Tales of the Working Poor

Perhaps you make $75k. Or perhaps you and your spouse make a combined $100k+. It sounds like a lot when you say it out loud. It’s probably more than you ever imagined you’d be making when you were a kid.

So why are you always broke?

You are not alone. Especially if you live near a big city like Toronto or Vancouver or are a recent college graduate. This is a real problem and it’s going to have lasting impacts on society.

Here are some real tales of the working poor in Canada, as described by a variety of Reddit users:

User: timhortonsbitchass

I left a really long, thought out comment agreeing with you and giving my own experience of how it’s getting impossible to keep up. Then I remembered what sub were on and remembered that I was basically just inviting people to nitpick every decision I’ve ever made, gaslight me about my costs and life circumstances, and tell me I’m a big dumb moron who spends too much on rent when I should just move to ass-nowhere Saskatchewan and somehow keep my high salary, and a lavish spendthrift for having a 2014 used Toyota instead of a 2004.

You’re not crazy. Things are getting more expensive and a middle class lifestyle more unattainable. Read the newspaper, countless articles will explain the evidence. Many people are still thriving despite this, and this sub will act like those thriving people are 100% of non-idiots. But please trust that you’re not alone, and it very likely is not “all your fault”.

What is DumbWealth.com all about?

User: mhermetz

I posted a topic maybe a month ago wondering how people are not in massive debt just to live. It turned into a mix bag of “Your family is not making enough (140k combined)” to “How do you have a carpayment that’s over $300?!?! Are you insane”. No I’m not. It’s called a family of 4 with a dog. Ooh forgot the other thing. A few actually wanted me to put down my dog for savings.

All the while they all forgot I said I was doing fine. Needed to be careful because wife is on mat leave but we’re fine. The missed completely the point that we are making 140k a year and needed to be careful. How the fuck are people single or making less than that doing it??

I’m strongly starting to believe Canada is in for a major crash in the near future. This is not sustainable.

User: OldnBorin

It’s friggin nuts. My husband and I make a lot of money (currently) and I still can’t believe how much basic things like groceries cost. How can the average Canadian family afford to follow Canada’s food guide?? A half pint of blueberries costs $6! My 4 yr old can pound that back in about 5 minutes.

Seriously, if anyone has any tips of feeding a family healthy foods for cheap, I’m all ears.

User: dexzappa

This sounds strangely familiar. Family of 3 with 2 cats. Income is a little higher, but wife is also on mat leave. If we’re both working full time, it’s probably 185K or so, but with daycare costs. Car payment is thankfully only around for another 14 months at $425 per month. It’s a nice, but not fancy sedan. Bought a house 4 and half years ago, value’s up 200K or so. No other debt. GTA – sort of I guess.

We’re not struggling, but it’s not easy, and have areas we can cut down on, dining out went down, but baby food / diapers etc. costs went up, still can save a little every month for RRSP’s and TFSA’s, but everything I read, I keep seeing us in the 15-20% highest income, 15-20% highest net worth families, and I’m just wondering as to how half the population with much lower incomes, similar / slightly lower housing costs and many of the same costs is getting by. Many friends – they’re living a little more frugal but similar lifestyles, but their income is so much lower – I don’t know how they make it work.

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User: CrankyCanuck92

I’m 27 single, work at auto plant just outside of the GTA, live in the Niagara region. Hour long commute both ways, more if there’s traffic. Make $27/hr now will make 34ish in 5 more years. Make $55k+ depending on how much overtime I work. Shift work 2 weeks alternating 6am-4:30, 5:30pm-4am. I live a one bedroom basement apartment $1100 a month. Drive an 08 Ford Focus I paid cash for. Other necessary expenses are auto insurance, internet, cell phone, gas and groceries. I don’t really buy things I don’t need, have no social life so I don’t go out. Don’t buy expensive brand name clothes or anything like that. Work come home, shower eat , chill for an hour or two then go to sleep and repeat.

