Home Ownership

How much should you budget for housing expenses? (Includes: Budget Template)

To get a realistic idea of how much housing expenses cost, we created a customizable budget spreadsheet with benchmark costs for each expense. Use this customizable spreadsheet to develop a clear spending picture on your housing-related costs
Where to spend your monthly earnings - Zolo (1)
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Being able to afford a property goes well beyond the purchase price. Truth be told, calculating how much a mortgage will cost on a monthly basis is probably one of the easiest components to establishing a monthly housing expense budget. While other monthly costs, such as clothes and food, are part of your overall budget, housing expenses can sometimes be hard to pin down.

To help you establish a realistic household expense budget, we’ve analyzed costs and calculated averages to establish a guideline on what an everyday homeowner or renter spends on housing-related costs. We put this all into a customizable spreadsheet. Use this spreadsheet to input your own costs and, if uncertain, you can use the guideline monthly housing expenses that are already included as a guideline.

Download the spreadsheet here

To get a better idea as to where our benchmark and average costs are derived, we’ve included sources below, along with explanations. Use the prescribed steps for creating your own budget, or use the guidelines averages to help establish a monthly housing expense sheet that will help you plan for known and unknown housing costs.

#1: Start at the start and create a budget

I know. Totally not sexy, but any good monthly budget actually starts with a budget. The budget is based on all the expenses you pay for (this includes daily, weekly, monthly and even annual costs) and it’s compared to the income you generate.

The idea of a budget is to help you establish spending and earning baselines. What’s the minimum you earn and spend each month and where can you make adjustments. For instance, if you do own a home, the mortgage payment is not an expense you can skip, unless you want to face some serious consequences. As a result, this will go into your budget as a necessary expense. However, your desire to purchase a tropical plant every week to build-out that solarium is not a necessary expense and, as a result, you can probably stop spending money on that purchase (at least, until other, more important, expenditures are taken care of).

Guidelines for how much to spend on each “category”

According to the Credit Counselling Society, there are some established “norms” for how much of our income should be spent on each budget category. The guidelines are as follows:

  • Housing: 35%
    This includes mortgage/rent, property taxes, strata and monthly HOA fees, as well as home insurance (or tenant insurance). In more expensive cities, like Toronto and Vancouver, you can increase this budget item to no more than 42%.
  • Medical: 3%
    This includes provincial or territorial monthly medical premiums (if applicable), over-the-counter first-aid or health care items, specialist fees.
  • Clothing: 3% to 5%
    This includes every season of clothing for all members of the family.
  • Utilities: 5%
    This includes heating, hydro, phone, internet and, potentially, cable or satellite or other streaming services.
  • Savings: 5% to 10%
    Your savings should include emergency or contingency funds as well as savings for future larger expenditures and retirement.
  • Debt Repayments: 5% to 15%
    The more debt you owe, the tighter your budget. To get out of debt, consider allocating a higher percentage of your monthly budget to paying it off.
  • Food: 10% to 20%
    Includes groceries and personal care items.
  • Transportation: 15% to 20%
    This includes all transportation costs, such as public transit passes or tickets, taxi costs, fuel for vehicles, insurance, maintenance, and parking.
  • Discretionary spending: 0% to ??
    This is the money you have leftover after all other expenses are paid. Spend this money on whatever you want or save it for a bigger purchase later (or a more important goal).
Where to spend your monthly earnings - Zolo (1)
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Housing expenses – where to spend your monthly earnings

Keeping these guidelines in mind, start listing all your expenses then slot these expenses into each of the above categories. If an expense doesn’t fit neatly into one of these categories, you need to decide: Is it a necessity or is it discretionary (you could live without it, if need be).

The overall goal is to consistently spend less than you earn. Do this and you’ll not only stick to your budget but end up with more in the discretionary spending category.

#2: Track your expenses

It’s one thing to write down a budget, but quite another to live by it.

To make a genuine start at sticking to a budget, you first need to learn where your money is going. To do this, start tracking your expenses. This can be done in a number of ways — capture photos of your receipts, write down everything you spend your money on or use a credit card statement to keep track of all expenses — it doesn’t matter how you do it, just track every red cent you spend.

But that’s so boring!

