The Downside of Living in a Big City / by Jennifer Chan


I live in a big city. Toronto proper has a population of 2.8 million. The population of the metropolitan area of Toronto is 5.9 million. That’s a lot of people, folks. Toronto is also one of the most diverse cities in the world. Being able to hop on the subway and overhear four separate conversations all in different languages makes me feel so lucky to call this place home. I love Toronto.

However, since I've started taking control of my finances, I quickly realized that there are things associated with living in such a big city that, simply put, can sorta suck. Here are some things that have really drained my wallet.

Two Words: Choice & Convenience

The two words that will be the death of your budget. There are so many choices in Toronto, especially if you live and work downtown. If you’re someone who enjoys Instagram-worthy coffee shops and restaurants, don’t worry, there’s no shortage of those in Toronto. It’s ridiculous how easy artisanal coffee shops and trendy restaurants can steer you off track from your budget.

Another problem with living in a major city is how convenient things are. You’d think this would be a luxury, but apps like UberEats have taken a lot of money from my wallet.  Also, if you work downtown, it’s so easy to rationalize buying lunch instead of bringing it from home. I know some people who buy their lunch every single day. Yes, they have high-salaries, but c’mon. Making a basic stir fry takes literally 15 minutes. If you live with a significant other too, it shouldn't be too hard to alternate lunch-prep duty. Of course things come up and you won't always be able to prepare your lunch every single day, but once you slip into the habit of always buying lunch, it quickly adds up. The cost of having too many options, as well as having a ton of food options near your work, becomes a true exercise of will-power. Also, think of the returns if you invested all that money instead!

The Allure of Driving

One great thing about Toronto is that we have buses, subways and streetcars. The transit system is not always reliable, but I obviously rather have it exist than not. There are times, however, when riding transit, such as during rush hour or when I have a long trek that involves 3 different modes of transit, where the experience can be pretty unpleasant. When I had a car, I would justify driving it in the city, even though it was substantially more expensive. If I had to meet up with a friend who lived in the other side of the city, I almost always chose to drive because I'd rather make it there in 20 minutes instead of 45 minutes. If I was going to the movie theatre, which was completely accessible by public transit,  I would sometimes drive because it was raining or it was too cold out. Let's be honest, most of these just masked the fact that I was completely lazy and chose the comfort of my own car.

This convenience came at a cost. Parking is insanely expensive in the downtown core. I lived in Windsor, ON for three years, and I remember being completely dumbfounded when I first discovered that downtown parking was free after 6PM. Like, all the time. I also remember that the cost of parking in a downtown parking garage for 5 hours was like $3. In Toronto, it’s a bargain if a downtown parking garage charges you less than $20 to park during business hours.

Also, I always ended up paying more for gas in Toronto. This is mainly because depending when/where you’re on the road, traffic congestion can get pretty bad. I may not have gone far with respect to mileage, but I was definitely paying a lot for slowly rolling my car down a street at a mile a minute. Not great for the environment or the wallet.

Now that I no longer own a car, I’m saving a lot more money by just being forced to use transit and the occasional uber ride. But just know, if you own a car in a major city and can be as lazy as I am, it won’t be cheap.

Unlimited Entertainment

Another great thing about Toronto is that there is always something to do. It’s no New York City, but there’s usually some event going on in the city that will interest you. Even if you end up just grabbing drinks with your friends, there are always plenty of bars and pubs to choose from.

Right now, the city is excited because the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has just started and all the big celebrities are in town. I personally love movies, so I usually try to make it out to see a film or two. However, tickets for TIFF films are not always cheap. I just purchased tickets for two films and it’s already cost me $82.00. I also bought my girlfriend a ticket for one of the films, so more accurately I've forked over $112.00. I understand the costs associated with attending some of these screenings but... ouch.

But What About..?

You may be thinking, “But Jen, doesn’t living in a big city mean more opportunities for higher salaries?” And yes, to a certain extent. It really depends on the industry. But not everybody moving to Toronto is looking for/able to work in certain high-earning fields. While I certainly believe that there may be more job opportunities in a big city, we can’t forget that there’s already people living here that are hustling to make it too. I see friends who've lived in Toronto for years that are still struggling to advance from precarious employment to a sustainable job with benefits.  And let me tell you, it’s not for lack of trying or education.  Moving to a big city may mean a chance at a better income, but it's not guaranteed.

While I love Toronto, it sometimes takes some serious self-discipline to keep myself within my budget. I learned very quickly that it’s impossible to say yes to everything.

Do you live in a big city and find it hard to save? Reach out and tell me your thoughts.