Which City Was the Most Expensive to Live in?

February 12, 2014

victoria toronto port moody

First, I have to say thank you to everyone who commented on Monday’s post. Not only was it great to see so many first-time commenters share a few words, but it was also cool to see commenters interact with one another. Seriously, you guys are the best.

As promised, my numbers are here to stay! And now that I’ve lived in the ‘burbs of Greater Vancouver for a while, I decided it was finally time to crunch some numbers and see what it’s really costing me to live over here. See, if you’ve heard that Vancouver is the most expensive city in North America to live in, I can look at the numbers and see how that is true. But that’s based on the median annual salary vs. the median house price – and I don’t own a home. I do, however, rent a condo that somebody else owns… and it ain’t cheap.

Since I’ve lived in three separate cities over the last 18 months, I decided to go one step further and calculate what I paid (or am currently paying) to live in each of them. I went through all of my old budgets to find ones that looked fairly normal (i.e. I wasn’t travelling for half the month), then added up all the numbers and found the averages for all of my basic living costs. If you look at the chart below, you can see that Greater Vancouver is proving to be the most expensive city… but the lifestyle in all of them is what I want to look at.

vic toronto van budget

Victoria: $1,630/m

Let’s start with Victoria. Back at home, I was living in a decent apartment building; it wasn’t fancy, and there were no amenities, but it was clean, quiet and had in-suite laundry. I drove a lot in that city, probably because I had quadruple the number of friends there than I do here, so my gas budget was fairly high. However, my car insurance was dirt cheap! (Oh, how I miss that…) My grocery budget was highest there, which I actually have no explanation for, other than that sometimes I had friends over for dinner. Finally, my restaurant budget was actually at its lowest there… probably because I invited people over, haha.

Toronto: $1,767/m* (+$137/m or +$1,644/yr)

I made exactly 3 assumptions for my Toronto budget, because I wanted to assume what a monthly budget might have looked like had I stayed in the city, moved out of Roomie’s and gotten a place of my own. So, for all the apartments I viewed online and in-person, it’s safe for me to assume my rent would’ve been at least $1,200/m. For that price, I highly doubt the building would’ve come with a gym, so I would’ve eventually joined one (and was quoted this amount by GoodLife). And then I can only assume tenant insurance would’ve been cheaper there than it is here, because you don’t need earthquake coverage in Ontario.

As for the rest, these are all actual averages of what I spent while living in Toronto. The first thing I notice when I look at these numbers is how much my choices around eating changed while I was there. Dining out is definitely “a thing” in Toronto. I also walked by a Starbucks on my way to work each morning, which didn’t help my budget. Oh, and I lied: I made 4 assumptions about what it would’ve cost me to stay in Toronto – the 4th one being that I never would have brought my car out there. I was once quoted $175/m for car insurance, and it would’ve been anywhere from $60-150/m to rent a parking space. Nooo thank you.

Greater Vancouver: $1,811/m (+$181/m or +$2,172/yr)

Finally, Greater Vancouver – or Port Moody, to be exact. The first thing that jumps out at me here is that my inflated Toronto restaurant budget hasn’t really budged! However, a good chunk of that just comes with the territory of living in a new city, meeting new people and wanting to try new restaurants with those people. But still! And the second thing – which I’ve been aware of since the minute I moved here – is that my car insurance is basically double what it was in Victoria. So, I’m driving a little less, but I’m paying a whole lot more to have my car here. Darn bigger cities with their increased car accident and crime rates.

Now, while it looks like living in Greater Vancouver isn’t that much more expensive than living in Victoria or Toronto, you’re right – it’s not. But that’s because I live in Port Moody, which is a 30-minute drive outside of the downtown core. Just for fun, I spent a little time on Craigslist the other night, to see if I could find out how much a condo like the one I’m in now would be downtown… I’d be paying closer to $1,600/m to live down thereplus parking! (And my current kitchen is so much nicer than that.) Or there’s this place for even more. I’ll take my basically brand new condo and life by the water in Port Moody over that any day…

What’s the most expensive city (or apartment) you’ve ever lived in?