Yes…but here’s why it’s necessary:

  1. Financial Awareness – Tracking your household costs help you become finically aware. If you don’t know where your money goes, you won’t know where to cut spending, change habits or save on expenses. Over time, tracking, monitoring and adjusting your expenditures will become a routine — and routines can lead to good financial awareness, which leads to better financial decisions.
  2. Identifying Spending Issues – Another essential benefit of tracking your household expenses is that it brings spending issues to your attention. For instance, it’s quite easy to rack up a latte-a-day habit that can cost you $2,000 to $3,000 a year. If skipping your latte isn’t an option, consider how you can cut that expense. Quite a few people I know purchased one of those fancy — and expensive — espresso machines that do everything. Sure, it was a big expense, but after a year, they broke even on their latte habit and by year two they were saving serious coin.
  3. Helps create a more realistic budget – Have you ever asked someone who never pays attention to what they spend their money on to create a budget? Chances are this person will come up with some pretty crazy ideas about how much things cost. When we don’t pay attention, we don’t have an awareness and that lack of awareness can really restrict how realistic our budget will be. Once you get a firm grasp of what things cost, realistically, you get a much better grasp of what you need to do in order to save up for bigger items or financial goals — and this knowledge helps you feel in control, and that’s a great thing when it comes to finances.

#3: Zero in on housing-related expenses

While an overall budget is integral to getting control of your spending, a monthly living budget focuses on the costs associated solely with housing. This is where you strip away the grocery costs, the entertainment budget, and what you spend on personal grooming and clothing. Instead, focus only on those costs associated with housing — regardless of whether you live in a rental unit or a house.

To start, divide the monthly housing expenses into three categories:

  1. Fixed
  2. Variable
  3. Saving

Fixed expenses are the bills you pay on a regular basis, such as every month, quarter or year. These housing expenses typically do not change from month to month, although that’s not always the case. Fixed costs include mortgage or rent, property taxes, and house or tenant insurance, etc.

Variable expenses are the bills you pay that may change from month to month often because of usage or season. For instance, your heating bill may go up and down, as well as your hydro (electricity) bill and your water bill.

The saving category is unique as most people don’t consider this expense, but it’s really your rainy day fund. Every month, you should set aside money for that “just in case” expense, such as your furnace breaking or the A/C unit failing in the middle of a heatwave.

#4: Use our budget calculator spreadsheet

To make budgeting your monthly living expenses easier, we’ve built a budgeting calculator spreadsheet. Using this Excel spreadsheet, you can enter your living expenses in either a detailed manner (where we even ask you to add up all the lightbulbs you’ll need to buy each year!) or in a more general manner. The interactive spreadsheet will automatically calculate each spending category and even let you benchmark our baseline figures — helping you see if you’re earning and spending more or less than the average Canadian.

Click here to download the full interactive budget spreadsheet in Excel, complete with benchmark costs related to housing.

Zolo-Housing Expenses-Budget-Template-Image
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Source: Zolo

To understand how these benchmark costs were derived, continue reading. We walk you through where and why each line item in this monthly housing budget costs what is costs.

What if I have a fluctuating or irregular income?

For many, contract work and irregular paycheques are now standard. While this can make it more difficult to track spending and set out a budget, it doesn’t make it impossible.

To help, use of one of these three strategies:

  1. Use your average income: For contract workers and self-employed people, one of the best ways to create a budget is to use your income from the last few years to develop an “average income.” This strategy only really works if you have at least two or better still three years of earnings and you do not expect any major changes in the next few years. To calculate your average income, add up the three years’ worth of earnings, divide by three and then divide by 12 (to get your average monthly earnings).
  2. Use a holding account: In this strategy, you deposit all your earnings — from employment, tax rebates, bonuses, etc. — into one account. Each month remove the amount of money you need to pay all your necessary bills, plus a bit extra for “fun” (as long as there is disposable income). Every month you’ll remove the same amount from this holding account to pay bills. In the months where you earn more, this holding account will grow, which is good, because in the months where you earn less, this surplus will drop in the holding account.
  3. Use two budgets: The final strategy is to create two budgets, one for lean times and one for good times. While this strategy doesn’t work for many, it does work for people who find it easy to tighten their belts and cut back on spending in a relatively quick way.

Total Guide to Monthly Housing Costs Budget 

There are loads of sample budgets out there. In Canadian terms, you could say there’s a metric tonne of examples. But most, if not all, of these budgets focus on the overall picture: What you spend on just about everything (some even require you to count your lattes!). Thing is, most of us will cut back on plenty of discretionary costs in order to keep a roof over our heads — and when we opt to become more home-bound, quite often that also means we end up spending a bit more on making our homes more comfortable and enjoyable. 

To try and get a more realistic picture of housing costs, we decided to strip out all expenses not directly related to your home-life. 

For instance, most budgets start and often stop with recording our monthly expenditure on mortgage payments or rent. Why? Because it’s the first bill we think of and the last expense we want to miss. (Read more on the most common monthly expenses for renters.)

Examples of what didn’t make the cut: money spent on clothing, entertainment (if not home-based), cost of keeping pets, childcare costs, the list goes on. 