I have a good job but I don’t know how people making $15 an hour are affording to live and raise kids etc.

User: MagnaCumLoudly

I thought I was the only one but every time I say something in Canadian boards I get these super anal people dissecting every word.

I left Canada a while ago and basically kept on saying that I couldn’t make ends meet there and I’m an engineer. Well you can imagine the reaction here.

I did everything right. I bought a used car, I bought a fixer upper house, I did the renovations. I did all the maintenance on my own car. I would almost never go out to eat or drink. No cable or phone line. Just home internet, Netflix, and a cell phone. When I looked at my finances I could see I would never reach retirement. At least I had no debt. But the bottom line is the income is subsistence salary and the taxes are heavy. The house would take forever to pay off and retirement was gonna be frugal living for the rest of my days.

I know it’s not an option for everyone but I don’t see much opportunity in Canada if you can find a job elsewhere jump ship. Canadians have a good rep in the world and the passport will give you access to most countries. Doesn’t even have to be the US. Europe or Asia has great opportunities.

User: gypsyblue

I left Canada for Germany more than four years ago, and my single regret is not jumping ship sooner, because I would have saved myself YEARS of financial struggle. I will always be happy to have grown up in Canada, but as a young adult starting out on your own, it’s brutal. I’m sure it’s great if you have a family that can put you through university (or let you live at home through university) and help you with a downpayment, but if you don’t have that, this country just throws you under the bus.

My standard of living in Berlin is so much higher than my standard of living in Vancouver that it’s crazy. As a grad student, I was living comfortably on a (German) government scholarship and part-time research job. In Canada, I had scholarships and a part-time job and still took on close to $30k of student debt. (Which sounds literally unbelievable to my German friends, who have never paid tuition, and benefited from quite generous government support to attend university if their parents were unable to cover the full cost.)

Now as a graduate in Germany I make good money and pay about 1/6 of my net income for rent. I get 30 days of paid vacation per year, plus the statutory holidays, and travel all the time because it’s so cheap. Groceries are cheap, going out is cheap, there’s no need to own a car, and my employer even pays for my transit pass. Taxes, health insurance, and social contributions are much higher but the trade-off is so worth it.

If I could go back in time, I’d tell my 18yo self to get my ass out of BC. I grew up there and love it, but the financial pain of living there as a young person was just not worth it.

User: dowdymeatballs

I’m somewhere in this description; solidly in the middle class and on the verge of “thriving”. But I still budget and I still have to cut costs.

The thing is, I’m actually mid to senior level employee at a Toronto based consultancy and my spouse is an executive level employee for christ sake. We should be rich as fuck, but we’re not. We’re solidly middle class.

Therefore now I think, what the fuck are all the other middle class workers doing who aren’t making 6 figures? Again on paper they should be fine, but there’s no way they can be, because I’m literally clipping coupons and price matching on Flipp App.

We both drive 10 year old cars. We mostly eat at home. We barely drink alcohol. We shop around our insurance every year. We shop around our mortgage. We use free banking. We do most things people think of as frugal. But the one place we spend is on our house. We have a 2 year old and want something nice for our family.

This is not a woe is me post, we’ll be fine. But my post is more of a what the fuck does this mean for everyone else who should be ok, but are falling further and further behind middle class. It’s very unfair, and quite scary as to how this will all end.

The world is fucking nuts and it’s honestly way harder for younger generations who are trying to get a start in life.

User: timhortonsbitchass

I’m a young millennial and I actually earn a pretty good salary for my age (25, $70k), and my husband is almost finished his software engineering degree, which should garner some good job offers. But we still live in a crummy basement studio (300sqft) and drive a used Yaris. Neither of us drink at all (I’m allergic, so it’s less virtuous than it sounds lmao), I’m an avid home cook, and we have only ever been on one vacation, a domestic road trip. If my husband gets a junior developer job he can expect to maybe pull in $60k, $70k at best, and we’ll be able to upgrade to a one bedroom. Which will be great. But we still can’t buy a house. And people on this sub act like every software development grad gets a $100k salary the day they write their last exam.