  • Kasey February 12, 2014 at 5:05 am

    I lived downtown Chicago approx a 10 min walk from the lake and michigan ave aka magnificent mile. It cost $1400 for a one bed apt and $185 for an outdoor uncovered parking spot. The place I rented could have easily been $1500-$1600 but the owner of the building was undercharging at the time.

    • Cait Flanders February 12, 2014 at 7:42 pm

      Well, nice you were getting a deal! How long ago was that?

      • Kasey February 12, 2014 at 8:02 pm

        It was 2012. So not too long ago. In Chicago if you want to rent a place you go look and sign the lease that day otherwise you lose the apartment. It’s that high of demand. There is no, I’m looking for an apt to move into on the 1st of the month. It’s always I will move in tomorrow. It was crazy when I was apt hunting!

  • Dayle February 12, 2014 at 5:37 am

    Thanks for this post…I enjoyed reading it and found it interesting!

    From the small sample of experience I’ve had with various rental units and the like, I’ll share my experience.

    My first appartment I rented in 2005 was a bachelor basement and I paid $675 a month all inclusive. That lasted only 3 months before I moved again to another basement apartment, this one was much larger, and I paid $725 a month all inclusive. Both apartments were in Oshawa.

    In 2006 I moved in with my boyfriend at the time… he rented the upstairs of a bungalow (3 bedroom) on a 1-acre lot outside of Lindsay where the rent was only $950 all inclusive (other than we paid for our own internet).

    In 2009 I found myself looking for my own place again. I rented yet another basement appt in Oshawa for $725. That one lasted 8 months before I moved to another one in 2010 which was also $725. I stayed there for 10 months. I was happy to learn that the rent prices hadn’t really increased during the few years I was “out of the market”

    Following all of those moves I bought my current house in 2011 which is where I remain. How nice it has been to live in the same place for almost 3 years without moving!! So I’m not paying rent anymore, but for comparison’s sake to other major centres in my area, Oshawa is probably among the cheapest places to live (in my opinion/experience) without going too far away from Toronto. I purchased my 1100 sq foot 2-storey semi for $174K and I pay about $2800/year in property taxes. Neighbouring Whitby, Ajax to the west and Courtice, Bowmanville to the east are all more expensive for house prices and taxes (generally, I’m sure there are some exceptions).

    Have a great Wednesday!


    • Cait Flanders February 12, 2014 at 7:47 pm

      Wow, it’s crazy that rent prices stayed the same for all those years! In 2004, I rented a 1-bedroom apartment with a boyfriend and it was only $600. Mind you, I look at that building today and want to gag, haha… but they’re renting those same units out for $900 now!

  • Rob February 12, 2014 at 5:56 am

    Hi Cait! I can only compare Montreal to Toronto, each in which I spent half my life. When we company head-office transferred from Montreal to Toronto years ago Montreal’s house prices (and probably apartment rents) were half of that of Toronto’s. Wages and food costs were about the same but Quebec’s taxes were higher that Ontario’s – and still are. In fact we would never have been able to afford to move to TO if I hadn’t received moving and housing assistance from my employer back then. That said, and all things considered, with the better employment situation in Toronto (vs Montreal) I would say that we experience a better more affordable lifestyle here where we live today than where we were originally born.

    • Cait Flanders February 12, 2014 at 7:51 pm

      I always forget how high Quebec’s taxes are! When Baby Bro moves to Alberta, you better believe I plan on visiting him and doing my clothes shopping there, haha.

  • Marg S February 12, 2014 at 6:52 am

    This is an interesting post. I lived most of my life in Edmonton, a few years ago I ended up moving to Winnipeg. The only main advantage I see is that I can claim my rent on my taxes in Manitoba. Manitoba has the blasted PST (only GST in Alberta). It’s funny because I’ve been contemplating going back to Edmonton – and your post today has me ready to fully investigate what that would cost.

    Rent – I think will be comparable but I can’t claim it on my taxes back “home” so Manitoba would win this one.
    Groceries/General Shopping – chepaer in Alberta (by at least 8% thanks to the PST).
    Vechicle? – Well I’d need to buy a car again but gas and insurance are cheaper in Alberta.

