Skip to main content Skip to chat

Two families, one month of spending

Here's how two very different Canadian families are managing their spending and saving habits in the wake of the pandemic.

August 26, 2021

Written by Nicola Brown

Key takeaways

  • One family budgets carefully, the other "goes with the flow."

  • Both spend about $1,000 a month on groceries and both work hard to manage expenses related to their homes, cars, cottages, kids and occasional rounds of golf.

  • It's important to sit down, even if it's just once a year, to review your spending. You might be surprised by what you learn.

Two families, one month of spending

Our spending habits say a lot about who we are.

That's why we interviewed two very different Canadian households - a family of four in Laval, Quebec and a couple in Toronto - and asked them to share their monthly expenses with us.

One family budgets carefully, the other "goes with the flow." Both spend about $1,000 a month on groceries and both work hard to manage expenses related to their homes, cars, cottages, kids and occasional rounds of golf.

"It's important for us to be open about money," explains Laval's Soukaina K. "If I can assist someone else in managing their money more effectively by sharing my spending habits, then I'm happy to help."

How would you classify your own spending habits? Extravagant? Frugal? You may find that a look at these two families can help put your own money choices in perspective.

 

illustration of various expenses, including groceries, takeout pizza, wine, shoes and electronics.

1. Two kids, two cars, two mortgages – and one $3 baguette 

 
Who: Soukaina K., 32, and Patrick A., 35. Sou and Pat live with their two young boys in a three-bedroom semi-detached house in suburban Laval, Quebec. They also spend a few weekends every summer up at their cottage near Mont Tremblant.

What they do: Sou is a training and technical support coordinator at a college making $47,000 per year. Pat is a bus driver in Montreal making $75,000 per year. 

What they spend in a month as a family:
 

House Mortgage$1,019.39
Cottage Mortgage $287.58
Property Taxes$205
Home, cottage and car insurance$297.89
Gas$300
Car lease payments$383.61
Internet, cable and cellphones$300
Entertainment subscription services$20.18
Savings contributions (not including company pension plans)$233
Charities$10
Groceries$1,000
Eating out$110
Kids' toys, games and activities$20
Gym memberships (before pandemic)$68.86
Bus pass$147
Daycare for their youngest$792
School fees for their eldest$150
Total:$5,344.51

 

Largest recent purchases: Second car (used): $1,882.62; four weeks of a multi-sport summer camp including a week of intensive tennis for their eldest child: $1,360; car maintenance and repair: $874.92; repairs to the entryway of their house: $450; a gift (a pair of earrings): $154.31; shoes and clothes: $129.88; golf: $73.99.

One thing you spent money on that you didn't tell your partner about:

Sou: $87.36 for an online clothing order from Banana Republic. They had a crazy special, 50% off everything plus an additional 30% off at checkout, I couldn't miss out on that!

Pat: Nothing...I guess I'm too honest?

Your biggest overpay in the past few months:

We only went for an oil change and an alignment but it ended up costing $423.46. They even tried to convince us to change the brake rotors and pads for a total of $1,600.

Have any of your expenses gone way up or down since the beginning of the pandemic?

Sou: Our commuting costs went down a bit when I didn't have to pay for my bus pass while working from home. Now that I'm going into work again, they've gone back up. We also noticed the price of groceries increased slightly. Strangely, the price of pure vanilla extract (473 ml) dropped from $43 to $18.

Is there anything in particular you've started spending more on to help you get through the past year?

Sou: To preserve Pat's sanity, the strategy has been to spend as little as possible!

What was the smallest charge on your credit card in the past month?

A baguette from the bakery, $2.95.

What was the biggest?

Summer camp for our eldest at $1,360. We're not really looking forward to finding out what it will cost next summer, as both of our kids will be in summer camps!

If someone gave you $100 tomorrow, what would you spend it on?

Sou: A manicure and pedicure.

Pat: A new pair of running shoes.

If you had to cut $100 from your budget, what would you cut back on?

Takeout food and restaurants.

One thing you never regret spending on:

Sou: Starbucks coffee is money well spent, because if I don't get a good cup of coffee I won't have a good day, and neither will my colleagues!

Pat: The mortgage for the cottage and all the expenses that come with owning a cottage. It's where I spent my summers as a child together with my best friend. It means a lot to me and my family to keep the memories going.

The purchase you're most proud of or excited about this month:

Sou: I bought a new swimsuit that'll get some good use at the cottage.

