When my husband, who’s American, and I, a Canadian, decided to move to the US three years ago, I didn’t bat an eye about our financial situation. After all, we know how to stick to a budget and talk to each other openly about our life and financial goals.
Sure, I knew I’d have to learn some new financial terminology here and there and get used to a new healthcare system, so I wasn’t totally naive on that front. But I didn’t think it would be as big a shift as it was.
When we finally moved and I started digging into spending in the US, I was surprised at how significant some of these differences were.
I used way more coins in Canada
Soon after moving to the States, I noticed I had far fewer coins in my pockets. I still use cash in the US for small purchases, but it’s mostly bills. It’s safe to say I only use coins at the laundromat or when purchasing items at yard sales or flea markets. Even when buying drinks or snacks at vending machines, I typically use dollar bills.
That wasn’t the case in Canada. I suspect it’s because the country uses $1 and $2 coins — affectionately called loonies and toonies — so there’s a larger variety of coins. And when you use cash, there’s a lot more change.
If I paid for a $1.50 item with a $5 bill, for example, I might get three $1 bills and some change back in the US. In Canada, though, I’d get three loonies and some smaller change — a lot more metal.
I know it sounds obvious, but all that change can get heavy — fast. In fact, I used to use a change purse because I had so much change. That meant I would look for more opportunities to use cash — at the local coffee shop, when I grabbed lunch, or buying one-off items at chain stores.
In Canada, you round your purchases to the nearest whole number
I remember when Canada decided to phase out the penny — we were left with nickels, dimes, quarters, loonies, and toonies. After that, when you made a purchase, you had to either round up or down to the nearest whole number.
However, prices were marked as they always had been. For example, you’ll still see numbers like $9.99 or $3.14. When you get to the cashier, that’s when the total is rounded up or down. A bill of $20.73, for instance, would end up costing you $20.75. Likewise, a $50.61 bill would cost you $50.60.
Of course, that’s not the case stateside — and the change in mindset still throws me off when I go back to Canada and have to go back to rounding.
Canadians are generally willing to travel further to buy what they need
Growing up, it was common for friends and people I knew in school to head to the US to buy stuff. There was better stuff to be had, for one thing, and many of the clothing brands we coveted and stores we wanted to shop at weren’t available in Canada at the time.
For a lot of families, mine included, holidays were an occasion to drive across the border. We’d stop at outlet malls or in states that didn’t have taxes on clothing and shop till we dropped.
There were even bus tours from Toronto where, for one day, you could get picked up and driven across the border to different retailers in Buffalo, New York to do your shopping.
I haven’t heard of many Americans doing the reverse, but a few friends have mentioned that they occasionally like to go across the border for vacations since the exchange rate works in their favor. (And 19 year olds from Detroit definitely take advantage of the lower drinking age across the border in Windsor, Ontario.)