    The only thing would be finding a job that could pay for it all! LOL. And I need to factor in how long it would take me to recoup the huge hit my savings would take.

    • Cait Flanders February 13, 2014 at 5:38 am

      Definitely investigate what it would cost! Things change – even if Alberta’s cheap taxes don’t. For example, if I were to move back to Victoria, I’d likely spend $1,100 on rent somewhere there now. So, it was cheaper at the time, but may not be that way in the future.

  • Jordann February 12, 2014 at 7:11 am

    Love this post! I make pretend budgets for different cities all of the time, just to see if I could afford to live there.

    If I moved back to Halifax I’d definitely have to increase my minimum expenses. A two bedroom there rents for an average of $1,600 plus parking, or up to $1,800 for a nicer place, which is double what I’m paying now. I can justify it though because my husband’s income would also increase quite a bit if he obtained full time employment, so the extra expense would be offset by extra income.

    • Alicia February 12, 2014 at 7:35 am

      If you’re ever looking for a good apartment building in the South End, check out South Tower (on the corner of South and Tower, duh!) They’re old, but the new ones are being updated as they go to tile and laminate floor. It’s a “grad student or older building” so there’s no undergrads… but I’d admit that grad students sometimes party harder than undergrads.

      Huge storage closet, galley kitchen (but it’s decent to work with two people), good sized bedrooms, and they have a good size living room/dining room. My friends rented for less than $1,400, plus $80/month for underground parking.

      After all that, I realized the dog might be an issue. It’s technically “no pets” but lots of people have cats… but then you don’t have to take a cat out for a walk multiple times per day.

    • Cait Flanders February 13, 2014 at 5:42 am

      Holy crow, Halifax is expensive! I wouldn’t have expected that. You can get a nice 2-bedroom in Victoria for anywhere from $1,200-1,400. $1,600 would have to be like brand new, never been lived in condo, haha. I wonder why it’s so expensive out there?

      • Alicia February 13, 2014 at 6:19 am

        It’s partly because Jordann has expensive apartment tastes :) I rented a two-bedroom (with a roommate) 1100 sq ft apartment downtown for $1100/month including parking. That being said, it was a steal. So yeah it’s average pricing would be comparable to your Victoria prices.

        Halifax is the largest city east of Montreal, and it’s a university-hub – there are supposedly six universities, but most quote four, and they’re almost all on the peninsula. Not much land available, but everyone wants to live there. :)

        People discount it because it’s in Atlantic Canada, but it’s an expensive city (most people would laugh at calling Halifax a city compared to your cities of Vancouver/Toronto), ANNNND we have 15% sales tax. When the Feds dropped the GST, guess what, the province hiked the provincial sales tax to 10%.

        Okay, I’ll stop griping about the expense of Halifax, and hijacking your comments :)

  • Alicia February 12, 2014 at 7:32 am

    Great post – so interesting to see the numbers. When I was thinking I was moving to Calgary I had priced out everything, and it wasn’t pretty. I am so glad that I ended up in a low cost of living city, and I came from Halifax which isn’t all that cheap either.

    • Cait Flanders February 13, 2014 at 5:43 am

      It does sound like Calgary is expensive. But then I always remember how they only have to pay GST on things… 5% would be sweet.

  • Leanne February 12, 2014 at 7:56 am

    This is really interesting to see them all side by side. I already know London is costing me a LOT more than back home in Aberdeen but I’ve never really compared the numbers, may have to do a similar post to this soon! x

    • Cait Flanders February 13, 2014 at 5:43 am

      Do it! I’d be curious to see just how expensive London is.

  • Trista February 12, 2014 at 8:25 am

    For curiosity’s sake, here are my budgeted numbers for my suburb of St. John’s, NL

    Rent for two bedroom: $775 heat and light included (this is extremely low for the area)
    Tenant’s Insurance: $15
    Groceries & Restaurant: $400 (I don’t track them separately)
    Gas: $140
    Car Insurance: $99
    Parking: $0
    Public Transit is not available in my area.

