By Dawn Storey
(WINDSOR, ON) – The other day I was taking care of the usual semi-monthly chore of posting receipts, paying bills, and organizing our household finances, when suddenly it hit me: This doesn’t feel like a chore anymore. Granted, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was a delight (I’m not sure dealing with finances would ever fall into that category!), and by no means are we in a position of luxury or total financial freedom; nevertheless, I realized at that moment just how much things have changed for the better since we moved to Windsor, and that the overwhelming sense of dread and foreboding that always seemed to surround this particular task seems to have been left behind in Victoria.
Since we moved to Windsor I’ve been approached several times by friends, family, and online contacts who are curious about the difference in our cost of living now compared to what we paid when we lived in Victoria. As I wrote in last week’s column, moving to Windsor has meant a sizeable decrease in our monthly mortgage payments, which has of course had a significant effect on our budget, but obviously there are other areas of daily living where money must be spent that have also had an impact on our bottom line.
Unfortunately it will be difficult, if not impossible, to make a completely direct and fair comparison between our living expenses in Victoria and our living expenses here in Windsor, mainly because our home in Windsor is quite different from our previous home, and therefore the necessary operational costs will also be quite different. That said, I am certainly willing to provide some cost of living generalities and leave the interpretation of the data to the reader.
For reference purposes, our home in Victoria was a newer two-level townhouse with a square footage of around 1,175, with an attached garage but no attic or basement (basements are rare on the Island!), and a small back yard. Here in Windsor we live in a 100-year-old detached single-family house of around 1,344 square feet plus a full basement, with a finished attic and detached garage, on a city lot with both a front and back yard. Our former home was fairly energy-efficient, while our current home, though much upgraded, has the air leaks and lack of insulation to be expected in a house of its age.
Taking the above differences into account, the following should give you an overall idea of the cost of living differences we have experienced since moving to Windsor.
- Gas: Our previous home had a gas fireplace that heated the ground floor (the second floor had electric baseboards) and also our hot water. Our current home has a gas furnace that heats the entire home. Our monthly bill is around $11 more in Windsor.
- Hydro/Water/Wastewater: This is a tough comparison to make, as in our previous situation we paid for hydro directly, while the other expenses were covered by our monthly strata fees, and here in Windsor we pay everything directly. I think it’s fair to say that all things considered, overall the costs would be similar, but I’m afraid I can’t be much more precise than that.
- Telephone/cable/internet bundle: We have a comparable (if not better) package here in Windsor, for around $25 per month less than we were paying in Victoria.
- Property Taxes: We pay around $90 per month more for property taxes here in Windsor. That may seem like a significant amount, but please realize that in this area particularly it’s very difficult for me to make an “apples to apples” comparison, not only because of the difference in dwelling type and lot size, but also because of the fact that the Province of British Columbia offers a Home Owner Grant that substantially reduces the property taxes paid on an owner’s principal residence, while, much to my surprise and disappointment, Ontario offers no such program. As such, I would say that the difference in property taxes has less to do with Windsor vs. Victoria and is more about Ontario vs. British Columbia.
- Food: Several times while grocery shopping over the past two months my husband and I have commented on the fact that food prices here in Windsor are noticeably lower than they were in Victoria. We’ve also been pleasantly surprised to see that in many cases the same holds true for restaurant prices. I expect that part of Victoria’s elevated costs are reflective of the fact that the city is located on an island, which automatically increases food transportation costs, and also because it’s a tourist destination.
- Fuel: For the most part, gas prices seem to be consistently slightly lower in Windsor than they are in Victoria. As an example, at the time of writing this column, Victoria’s prices for regular gas are between 117.9 and 118.9, while Windsor’s range from 114.9 to 118.9.
- Auto Insurance: This is another Ontario vs. British Columbia issue, rather than a byproduct of living in Windsor itself, but it definitely bears mention. In BC, basic auto insurance must be purchased through ICBC (a provincial Crown corporation), and additional insurance may be purchased either through ICBC or a private company. Perhaps we were spoiled by the price of our BC government coverage, but we were utterly shocked to discover that the cost to insure our vehicle in Ontario ended up being around $65 per month more than it was to insure the exact same vehicle in Victoria! Admittedly, with all of the details that needed to be taken care of in a very short amount of time after our move, we didn’t invest any energy into shopping around for other rates, so it is possible that we might be able to find a better deal elsewhere in future; however, the immediate expense of auto insurance in Ontario has been the most unpleasant and surprising discovery of our move.
Beyond the actual cost of utilities and day-to-day living expenses, our budget has been positively impacted by the change in lifestyle that living in Windsor has allowed us to make. Now that I am working from home, I am no longer spending money on coffee breaks and restaurant meals, nor am I faced with the daily temptation to shop on my lunch break. One might argue that this is more an issue of self-discipline than location, and perhaps that is the case, but the choice to change our lifestyle has certainly helped to make self-discipline in this area a lot less painful!
And speaking of shopping – I’ve lived here for such a short time that I haven’t experienced this myself, but I’ve been told that great deals may be found by taking a trip just across the river to Detroit. In many cases I tend to be more of a “buy local” person, but I also appreciate the opportunities that being such a close neighbour to the US offers Windsor residents.
Please understand that I’m not in any way trying to paint a rosy picture of Windsor as a perfect, shining city, a place where everyone should live. I realize that Windsor has its shortcomings, and I know that the unemployment rate in particular is undeniably serious and poses a significant problem for many struggling Windsorites. I certainly do not mean to minimize that struggle, and accept the fact that having moved to the city, I too might face that issue myself at some point in time.
But for now, the overall cost of Windsor living is proving to be far easier on the bank account than the price one must pay to live in Victoria. I think I’ll stick around.
For more on “Why Windsor…” visit Dawn Storey’s blog.