How much do you need to survive in Toronto?

Are you that brave soul who has decided to pack up your bags and make Toronto your new home or still stuck in the deciding doldrums? The first thought for anyone looking to immigrate to Toronto is "How much do I need to survive?". Well this is your survival guide in Toronto with a first person account. Though it can be argued that one man's survival might be another one's thrival. There are various articles floating on the net covering this topic but I still feel they miss a few aspects. Being a recently landed immigrant to Toronto, I spent hours trying to perfect the most frugal ways of conserving my precious dollars. According to Mercer, Toronto is the world's 115th most expensive city. But ranks are meaningless without the hard $$ numbers. Lets cut to the chase then.

The first assumption being that a person living in Toronto needs to support their housing, transportation, groceries, communication, shopping and some mild entertainment needs. The second assumption being that we are talking about a single person. I shall lay out the fundamentals for you knowing you are intelligent enough to extrapolate the numbers for additional family members, if any. The analysis is bifurcated into three elements, Survive- where you do whatever it takes to have the lowest possible costs of supporting yourself, Sacrifice- which assumes you do have a life but not without regrets and Thrive- where you feel like you are in a sustainable space. Not happy but just sustainable. Here is my take on each of the living cost elements:


Finding a place to stay is certainly the most challenging aspect of living in Toronto. Something new immigrants, who land with no credit history and a lack of a source of income, realize very quickly. Read more about how to find a place to stay in Toronto & GTA. If your budget is low, you really need to be flexible here. Expect to shell at least $1900 to get a 1 bedroom apartment by yourself. And this would perhaps be the best deal you can get having spent hours and hours burning your soles on the streets of Toronto finding a place in this budget. To be fair I know rental apartments in midtown that rent 2 bedroom for as low as $1800 a month so $1900 for 1 bedroom is certainly doable. Basement apartments might look be something that might have to consider if you really want a complete place for yourself within the lowest possible budget.

However, if you are willing to compromise enough to allow another soul to co-habitate with you within the same apartment, you could easily get off paying $1000, including utilities.

Then there is a vulnerable community called students- who are demi-Gods in their ability to compromise in order to save their precious dollars and are willing to share a single room with another roommate. Something that can down your living costs to $600.

Here is the gist for you.

Survive: $600

Sacrifice: $1000

Thrive: $1900


Your spend on transportation is really a function of your travelling and lifestyle needs and also the amount of bank balance in your account. If you live in the right neighborhood with all stores at a walking or jogging distance like Yonge & Eglington, you can literally save a fortune by spending $0 on your travel needs. That assumes you don't have a life and you don't work.  In case you are not familiar with transportation modes in Greater Toronto Area please read this first. A single uni-directional trip by TTC costs $3.25. Assuming you don't have to take public transportation to work, you would venture out for your shopping needs or for other reasons like finding employment. You could easily survive by making 20 such trips every month with a total spending of $65 dollars every month. But for most of us who like to travel a lot more a monthly pass of Toronto Transit Commission costing $151.15 would suffice. That gets you unlimited trips and especially helpful in saving you extra dollars coz now you can go 25 kms to that store that has a special deal on that thing you really want. Given that I have a small phobia of messy decimals and you might take a few occasional trips to GTA areas a few times a month we can take the tally to $180. That is what we call Survival.

When you sacrifice, you obviously don't own a car but are happy with using Uber, a couple of times every month. 5 Uber trips per month with an average trip cost of $20 inflates your expenses by further $100 to an overall of $280 a month. This would pretty much fulfill most of your basic travel needs and you won't feel like you are sacrificing a lot.

Having spent a few months in Toronto, you have figured your way to owning a G2/G driving license and you decide to buy a car.  Your passion of owning your own rubber will send your financials for a deep dive. Owning a car is a luxury in Toronto and you will soon see how. Car insurance industry is an oligopoly with the single minded objective to sustain billion dollar profits that are proudly talked about by the company CEO's in their annual shareholder meets. Car insurance alone will set you back by at least $250 a month even if you are a real deal hunter and are able to exploit all resources at your disposal to reduce your premium. For others who cannot and live in a neighborhood like Brampton, that's $500 a month hole in your pocket for insurance alone. Apart from insurance, you will easily incur a monthly capital cost of $300 and an additional spend of $150 a month on your fuel needs. Your overall monthly costs of parking would be $200 in you really manage that well. Your overall budget comes around to $250 (insurance)+ $300 (capex) + $150 (fuel) + $200 (parking) = $900 a month if you really execute it well. Add another $100 towards your travel costs when you are not able to use your car and we finally arrive at a nice rounded figure of $1000 as your costs for Thriving. Frankly, owning a car starts making more sense once you have a family.