We’re not saying these budget items aren’t important, or these expenses shouldn’t be included in your overall budget, but to really get an accurate picture as to how much it costs to run a household, we stripped out these expenses and added a few of our own. 

The result is the Total Guide to Monthly Housing Costs. Use this spreadsheet as a way to drill down where your money is going when it comes to housing costs. 

How to use the Total Guide to Monthly Housing Costs

It’s not easy creating a budget. It’s really not easy creating a budget based on so many variable costs. But it’s not impossible, either. 

To help you get a better grasp on what it costs you to manage and run your household, we began to investigate how much the average Canadian spends on each item or category. The results were surprising.

For some items, such as rent or Internet costs, it was easy to find average costs. It appears that these budget items attract a lot of attention and, as a result, this analysis leads to lots of data. This doesn’t mean that the averages provided were 100% accurate — it’s hard to create hard data out of vague information, but it does give us a starting point. 

Where it became difficult was trying to calculate the average costs for not-so-well documented costs, such as BBQ propane or lightbulbs and batteries. Still, with a little persistence, we did manage to find ballpark numbers — costs that we can use to create a baseline of monthly housing costs. Better still, we also found ways you can modify these averages to better suit your needs and use. 

We document all of this, here, in our Zolo: Total Guide to Monthly Housing Costs.

To help you use this spreadsheet, here are some notes and thoughts on each category and cost. 

As mentioned, we also provide a sample budget, that includes averages (we explain how we got these averages below), as well as instructions on how you can quickly or comprehensively change these averages to more realistically reflect your costs. 

Here is the breakdown: 

Section A: Monthly Income

According to data from Statistics Canada, the average median after-tax income for families in 2017 was $59,800. We understand that this average may not reflect your particular circumstances, but we use this average (and similar data from Statistics Canada) in order to create a baseline for the Zolo: Total Guide to Monthly Housing Costs

Based on these calculations, and the assumption that annual income rises, on average, by 1.5% per year, we estimate that the average after-tax income for families in 2019 is $61,590. 

Based on this, the average monthly after-tax income is $5,133. You can find this in the Zolo: Total Guide to Monthly Housing Costs in Section A: Monthly Income. 

We did not include an average for other types of income. Our assumption is that not all Canadians obtain income from investments, rental properties or from a side-hustle. However, for those that do earn this extra income, there are line items included to help you capture this data.  

(For Americans, the median salary in 2018 was $61,858, according to Sentier Research; with an annual raise of 1.5%, this puts the average annual salary at $62,786 USD or $5,232 per month of after-tax earnings)

Section B: Monthly Housing Expenses

Mortgage / Rent

It’s hard to create an average mortgage or rent for all of Canada. It’s a vast country with plenty of variables for housing expenses, but try, we must. 

To minimize errors, we sought out credible sources who had attempted to calculate a monthly average mortgage paid by Canadians. According to an article published in August 2018 by Better Dwelling, the average mortgage payment for Vancouver homeowners was $1,794, while the average mortgage payment for Toronto homeowners was $1,662 and the average Montrealer was paying $1,060. Based on this (and the extremes introduced by these three cities) we use an average monthly mortgage payment of $1,505. 

For those renting, we grabbed an average rental monthly rental price from PadMapper, 0f $1,558, per month, as of October 2019.  We chose to use the average of a two-bedroom apartment, based on the average rental costs for 24 major cities across Canada, as recorded by PadMapper. The decision to use the two-bedroom data was because we thought it captured a more realistic average rental cost for most Canadians. 

(For Americans, the median monthly mortgage payment is $1,030, according to the latest American Housing Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau, while the average rent is $1,405 per month.)

Utility Costs

Utilities are the services required to run your home. Unfortunately, the cost of utilities can vary quite dramatically from home to home, from city to city and from province to province. Still, it’s our aim to provide at least a baseline for these costs — and allow you to adjust based on your particular circumstances. That said, please be mindful that not all utility costs listed in our budget may be isolated costs for you. For instance, some municipalities will charge separate fees for water consumption, trash collection, and curbside recycling, while others charge one fee for all three services. Those living in condos will attest that some buildings require you to set up services, while others will include some of these charges, such as recycling or heating (or even discretionary costs, such as cable TV or phone lines), in the monthly condo fees. 

The key is to pay attention to what you pay and record that information as accurately as possible. 

Hydro / Electricity

To calculate average hydro costs, we turned to Hydro Quebec. For years, this provincial public utility company has been tracking the average electricity costs and consumption rates of residential, small and large businesses in major cities across North America. Based on Hydro Quebec’s most recent report, released in April 2018, Canadians paid, on average, $131.57 for their electricity consumption each month. 

For Americans, the average monthly cost of electricity is just under $110 USD.

