Money Hacks for Expensive Cities like Toronto, New York & San Francisco


For a good chunk of my life, I have lived in the heart of Canada – the beautiful and self-obsessed city of Toronto. Here, we like to think that we are the centre of the universe, and that is because we are. We have lakefront views, parks with cherry blossoms, art galleries and important-looking high-rise condos. Even though it is objectively beautiful here, all locals will admit – it is just a crazy expensive city.

Is it possible to be on the path of Financial Independence & Early Retirement (FIRE) in a high cost-of-living place like Toronto?

Lets get rid of the misconception that you cannot be on the path to FIRE in a high cost-of-living (COL) city. Yes, it is not as easy, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. It just means, you have to be more creative with the ways you spend your dollar.  Many a time, I fantasize about moving to a high-income low-COL city like Dallas. However, then I remind myself I’d probably be slightly miserable there as I love big city perks (think parades, festivals, and musicians actually doing shows in your city).  Anyway, here as some of the ways you can incorporate frugality and increase your savings rate in a city like Toronto.


Typically, high-COL cities are blessed with a good public transportation system. Many people use this system daily as it is the most cost-effective and time-effective way to get from Point A to Point B.  However, there is one mode of transportation that is often dismissed. Biking! You can buy a bicycle from Walmart for about $150 and then ride and part it wherever essentially for free! In Toronto a single ride fare is now $3.10. That means, you can “breakeven” on your bike cost by riding it approximately 48 times. That’s only 10 weeks worth of a daily commute.

What’s even cheaper than biking? Walking and running! Many of us live too far from our places of work to walk it everyday. However, don’t discount this thought just yet. Try to see if you can incorporate a walk or run into your daily commute in order to not only save a couple bucks, but also promote a healthier lifestyle.

If you pay approximately $6.20 ($3.10*2 one-ways) for transportation per day to and from your workplace, only 16 days of replacing your transportation with a walk/run will save you $100.

Thus, if you’re planning to take your car or public transportation to a place that is walkable or runnable within 20-40 minutes, consider this as an option as well.

House Hacking

Last year, the average selling price for a single detached home in Toronto was $1.35 million¹. So yes, housing in Toronto is extremely expensive. For obvious reasons, a lot of people opt for renting rather than buying. However, rent can also get quite expensive – a one bedroom averages at $2,260/month².

To live these costly lives, one would have to be making a lot of money. However, the reality is people aren’t always making a lot of money in Toronto. They are just spending a large percentage of their income on housing due to a lack of options.

How I cut down on my living expenses is by living with family. This dramatically reduces my living costs, and I’m even spoiled with home-cooked meals. I realize that this is a privilege. Not everyone has family in a high COL that is able to provide housing for them. However, the concept of community can still be extrapolated and put into effect. Before I lived with family, I lived in a 2 bed 2 bath which I shared with a roommate. A lot of people dismiss this idea because they think that living with a roommate is beneath them. But why? Some think it shows that you can’t afford to have your own place. Instead, I think it shows that you know how to be smart with your money and that you don’t succumb to societal pressures.

This idea of community can even be translated into a house you buy. One way you can house-hack is to buy a house and then rent out parts of it to different people (maybe your friends!) and have the rental income cover your mortgage.

Food & Drink

When you live in a city where you can get the world’s cuisine at your fingertips, its so easy to rack up the bills eating out, or sometimes even just grocery shopping. I must admit, food and drink is the category where I spend the most and must actively pursue discipline. So here are some ways my foodie-self has found to curb spending while not foregoing taste.

  1. Happy Hours for drinks – Drink prices can quickly add up. One can easily spend $200+ on one night out. Next time you go out, urge your friends to go to a more economical establishment. Big cities are filled with cozy corners that give a good deal on drinks. Often, happy hours aren’t just for the 4PM-6PM crowd, and can continue for hours into the night. A quick google search will tell you where the best places for you to grab a good drink at a good price are.
  2. Lunch and house specials – just like happy hours, many high COL cities have plenty restaurants that serve good economical food. Keep an eye out and be intentional with where you spend your lunch or date money.
  3. Value grocery shopping – Grocery shopping can add up if you buy the majority of your supplies from an upscale grocery store. Most value grocery stores carry the same brand names as their upscale counterparts, and the produce is only sometimes of lesser quality at the value stores. So, when possible, make a conscious decision to do the majority of your grocery shopping at a value-tier grocery store.
  4. Coupons – In the U.S., couponing is a real thing. Unfortunately, Canada hasn’t taken to its southern sibling as much when it comes to this. Nevertheless, Canada still has some great apps like Flipp that allow you to know where the latest grocery savings can be made. Research whether your city has helpful apps like this that you can utilize when you know you need to purchase something.

There are many ways you can enjoy a high COL city like Toronto while ensuring that your bank balance isn’t hurting. The above methods are just a few ways you can make the biggest savings. What are some of the money hacks you incorporate in your high-COL city? Let me know!

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