    • Cait Flanders February 13, 2014 at 5:47 am

      Looks somewhat similar to Victoria, minus the rent (and lack of public transit – although Victoria’s isn’t that great).

      • Trista February 13, 2014 at 8:09 am

        There’s some public transit in St. John’s but it’s not good. But I live just outside the city. So if I wanted to take public transit I would have to drive for ten minutes just to get to a bus that runs once an hour.

  • Tonya@Budget and the Beach February 12, 2014 at 8:47 am

    I love reading the cost comparisons because moving somewhere (today’s post) else has been on my mind a lot. Currently where I live is the most expensive place. My rent is $1400 (was $1450 but convinced the landlord to knock off $50) but I rent out my garage so that makes me rent $1250. And believe me when I say it’s nothing fancy, but I’m paying for location and the great weather.

    • Cait Flanders February 13, 2014 at 5:48 am

      Just like I’m paying to live in a 5-year old building w/ a gym, a pool and a view, haha. If you were to move, what would you do? Move further away from your desired location to pay less?

  • Bridget February 12, 2014 at 8:54 am

    Calgary is super expensive for me… mostly all because of housing though. The uber low vacancy rate drives rents up like crazy. My living expenses approach those that you listed for Vancouver!

    I’m just glad that as a student I have access to free transit =)

    • Cait Flanders February 12, 2014 at 9:04 am

      Low vacancy rates are a huge issue in Toronto too! I watched a couple friends go through “bidding wars” over rentals.

  • Kelly February 12, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    I live in Toronto, and it is a crazy pricey city to live in. I rent a 1 bedroom + den downtown in a somewhat trendy neighbourhood and my rent is $1525 a month plus $50 a month for hydro; there’s a gym in the building and when it’s not winter I bike everywhere, so that helps with costs.. Renter’s insurance is another $35 a month. The vacancy rate here is brutal, so I took the first place I could get and while I do love my home, I’m really ready to spend less money.

    What I appreciate most about this post is that I’m considering a move to Vancouver within the next few years, so it’s interesting to see how things stacked up for you.

    • Cait Flanders February 13, 2014 at 5:50 am

      You’re right – the vacancy rate in TO is absolutely brutal. I watched one friend bid for a crappy apartment. He won, but it cost him an extra $100/m than it was listed for. Yikes.

  • Eva @ Girl Counting Pennies February 12, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Ah, I would kill for a one bedroom apartment with stunning views in central London for 1600 CAD/month, haha! You won’t get anything decent for this amount of money in London. Nada. I used to pay more than that for a bedroom in an apartment that I shared with another person! Just one bedroom! I do live in a fairly expensive neighbourhood though since I feel safer here.

    When I lived in Cambridge, I used to drive there. I have never even considered driving in London as this is something out of a fairy tale. I honestly don’t have a clue how people drive here. Apart from an awful traffic day and night, the insurance premiums are ridiculously high. We also pay road tax each year depending on the neighbourhood you live in and the car you drive. We also have a congestion charge of £10 if you want to drive through central London. No thanks, I’ll walk! lol

    Eating out is also a big thing in London (similar to Toronto). We have new restaurants pop up on every corner every week. It’s great to have a choice, but places I want to go to are expensive.

    Are you still coming for a visit over Christmas? I’d love to see you in London. No expensive restaurants, I promise! ;)

    • Cait Flanders February 13, 2014 at 5:51 am

      For a bedroom!? Oh my gosh! But then I feel as though your salaries must have to accommodate those prices? (They barely do here…)

      And I’m hoping to! But it all depends on $$, of course. Will have to see how things fall this year. :)

  • Susan February 12, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    I just moved to Victoria from the states so I find this very interesting. Our rent is higher than yours was because we’re in a furnished apartment for the time being (long term we will eventually buy furniture though). I think part of the reason groceries are expensive here is that being on an island, most things must be shipped via boat or ferry rather than just brought in on trucks. That said, I have been doing some comparison shopping to see what items are cheapest at what stores.

