In an alarming trend, the Canadian middle class seems to be struggling. Gone are the days of a dual income household being able to comfortable afford a home, kids, and retirement. Replaced now by heavy debt loads and limited savings, but what exactly is considered middle class?

Generally speaking middle class households earn anywhere from $60,000-$90,000 since that’s considered the medium income, however back in January, Canada’s finance minister said families that earn up to $120,000 qualify, so what gives? Okay so there’s no universal definition of middle class, but it sure appears that the middle class is shrinking.

Incomes are relatively flat and the cost of housing in Canada has stretched our budgets. A dual income doesn’t really go as far as it used to so now there’s many things the middle class can’t afford anymore.

What the middle class can't afford anymore

Things the middle class can no longer afford

Houses – The average home in Canada now hovers around $450,000. In Toronto and Vancouver, detached homes are over a million dollars. Many middle class families will do anything to become homeowners and that usually means taking on mortgages that they can’t afford. A mortgage is supposed to be a good debt, but now at best it’s a tolerable debt if you truly can afford it. The other problem with housing is sometimes it fools us into thinking we’re doing alright. What good is a million dollar home if we owe $950K? It’s our real net worth that counts

Fancy Cars – Nice cars are another thing the middle class can’t afford. Well cars are technically “affordable” on a monthly basis if we’re willing to take more financing years but that will cost us much more in the long run. The worst part about spending too much on a vehicle is that we end up sacrificing on other things like our retirement funds.

Vacations – We can blame the weak Canadian dollar all we like, but the real reason some Canadians aren’t travelling as much anymore is because they can’t afford it. If we’re making large monthly mortgage and car payments, how can we realistically expect to take yearly vacations? Yearly vacations are still possible, but we need to save for them instead of putting them on credit.

Eating out – Eating out all the time is one of the major contributors to why the middle class can’t afford so many things anymore. Eating out is a treat, but we’re probably doing it a bit too much. Coffee, snacks, lunch, and dinner, it all adds up which can do some serious damage to our budgets. Eating out should be a treat, and if we do it all the time it’s no longer something special.

Children – A bit of a controversial subject since the decision to have kids isn’t based on finances alone, but there’s no denying that children are expensive. One could argue that it’s irresponsible to bring a child into world if you’re finances aren’t in order – as if that has ever stopped anybody. When borrowing money, lenders don’t care if you can afford kids in the future, so if you’re planning on having any children, make sure you’re not taking on too much debt in advance.

RESPs – Even with the Canadian Education Savings Grant, many parents are struggling to pay for their children’s education. To be fair, education costs have raised considerably over the years and some parents want their kids to pay for their own education. This actually presents a bit of a challenge since kids from middle class families may not qualify for full financial aid. The point is, with less available funds, parents are unable to help fully cover post-secondary education costs.

Final word

With all the things that we’re spending money on, retirement has become a major thing that the middle class can’t afford. Failing to save early or not saving enough will have a serious impact on our retirement years. It’s time to get serious about saving now so we won’t have to depend on our adult children to bail us out when we’re retired.

13 Comments

  1. Ken on October 12, 2015 at 8:49 am

    It would be interesting to see how big a mortgage the average family income can actually afford. It’s been awhile so is the rule 30% of your income or has it changed? So can the ‘average’ family really afford the average house?

    • Barry Choi on October 12, 2015 at 9:08 am

      Ken,

      Realistically speaking it wouldn’t be surprising if families are much closer to 40-50%. The average family in Toronto and Vancouver might be able to afford an average house, but it really depends on how comfortable you’re with debt levels.

  2. Joe Persicone on October 13, 2015 at 10:06 am

    Great post Barry. I like all the points you’ve hit. My wife and I have fairly high incomes. We’re not cheap by any means but we just can’t help but shake our heads sometimes when we see the way our friends and family live. I think a lot of this boils down to people’s debt load. It’s no longer about “Can we afford it? It’s more like “Can we afford the payments?”

    • Barry Choi on October 13, 2015 at 10:28 am

      Joe,

      It’s definitely the debt loads. My wife and I also have what’s considered a higher than average income, yet people think we’re not doing well because we’re not interested in picking up a giant mortgage. You’re bang on about affording the payments, people just look at monthly carrying costs these days.