Heating

Not all households use natural gas as their source of fuel for heating their home, however, it is the preferred method with 56% of homes using natural gas as their primary heating source, according to data collected by the Canadian Gas Association

As such, our average heating base cost is based on the average consumption rate of natural gas each month. According to data collected by Canada’s National Energy Board, the average monthly usage in Canada is 7.37 gigajoules (based on the average usage of 88.4 gigajoules per year in 2014). The province that uses the most natural gas is Alberta, with urban households consuming 100 gigajoules, while the average rural user consumes 272 gigajoules (GJs). Turns out Albertans (both residential and commercial) consume 40% of Canada’s natural gas usage, followed by Ontario (at 32%), Quebec (at 10%), Saskatchewan (at 6%), B.C. and the Territories (at 5%), Manitoba (at 3%) and, finally, the Atlantic provinces (at 0.4%). 

Given this usage, the Canadian Gas Association reported that the average cost for using natural gas in 2017 was $1,393, or $116.09 per month. 

Americans pay, on average, about $82 USD each month for heating, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Water/Sewer

There were some costs we found very hard to create a Canada-only average, but we still required a baseline. When we ran into this stumbling block, we turned to our U.S. cousins. While not all costs translate, we can assume that some costs are fairly equal, such as the cost of water consumption. For this reason, our base cost of $40 per month is based on the estimation provided by Howmuch.net and supported by Move.org

Trash/Recycling

We ran into the same problems with trying to determine a national average for trash and recycling costs and, once again, our solution was to use an inexact but decent approximation used by Move.org, which gave us an average monthly cost of $16. 

We feel relatively confident about our estimate costs for water, sewer and trash collection, based on the estimates provided by other notable sites that have also attempted to provide cost estimates for homeownership. 

Hot water tank 

For years, I’ve read online debates on whether it’s better to rent your hot water tank or to buy and own the tank outright. From a purely mathematical perspective, ownership always appears to come out ahead: 

  • The average lifespan for a hot water tank is about 15 years
  • Most homeowners will start to break even on the upfront cost of purchasing a hot water tank by year six or seven
  • That leaves eight to nine years of no fees, assuming no breakdowns. 

But, I’ve also owned a few homes and had a few hot water tanks and I know what it’s like to have a tank crash and burn (not literally) well before that average lifespan. That’s when it’s nice to know that I don’t have to pay an upfront cost to remove, purchase and install a new tank (to the tune of $1,100 or more, although, for those paying attention, go this route and the amortized cost is about $6 per month over the 15 years). 

Yet, this budget isn’t about debating the merits of HVAC appliance ownership — it’s about developing a realistic monthly budget for homeownership (or living costs). 

As such, we’re estimating the average monthly hot water tank cost at $19.50. This cost is based on the average rental cost of a hot water tank. Once again, please adjust according to your personal circumstances. 

For Americans or Canadians who don’t want to rent a hot water tank (it’s sort of a big-city Canadian phenomenon to rent the tank), we’ve priced the purchase, permit, and installation of a standard hot water tank at $1,308, USD based on analysis done by Home Depot. While most homeowners will pay for this cost upfront, we did amortize the cost over 12 months. (In the American-version of the template, we did not include this cost in the baseline average costs.)

Furnace 

According to Furnaceprices.ca, the average cost for a high-efficiency furnace that will heat a mid-sized home (estimated at, about 2,000-square-feet) is between $3,300 and $5,000 (before taxes and rebates but including installation). While it’s possible to also rent-to-own your furnace, keep in mind that this will actually cost you more in the long run, as explained in this Furnaceprices article

Since most homes purchased come with a furnace, we didn’t include this monthly cost in our baseline budget, however, we did attempt to provide an average monthly cost, should you need to factor in this cost. As such, we estimated that you’d need to set aside $345.83 per month to pay for a new furnace. This is based on an average furnace cost of $4,150. We make the assumption that it would take most Canadians about a year to save up for a new furnace purchase or to pay off a line of credit used to make a furnace purchase (note: we don’t take into consideration the interest charged on the line of credit). 

For Americans, the average standard furnace will set you back at least $2,250 USD but expect to pay, on average, about $3,800 USD for a high-efficiency model.

However, the vast majority of homeowners won’t have this expense as part of their monthly budget. Still, we wanted to include it for those homeowners faced with the prospect of having to replace their furnace.

Strata/HOA/Condo fees 

Strata or Homeowner Association fees (HOA), also known as condo or maintenance fees, are calculated based on a formula. Part of the formula takes into consideration the total square footage of your unit, and how much that unit takes up of the building’s overall square footage (including common areas). Other factors included in this calculation include where the unit is located, with units on higher floors commanding more “value” and, as a result, a higher strata fee. This is one reason why condo fees, even for unit-owners in the same building, are not always the same amount.  It’s also why it’s so hard to find an average monthly fee for strata or condo fees. 

