Cross Border Shopping

Double standards drive me nuts.  Double standards that cost us to spend more money than necessary flat out upset me.   Case and point, the savings that can be realized cross border shopping.  The price discrepancies between Canada and the United Sates for goods that are similar, if not precisely alike is an egregious double standard.  I refuse to accept the explanations excuses provided by Canadian retailers as to why, when our dollar is equal to or exceeds the value of the U.S. dollar, we pay 20-50% more for more or less everything than do our American friends.

Some of you must be thinking that something is amiss here.  Isn’t this the husband wife duo who talk about buying local all the time?  Isn’t cross border shopping a double standard then?  Well, we do try to support local businesses quite often.  Here at Sustainable Personal Finance however, “we strive to balance our financial goals with our sustainable lifestyle.  Achieving this balance takes a lot of compromise, detailed discussions and careful evaluation of how we handle our personal finances while doing what we can to protect the earth and act socially responsible.”  There are times cross border shopping makes sense for our personal financial plans and when these opportunities arise we will take them.

Early in our writing we shared a piece of financial advice that we still consider valid and so very important to Canadian consumers: when buying a car import vehicles from the United States.  After dealing with all of the finances we saved over $9300 importing our Subaru Outback – a savings of 23.5% compared to buying the same vehicle from a Canadian dealership.  When we bought the car in 2010 our dollar was trading about $0.97 for a single USD on the currency exchange.  If we’d made the purchase in August of this month we would have saved another $2000 or so.  If buying in the U.S.  can save us close to $10,000, and help us save for a car,there is no way we opt for the local option – it wouldn’t be sustainable for our personal finances.

Fast forward one year and we head off on vacation to our Aunt’s vacation property in Chincoteague, Virginia.  At this time we know lil’ SPF is on the way and while our Outback does have a lot of cargo space, our other “kid”, Freya the Newfoundland dog, takes up a lot of that cargo room.  So we know we need to purchase either a trailer or a roof top carrier box.  We opt for the roof top box and after researching the purchase thoroughly decide that the Thule Atlantic 1600 is the carrier we needed.

Cross border shopping rules again

Surprise, surprise – the cost for this roof box was significantly cheaper to buy in the U.S.  Since we’ve been making money online in USD we figured we could spend some of that money on a travel necessity.

My research discovered that here in Canada a Thule Atlantis 1600 is $759.99, with tax in Ontario: $858.79!  Comparatively, at the REI store in Fairfax Virginia we could obtain the same Thule Atlantic for $643.37 (after applying the new member REI discount).  By cross border shopping we saved 25% on our purchase!

Heading across the border isn’t going to make sense for every purchase but on large ticket items it most definitely is worth a trip to the United States.  When everything from staples like bread, milk and gasoline to books to roof top boxes to new vehicles are priced 20% to 30% less it is highly beneficial for Canadian consumers to consider making a day trip to the States for goods when our dollar is at, above or close to par.

What have you bought via cross border shopping?

34 thoughts on “Cross Border Shopping

  1. I grew up cross border shopping. We only live an hour away from the US and despite exchange fees and taxes it was always cheaper for my parents to buy stuff in the US for us. I still find good deals there as an adult. I feel bad though, not investing in my own economy but like you said, we get ripped off! I like to help and do my part but my wallet can’t afford to support our economy most times. We just charge too much. Even as we speak I am pricing out a new washer and dryer since ours is almost toast and I have found a lot better deals in the USA.

  2. Good point on REI, I’ve been a member for more than 20 years but haven’t shopped from them since I moved to Canada 9 years ago; I should compare their prices with comparable goods from MEC (REI tends to have a much broader range of choices, but MEC is getting better and better).

    My girlfriend loves LL Bean, and I like them too because it’s the only outdoor store I know of that reguarly carries a good selection of tall sizes (I’m 6’4″). They ship free to Canada but the penalty is that they have a flat-rate duty-and-taxes charge that cuts deeply into your savings. Hence we only buy stuff from them when it’s at a 50% or more discount. I think they actually have a warehouse in Canada; we usually receive our order a day or two after it’s shipped.

      1. I grew up wearing LL Bean clothes and shoes, as my father was a big fan. The quality has gone up and down over the years, but seems to have settled at a “good” level for the past 10 years or so and I think they’ve hit their stride. The one drag is that they don’t sell anything in organic cotton, and I refuse to buy cotton clothes that aren’t organic. The environmental damage caused by conventional cotton agriculture is outrageous and I just can’t support it. But there are plenty of good non-cotton goods you can get from LL Bean, and their shoes are excellent. In general you get great value for your money there.