  3. Tonya @ Budget and the Beach on October 13, 2015 at 10:28 am

    I used to be truly middle class when I had a full time job and since freelancing I still think of myself this way (and still might be if I lived places cheaper than LA), but I’m really not even middle class anymore. A sobering thought.

    • Barry Choi on October 13, 2015 at 10:29 am

      Tonya,

      I’m betting you don’t spend like the middle class so you’re probably doing better than they are.

  4. Vivianne on October 16, 2015 at 9:28 pm

    I think the house is severe example, you gave the choice of 2 most high cost living area – Toronto and Vancouver. If I live in Toronto, I wouldn’t be making $90K, I’d be making $120K or $150K and with 2 incomes, I would be $300K, and a million dollars house would be 3x a household earning, which is exactly what the bank would approve.

    Eating out – in the 80s, even 90s people pack lunches to work. Now, restaurant is everywhere, food cart is everywhere, people are paying for convenience (I’m not sure whether it’s really convenience standing in line to get your food, but they call it convinience). The family in the 80s, 90s would probably go out to lunch after church. Now, they go out every lunch and every night??!! People are lazier, nowadays!

    Cars, phones, etc – a brand new freaking Ford 2014 (last year model) is still $14K. Every affordable. Back then, we don’t have bells and whistles in the car. Now, it has to talk to you, GPS, DVD, TV build in, electric engine. The point is the car now is worth a lot less than 30 years ago.

    Back then, life was much simpler – people go to work, go home, enjoy time with their family, helping kids with the homework. Now, everybody has their own devices (I’m talking about each person has several devices – phone, computer, ipad, handheld games, video games).

    People would rather spend money on electronic, cigarettes, and such rather than spending on qualify stuff. Food is cheaper than anytime in the history. Minimum wage of $7 would give you 3 bls of chicken. $7 can buy 3 cartons of eggs. Seriously, life hasn’t been this good in history for North Americans. Anyhow, people choose to live extravaganza, trying to live like an upper class, instead of middle class.

    • Susan on November 24, 2016 at 5:03 pm

      Vivianne. I would love to know where these fabulous Toronto jobs are. For most people an $80k job is good. And if you work for the federal government you get paid the same regardless of where you live. My husband and I make maybe $20k more than we did 20 years ago. And that’s gross income.

      • Barry Choi on November 24, 2016 at 5:07 pm

        I personally have an above average income but I’m definitely not at $80K. Since I wrote this post, I made some sacrifices to stay within Toronto.

    • Boss Yute on August 3, 2017 at 9:22 pm

      Not sure what you’re smoking Vivianne.. send it my way. Probably will end up making that 90k in Toronto that everyone can easily make. The average Joe in Toronto makes about 45k-60k. There are a lot who make way less.. as the minimum wage is so low and rent is climbing to an average of 1400.. “Middle class families will struggle hard unless they cheap out on everything. Food is expensive as heck.. 14k car pffffffffttt. Talk about tax plus maintenance costs and insurance. Come move here and watch your funds dwindle to nothing. Please try it.

  5. […] Barry listed a few things that the Middle Class Can’t Afford Anymore. […]

  6. Shanon on January 2, 2018 at 6:19 am

    Yeah the truth is the days of having one job is coming to an end. Single people definitely will need two to survive after all you can’t make it entering the workforce on 20.00 never mind 15.00 and that’s being single. Don’t go to University, College or work in the oilfield that will be your future working two jobs. If both you and you and your spouse have children you can expect trying to bring in 3 incomes. It’s only going to get worse. Look at it now it isn’t getting any better. Government is taking way to much from lower income and middle income families something’s going to give. I just can’t imagine what the outcome will be in the future for our children.

  7. Esty on October 13, 2019 at 8:54 am

    How do u all make 80,000 and more ? Doing what?
    I’m making 20$ per hour is 38000 per year. What about those who make 15?
    I’m an aesthetician so I do get tips but still not even close to 80000 or 100000.
    To make 1000 a week I work 6-7 days and I have to be very busy. That doesn’t even get me a 1bdr apartment in Toronto area (500,000 + maintenance, taxes, utilities =3000) that’s 75% of my income on a good month.
    I’m renting a room for now but I do want to get my own… just how?
    I should have bought it few years back but back than I was making 2000$ per month ‍♀️

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