Why We Decided to Live In Edmonton

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“Why We Decided to Live in Edmonton” is a post by Adina J in which she explains the seemingly inexplicable.

We decided to live in Edmonton

January is the longest, cruelest month… especially in northern Alberta. I’m pretty sure that last month was at least six weeks long, and ended on a particularly low note: 37 degrees Celsius below zero, to be precise. It is at moments like these (exhausted, dispirited, cold), that my thoughts turn to a recurrent, simple question: we decided to live in Edmonton, but why?

The simple answer is pragmatism. My parents chose to come to Edmonton nearly two decades ago, because the cost of living here was cheap, there was no provincial tax, and engineering jobs were plentiful. After living in large European capital cities, Edmonton was a cultural (and meteorological) shock. But they stuck it out, and built their own version of the Canadian success story, in no small part because of those very considerations and strengths-of-character that brought them here in the first place. For my part, I toyed with the idea of leaving Edmonton numerous times during my university career for shores both proximate (Toronto) and distant (California). Ultimately I calculated the same math as my parents and stayed put.

The biggest impetus to leave didn’t arise until 2008, when the time came for my then-boyfriend (now husband) and me to discuss our future plans. Having lived in Vancouver for over 4 years while pursuing his Masters degree, my husband was a fervent proponent of life on the West Coast. I was more reticent, having already built a post-university life in Edmonton by then, but still very much open to the idea; after all, no one who’s ever visited Vancouver can avoid being enchanted – even the teensiest bit – by the idea of living there full time. We debated (and downright argued) back and forth for months, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that this was one of the toughest spots in our relationship. The hockey lock-out had nothing on us.

Well, based on the title (if not a passing knowledge of my story), you know how this played out. We chose to stay in Edmonton. And, January-blues aside, we have never come close to regretting it. Here’s why we decided to live in Edmonton:

Reason #1 that we decided to live in Edmonton: Job Prospects

Back in 2008, I was lucky enough to have a job that could have been transferred to Vancouver with no loss of income. On the other hand, as a new graduate in a competitive field recently decimated by the U.S. economic meltdown, my husband’s job prospects were poor. Most of his classmates who’d graduated before him were either still struggling to find jobs, or working minimum wage positions as interns. Although the job market in Edmonton in his particular field was also somewhat uncertain, the overall job market and prospects for jobs in related fields were very good.

As it turned out, a couple of months after moving back here, he was able to get a job making $20-30K more per year than a lot of his former classmates. Additionally, my own income has risen much more quickly than it would have, had I remained in my old position and moved to Vancouver.

Reason #2 that we decided to live in Edmonton: Cost of Living

I loved traveling to Vancouver to visit my husband, but was it always a shock to the wallet! Unless you live out in the suburbs (and don’t let anyone try to tell you that it’s anything like living in Vancouver proper!) and have access to big-box stores like Walmart, the cost of everything is higher. Dining out may be the exception; you can get amazing food at ridiculously low prices if you don’t mind eating at some random hole-in-the-wall sushi joint or diner. Back in 2008, B.C. had their P.S.T. at something crazy like 13%, almost double Alberta’s G.S.T. So even if I had made the same amount of money as I did back in Edmonton, my purchasing power would have suffered. Combine that with my husband’s much lower income prospects, and we would have had a much harder time paying off his student debt and getting ahead.

Reason #3 that we decided to live in Edmonton: Keeping Up With the Joneses-itis

There is a saying: no one moves to Vancouver to make money; people move to Vancouver to spend money. And, boy, do people ever spend! If you’re living in or adjacent to any of the swankier neighbourhoods (Gastown, Yaletown, North Van, etc.), you are awash in affluence. And we’re not talking about Alberta-style affluence, either. People in Vancouver (not necessarily native Vancouverites) have a flair for blowing money like it’s, well, blow – and Vancouver offers limitless opportunities for doing so in super fun ways. Which is to say: Vancouver is a great place to live when you’re for-real rich. It’s not as much fun when you don’t have tons of money to spend or, worse, your weak psyche is susceptible to aspirational spending. Now, I know that in a place like Edmonton – where affluence is reflected in jumbo SUVs and massive houses – I’m relatively safe from this disease. In Vancouver, where the local Holt Renfrew is like a Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory for shopaholics, I am infinitely more vulnerable.