Survive: $180

Sacrifice: $280

Thrive: $1000


I am not here to tell you what you should eat but the bills that you pay for groceries are gonna reflect that. If you are a vegetarian who loves to eat those green leafy vegetables, you are going to be worse off financially than being a non-vegetarian. Canada is a cold country and most vegetables are imported from other countries as it is difficult to grow them in the inclement weather here. Of course you are not eating out to save some bills and despite that your monthly bills would be close to $350. That includes your daily milk, condiments, all sorts of cereals, sauces, snacks and occasional deserts. You do all it takes to Survive. Read this article to discover the best deals on your groceries.

In case culinary skills are not your forte and you are a lazy bum, you would be subscribing to a tiffin service as eating out daily would certainly be not an economically feasible option. Expect to spend at least $300 a month on that. And budget an additional $150 for things like milk, cereals, snacks etc. $450 to Sacrifice.

In case your taste buds crave for those delicacies in restaurants and you don't mind sipping a couple of drinks, expect to pay at least $30 for every meal. Doing that eight times a month adds $240 to your bill which when coupled with cooking on your own ($300) is gonna be $590 to Thrive.

Survive: $350

Sacrifice: $450

Thrive: $590


Are you a newcomer whose entertainment needs can simply be fulfilled through a humble internet connection? You spend your time stalking posts of your favorite friends, following visually appealing instagram accounts, watching popular videos on youtube and so on. And then there are things that matter like spamming people on LinkedIn for coffee chats, spending hours on the Helping Newcomers to Canada facebook group that we run and discovering more a more expert local insights for free by liking my page Experli.  You would certainly need a phone plan with at least 4 GB of data every month and an unlimited calling plan. The telecom giants here are really innovative in terms of ripping you off with subtle billing mechanisms. I initially tried to outsmart them by not subscribing to unlimited plans saving a few dollars but quickly realized they were getting a better side of the deal. I learnt that the hard way where I was charged for my incoming calls after a certain limit with calls to even surrounding areas in Ontario being billed as roaming. They will bill you every MB of extra data that you consume as if you are the next Warren Buffet. I am intent to pass on the learning's to you as I simply hate these telecom behemoths. You can read about how to shop for the best telecom plans here. Even a competitive plan will set you back by $50 a month. Your frugal data on cellphone means you cannot survive without an unlimited broadband connection. Do shop around a lot and eventually you might be lucky enough to subscribe to $40 a month plan with some compromises on speed. And that brings our total to $90 a month to Survive.

If you decide to Sacrifice a little less and get yourself more data on cellphone and a higher speed internet connection at home, your monthly spend would be around $120 ($70 + $50).

Buy a cellphone plan which gives you an iPhone or a Samsung to own by signing a two year contract, you might end up spending around $120 + $50 = $170 a month to Thrive.

Survive: $90

Sacrifice: $120

Thrive: $170


Oh Yes! you thought it right. It all revolves around your lifestyle. The kind of clothes you wear, how brand conscious are you, whether you are you moving into the city sans even basic furniture etc. Assuming you just want to survive by buying the most frugal Parka jacket with a determination to cover yourself with additional multiple layers during winter to compensate for lower duck down feathers in your jacket, boots that do not leave you with a frostbite but don't keep you warm as well and clothes that look nothing out of the ordinary- you are looking at a monthly average spend of $150. You should know you are someone who is willing to travel 25 kms just to steal that deal before stock runs out. I suffer from an OCD for deal hunting and I shall be happy to impart my skills to any interested prodigies in a subsequent article.

By Sacrificing a little more of your money, you can afford to be spotted in more sought after brands by toiling very hard and suppressing your urge to splurge till the time you hit a Black Friday or a Boxing Day sale. For sure you want those faded leather brown color boots that are the latest fad but are willing to buy a leather replica one. Averaging over 12 months, your monthly Sacrifice spend should be somewhere near $200.

You buy a jacket with at least 60% Down, only want genuine leather boots that can keep you both dry and warm- be ready to spend $300 a month as your costs for thriving. These figures would cover a bit of utilities and some very very dirtcheap furniture items as well so you don't need to fret yourself. Its just that writing painstakingly about every small detail makes it a frigging long article to read.

