby may save you a little bit. However, a lot of older buildings have baseboard heating and those often cause the electricity bill to jump to a couple of hundred dollars. The alternative would be to keep them turned off but then not be at ease because you’re cold! When finding a new apartment, make sure to ask what the heating system is and who incurs the cost!
5- Make your own coffee
It’s a running joke that millennials are broke because they don’t make their own coffee. While it may not change your life and make you rich, if you think about the cost versus the benefit, buying (at least) a daily up of coffee isn’t adding much value especially if your budget is tight.
You don’t have to invest in an expensive coffee machine and another perk is you’ll get to try all the various options of coffee you can find. And yes, even your favorite store also sells their ground coffee to use at home!
6- If you’re single, get a flat mate
Rent is definitely the biggest pain. However if you’re single, you may have the opportunity to cut the costs compared to your in-a-relationship friends. Splitting the costs of a two bedroom with a flat mate or more can bring your rental fee to be lower than if you had your own studio. And it’s not just about rent, hydro, internet, etc… costs can all be split as well.
7- Rethink your car (if you have one)
Car loans are another money sucker and unfortunately a lot of people easily fall into the trap of purchasing a brand new car or getting sucked into a lease. Vancouver is an extremely walkable city and with the city leaning towards favoring bike lanes, it may be more cost efficient to ditch your vehicle. After all, how often are you really driving it? Think of all the costs that add up: monthly payment if you have it, gas, insurance, parking permit and so on… and then compare it to how often you actually are using the car. Would it be cheaper to rent as needed?
8- Monthly compass card versus loading
In some cases, it may make less sense to have a monthly compass card than topping up the card balance. This has been especially the case during the pandemic and with everyone working from home and needing less time to commute. Test topping up for a month or two, if you’re going over the amount for a monthly pass, it would be worth it. Otherwise, cancel that monthly pass and simply add a set amount at the start of the month. Also, aim to find work in the same zone as where you live otherwise costs may add up regardless of whether it’s a monthly or just topping up.
9- Meal plan
No, that doesn’t mean making endless containers of rice and chicken (or tofu) and eating the same thing over a week. Meal planning simply helps you have a set list of meals so you don’t have to worry about what to cook and help you see if you’re having meat everyday for example, or eating too much pasta. When you meal plan, it helps you organize your grocery shopping better but also plan for those days when you know you may stay overtime, or have a class or any engagement after which you wont’ have time to cook and may be tempted to order.
10- Cut down on cable and streaming subscriptions
Do you really need Netflix and Prime and Disney+ and Crave and Paramount+ and cable? How much time are you actually watching TV in a month? If you spend over 5 or 6 hours a day watching movies and TV shows then it’s a good investment but once you add up the costs, you could be spending a minimum of 50 CAD just for your subscription services. One of the things that we do in our own household since we watch an hour or two of TV shows a day is simply rotate our subscriptions. Two months of Netflix, one month of Prime and so on. There is absolutely no requirement to keep your subscription at all time for everything at once.
11- Don’t get sucked into data “upgrade deals”
I always internally giggle when I hear someone bragging about how they got more data on their phone plan for only 10 CAD more a month. Even worse, I remember a particular instance when someone was bragging about paying more and that they never used up all the data! Talk about paying for things you don’t need!
Before accepting any of those upgrades for more, think about whether you really need it. Are you really maxing out on your data plan every time to justify the cost increase? If so, go ahead, otherwise if you keep upgrading, you’ll end up paying a lot more for data you’re not using or needing. And if you are already there, give your provider a call and try and cancel all those upgrades you don’t need!
12- Don’t buy new things
It may be tempting when moving to a new country or new city to buy everything new. We fell into the trap early on but were cautious ever since. There are so many options out there to get secondhand good quality things that it really is a shame to buy everything new. Not only that, thanks to local Buy Nothing Project, we furnished our entire apartment and got a lot of kitchen gadgets and utensils for absolutely free. Facebook marketplace and Craigslist are also a good place to get second hand furniture. We got both our couches for a total of 250 CAD. They would have definitely cost more than at least four times more if new.
Thrift stores were also a great discovery especially when it came to books. Wildlife thrift store on Granville sells books for 2.5 CAD each and has a buy three get the fourth free, meaning you are getting four books for under 10 CAD which should keep you quite occupied and entertained for a while. Thrift stores also have a lot of very cheap decorative item that will help turn your house into a home without overspending.
13- Don’t grocery shop at the nearest location
Not all stores are created equal when it comes to your pocket. While the closest supermarket or grocery store may seem like a better go-to, costs may easily add up. There are some well known chains that are more expensive than others and while something you may want to spend extra on for whatever reason, would you really want to pay an extra dollar for every tuna can you get?
Do you live in Vancouver and have more tips to share? Let us know in the comments!