Reason #4 that we decided to live in Edmonton: Housing

I admit it: my husband and I were house-horny in 2008. We knew we wanted to buy a house… and we also knew we would never be able to afford a house in Vancouver. We talked about moving out to Burnaby, but our hearts weren’t really in it. As a student, my husband rented a large-ish apartment in downtown Vancouver (in a rent-controlled building), a block from the beach. It was an area we both adored, but one where houses were scarce, not to mention exorbitantly priced. The same was true for our other preferred location, Kits. Our only other option would have been to buy a condo, most likely for the same price (or higher) as a house in Edmonton. In the end, we just couldn’t envision ourselves raising a family in 700 square feet.

As it turned out, we were right. On our last visit to Vancouver, back in May, we stayed at our friends’ condo – a spacious (by Vancouver standards) two bedroom, 800 square feet apartment on the edge of Yaletown. Our son’s stroller barely fit through the door, and took up the entire hallway; the living room area was approximately the same size as his play-pen back home. Nope, we definitely don’t know how people raise families in Vancouver condos, but we’re pretty sure we can’t do it!

Reason #5 that we decided to live in Edmonton: Family

I’ve left this one till the end, mostly because it was one of the considerations to which we gave the least weight back in 2008. I know — we were so young and foolhardy!

As an only child, I am very close to my family, and the thought of being thousands of kilometres away from them – in a city where I had few close friends – was a big drawback for me. My husband felt less strongly about the distance from his own family, but in both cases, we were looking at it from the wrong angle. We were both thinking about the impact of the distance on our relationships with our respective families, rather than the impact on our own family. When our son was born, we quickly came to appreciate what it means to have close family living nearby. With both sets of (hands-on) grandparents less than a 15 minute drive away, we have never lacked for impromptu baby-sitters, nor has my son lacked for attention or affection from a multitude of adults wrapped around his little finger. (OK, that one may come back to bite us in a few years. Sigh!) We are also fortunate to have a family member (my mom) willing to stay home and care for our son while we work. From a financial perspective alone this has been incredible, and not one we would have gotten had we chosen to move away from Edmonton.

All in all, we decided to live in Edmonton mostly for the same pragmatic reasons that our parents chose to come to Edmonton years ago. That is not to say that there aren’t other reasons to live here — Edmonton is far more vibrant than people, including residents, give it credit for – but those reasons are the first to pale when the temperature dips below zero. Family and finances, though, trump the weather any day… including January.

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21 Comments… Share your views

  1. 1000 words later, you’re still living in Edmonton :).

  2. As you know from reading about happiness, the human mind is verrrry good at justifying past decisions. Me thinks that if you had moved to Vancouver instead, you’d be writing this article about how much better life is in balmy cultural world-class Vancouver than it is in crappy old boring cold Edmonton; and be equally happy and fulfilled with your choice.

    Which isn’t to say you’re wrong above about Edmonton, just that we can adapt and be happy in almost any circumstances. We get used to things and find our way!

    When I finished my articling with Deloitte & Touche at 24, I picked up and moved to Bermuda about a week after getting a job offer there. I didn’t know anyone in Bermuda, I had never been there, I was starting a job where I didn’t know anything (“captive insurance”??).

    Today I would *never* do such a thing, but in hindsight, I can honestly say it was one of the best decisions I had ever made. My insurance career took off and I met amazing people and made amazing (tax-free) money that gave me a jump in life. If I had stayed in Toronto working in public accounting where I was unhappy and working 100+ hour weeks, I’d likely be just as happy now though. Only I’d be praising how much I love corporate tax filings and how I’m on the road to being Partner which I’d never have been able to do if I’d gone off like a crazy person to Bermuda.

    We justify our past decisions. A fine coping mechanism that has served me very well!

    • You may well be right in general, but I honestly don’t think that’s the case here. Those were all the important metrics we considered back then, and still the most important metrics I would consider today if I had to make a decision along the same lines. The answers haven’t changed. If we were people to value, say, opportunities for entertainment and outdoors activities (or the climate) above some of the ones I listed, then absolutely – we would have made or would make a different decision. I’m not sure that living in Vancouver would have changed our priorities either.

      Every time I visit Vancouver, I fall back in love with it, while at the same time realizing that (short of winning the lottery) I just can’t live there long-term.

    • I hereby declare this to be “COGNITIVE DISSONANCE WEEK” on TimelessFinance lol jokes. Every debt blogger in Canada just said “OMG U WERE LIVING THE DREAM WHY WOULD YOU LEAVE BERMUDA!?!?”

      • Joe – Oh I would have stayed in Bermuda but my job with the NHL captive dried up when the League went on lock-out in 2004! Also after a while (years) island living becomes less fun than you’d think.

