Welcome to the first world.
It didn’t take long for us. It usually doesn’t, not when prices are what you’d expect from a first-world country. After almost 3 years traveling around much cheaper countries (two years in Thailand and nine months across South America), Canada comes as a bit of a shock to the wallet.
Groceries, not restaurants.
If this sounds like a repeat from post about saving money in Switzerland… well…
Even in the cheaper hotels we’ve stayed in, a kettle or coffee maker is in the room. A microwave has been pretty common, too (though I’d be thrilled, internet, if you could share a way of showing hotel rooms with kitchenettes in search results first). While a full repertoire of cheap meals isn’t available with just these two appliances, hot water means you have plenty of noodle-based options, and microwaves open up a lot more options.
On a related note, restaurant leftovers that make their way into doggy bags make great midnight snacks – the sort that keep you from gorging on the processed snacks, at least in theory.
Keep Kijiji, Guy Frenchy’s, and Value Village in mind.
Kijiji.ca is Canada’s version of craigslist, and is great for cars, furniture, electronics, etc. Standard rules apply, naturally – meet in person, don’t wire money, check quality for yourself, etc.
Guy Frenchy’s (just Frenchy’s to some locals) is a chain of second-hand clothing stores in Atlantic Canada (12 locations in Nova Scotia and 5 in New Brunswick). Whether you forgot your winter jacket or aim to stock up on stuff, they have some great prices on plenty of clothing and a mish-mash of household stuff. Find the location near you at http://www.guysfrenchys.com/store-locations/location-map.
Value Village is probably my favorite of the three. Like the Goodwill and Salvation Army stores scattered across the US, they’re thrift shops that sell what people donate (and if you’re familiar with Savers, they’re the same company). Instead of simply dumping worthy items onto a waist-high table, however, there’s a whole lot of organization and thoughtful bundling going on. I noticed this most commonly in the toys and electronics, where you’ll buy a bag with several related items instead of a single item. See all locations at https://stores.savers.com/search?q=&op=Find.
Out of season, some places don’t bother charging admission.
We discovered this quite by accident. In some cases, this is for obvious reasons – ski slopes don’t have much to offer when it’s time to hit the beach. In other cases, not being officially open – but visiting while they’re cleaning or restructuring or whatever – allows you a peek at whatever they’ll be charging money for soon. While ‘out of season’ will vary, expect staff to be around in the weeks before or after the official season, assuming the weather is cooperating.
Know the exchange rate with the US dollar.
As we visited in May 2016, the Canadian dollar was rather weak relative to the US dollar – 1 US dollar bought around 1.3 Canadian dollars. You can’t help the exchange rate, but you can use that knowledge to your advantage in a few cases.
With the US so close, many of Canada’s attractions and restaurants accept US dollars, often with a displayed currency rate. (At least one place had a little wheel the staff would manually spin to the rate they wanted to use.) The rate they display may be better than the actual rate, which I’ve seen at least twice in the past couple of weeks alone. (It’s definitely the exception rather than the rule, of course.) You’re likely to get change in Canadian currency, which is also fine because you’ll be getting more back than you expect. Do note any places offering exchange ‘at par’ or a ‘one-to-one’ are going to make out like a bandit.
Two other money-related notes: watch out for the ATM fees. RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) and Scotia Bank are two of the worst, charging $3-4 per transaction involving our non-Canadian cards. Surprisingly, the privately-owned ATM’s (the sort you see inside gas stations) typically have the lowest added charges of $1.50 per transaction. If you happen to have an account with a US branch with TD Bank or TD Banknorth, you won’t pay any fees to use a TD Canada Trust ATM.
Also: those loonies and toonies can really add up. You can’t exchange them at the airport, so spend ’em while you’ve got ’em.
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