    • Cait Flanders February 13, 2014 at 5:53 am

      That’s true about the grocery costs, Susan, but I find prices are exactly the same here in Vancouver, because I shop at the same stores. Have you been to the Root Cellar? Great place to buy your produce each week. :)

      • Susan February 13, 2014 at 10:56 am

        Thanks for the tip about the Root Cellar! I’ll check it out. I’m also considering ordering a Good Food box, which seems like a great value for produce.

  • Val@Balancingval February 12, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    I am one of those crazy people that up and left to live on an island when I had no money or job!

    Luckily, I worked my tail off and things are working out, but man is it expensive in hawaii. Everything is shipped here which adds so much to the cost (esp. food!).

    Currently I am living in a 2 bedroom apartment where the rent is $2770 NOT including utilities and split between 3 people. I also have to pay an extra $95 per month to park my car in a garage 2 buildings over since the parking is maxed out in this one (small island, lots of cars).

    I love it here, but man it has taught me a lot about money. It will be a culture shock when I move back to the mainland in 3 years.

    • Cait Flanders February 13, 2014 at 5:54 am

      Oh man – I knew rent was expensive over there, but didn’t realize it was that much! What’s an average grocery bill each week, if you don’t mind me asking?

  • Michelle @fitisthenewpoor February 13, 2014 at 5:03 am

    We pay $1200 a month for a one bedroom (no parking) in a very affluent neighborhood of Chicago (not downtown). We’re actually going to move farther west to reduce or costs in the next year or two. Mortgage costs in our area are more like 3k-4k.

    • Cait Flanders February 13, 2014 at 5:54 am

      $1,200 seems ok! Mortgage costs… yikes!

  • SammieK February 13, 2014 at 11:06 am

    Since moving to TO in Nov my partner and I rent a tiny little basement apartment for $925 a month (including all utilities and unlimited internet).

    We decided to sacrifice space so we didn’t have to bust our butt earning an extra $500 – $1000 a month with nothing extra to show for it except more space. We’d rather spend our money on travelling or even just a movie and a popcorn combo lol.

    Plus if I’m going to marry this man I need to be able to live in a tiny hobbit hole with him or how would we go for the next 50 years together? So far so good, except it drives me nuts that he doesn’t push his chair in when he gets up! But I think if that’s my only complaint I’m pretty lucky :)

  • Kelly February 13, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    I loved this post, especially since I recently moved from Victoria to Toronto.

    It is hard to compare, because my boyfriend and I moved from an older 1 bedroom apartment to a newer 2 bedroom townhouse. Our rent in Toronto is $1 800 compared to $775 in Victoria, with both places being about a 15 minute walk from downtown.

    Like you said, car insurance was ridiculously cheap in Victoria and because the weather was so mild, my old 1991 Civic got us around no problem. You’d definitely need a more reliable car in Toronto though, and between the cost of insurance and parking, we didn’t even consider having one.

    Utilities are also a lot more here. And taxes are higher. I honestly can’t really think of anything that is cheaper here. I do like Toronto though!

    I guess it’s a good thing that my Toronto job pays more than my Victoria one did!

  • Dan @ Our Big Fat Wallet February 15, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    Hi, just came across this site. Very nice! Most expensive city we’ve lived in is the city we currently live in: Calgary. It used to be more affordable before the boom but now prices are getting crazy again. Now it’s like Vancouver prices……without the ocean

  • Anne @ Unique Gifter February 19, 2014 at 8:05 am

    What a fun post!! I love this.
    My most expensive city was probably Ottawa or Dunedin, but due to lifestyle, not to the costs of living there. When I was in Dunedin, I could justifying *anything* with “it’s a cultural experience.” Plus, as you’ve said, when you’re making new friends, you tend to go out to bars and restaurants, as opposed to having them over to your place.

  • Danielle February 25, 2014 at 9:13 am

    I got lucky. I live in Toronto in an apartment in an area that gentrified just after we moved in. We’ve been here 5 years and pay at least 400$ less than we should.

    But it was hard, literally for the first three years we lived here, nobody would come visit despite being a 15 minute walk from the subway because it “wasn’t cool.” But, muahaha, we showed them! Problem is it’s a small 450sq foot 1 bedroom and there’s no space for ANYTHING. But it’s cheap, so we stay.