Pat: Repairing the entrance to our house. We managed to get a really good deal on the materials and labour.

Which one of you is the bigger spender?

Sou: I'm the bigger spender. I get easily attracted to things.

Which one of you is the bigger saver?

Pat: I take care of the budget with scientific precision, so I know how important it is to keep money aside.

Do you maintain a detailed budget for your family, or do you go with the flow?

Ever since we bought our house, we've implemented a very detailed weekly budget, so we can make the most out of our income.

How has having kids changed the way you approach your spending habits?

We wouldn't say that having kids has changed our spending habits. We kept the same structure. We just adapted it to accommodate an extra two mouths.

Do you and your partner ever disagree about your shared expenses? How do you resolve these issues?

Yes we do, but communication is key. When we disagree, we talk about it until we find a way to work through the issue in a way that satisfies both of us.

What's the biggest thing you've struggled with when it comes to spending and saving over the past year?

Having children, a house and a cottage requires some kind of spending all the time, whether it's new clothes, shoes, tools, paint, etc. It's always a matter of making choices. There's always something to buy, and you have to prioritize the important things.

What's one brilliant spending/saving life hack you've learned that you'd recommend to others?

Over the years we've learned that doing our homework before going to the grocery store can be very helpful in saving money. We shop mostly at a discount big box store. On one hand we can match prices, and on the other, we can accumulate points for free groceries. There are several apps that can help you make a grocery list and compare prices between stores. Recently, with the kids growing up (and developing insatiable appetites!), we have started buying some items in bulk.

2. Spending on shoes, saving for a family reunion 

Who: Linda A. and her husband Paul live together in a four-bedroom detached house in the Regal Heights neighbourhood of Toronto, Ontario. Their son Andrew just completed his first year of university. (Linda responded to the questions below.)

What they do: Linda is a senior director of strategy in sales and marketing in the non-profit industry. Paul is a systems administrator in the IT industry.

What they spend in a month as a family:

Internet and cellphones$500
Entertainment subscription services$100
Groceries (lots of organic meat and vegetables, and wine!)$1,000
Eating out$200
Son's universityMostly paid with RESPs
Golf green fees (guilty pleasure, cheaper than a private club!)$600
Emergency wildlife services to remove a squirrel that got into our roof$435
Son's rent for four months because he couldn't find a sublet$2,700
Repair for nail in car tire$75
Total:$5,610

 

 

Biggest recent purchases: New windows for the house (which we paid for with our savings) $21,000; new golf clubs, $2,300; new patio umbrella, $150.

Big upcoming purchases: $3,500 for a family reunion road trip to Quebec; $30,000 to re-stucco the exterior of our house in early fall.

One thing you spent money on that you didn't tell your partner about:

I love shoes. I try to make sure they're on sale. For example, I just bought new running shoes for $160, which was 30% off the original price. I just threw them in with my other ones, and no one noticed. I didn't really need them, but thought they were very cute!

Your biggest faux-pas expense in the past few months:

Definitely a new purse. I didn't need it and really have nowhere to wear it. I spent more than I should have, and now it's just sitting in my closet, hidden away.

Have any of your expenses gone way up or down since the beginning of the pandemic?

Lumber! We wanted to replace our old rotting deck last summer and couldn't find any lumber. Now we are starting to see it again, but it's still not easy to find. We feel like the prices are at least 30% higher than they were before the pandemic, so we're hoping we can find the wood we need to get it done.

Fresh food seems to be more expensive. I like to buy organic food, and it feels like prices went up a lot. Cauliflower was $7.99 at one point. It's still a bit high at $5.99-$6.49.

We aren't big takeout eaters, but we like to support local restaurants and have been doing so through the pandemic. But spending $120 on takeout Indian food is a lot for us. We know we can make it for much less.

What was the smallest charge on your credit card in the past month?

iTunes, $9.99.

What was the biggest?

New front door hardware, $375.

If someone gave you $100 tomorrow, what would you spend it on?

We would pay off bills and credit cards.

If you had to cut $100 from your budget, what would you cut back on?

I'm not sure. It would be hard because we're not spending extravagantly right now. We'd probably reduce the amount we spend on takeout food and alcohol.

One thing you never regret spending on:

Healthy food. Organic vegetables and fruit. I like to cook and try to make healthy food for me and my husband. Even though it feels like it's getting more expensive, it's something I never regret. I'm getting better at limiting food waste too, so that makes me feel good.