Since our initial base budget is based on a single-family home, we did not include an average cost for this budget item, however, we did include the line item for those that do live in communities with HOA fees or those who live in townhouses or condos. 

If you’re a first-time buyer and want to get a general sense of how much to include in this line item, consider what National Bank reported about average condo fees. In October 2018, the bank released a report that stated average monthly condo fees in the Greater Toronto Area were $0.65 per square foot. For a 594-square-foot, one-bedroom condo, this would mean a monthly condo maintenance fee of $386.60 per month. For a two-bedroom, 956-square-foot unit, this monthly cost jumps to $628.02 per month. For those looking to purchase a three-bedroom unit or a condo unit that is around 1,355-square-feet, the average monthly condo fee is $881.20 per month. 

But we don’t all live in the GTA. Those living in cities with more reasonable housing costs can extrapolate from the costs calculated by the National Bank for average condo fees in the Greater Montreal Area. According to the National Bank, condo owners in Greater Montreal paid closer to $0.20 per square foot, on average, for monthly condo fees. Based on these figures, a one-bedroom condo would cost about $119 per month; a two-bedroom would cost about $190 per month, while a three-bedroom unit would cost $270 per month. 

If you are interested in a specific unit and want to get a better idea of how the condo fees rank, compared to the above averages, simply ask for an information sheet that shows both the monthly maintenance fees as well as the unit’s square footage. Divide the cost by the square footage to get the square foot cost. If it’s widely out-of-line with the averages we’ve provided, start asking questions: What’s included with this monthly maintenance fee? Have any special assessments occurred recently? The key to assessing whether or not condo fees are realistic is to find out how they rank when compared to other, similar buildings. The more you know, the easier it is to make these assessments. 

According to Investopedia, HOA fees can range between $100 to $700 USD per month, but the average cost for most U.S. homeowners is $200 USD per month.

House/Tenant Insurance

According to a JD Power survey, average homeowners insurance ranges across the country. A typical homeowner policy will cost $960 per year for a Quebec homeowner, while a homeowner in Atlantic Canada or in Ontario can expect to pay $1,284 per year, on average. Move west and you’ll find that homeowners in the prairie provinces, as well as B.C. residents, are paying  $1,200 per year in homeowner’s insurance. For our purposes, we used these figures to create a Canadian average insurance cost of $95.67 per month. 

If you’re a tenant, select the “tenant” option in the spreadsheet and you’ll find the average monthly cost for tenant insurance drops your monthly cost significantly to $23 per month. According to Ratehub, this is the average cost for tenant insurance. 

Keep in mind, however, that both these monthly costs do not take into consideration additional insurance coverage for collectables, expensive sports equipment (such as snowboards or mountain bikes), or expensive jewellery or artwork. Nor do these average costs take into consideration additional coverage for home-based businesses. If you do need these extra coverages, be prepared to add at least another $10 per month, possibly more, depending on the coverage you need.   

For American homeowners, the average homeowner insurance cost is just over $1,130 USD.

Emergency Fund

While there are no averages of how much you should save as an emergency fund, there are general rules of thumb. Most experts will save that you should save between three and nine months of worth of expenses — but does that include all expenses or just the basic necessities? 

Also, how quickly should you save that money? For instance, if you were starting from scratch and needed to save $12,000 for a “proper” emergency fund that would require you to set aside $1,000 each month, probably in a just-slightly-above-inflation ‘high-interest’ rate savings account. Even for me, that’s a hard pill to swallow. 

So, we tried to find a nice, happy, middle-of-the-road solution; we used the RBC Emergency Fund calculator to get a total fund amount, based on the average monthly earnings we listed in Section A. Based on these calculations, we need to save $15,399 as our emergency fund. Then, we calculated how much we’d need to save based on five years of committing funds to this emergency costs account. Why five years? Because it gives us a manageable, monthly saving commitment that isn’t too hard to achieve. For our budget, that means a monthly saving commitment of $256.65. This sum should be consistent regardless of whether you rent or pay a mortgage. For Americans, this sum goes up slightly to reflect the higher earnings, to about $257.73.

Maintenance

The general rule of thumb is to set aside 1% to 3% of your home’s purchase price as a maintenance fund. For a home that costs $500,000, that means setting aside $5,000 to $15,000 per year — that’s $416.67 to $1,250 each month! 

I know: That’s just not realistic for most homeowners, not after factoring in groceries, transit costs and childcare, none of which are part of this monthly housing budget! 