Survive: $150

Sacrifice: $200

Thrive: $300


If you are a recently landed immigrant who is still looking for employment, you must be thinking that I am crazy or joking. You certainly need to vent out your frustrations by pandering to your entertainment needs. You are hardly in a mood to party but you simply drag yourself to go out and meet new people. In case you don't, your entertainment itenary will solely comprise of watching IPTV, GoT on Netflix and going out for an occasional movie once a month. Expect to shell $100 and you will still live to die another day.

A Niagara falls trip at least once a quarter with that occasional roll of dice at a casino, satisfying your curiosity by visiting top 10 places in Toronto (in a year) and attending some social parties- you end up spending $200 a month on average.

Entertainment! Entertainment! Entertainment! You are a social bee and think that the best place to make your elevator pitch is a pub filled with drunk hiring managers or a social mixing event where you have to shell out from your pocket to be seen around hanging with cool drinks. You are a compulsive social networker who is heavily sought after for invitational home dinners and you got to purchase those totally avoidable (according to you and not the hosts) but customary welcome gifts. You are Thriving my friend by paying $300 a month at a minimum.

Survive: $100

Sacrifice: $200

Thrive: $300


I could have simply called this 'Contingencies'. But I am so sure to have missed so many of the items that I need to take cover under the 'Miscellaneous' title. To avoid being labelled as someone lacking an eye for details. Coming to the point, even after assuming that you are lucky enough to be already covered under OHIP, you still need to shell out money for that occasional buying of prescribed drugs, medical accessories, dental visits and everything else that you think I might have missed. Lets put that at $100 a month on an average to Survive. You really don't need to spend any on fitness if you are happy to run in public places.

Now I am assuming for the sake of assuming that you shell out $200 to Sacrifice and $300 to Thrive.

Survive: $100

Sacrifice: $200

Thrive: $300


I am no technical whizkid and I have somehow cobbled together the below table in order to portray a succinct picture for you guys. You may support my efforts to maximize the reach of the article by sharing it at few of the digital spaces that you own. 

Hourly Wage rate101630
Total Monthly Spend1,5702,4504,560
Total Annual Spend18,84029,40054,720
Required Income before Tax19,83230,94758,096

The moment of truth is finally here. What it takes to survive in Toronto. If you are coming from a developing country to fulfill your dreams of building a future in the developed world and have taken the recourse of further education, Survive spends will appeal to you. For the lucky immigrants who have got the power of Permanent Resident Visa and can simply pack their bags and make a living, the guiding philosophy has to be a mix of Sacrifice and Survive depending upon personal circumstances. For the chosen few who already have a job in Toronto and are contemplating the kind of income they need to start stitching their lives in Toronto, Thriving numbers might have more appeal. Please bear in mind that these costs are to just to sustain a single person and in case you have additional family members moving along with you, please extrapolate. I hope to share more insights on the costs of supporting a child shortly.

How much should you earn?

What is that singular question during a hiring process that most profoundly impacts your life but one that recruiters seem to be nonchalant about? Your salary expectations. Assuming most organizations want their Employees to really Thrive and not just Survive, I hope I am setting a baseline target for you guys. Considering you work for 37.5 hours (I again hate these decimals) per week and live on earth (we are all following Musk with bated breadths) to have only 4 weeks per month, you should expect an hourly wage of $9 to Survive, $16 to Sacrifice and $30 to Thrive. A word of caution here: Even if you make more don't be exuberant as we still haven't covered large potential costs of buying a home, daycare costs of your child, costs of owning a pet, mandatory holiday vacations to exotic destinations and so many more. Of course I shall continue to write as I reach these milestones myself.

The bottom-line being that if push comes to a shove, you can still eke out a living even if you earn less than the minimum wage or work on a part time basis. Agreed you have to make big sacrifices on your quality of life but keep your spirits high and let determination be your guiding philosophy in life.

Lets have your views!!

Do you also believe that your perceptions are a factual reality for you? What I have shared are solely my perceptions and our perceptions can certainly differ. Given the subjective nature of the discussion it is difficult to zero in on objective $$ spends. I have used my past experiences to paint a quick picture for you. I had rather leave the Man vs. Woman expenses debate to your better or worse half's to thrash out but do let me know whatever the outcome. For those, who vehemently disagree with what I have said AND are also willing to stake their life to support their perceptions, feel free to pound a few keys on the keyboard under the Comments section to let me know your views. And I shall get back to you as soon as possible !!

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