  3. Wow, what a great deal. I grew up 5-6 hours south from Canadian border. We occasionally visited friends and would always make sure that we couldn’t find a better deal across the border – but we weren’t as successful. Great find.

  4. As you know, I cross border shop all the time.

    The biggest purchases we’ve made in the states are a ton of tires and all the baby stuff for our first child. We’ve really saved a bundle there. I’ve also bought car parts, engine oil, undergarments, computer parts and accessories, and a bunch of stuff I can’t remember right now.

    I do feel bad about not always supporting the local economy, but when it comes to my family the lowest price is the law. I have to take the best care of our finances first, and everything else comes second. Sad but true.

    1. I would have loved to get more baby stuff in the US. Unfortunately it is close to 3 hrs for me to even get to the border, and then processing to get into the US then the drive to either Buffalo or Syracuse. It ends up being a long, full day.

      Amazon doesn’t seem to ship baby stuff to Canada but we have ordered our crib from down south and some other items from CSN Baby.

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  6. I couldn’t agree with your post more! You would think that retailers would make the adjustment now that the dollar has been down for so long. Has anyone heard the latest excuse? It used to be that they had stock of things so they had to charge the old price but that can’t be it now!

    My latest example of price difference was in a large bag of dog food. I spent a month in Kentucky with my family when my father passed away in June and took the dog with me. I went to replace his food when he ran out and found the exact brand, same ingredients at the store there for $29.99 (large bag – don’t remember the size) and I’d priced the same bag here in Ontario and it’s $41.99! Checked the price again when I was buying his food the other day, the price hasn’t come down 1 penny. I mentioned to the gal there at the shop what I’d paid and she was shocked. But, it won’t do any good, they will continue to gouge until they lose everyone’s business.

    My next move is a U.S. mailbox to save my poor step-mom some money on a magazine subscription I get and I know she gets soaked for the postage to mail it to me here. So, I can save her some money that way. Any other ways you can think of to save us some money?


    1. Hi Mary, thanks for commenting.
      I’ve found that a lot of companies will allow Canadians to buy directly from them online or over the phone. If you get a Paypal account, and put US dollars into it you can often pay that way. Or even your credit card to purchase – ours charges 2.5%. With the favourable dollar of late you are still almost at par if not better. And if you pay duty on the item it is about 6% … so 2.5%+6% is 8.5% over sticker price – but when you save 27% like you did recently on the dog food. Even shipping costs barely eat into that savings.

      1. You don’t need to put US$ on your paypal. They do the conversion themselves. I have my credit card and my bank acct attached to my paypal acct.

  7. I grew up in a border town and cross border shopping became something of an art form. Smuggling it back in creative ways past the border guards did as well (especially the “Sin Tax” products). Of course life came full circle and I then became a border guard for a few summers while doing my teaching degree! Many people where I live build their whole home with stuff from the states. If Canadian divisions of multinational corporations refuse to quit gouging Canadians we must take matters into our own hands.

  8. I “cbs” every week. We’re 10min away. I get all my US magazines sent to my postoffice box ($42US/yr) The online subscription deals are super low like $9 for 2yrs of Redbook for my wife.I shop at Walmart regularly, milk $2.50/gal,eggs $2.78/18pack. Went across today and gas was $3.849/gal or $1.016/ltr.Beer is $9.97/12pack with $1.20 deposit. (customs allows us 12 cans per day trip)A 5 liter box of red wine is $10 but we have to pay usually $10 in excise tax etc at customs. Still well worth it. Mouthwash,aspirin,bread,sweetner,coffee,bananas,Ocean Spray juice,SunnyD,Bounty paper towels are all much cheaper.Chicken is also cheaper but all lot of beef cuts are more. Our beef seems to have more flavor when it’s Canadian beef. The only hassle can be the border itself. Somedays everybody locally decides to go over and the wait can be longer.

    1. I had no idea about the beef, Stu. I love getting our beef from the local grass fed beef farmers – SO tasty. Plus, as mentioned, we’re pretty far from the border so routine shopping isn’t logical.

  9. Great post!

    I’m not sure if this qualifies for cross border shopping, but when my wife and I plan a trip down to the US, we scope out the value of the Canadian dollar several weeks before traveling. When the loonie peaks, I buy US dollars for our trip.

    I did this weeks before our honeymoon in Florida and I’m going to do the same before our spring trip in 2012.

    I agree – I can’t stand it when you see retailers charging more when the dollar is at parity or even higher. I find it mind boggling to go to a Chapters outlet and have to fork out more for no logical reason whatsoever.

    Good stuff! :)

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