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Home » Budgeting

U.S. Vs. Canada Consumer Spending: Who is More Budget Savvy?

Last updated by on 8 Comments

If you like data crunching and analysis, you’ll dig this. If you like to compare your American self to Canadians (or vice versa), you’ll dig this even more.

Mint.com produced an infographic that highlighted Canadian consumer spending, with 2009 data found from Statistics Canada.

I thought that was cool… but, I’m not Canadian. So I wanted to dig up American consumption habits during the same year to compare to our friends to the North.

I had questions like:

– how much do Canadians spend on health care vs. Americans?

– how much do Americans spend on housing vs. Canadians?

– what are the overall consumer household spending amounts of both countries?

– who is more budget savvy?

– why are beavers so loveable?

I wanted answers, eh. So I went oot and aboot to find them.

Importance of U.S. vs. Canada Dollar

canada vs us spendingBefore we look at those numbers, it’s important to note how much the comparative value of the U.S. Dollar vs. the Canadian dollar.

On June 30, 2011, for example, one U.S. Dollar could buy you $0.9645 Canadian. That is rather eye opening when you consider that as recently as 2002, the exchange rate was one U.S. dollar to $1.62 Canadian (the highest the dollar has ever been valued against the loonie).

2009 was an interesting year in that the U.S. Dollar peaked at about $1.28 CAD, but dropped to $1.05 by the end of the year.

Why does this matter? The dollar totals cited are in USD and CAD. On the surface it looks like the Canadians spent slightly more than Americans that year. However, when you factor in the exchange rate, that’s not the case. Canadians actually spent slightly less than Americans as many of the categories they spent on (transportation, food, and apparel) would have been directly impacted by the exchange rate. Canadian dollars were worth about $0.87 US, on average, over the course of the year. Here is a chart of the CAD vs USD to see what I’m talking about.

U.S. vs Canadian Spending

The table below shows the comparative spending amounts in seven of the largest categories: housing, transportation, food, insurance, health care, entertainment, and apparel.

The final column concludes with a comparison of U.S. spending compared to Canadian. In the categories directly impacted by the exchange rate, I adjusted. Over the course of a year, income would not be impacted by exchange rate, nor would housing, or insurance premiums, so you wouldn’t want to apply a direct 0.87X multiplier to all of the Canada spending totals. It’s not a perfect comparison, but about the best anyone can do. Here are the results:

If you’re an American, red is bad and green is good. If you’re a Canadian, just the opposite.

As you’ll see, Americans spend about 20% more on housing, 1% more on food, 28% more on insurance, 56% more on health care, and about 2% more overall.

They spend about 10% less on transportation, 11% less on entertainment, and 30% less on apparel.

Observations & Theories

There are some interesting conclusions you can make from this data.

Consumer-Driven Categories: On the surface, Canadians would appear a bit…. shallow, shall we say? On the 3 most consumer driven categories, they spent more than Americans: 10% more on transportation 11% more on entertainment, and a whopping 30% more on apparel (no wonder they look so good).

Americans are spending more in categories that they have less control over: 20% more on housing, 1% more on food, 28% more on insurance, and a ridiculous 56% more on health care.

Housing: Canada hasn’t had a housing bubble burst like the U.S., and with 20% more being spent by Americans, it’s no surprise to see why Americans have had the trouble we have. We were simply spending too damn much on housing!

Transportation: Transportation surprises me a bit. The larger Canadian cities that I’ve been to typically have much better public transport than equivalent American cities. And Americans have a reputation for pissing money away on luxury vehicles. Way to drop the ball, Canucks! My only guess here is that there is just so much damn open area in Canada that many Canadians are forced to drive further and spend more on fuel than Americans.

Insurance & Health Care: These two are closely tied together. Americans are spending a staggering 28% more on insurance and 56% more on health care than Canadians. This is not a big surprise as Canadian health care is publicly funded and most health services are free at the point of use.

By the way, Canadians love it. A 2009 Harris/Decima poll found 82% of Canadians preferred their healthcare system to the one in the United States, more than ten times as many as the 8% stating a preference for a US-style health care system for Canada.

Overall: Just looking at the two, I’d have to say Americans are a bit more budget savvy, to my surprise. Americans have been hammered on housing costs (pay what the market dictates), higher insurance premiums, and haven’t had a choice on health care costs.

Meanwhile, Americans have spent less on those very consumer-driven categories: transportation, apparel, and entertainment.

So there you have, some surprising results.

As for those loveable beavers? They mystery continues…


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I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 7,500+ others by getting FREE email updates. You'll also find every post by category & every post in order.


8 Comments »
  • Rich says:

    I agree with your assessment that Americans have become more savvy about budgeting – in general – when compared to Canadians. The data that Mint uses is outdated, as a lot has happened in the past 2 years. Recent reports show that the personal debt of the avg Canadian has now eclipsed that of Americans and continues to rise. Because of their RE hot markets (I’ve seen figures that show British Columbia, for example, has had a 50%+ increase in prices since 2006) housing costs are skyrocketing and I’d bet that we’ll see housing costs increase dramatically for Canadians.