        Adina – Very good point on the priorities not changing. You read the same book as me (I got it because of your review on this very website), I still think if you’d have gone to Vancouver instead you’d have been able to justify your decision today with just as much conviction. It’s not that your (awesome) priorities would change so much as we humans mentally block ourselves from looking back at our major life changes with regret. At least, that’s what the book said. It sounded very sure of itself….

  3. So in Vancouver everything is more expensive, there are more opportunities to spend, and people earn less and pay more taxes. Now I understand why they have the disposable income to keep inflating a ridiculous housing bubble! No, wait… I don’t understand at all.

    But maybe we’re just bitter because they don’t have to suffer frostbite after 5m of exposure to the outside air.

  4. I find your point #3 interesting. I’m not terribly familiar with Edmonton, but I find Calgary HORRIBLE for keeping-up-with-the-jonesesitis! The place is chock a block full of U35s will money to burn. It’s very different from what I’ve experienced in Vancouver. Like I said though, I’m not too familiar with Edmonton.

  5. I love Canada and Canadians, but I sure wouldn’t like being under snow all winter. I like my sunshine in daily doses. Living in sunny So. Cal. has it’s own share of annoyances. It’s expensive, crowded and our government is literally disfunctional. But, I wouldn’t trade it for anywhere else, because my family lives here and I see them all of the time.

  6. Hi Adina – enjoyed your post and get it. I was a 3rd generation Westcoaster myself. Living the “dream” Working 2 jobs (@ 70 hrs per week and sometimes more) to support a wife and 3 kids in a suburban townhouse. Then oops….#4 came along around the same time I was offered a promotion, and transfer to Edmonton.
    After wrestling with the dilema, we made the move and left our extensive support network of family and friends, and moved. We had a 5 year plan to get back to Vancouver.

    The first few years were extremely difficult, but we made it. We bought a house in a nice mature neighborhood with lots of good local schools. We even said “what the hell” and had our “Edmonton Baby” (#5), because we could afford it.

    Since moving here in 2004, I have been offfered a couple of positions back in the lower mainland. After doing the math, they were both turned down. I would need to make @25-30% more, just to keep the same financial standard of living. Nevermind the fact I would go from a 15-20 commute to well over an hour (or more),

    We have come to the realization – we are not going back – except for our family visits to see our extended families. We are here, we are staying and we are loving it (except when it hits -30 :) )

    • Just curious what neighbourhood you decided to settle down in and if you found a lot of welcoming neighbours. i am considering the move and have wrestled with figuring out where to live.

      Thanks

  7. Hi Adina,

    Very nice post. Thanks for sharing. The reasons you list are certainly ones that are relevant and important to many of us and are strong reasons we call Edmonton home. I do think we still want to apologize somewhat for living here. I’m not quite sure why but we as Edmontonians are unsure what others will think so we tend to promote these fundamental causes as reasons for being here. You hint at the vibrancy, which I would agree with, but it’s interesting that we want to note that (along with culture, recreation, people etc.) second. Maybe that’s the right order anyway – family should trump wine bars – but I think the next step for the city is to be ok in its own skin and to find balance between discussing fundamental and aesthetic/cultural/vibrancy reasons for living in this great city.

    Thanks again for the post!

  8. Great story. I am currently waiting for an interview for a job in Edmonton and would really want to move there for better job ops and all that. Here is a question for you. Do you think it is possible to keep a property in BC and purchase another in Edmonton? I currently have a house in Langley but would want to come back to visit all the family members. Since it is Langley and not Vancouver, it is not too pricey under $350K. What are the average houses going for in Edmonton? I have tried looking at listings but have no idea of the areas as in good or not so good. The job will be at the University of Alberta. Any comments are tips will be greatly appreciated, thanks in advance!

    • I’m not sure how much help I can be, not knowing particulars of your financial situation. With regards to the question about holding on to your property in Langley, my only question is: what are you planning to do with the property when you’re not visiting? If it can provide a good rental income, and you’re not carrying a huge mortgage that will eat up any profits, that’s one thing. But keeping up two households merely for occasional visits seems uneconomical – couldn’t you stay with family when you visit?

      Last time I looked at stats (a few weeks ago) the average price of single family detached homes (not condos, duplexes, etc.) in Edmonton was around the $415K mark. This is dependent on location, of course, but it should give you a sense of prices. As for location, this depends on what you and your family are looking for. Established, mature neighbourhoods close to the University (Queen Alexandra, Parkallen, Belgravia, Garneau, even Ritchie) tend to be pricier – $400K will likely buy you a 1950s home with around 1000 sq ft. But there are plenty of beautiful mature (and newer) neighbourhoods all over the City. Without knowing what your must-haves and priorities are, I really can’t offer too many tips.