From what I’ve seen, the way most millennials earning less than us make ends meet is by living with their parents. Every single one of my friends lives with their parents — and that sample includes a geologic engineer, an electrical engineer, and a sous chef at a fancy restaurant. All of my young coworkers (finance) also live with their parents.

User: AL_12345

You’ve got to love how they say that Millenials can “catch up” by getting inheritances from their parents and saving… 🤔🙄

I know my parents are planning to reverse mortgage and use it all up before they die. I have friends whose parents plan to do the same. Thanks boomers! (My parents received a large inheritance, so they were happy to receive it, but they’re selfish and don’t plan to pass any on) 🤷

One of my biggest goals is to plan better for my own kids. RESP’s and try to set them up so they’re able to get a good start. I expect that they’ll be forced to continue to live at home until late 20s or 30s and I want them to feel as comfortable living at home as young adults and build some autonomy even while living at home.

My parents made my life hell while I lived at home until my mid-twenties. They treated me like a child and didn’t give me any space. I think we’ll be moving towards multigenerational households if housing prices continue to rise.

User: crfulton2019

We’re in our late 30s. Between wasting our 20s on college/university and wracking up student debts, only to get minimum wage jobs for years. We finally got to a decent wage/career….but we still make less than $100k between us. Add in childcare for 2 and we’re barely breathing. It’s just ridiculous, and I can’t even imagine how anyone with children can survive on the minimum wage. With rising prices on everything from food, to housing to childcare. It’s only getting worse. Keep hearing about how “amazing” the economy is doing…I don’t see the struggle getting any better! Thank you for your post and letting me vent!!

User: MissJayMo

I am half of a dual income no kids family in a generally LCOL area. We are both professional engineers, and are 5-6yr out of school. We are saving for a house and every year prices go up, and up and up. It sometimes confuses me how we (generally bringing in over $150k) are getting priced out of the market. Sometimes I think, if we are getting priced out, how the hell is ANYONE buying a house these days.

User: PUnitThugLife

My wife and I are around the same income level and upgraded from a condo to a starter house 3 years ago. The condo mortgage is too far underwater to sell it ( bought in 2007 Edmonton) so we are reluctant landlords. We are paying out of pocket $80/ month as long as we have a renter, which is workable, but not really what we expected when we bought a condo. Months we don’t have a renter its zero extracurricular activities and KD and /or hot dogs several times a week.

We don’t live an overly extravagant lifestyle but man the costs of homeownership really wear on you after a while. Hot water tank springs a leak, that’s $750 if I install it myself. Washer solenoid valve goes, thats $200. Front door lock stops working that’s $100. I don’t have a pension but my wife does so I try to save 25% of my take home but unexpected shit keeps eating into that.

I guess what I’m saying is that shit can feel worse after you buy a house. Who knows what shape Alberta will be in 10ish years when we would like to sell this place.

All our friends and family think we are rich because we have good jobs and live a modest lifestyle. It really makes me wonder what all these other people are saving for retirement.

User: splendidgoon

I wouldn’t be where I am now without my grandad. He let me live with him til I was 25 (about 6 years ago). I tried to pay him rent but he always found a way to give it back to me lol. He was such a great man.

I got married and was able to buy a house immediately because of him. Sadly my house has probably dropped 50k or so in value… But still paying less than rent. If that was a good choice or not is the subject of another discussion….

In Alberta, single income able to have 2 cars and my wife can stay home with our two kids. Overall I feel pretty good about my situation right now. Not saving as much as I’d like, but still enough that I’m not worried about the future.

User: tundra_punk

Sending lots of empathy your way. In my case I’m part of that elder millennial cohort that graduated into the 2008 recession. “There was lots of work, just no jobs”, I hustled my butt off, leaned on my network, lived well (aka enjoyed my 20s!) and never really thought about money, but also had zero job security or benefits.

