I was part of a generational cohort born in the 1970s that graduated university and entered the workforce in the mid-1990s while Canada was still in a recession. We were the so called “slacker” generation because we apparently had no ambition and no hope.
In my case, it was the summer of 1997, and I was still living in my parents’ house in my hometown of Ottawa with no job, no social life (all my university friends had since left Ottawa), and no apparent future. “Generation X” indeed!
But at my mother’s insistence, I scanned the Toronto Star’s job classifieds ads for any potential job opportunities in the big city of Toronto. After all, I was now a legal adult, so like a man, I had to make a living and fend for myself. What better place to do just that than in Hogtown?
So I answered an advertisement for a $27,000 per year trainee position at a Toronto bankruptcy firm. Although the job ad indicated that the position required a university degree, it also stated that “no experience is necessary, we will train you” – music to my ears!
Now, I knew absolutely nothing about bankruptcy, and considering I had two university degrees under my belt (Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Economics), $27,000 wasn’t a lot, but given the circumstances, I took whatever I could get.
I got the job after an interview and I moved to Toronto in October 1997. Over the years, not only did I learn a lot about the bankruptcy business (I started my own bankruptcy practice after all), but I also learned how to live well and frugally in Toronto.
So here are some tips I learned on how to save money while having fun in Toronto:
- If you’re a carnivore, fresh meat is almost always cheaper (and healthier) than pre-prepared or frozen meat. You will always get more protein per dollar spent if you purchase fresh meat and take some time to prepare and cook it yourself. For example, if you like eating chicken, why buy frozen pre-cooked chicken breasts at M&M Meat Market when you can buy fresh boneless chicken breasts at Metro or No Frills? Why buy frozen hamburger patties when you can purchase fresh ground beef and take some time to make your own beef patties?
- If you like eating fruits and vegetables, you’ll be hard pressed to find lower prices than in an Asian grocery store. The largest one in Toronto is T&T Supermarket, and although their prices are still competitive, they have steadily creeped up since they were acquired by Loblaws in 2009. If you live in Toronto centre, check out the Asian grocery stores in downtown Chinatown, specifically on the east side of Spadina Avenue, north of Queen and south of Dundas.
- Religiously follow the online weekly deals at No Frills, Metro, Loblaws, Sobeys (or go to Smartcanucks to see all these grocery flyers in one place). These stores will regularly choose to sell an “item of the week” at a heavily discounted price in order to get you into their store hoping that you’ll purchase other items you don’t really need. The item of the week is considered a “loss leader” to get you to do just that. So you’ll need to keep this in mind – it’s a marketing trick.
- If you buy snacks such as potato chips on a frequent basis, you won’t get a better deal than buying them at Costco. For example, for $4.99 you can buy a huge 907 gram bag of Kettle Chips. Yes, you need to purchase a membership card for $55 per year, but with that membership you can get a Capital One card that has no annual membership fee which provides you with purchase points towards an annual cashback redemption.
- If fast food is your thing, take advantage of some great deals from McDonalds. If you complete an online survey about the quality of their service (you’ll need to enter information found on your sales receipt), McDonalds will provide you with an online coupon that provides a significant discount towards your next purchase of a meal combo (i.e., burger, fries and soft drink).
- If you’re a regular coffee drinker, McDonalds will provide you with a free medium coffee for every six coffees you purchase. The quality of the McCafé coffees are quite good and are much less expensive than Starbucks.
- Notwithstanding the last two points, minimize eating outside the home, because getting the same quantity of food is so much more expensive than preparing it yourself. I do understand that for some, dining out is a social ritual, but why would that prevent you from having your friend come over to your place so you can cook for her? And why would that prevent you from going over to your friend’s place and having her cook for you?
- If you are a frequent TTC rider, sign up for the Metropass Discount Plan (MDP). You get a monthly pass mailed to you for $122.50 per month as opposed to having to wait in a long lineup to buy the same pass for $133.75. You’re saving $11.25 per month and skipping the lineup. What a deal!
- If you drive, the only place you should be purchasing your gas is at Costco. As mentioned above, you’ll need to purchase a membership card, but Costco gas is usually cheaper by about 5 cents per litre compared to Shell or Esso. Therefore, you’ll recover the $55.00 membership fee in no time since the cost savings are so significant. Also, the gas you charge on your Costco Capital One will go towards 2% cashback points that you can redeem at the end of the year.
- If you like reading books as a pastime, why purchase them when you can borrow them at the Toronto Public Library? It won’t cost you anything to get a library card and the TPL has an excellent selection of titles. In addition to books, here’s what else you can do with a Toronto Library Card:
- borrow 619 Criterion Collection DVDs, stream 50 of the most popular
- free streaming of 30,000 documentaries and international films
- free access to online learning services (Lynda, O’Reilly, Mango Languages, BrainFuse, etc.)
- free access to academic publications and research databases like JSTOR
- free access to 5,000 physical and digital comic books (DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, etc.)
- free access to major newspapers (Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, NY Times, Washington Post, etc.)
- free access to online magazines (Maclean’s, Newsweek, The Atlantic, Reader’s Digest, New York Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Chatelaine, Esquire, Car & Driver, Bloomberg Business, Consumer Reports, etc.)
- free access to museums and other attractions (AGO, ROM, Ontario Science Centre, Aga Khan,Toronto Zoo, Black Creek Pioneer Village, Royal Conservatory of Music, CanStage, etc.)
- low-cost print-your-own paperback books
- borrow musical instruments and Arduino kits
- maker spaces with 3D printers, sewing and embroidery machines, music studios, and video production facilities
- call 416-395-5400, listen to a story in your choice of 16 languages!
- borrow a wi-fi hotspot with unlimited data access for six months
- If going to see movies at the cinema is your thing, you can get a discounted movie package from Costco. At a price of $24.99, you can purchase a package that includes 2 general admission tickets, 2 regular soft drinks, and 1 regular popcorn. Purchasing the same items directly at the cinema would cost you a lot more than $24.99, so this is an excellent deal.
That’s it for now. I will have more tips in my next blog post.