Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Renting On a Budget in Toronto

You know we keep a few rental properties in our investment portfolio, so rent vs. buy in Toronto topic is always of interest to me. Today I would like to welcome Rhianne Bannermen for a guest post on this subject. Rhianne is a Toronto-born barista on a budget. When she isn't curating coffee creations, she sits down to blog and share ideas with the community. You can often find her riding her bike down Lakeshore with her dog, Chance, running alongside.

T Dot, or NY-North as we like to call it, isn’t exactly the most affordable city. For many people that means GTA migration and long commutes on the 401, 403 and the 407 for those who have splurged on a transponder. For the rest of us, we have left the suburbs behind for city smog and TTC transit fares and you know what? We are making the most of living it up in Canada’s beloved city. Torontonians, let’s talk what it’s like to rent on a budget.


Toronto is home to many different types of neighborhoods, some more realistic than others for renters. Forget Yorkvale. Queen West is cute, but The Junction may be more suited to your budget. Liberty Village is for new families and young professionals, and you are unlikely to find anything affordable in that sector or any sector near the lake. The exception is the beaches, which  are often a popular place to start as a Toronto-renter due to the size and quality of the units, however the distance from downtown nightlife can be trying and so can the long commutes or expensive cab rides that come with a night out..

Be selective about your borough, because moving again isn’t necessarily an option when you are on a budget. You’ve already found a neighborhood that you like that’s also somewhat affordable, but you can’t forget about the other essentials in life. Proximity to public transit and essential services like groceries and gas should be factored in, but we’ll discuss that more in the next section.

Rent Brokers

Now that you’ve found the right neighborhood for you, find out what’s available using websites dedicated to renting in Toronto. These sites typically have an interactive map that is great for anyone unfamiliar with the city and particular area that they’re interested in moving to. They also include metrics like a “walking score,” which is based on the proximity groceries, parks and more.

If you’re planning to become a Toronto local because you got accepted to George Brown or Ryerson, you can also use off-campus housing resources, which are generally provided by the institution. The point is to make your life easier and reduce the time and transit fees you expend in your rent-search by using the internet before making your first in-person visit.

These websites will often provide information that is essential to long-term rental-savings, such as facts about which menities included with the rental unit. Look for buildings that have as many bills and amenities included in the rent as possible. If your rent consolidates, heat, hydro and electricity in one payment, you’re in good shape. Some landlords even include internet in their rent. Look for the best deal in your neighborhood when it comes to what’s included with your apartment.

Penny Pinchers Pack it In

So, you just signed your lease what’s next?

Buggys! These nifty rollable oversized bags are your invaluable when it comes to lugging laundry and groceries around the city, as well as not breaking your back as you scour for freebies to get your apartment started. They’re also great for trips on the subway, because no one with a heart likes to annoy people with their backpacks on a crowded train. I know you said you’d wait until you reached the ripe buggy-toting age of 70 before being caught dead with one, but all concerns of image aside, buggies are your best friend! Besides, buggies come in many styles and colours (mine is red with white polkadots) and are super practical.

Next, fill your buggy up with the city’s best deals! Since you won’t be able to hit up big box stores like Costco or Wal Mart from your downtown locale very easily, therefore lacking access to the savings that these mega retailers provide. But think of this scenario as one of the charms of living in the heart of the action. You get to explore the city for all the knicks and knacks you need while supporting local businesses instead of multinational corporations.

Head down to Queen Street’s Black Market or Kensington Market for deals on vintage winter coats, lamps and retro-chic fabrics.


Now that you’ve found the best neighborhood for your budget and you have your shopping essentials, it’s time to personalize your apartment by decorating! First time renters often rely on their local Ikea, seen only while driving on the highway, but luckily accessible by internet for online ordering and delivery. Whether or not you take advantage of cheap furniture at Ikea or another manufacturer, having them deliver is essential to furnishing your apartment on a tight budget. You may have to pay a bit extra for delivery fees and/or tip the delivery-person, but this is much easier and cheaper than driving and or renting a vehicle to get your new bookshelves home.
Image by DoubleBlue from Wikipedia featuring the pedestrian area of Kensington Market

You can also scour the city for pro bono deals, which are everywhere! Freecycle, Upcycle – any portmanteau with the word “cycle” should be your best friend! Look up freebies on Craigslist and the like for necessities, while avoiding items with lots of material pieces that could have collected germs or worse..bed bugs from the previous owner. This rule applies also to any street finds or garage sales (don’t forget your buggy!) you come across for furnishings. As long as they’re metal, wood or plastic items with little to no material components, free (or nearly free) items are perfect to bulk up your apartment and to get all of those Pinterest experiments you’ve been wanting to try done.

There are limits as a renter trying to decorate and these are often synonymous with the rules of renting an apartment. For example you may want to keep the walls in white or another neutral colour so you don’t have to splurge on gallons of paint when you leave. A fun alternative to painting is creating a gallery wall, an easy way to bring a bit of interest and livelihood into an area.

Hold up, wait a minute though...you should be making similar considerations about damaging the wall while creating a gallery wall! Leaving a bunch of holes in the wall is a big no-no if you’re not the property owner. Even if you know you can fix it before leaving, why bother with this extra expense? Hang up any frames possible with some Command strips and no one will ever know what you had up there once you leave. Fun-tack and washi tape may sound like an option, but leave that type of thing in your dorm room where it belongs.

Lifestyle Savings

As long as your lease allows you to, consider shopping around for different energy providers. Call up the energy company and see what kind of cheaper options are available to you, and make the switch. You can also save money by using fluorescent bulbs where possible, because they end up costing less than traditional bulbs having to be replaced less. In the wintertime, lower the heat when you’re not at home and overnight. You should try keeping the heat as low as possible when you are home, as well. If your home is water-heated, make sure that you keep the temperature comfortable.

Now how are you going to get to and from? You’ve likely already bought a TTC pass and hopefully it was for the month or year, which allows you to take advantage of bulk purchase savings. Riding a bike is also a very realistic option in Toronto where for the landscape is flat, for the most part. To protect your bike, spend the extra bucks and invest in a proper lock. Make sure to lock your wheel to the body of your bike on every bike rack you use. Bike thieves are less interested in second hand bikes so start there in your search for your new set of wheels.

Finally, let’s consider food. Hopefully you’re in close proximity to a grocery store since this is your best bet when it comes to budget-friendly meal preparation. When you’re short on time and on the run, think street-meat. Hot dogs, or my preferred veggie dogs, are widely available around the city and a fond source of food for locals. These convenient street vendors often carry a line of gourmet toppings like olives and sauerkraut and all for the low price of a toonie.  If you’re sick of street-meat or if it’s just not your scene, head to Chinatown, Little Italy or Greektown so you can get ethnically-authentic meals at affordable prices.

Moving Out

Hopefully you didn’t see red walls and decide to paint them black when you moved in. Remember that returning the walls to white or another neutral colour is often stipulated in your lease and a cost you will be held accountable for. Make sure that you give everything an extremely thorough scrub down, meaning the type of thing that you dream of having done to your new apartment before you get there. This type of attention to detail will ensure that you get your safety deposit back when you move out, leaving no room for complaints from the landlord or new renters.

If you’re looking for a way to do it affordably, yet right, here’s a fun article on homemade cleaning supplies. You probably already know this, but nothing gets things cleaner than either baking soda, white vinegar or a combination of both. Add a couple drops of essential oils to counteract the smell and you’re good to go. If you can’t be bothered with making things yourself, your local Dollar Store to find name-brand cleaning supplies for cheap.

Did I miss anything? Share your ideas here for how you save money as a Toronto-renter.

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