Instead, we suggest setting aside a percentage of your monthly mortgage or rental costs. In this case, we suggest setting aside 10% of this monthly cost as part of your annual maintenance fund. If, by amazing circumstance, you don’t end up dipping into this contingency fund, it will mean you will have set aside about $1,800 as a maintenance fund — more than enough to pay for an emergency appliance replacement or a sizeable down payment on a new furnace, A/C unit or roof repair. 

For Americans, the amount to save decreases to $103 USD per month set aside for your home maintenance fund.

The idea of a maintenance fund is to amortize repair and replacement costs associated with your home over time.

Section C: Monthly Discretionary Costs 

Here comes the debateable costs — the monthly bills that are not necessary, but certainly make our home a much more enjoyable place to spend time. 

As suggested, we include these costs, but they certainly aren’t necessary. If you really want to make a purchase fit your financial circumstances, you can always cut expenses in this section. Keep in mind, however, that it sucks to live in a house rich/cash poor situation. 

Home phone (hardline)

Do people still pay for hardline home phone service? Yes. According to the Canada Radio and Telecommunications Corporation (CRTC), the federal agency tasked with monitoring and policing different communication, 67% of households still have a landline. The average monthly cost for this landline is $27.50 (about a third of the price of the average monthly cell phone bill).  

In America, less than half (46%) of homeowners still have a landline. Those that do, pay handsomely with the average phone line costing $42 USD per month.

Subscription Costs

Subscription costs include a variety of monthly or annual costs that homeowners must or choose to incur. These include video or TV-streaming services, such as Netflix, music streaming services, such as Spotify, as well as gaming subscriptions, cable television or satellite costs, as well as other subscriptions that are purchased primarily for use with the home (such as Amazon Prime, for delivery of grocery items, Costco membership, etc.). 

For our baseline exercise, we chose to include the most common/popular services and use averages collected by industry experts. For instance, the cable television monthly cost of $53.75 comes from that 2016 CRTC report, while Netflix and music costs are derived from the most popular subscription package offered. For gaming costs, we ignored the rumours about Apple Arcade launching with a $5 per month cost — because it’s not yet certain — and went with the $10 per month that most gamers would pay for either PS4 or Xbox Live online gaming subscription. 

If there aren’t enough lines you can always lump similar costs together or add more lines. 

Internet

According to the CRTC, 87% of Canadian households have internet service. The average cost of this service is between $49.50 and $55, according to 

In America, the average cost of a monthly internet service package is $66 USD.

Household Cleaning Supplies

According to The Nest, the average American family spend $600 each year on cleaners. This sum includes laundry detergent, window cleaner, toilet bowl detergent as well as floor cleaners, trash bags and hand soap. Translated into Canadian dollars this would mean a family household spend $66.97 per month on cleaning supplies (based on an exchange rate of $1.34). This seemed a bit high to us, so we dug a bit deeper. According to Emma Bedford, a writer at Statista.com, the average Canadian household spends $213 per year on cleaning supplies, or, approximately $18 per month. 

Cleaning Service

For those interested in hiring (or keeping) their cleaning service, we’ve included it in our baseline budget. To get our monthly cost, however, we went back to a 2016 MoneySense article that calculated the average hourly rate a Canadian should be paying a cleaner. Turns out the “perfect price” is $30 (in 2016, with inflation, that’s now closer to $31.20), but don’t expect to get your entire house cleaned for under $32, because that perfect price is for each hour of cleaning. For most 2,000-square-foot homes, expect to pay for at least six hours of cleaning each month, which translate into a monthly cost of $187.20. 

For Americans, the average cleaner will cost $167 USD per month.

Home Security / Alarm System

Like most budget items, there are a lot of variances when it comes to estimating the cost of a home security system. Is the system already in place and you’re just assuming the monthly monitoring? Or is it new and you’re purchasing the system? Or perhaps leasing the system? Another option is to build your own using one of the home monitoring systems in the market (most telecommunication providers have a package). Each decision will have an impact on your overall as well as your monthly costs — or you may simply decide not to add this cost into your budget. 

For our baseline, we chose to include only the monthly monitoring fee, which ranges from $15 to $35 per month. As such, we used a monthly cost of $25 for our budget. 

Americans can expect to pay a bit more. While some services cost $10 per month some go as high as $100 per month USD. After factoring in all the different types of services — from panic buttons to surveillance and chip-monitored services — we calculated that the average home alarm system would cost just less than $48 per month USD.