One thing you returned or cancelled:

I cancelled one of our streaming services. I'm trying to wean myself off binge watching. It helped get me through the dark days of COVID-19 this winter, but now that it's summer and restrictions are starting to lift, I want a social life again. Goodbye streaming!

The purchase you're most proud of or excited about this month:

I got a new light ring for $65. I spend so much time on video calls, I needed something to make me feel better. I'm not sure it makes a massive difference, but it makes me feel good and that is the most important element.

Which one of you is the bigger spender?

Paul is the big spender, he doesn't always wait for sales. If he wants something, he will get it. He likes to eat out, so he doesn't think twice about it. I'm more frugal. I live for sales! I like cooking at home and have mastered a homemade pizza dough recipe that I think is way better than delivery.

Which one of you is the bigger saver?

I think probably me. I'm always trying to put money away and budget for what I'm spending on.

Do you maintain a detailed budget for your family, or do you go with the flow?

Unfortunately, we haven't been able to stick to a budget. We tend to go with the flow, but we aren't extravagant. Sometimes we just need to spend money to replace things. For example our patio umbrella was over 10 years old and no longer fixable. But instead of shopping around, Paul bought the first one he saw that he liked at the hardware store.

Do you and your partner ever disagree about your shared expenses? How do you resolve these issues?

Yes, we do. But it's usually because we are opposites. I'm always looking for a deal, and he wants to get things when we need them. I think we mostly meet in the middle.

What's the biggest thing you've struggled with when it comes to spending and saving over the past year?

Having to deal with a salary reduction due to COVID-19 was the most difficult. We still had regular life expenses, so it wasn't easy.

What's one brilliant spending/saving life hack you've learned that you'd recommend to others?

I am a big believer in reducing food waste. If you're spending $7.99 on organic cauliflower, you'd better eat it all! It requires some planning. But if you do food prep and meal planning each week, you won't waste your food, and you'll also save time.

How Much are You Spending on the Things You Enjoy?

ExpenseSou & PatLinda & Paul
A good bottle of wine$20$20
A new pair of shoes$100$150
A much-needed haircutFree. "My sister is a hairstylist!"$75
A weekend at the cottage$150"$300 if we have guests, $150 if it's just us."

Seeing how other people spend their money might make some feel awkward or uncomfortable, but there are benefits to being open about our finances. It can help you see your own situation in a different light, or make you feel like you're not alone. Everyone has their secrets for success and things they'd like to change, and that's all part of coming up with a plan that works for you and your needs. Everyone spends their money differently, and that's why it's important to sit down, even if it's just once a year, to review your spending and see what needs adjusting. You might be surprised by what your spending reveals.

 

 

This article or video (the “Content”), as applicable, is provided by independent third parties that are not affiliated with Tangerine Bank or any of its affiliates. Tangerine Bank and its affiliates neither endorse or approve nor are liable for any third party Content, or investment or financial loss arising from any use of such Content.

The Content is provided for general information and educational purposes only, is not intended to be relied upon as, or provide, personal financial, tax or investment advice and does not take into account the specific objectives, personal, financial, legal or tax situation, or particular circumstances and needs of any specific person. No information contained in the Content constitutes, or should be construed as, a recommendation, offer or solicitation by Tangerine to buy, hold or sell any security, financial product or instrument discussed therein or to follow any particular investment or financial strategy. In making your financial and investment decisions, you will consult with and rely upon your own advisors and will seek your own professional advice regarding the appropriateness of implementing strategies before taking action. Any information, data, opinions, views, advice, recommendations or other content provided by any third party are solely those of such third party and not of Tangerine Bank or its affiliates, and Tangerine Bank and its affiliates accept no liability in respect thereof and do not guarantee the accuracy or reliability of any information in the third party Content. Any information contained in the Content, including information related to interest rates, market conditions, tax rules, and other investment factors, is subject to change without notice, and neither Tangerine Bank nor its affiliates are responsible for updating this information.

Tangerine Investment Funds are managed by Tangerine Investment Management Inc. and are only available by opening an Investment Fund Account with Tangerine Investment Funds Limited. These firms are wholly owned subsidiaries of Tangerine Bank. Commissions, trailing commissions, management fees and expenses all may be associated with mutual fund investments. Please read the prospectus before investing. Mutual funds are not guaranteed, their values change frequently and past performance may not be repeated.