Albertans pay highest proportion for life's essentials

Albertans shell out more for food, shelter and transportation combined than people living in the other nine provinces, Statistics Canada says.

Transportation, food and shelter account for 63.1% of Alberta household spending, StatsCan says

Statistics Canada says Albertans spend about 63 per cent of their household budgets on transportation, food and shelter. (CBC/Shutterstock/Canadian Press)

Albertans shell out more for food, shelter and transportation combined than people living in the other nine provinces, Statistics Canada says.

Albertans on average devote 63.1 per cent of their total household spending on the three pillars of essential, non-discretionary costs, compared to the national average of 62.3 per cent.

But while Albertans pay the most for the three essentials combined, they don't pay the highest cost in any single category, ATB Financial noted in a release looking at the 2016 figures from Statistics Canada.

The agency only included figures from the 10 provinces.

Albertans devoted 29.2 per cent of their total spending to shelter — which includes home ownership expenses, mortgages and rent. That's lower than British Columbia, at 30 per cent, and Ontario, which tops the country at 30.9 per cent

In 2016, the average annual expenditure per Alberta household on shelter was $23,499. That compares to $21,599 in B.C., $23,076 in Ontario and $16,458 in Quebec.

Alberta renters paid $17,231 on average, compared with $15,276 in B.C.,$14,628 in Ontario and $10,487 in Quebec. 

Alberta ranked fourth among the provinces in transportation expenditures at 20.7 per cent of total household spending. Saskatchewan topped the list at 22.2 per cent.

And Alberta households pay the least in the country for food as a proportion of total spending, tied with Ontario at 13.2 per cent. Quebecers pay the most at 16.2 per cent.

"Taken all together, Albertans do pay the highest proportion on the necessities of life," the ATB Financial release said.

People with the lowest incomes are the most impacted by the high cost of the basics, said Carolyn Davis, spokesperson for Momentum, a not-for-profit organization that helps low income earners.

"We know people living on a lower income spend a higher percentage of their money on the essentials," she said.

'Less money to go around'

"There's just less money to go around and obviously the basics need to be paid first."

ATB Financial chief economist Todd Hirsch says, despite the economic downturn, Albertans continue to spend a lot on a place to live.

"Even though the recession was brutal, it didn't really affect housing prices that much," he said.

"And it didn't even really affect apartment rents that much. I mean, rents came down a little and you see a few more vacancies."

Hirsch notes that while price at the pump is the lowest in Canada, Albertans still spend more than people in other provinces on fuel, partly because Albertans are more reliant on their vehicles than other Canadians who make greater use of mass transit.

Kacie Mekish moved to Alberta to learn a trade and improve her earning potential.

While the 21-year-old believes she will eventually make more money out west, she says it costs her more to live in Alberta.

"I find it cheaper in Manitoba than it is to live here," she said.

But the gap between what Albertans spend and what people in Manitoba spend — the province with the lowest percentage spent on the three essentials — is less than two percentage points.

"Given that Albertans' average earnings were 26 per cent higher than our friends in Manitoba last year, we're not doing too badly," ATB Financial said. 

In a separate report Tuesday, Statistics Canada said the number of Albertans receiving Employment Insurance (EI) benefits dropped by 2.3 per cent to 61,500 in October from September. Year over year, beneficiaries in Alberta decreased 38.1 per cent to October, 2017. 

With files from Elissa Carpenter