      Good luck with your interview!

    • Hi Adina,

      Thanks for the feedback and info. It gave me food for thought and some additional ideas. I was not successful in regards to the job, since I made it through 2 interviews. I have a feeling that they went with someone local and less experience to save on costs, but I am definitely keeping my eyes open for other opportunities in Edmonton!

      BV

  9. We are the opposite.

    I lived in Edmonton from 1996-2012 for University, then met my husband and had 2 children at grey nuns hospital. We even bought 2 houses along the way…. I ultimately could not handle the
    -30 to -50 winters or the toxic culture…

    Reason #1 Job prospects
    - I left Edmonton to take a 20K pay cut, although the company I was hired with paid for my move. And my husband quit his management job to be a stay at home dad.
    Currently I make 80K a year and live comfortably in a1000sq ft apartment with my family of 4 on the west side of Vancouver. At this time we have decided even with one income we can avoid the rat race and have our kids looked after by dad…Yeah…

    #2 Cost of Living #3 Keeping up with the Jones

    Since my move back to Vancouver April 2012. Yes Vancouver is a expensive city to live in. But…. normal everyday familys live in apartments or coops… Sure the car insurace is 3X’s more expensive and so is gas… However, with only 1 income, we are forced to use public transportation…. Vancouver is a very green city….I can choose to run to work 5.7K…. or ride a bike….. Or take sky train to work 3 stops only…. Most people who live in the city, Vancouver west, kitsilano, Oakridge, East Vancouver take the bus/skytrain, a mere 20 minutes commute….

    In Edmonton, although i drove to work 10min, I had to keep up with the Jones…. 3000 sq ft home = houskeeper, outsourcing laundry, dinners out, alcohol (Albertans consumed 8.7 litres of alcohol per person in the year ending March 2002, compared to 7.7 litres across Canada.
    (Statistics Canada)
    I drank approximaely 2 glasses of wine per day in Edmonton. And since moving to Vancouver, I barely drink alcohol… Although eating out at restaurants is a treat….

    I would say that eating in Vancouver is more nutritious and healthy on a whole with whole foods stores and ethnic grocery stores. Bikram yoga is avaliable at 6am if you want to partake and YMCA is open at 5am…. There is outdoor tennis and even in the rain, running is 4 seasons….

    With Edmonton being so cold in the winters, shopping becomes a hobby and keeping up with the latest true religion/lulu lemon is part of the culture… Every one drives an SUV….In Vancouver, unless you work for a downtown firm, most normal people dress so much more casual… No $300 pair of jeans or the latest from Banana Republic…

    Reason #4 that we decided to live in Vancouver: Housing
    Again, I gather that most Vancouverites live in smaller spacers. We also spend more time outdoors, at the park, at the beach, at the farmers market ect….
    You can make do with smaller housing. At 1000sq ft apartment is enough space for a family of four. No housekeeper needed, DIY laundry, and best of all outdoor swimming pools, 4 in our apartment complex from June to October….

    Reason #5 that we decided to live in Vancouver: Family/Lifestyle….
    This is a toss up for us as we have family in both Edmonton and Vancouver….
    Vancouver is the best city for sports and kids… My girl is in hockey and there are many options from boy’s ballet to kids yoga…..
    If you miss the snow, a short drive up to Cypress and you can experience the snow….
    The only thing that we would miss about Edmonton is the outdoor skating rinks…… However Vancouver does offer indoor rinks along with Quinoa and Kelp smoothies….

  10. I think one of the main reasons that was not mentioned, is you two were already in living Edmonton and felt more attached to it.

  11. Thank you sooo much for writing this article. This past summer I left edmonton to move to Vancouver (or more so a surrounding suburban city – which wasn’t the same!) & stayed 3 months before deciding to move back with my long term boyfriend. Although his immediate family lives there, things weren’t what we expected or envisioned on almost every front you described. I was born and raised in BC so coming back was heartbreaking – but I know it will take me 2-3 years of hardwork to save for a home where as Vancouver it would take 10. January this year had me wondering if we should go back, but your article provided me the reassurance I needed to know that we made the right choice. Perhaps I’ll take our savings (after we pay off the costs of moving so much!) & have some mini vacays on the coast!
    Xxoo

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