I eventually went back to school only initially earn $12/hr in Toronto after a 6-mo job search. We had a shoebox 1br apartment walking distance to the TTC that was a rare unicorn: above ground for less than $1000/mo. Our HR manager actually recommended moving back in with parents when we discussed how impossible the wage was. I was so insulted and told her as much. Now, I’m pretty ace at stretching a dollar (DIY Punk ethic, bike mechanic, and at times dumpster diver), but I seriously considered visiting the food bank on several occasions during that time as I was earning just enough to have to start paying back my student loans.

The next year I more than doubled my income but still felt like wages weren’t keeping up with cost of living inflation. We moved to Ottawa but the higher cost of living meant we were STILL in a shitty 1-br but this time with abysmal public transit access and atrocious grocery costs.

Two years later I doubled my salary again, moved to somewhere that still has a high COL but more family supports and a better lifestyle. I pay about the same for my 3-br house than I did for that moldy Ottawa Mechanicsville unit. finally started feeling like an ‘adult’ and get ahead. It’s hard to resist lifestyle inflation when you’ve gone so long without many luxuries – your wardrobe needs an overhaul, your computer is 10 years old, you’re still using a flip phone… and you’re trying to make up for lost time and start saving for retirement and paying off student loans. It’s extremely hard to explain to boomer parents why you still feel hand-to-mouth on such a good wage. Retirement still feels way out of reach.

As for kids, I’m One And Done. We budget based on my income alone so I know I could support the family if shit goes sideways. But a second kid would make everything way too stressful.

Grateful for subs and other sites that have helped demystify budgeting and investing. But eff it’s a beast out there!

User: lostinpickering

It truly is a sad reality. My husband (31) and I (29) only have a house thanks to my parents who lent us the down payment (they offered, we were going to rent forever). We have to pay it back once we are able to pull it out from the equity of our home, which will be in about 10 years or so. If I die unexpectedly, I’ll make sure my parents get that money back from life insurance.

With our current income (about $110K), we would only be able to BARELY afford 1 child, but we would like to try before it’s too late to have kids. Our future kids education would be funded by the government child tax benefit that we would put aside. Our retirement fund is currently my husbands employer match where he can contribute upto 10% of his income, we currently do 8%.

Mortgage and property tax is about 41% of our household income after tax. We drive to work together, pick up food from our parents on the weekends. Downgraded to 1 car and live about 1 hour 20 minutes from work. We buy no-name brand food most of the time and frozen veggies for cooking. We are skipping christmas this year because there were too many weddings this year that we cannot afford it.

I know that this isn’t really comparable to what you are going through but, you read a lot on here about high income earners, but the majority of us are in a position where we can only afford a home with help.

You are doing an incredible job with what you have and always be proud of that.

2 thoughts on “Tales of the Working Poor

  1. Wow…it sounds like some tough times north of the 49th parallel.

    FWIW, there are many places here in the States with the same problem: dogshit wages and a cost-of-living (primarily housing) that is through the roof. I have currently re-located to another state where the COL is much less than where I lived, with at least equal wages. Before that, I resided in a small office in a professional building for two years. Showered in the downstairs shower. Very quiet after 6 p.m. and on weekends. Space was ridiculously small (4m x 5m) but able to save up some cash.

    Good luck with the struggle. As much as Canada has going for it, I think the tax rates at some point will eventually need to be cut or, as some folks have pointed out, people will have to make the choice of staying in a place they really like for subsistence wages and no hope of retiring, or trying their hand elsewhere.

    1. I think 90% of Canada’s problem is derived from real estate prices and rents that are way out of reach for most. It really is not sustainable, as Americans who lived through the US real estate crash a decade ago would probably agree. It took a while, but America came out the other end of the crash in much better shape. I fear in the 2020s Canada will experience the same thing as America in the 2010s.

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