    A Wall Street Journal article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303936704576397811859133714.html

    and another good one from the certified general accountants of Canada:
    http://www.cga-canada.org/en-ca/ResearchAndAdvocacy/AreasofInterest/DebtandConsumption/Pages/ca_debt_default.aspx

    Regarding the differences in health care, I think many Canadians find it unthinkable that the government not provide it. My wife is Canadian and for years, she would not use American medical services because she thought our system was very broken. Only recently has she started to use our medical services and she has found that because there are so many different systems/providers, we have very good and very bad providers and everything in between. She now believes me when I say that we can enjoy lower taxes and find good deals on insurance programs that also offer good services. I think the 2009 poll of Canadians and what they thought of our healthcare system is inaccurate because most of them don’t know how it works. The most broken part about it (which some consider to be Medicare) doesn’t affect most young professionals. It’s not perfect, but we’re working on it.

    I’m surprised that insurance costs so much more for Americans than Canadians. There are fewer insurers in Canada and the vast majority of Canadians go with the same auto insurer…interesting.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      You bring up some good points, Rich. The data is a bit outdated (2009), but was not completed and released until December of 2010. So there has not been a release of 2010 data yet, as far as I know.

      When that release comes out, I am sure that we will see American housing costs decrease and Canadian housing costs increase in the next release. I’d also be willing to bet American health care costs continue to increase, and transportation and food costs increase for both, maybe substantially.

  • Justin @ MoneyIsTheRoot says:

    I will say that certain parts of Canada experienced a very similiar recession, and housing dilemma similar to the US. GE I know you are from Michigan, not sure where at though. Im in the metro Detroit area, so Windsor is just over the border, in fact I travel there occasionally for work related activities, and I used to frequent their nightlife when I was younger. Many US companies had offices in Windsor, and a lot of real estate was being bought up for Michiganders for quite a few years. In fact, many upscale lofts along the Canadian riverfront experienced the same issues with defaulting associations due to low occupancy rates. Obviously this isnt the case for all of Canada, but i would say the areas further removed from the US border probably faired better.

    It is funny to see the exchange rate moving the way it is. We always went there because our USD bought so much more, and now it’s in reverse.

  • Warren says:

    It is hard to say that Americans are better at budget because they spend less on clothing and entertainment. After housing, medical, and other costs, there is only so much left so the reduced spending on certain items is often forced by lack of resources, not the result of a good budget.

    Previously I lived in the Detroit area and remember people at work who drove in from Canada every day. As far as medical services, I remember that there were pretty much three views about it.
    1) The Canadians pretty much preferred the Canadian system.
    2) Americans with very good company paid health insurance preferred the American system.
    3) Americans with medium, poor, or no insurance preferred the Canadian system.

    • Justin @ MoneyIsTheRoot says:

      I could agree more with your 3 views Warren. It’s the same thing that I see. Company paid healthcare is still the best and most convenient, but when you dont have healthcare, then anything is better than nothing.

  • fool says:

    The apparel needs and prices are different in different geograhpical areas. Companies that ship clothes in both countries charge different prices and I have heard about Canadians and Mexicans timing their holidays in America to take benefit of the sales, at least those of means. I would have thought everything cost more in Canada except housing/insurace… They have to heat their homes in winter while a large part of the US doesn’t have to heat theirs.

    Also Warren is correct in saying that after spending all you have, there ain’t much left to buy clothes/entertainment with.

  • Raman says:

    Well couple of things I’ll like to point out about apparel and transportation as a Canadian. Well, transportation costs more in Canada relatively. I remember New York subway to be alot cheaper than the one in Toronto and same goes for the buses.

    Secondly apparel: Well I usually shop from Banana republic, Guess, Calvin etc. So whenever I have to buy a lot of stuff, I go to Buffalo which is only 2 hrs away. So last time, I went there to shop before my cousin’s wedding, I spent $700, which bought a lot of stuff, including 2 pair of shoes, 1 suit, 3 shirts, 2 ties, nike plus and some gym clothes. When I came back, I did some comparison to Canadian prices, and all of this stuff would have costed me north of $1200 in Canada. So my argument is that even though, Canadians may spend more on apparel, they probably buy a lot less quantity wise.

  • Willem says:

    Hi – interesting article! What was your source for your US spending data? Year?

    Thanks

    As to Justin’s comment re: Windsor. I did my high school days in the Windsor area and still return a few times a year (live in Toronto now). It is one of the most economically depressed areas in Canada. But it’s making some major strides towards recovery. All helped by lots of alternative sources of industry and a resurgence in the Canadian automotive industry (esp. Ford).

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