In summer of 2012 I moved to Calgary, Alberta in search of better employment. As a recent graduate with a master’s degree, I found myself with a considerable amount of student loan debt. Originally from Ontario, I decided to move to a province I have never been before, had no family or friends to assist me and was not sure of what to expect. My friends were experiencing similar limitations competing with millions of other professionals in Ontario that have had years of experience before the economic recession in 2008/2009.
Determined not to throw a pitty party for myself (okay maybe just a little) and eager to pay off my debt and start saving as soon as possible, I decided to venture out of Ontario to seek greener pastures. In 2012, Alberta was booming and it definitely was a stark difference from what I left in Ontario. Of course right now, this is not the case, and Alberta has been hit pretty hard with the oil and gas prices making their decent and plateauing for sometime now.
Having lived here for 4.5 years now, I consider Calgary my home. I have acclimated to the city and its culture and have made many friends. My husband and I have build a life for ourselves here. However, looking back at it now, the adjustment was not easy. Not only financially, but emotionally and socially. Pulling myself away from siblings, family and friends was challenging.
In this post, I want to share with you tips and things to consider when leaving home to move to a new land where you know no one in hopes of a better future.
- Make sure it is worth it. Leaving your comfort zone as thrilling and rewarding as that may be can also be very depressing. Keeping in mind that you are also leaving behind your siblings, friends and family, the reason for the move should be compelling enough for you to take on such discomfort and sometime loneliness.
Of course, traveling to visit is an option. However, in my experience, this can be costly, especially if you live in Canada and fly domestically. I have visited Toronto since leaving, but only 3 times in the last 4.5 years. I wish I could visit more often but costs, scheduling vacations and other responsibilities have not allowed me. Also, our intention for moving to Calgary was to pay off debt and save. Getting rid of our debts and being able to save has made it easier for us to get married, save at least 30% towards retirement each month and consider buying a home in the distant future.
- Don’t let cost of living deter you, but be ready to make compromises. One thing I learned is that it is always a give and take. If in one city you are rewarded with a decent income, there is a good chance that cost of living will be higher. Luckily, what you spend in some areas, you save in others. For example, groceries, taxis (keep in mind Calgary just got Uber…yah I know), cost of recreational activities and events, eating out etc. are much higher in Calgary than in Toronto. However, cost of utilities, gasoline, auto insurance, housing is generally cheaper.The key is to be able to make compromises by minimizing the use of higher priced costs and take advantage of the costs that are considerably cheaper in the new city.
- Don’t leave without adequate savings. Even with the best of intentions, things may not work out the way you wanted. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you may return home with more debt than you left. Gather enough savings to get yourself a decent accommodation, some food to eat and the necessities of life while you get your footing. Using savings will also make you more prudent about your spending than using credit.
I had $10,000 in savings of which I used some of this amount to venture out to Calgary. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to not need to use it all, but I was grateful that I had it available if I needed it.
- Look into temporary accommodations in colleges and universities. One of the reasons I chose to relocate in the summer was because I knew I could find affordable housing and not have to rent or stay at a hotel/motel. In the summer time, universities and colleges rent out their vacant private rooms to the general public as an affordable housing option for visitors in the city. I remember my university doing it in Ontario so I figured other cities are doing it too. Because I didn’t have a job lined up (but had several interviews), I knew I didn’t want to commit or deal with hassle of finding a place, or the cost of staying in a hotel. Some other advantages of using college/university accommodations are:
- They are usually located close to a major transit line. This makes it easy if you need to rely on public transit to get around.
- In the summer time, the number of people on campus is considerably lower. So it is quiet and peaceful.
- The cost is considerably cheaper than a motel/hotel. They charged me $30/night+ taxes which included a mini fridge and daily cleaning service.
- You avoid the hassle of having to find a place.
- Live near a major transit line and take the transit. If temporary living on campus is not for you, then consider finding a place near a major transit line. Even if it is just for a few months until you familiarize yourself with the different communities and settle in one you like. As a passenger, you are more likely to take in your surrounding than as a driver. You can readily see how communities change in one area of the city to another and spot differences and similarities between communities. Taking transit is also a great cost effective way to save some money. Even in the short term, the savings can make a difference.
- Research online forums that talk about the city. There are online forums with people sharing their experience of living in the city you want to go. These forums can be a great way to get information about a city from people who have lived there.
Be mindful however, everyone speaks from their own experience. Be sure to read plenty of comments and if there are comments that are alarming, only give major consideration to them if a number of people are saying the same things.
When I did my review on Calgary, a lot of what was mentioned was positive. There were some not so pleasant comments, however, because they were few, I did not pay them any mind. The forum did help me determine which part of the city to avoid living in due to crime, violence etc.
- Line up some interviews before going. As mentioned previously, I had a few interviews lined up before moving, which helped me feel better about the uncertainty. It also helped me remain productive while in a new city preparing for interviews and learning how to find my way around so I can get to the locations.
- Join social groups that align with your interests. I find the older I get the harder it is to make new long term friends. People get married, have children and the responsibilities keep piling on. I was a bit concerned about being able to make new friends (not acquaintances) at 27. However, after joining my church small group, it became easier. As the years went on, real friendships developed from these meetings. I’ve attended weddings, funerals, and numerous baby showers and met incredible people all from attending my church and linking up with a small group.
If you find it hard to meet new people and make lasting friends in a new city, join a group that aligns with your interests. It could be a hiking group, reading club group, sports group etc. The common interests may help break the ice and create lasting friendship.
- Make sure you can access certain establishments within a reasonable amount of time. For the first 2 years in Calgary we didn’t purchase a vehicle but relied on public transit. This made grocery shopping, going to the bank (we use the envelope system to keep our spending in check so ATM visits are not uncommon) and the occasional trip to the pharmacy a bit difficult. To ensure we can access these places, my husband and I always lived close to a train station. This is partly because we a both city people and partly because it was a huge convenience when buying groceries.
However, now that we have a vehicle, we have branched out our rental options and still live in a major hub area, but this is not a priority for us. If you have a vehicle, or will buy one shortly after arriving, then this may not be an issue for you. If not, consider saving yourself some time and money and choose your housing location wisely.
- Don’t live like a student. Live like someone that understands the reality of their student loans and strive to do something about it. The phrase ‘live like a student’ is a bit misleading when I recall my university experience. The eating out and bad spending habits attributed to a small part of our debts. Don’t live like a student, live like an adult that understands the reality of their student loans and make every effort to live below your means and get rid of it.