Section D: Annual Costs (amortized)  

Lawn & Garden Maintenance

To aeriate or not to aeriate? And should you go for the golf-green package (No!) or stick with the routine maintenance. Choosing the right lawn maintenance package can be a frustrating and time-consuming job and, quite frankly, the service shouldn’t boil down to just the price. A good, reliable lawn maintenance company is best found through a happy referral from a friend, family or colleague. Full Disclosure: I put myself through school working as a landscape helper. I mowed a lot of lawns. A. Lot. Of. Lawns. 

I also realize that good, quality lawn care is more than just being proud of where you live. A yard is an integral part of your home’s defense system against the elements — want to avoid big repair bills on that cracked foundation? Make sure your yard is graded properly, that no soil is touching your home’s foundation and that your yard can quickly and efficient wick water away from your home. 

While many Canadians take on yard maintenance as part of their weekly or monthly routine, many others opt to pay for regular upkeep. If you’d rather budget for a professional, use this line item to anticipate this cost. Of course, the actual cost of yard maintenance will vary dramatically based on a number of variables: where you are located, climate (how fast does your grass grow?), size of yard, type of maintenance required (just mow the lawn or is the service also aeriating? Or cleaning up pet damage? Or weeding and trimming bushes and trees?). 

To start, we opted for the basic, standard package: A season of mowed lawns that are no larger than 2,000-square-feet, a minimum of two visits per month, as well as lawn-edge trimming, flowerbed and garden clean-up (in the fall), debris removal (approximately 5 bags, extra costs for more bags) and spring prep and clean-up the following year. All this should set you back about $140 per month. For American homeowners, expect to pay about $133 USD per month

For those interested in landscaping, please note that we do not include these as monthly costs, as landscaping is more of a renovation/home improvement project. 

Snow Removal

Not everyone wants to shovel snow and for those looking to offload this task onto a service company, expect to pay about $42 per month for basic service (or about $500 per season). Of course, like with most housing expenses, this cost will vary quite dramatically depending on the size of the driveway and the walkways to be cleared and where you are located. 

Americans actually pay a bit more for snow removal with an average monthly cost of $110 USD. The good news is that most Americans will only need to budget this cost for six months, meaning the amortized cost of this service is closer to $55 USD per month.

Gutter and Eavestrough Cleaning

Cleaning the gutters and eavestroughs can be a simple job or it can be downright dangerous — just ask the homeowner of a three-story townhouse that’s easily 35 to 45 feet above ground level. For those looking to offload this twice per year task, budget about $225 for each visit for a two-story home (less for bungalows, more for three-story homes). American homeowners can budget $156 USD for each visit. Other factors that impact the cost: Excessive leaf and debris build-up, a larger than standard linear footprint and awkward roof lines. 

Property Tax

Based on the average priced home in Canada as of July 2019 of $498,843 as reported by the Canadian Real Estate Association and an average property tax of 0.90385%, which is calculated using the 2018 property tax rates for 25 major cities across Canada. Americans pay significantly less in property taxes. Of the 50 states analyzed, Colorado takes the “mid-spot” with $1,381.92 paid in property taxes each year. 

Septic tank / Well Costs

If your home is on a septic system, you’ll need to budget for a tank pump-out every two to five years (depending on the size of your tank and the number of people/fixtures are in the household). Assuming average use and size, you can budget $521 per pump out, every two to three years. 

Chimney or Firebox Inspection & Cleaning

There’s nothing better than the sound of a crackling fire on a cold winter’s night. For homes that enjoy the use of a wood-burning fireplace (or a boxed insert, otherwise known as a firebox), you’ll need to budget an annual inspection and cleaning at an approximate cost of $250. The price can go down for each chimney or firebox you add. Don’t skimp on this annual maintenance or you’ll end up paying a much higher maintenance bill to have the creosote build-up (the toxic oil residue that’s left on the walls of your chimney after burning wood) safely removed. 

Pest Control 

Nobody enjoys sharing a home with unwanted roommates, particularly when those roomies are more commonly referred to as “pests.” When dealing with mice, rats, wasps, cockroaches, silverfish or spiders, expect to pay about $250, on average, for a treatment that should come with a six-month guarantee. If you’re dealing with raccoons, skunks or squirrels, you’ll need to increase that cost to about $360 per treatment. If you’re really worried and need to treat for both insect and animal pests, you’ll need to budget $710 for a six-month pest-free guarantee. 

Propane 

If you live in a home that allows for outdoor grills, then chances are you’ve got one and you use it. Perhaps, quite a lot. Turns out the cost of propane, while not hugely significant, can certainly tack on a few dollars here and there to the monthly budget. To help you plan for this household expense, we found calculations and research, where others had completed the potentially complicated math to figure out how long a propane tank lasts and how much it would cost you to refill that tank based on average annual use.  Based on these calculations, a 20-lb tank should last about 10 hours (based on a 40,000 BTU output). Given that the vast majority of homeowner BBQ only once per week (according to CNN, only 5.5% of North Americans will grill more than once per week) and the grill will be in use for about 90 minutes, this means a standard 20-lb propane tank should last you six to seven weeks. Since grilling season is, theoretically, between April and September, then the average grilling homeowner will need to refill their tank two to three times, at an approximate cost of $25 each time. 

Firewood

It’s quite possible to find and burn wood for free, but for homeowners who want a cleaner, better burn in their chimney or firebox, it’s best to budget a firewood purchase from a reputable dealer. Dealers that specialize in firewood will often cut pieces to fit your firebox and always make sure each cord is seasoned and dried appropriately. For most smaller homes, a full cord will last about four months, at a cost of about $435 plus tax. 

Pool Heater and Pump & Filter Inspections

Excited that you bought a home with a pool, or just recently installed a pool? You should be! Pools are a great way for the family to enjoy downtime. But with those fun times comes responsibility and one item that shouldn’t be left unchecked is your pool’s heater and filter. Plan to pay about $200 per year for an inspection, more for any repair costs. For a basic pump & filter inspection, plan to pay about $230 plus tax. Keep in mind that you may have to book these two inspections with different companies — typically you’re natural gas supplier and service provider will take care of the heat pump, while pool specialists will deal with the pump & filter inspection. 

Furnace Filters

A simple way to get the most out of your furnace is to change the furnace filter once every three months, minimum. Since many furnace filters are sold in a two-pack, we anticipated an annual purchase of filters that would then be used throughout the year. While some furnace filters can cost hundreds of dollars for just one, most fall in the range of $12 to $25 per filter. For our baseline, we took the average between the basic and the best and then amortized the cost over 12 months. 

Section E: Bi-Annual Costs (amortized)  

Furnace & Hot Water Tank Inspection

I’m not a big fan of paying for protection service plans for products or systems that are virtually brand new. After years of analysis by a variety of brands, the common theme is that warranties on brand-new products often benefit the service provider or manufacturer, not the consumer. While there are a few exceptions to this rule, furnaces are not one of the exceptions. Most furnace mechanics admit that any furnace less than a decade only typically only needs an inspection by a qualified professional once every two years. Once a furnace hits more than 10 years old, however, you should either consider a protection plan or getting a robust (ie: thorough) furnace inspection. When shopping for protection plans for later-life furnaces, keep in mind that many repairs are not actually covered, so make sure you weigh that against the possible out-of-pocket cost of a potential repair. 

For our baseline budget, we budget for an inspection once every two years, assuming your furnace is under age 10. Of course, if this isn’t the case, please adjust the costs accordingly.  

We also included the hot water tank inspection in these costs. While hot water tanks aren’t too difficult to inspect, most people don’t feel comfortable — not a bad thing considering you’re being forced to inspect a large metal canister containing scalding hot water. To get both the furnace and the hot water tank inspected at the same time will save you about $50, at an average cost of $250, plus tax, for each inspection. When amortized over 24 months, that cost works out to just under $11. 

Heat Pump, HRV or A/C Inspection

Like your furnace, you should have a licensed technician test these large home appliances at least once every two years — increase the frequency as the units age. Most firms will inspect heat pumps and A/C units together for about $250, plus tax; adding an HRV inspection will cost another $250, plus tax.

Complete Housing Budget Spreadsheet Gives you Control

Now that you can appreciate where we obtained our benchmark housing-related costs, both for American and Canadian homeowners and renters, it’s time to download this housing expenses template spreadsheet and set your own budget. Use the benchmarks as a guide. When you have exact figures, enter them into the appropriate expense categories (don’t forget to select the payment frequency in the drop-down menu). If you’re unsure of a cost — and let’s face it, being new to homeownership often means uncertain financial expenses — use the benchmarks as a starting place. Over time, you can adjust these costs as you get a better handle on what your own homeownership or rental arrangement is actually costing you.

Romana King
Romana King

Romana King is an award-winning personal finance writer and the current director of content for Zolo. King has contributed to business and lifestyle publications including CBC.ca, Toronto Sun, Maclean’s, MoneySense, Globe & Mail Custom Content Team, and Toronto Star. She is a passionate speaker about financial education and engages her audience on a variety of personal finance topics from kids and money, home buying and selling tips, and estate and investment planning. King won the 2015 SABEW Business Journalism award and is currently nominated for a COPA 2019 award, Best Service Article, for her annual project Best Deals in Real Estate. As editor of CI Top Broker, King guided her magazine to obtain its first KRW Business Journalism nomination, and she was part of the small team in 2011 that helped MoneySense win Magazine of the Year at the 34th annual National Magazine Awards.