He made $50,000 a year in Toronto, then got stuck abroad during the pandemic. Did his spending change?
Who: Anmol Beri, 27
What he does: Former restaurant supervisor at Pearson Airport, currently seeking employment
Where he lives: Pre-pandemic, a three-bedroom apartment in Mississauga. Now with his family in a three-bed, two-bath house in Punjab, India.
Beri moved to Canada from India in 2016 in his early 20s, primarily for a change of scenery. After earning a degree in civil engineering from a school in Punjab, he felt an urge to test out a different career.
So, he moved to Ottawa to pursue a project management certificate at Algonquin College. After graduating, he took on freelance brand ambassador positions, travelling to Toronto for gigs when necessary. After accumulating a solid Toronto-based client roster, he decided to move here. In 2018, Beri left freelance life behind when he was offered a job in hospitality management at Pearson Airport, earning $50,000 per year.
After working for two years without a break, Beri decided it was time for a vacation. In November 2019, with $20,000 in savings, he quit his job and embarked on a tour of North America. He opted to continue paying the rent for his apartment in Mississauga, thinking he’d be back in Canada by mid-March to hunt for a new job.
After jetting across the continent, with stops in the U.S. and Mexico, Beri made a last-minute decision at the end of January 2020 to surprise his family in Punjab. He bought a one-way ticket and ended up staying for more than a month. Then flights began to shut down and the world went on pause.
Before the pandemic, Beri was a savvy spender, which helped him save about $1,000 a month. He minimized his monthly grocery bills by bargain hunting at Costco and Dollarama, and kept entertainment costs low using Scotiabank Scene points to see movies. He also avoided bars and restaurants, and walked as much as possible instead of shelling out for Uber and public transit. With that strategy, Beri saved up for his three-month North American romp. In the long term, he’d like to purchase a house in Canada.
Pre-pandemic spending in Mississauga
Rent: $1,150 per month, including Internet and utilities, in a shared apartment with two roommates.
Car-related expenses: $510 per month, for insurance, lease instalments and gas. Beri kept his car use to a minimum, walking whenever he could. “I drove my 2015 Kia Rio straight to work, then came back home. My gym is a one-minute walk from my apartment, so I try to walk everywhere except work.”
Cellphone: $40 per month, with Fido.
Groceries: $100 a month, from Costco and Dollarama. “I’ve always cooked at home,” says Beri. “I’m really good at rationing and I always meal prep.” Beri’s go-to dishes included cottage cheese with frozen fruit, eggs with cheese, and meals made with frozen vegetables. “People say I don’t really enjoy flavours, but it’s their personal opinion. I can eat eggs for all three meals. It’s just food for me.”
Gym membership: $30 a year, at Port Credit Athletics, a small fitness club in Mississauga. He paid $300 up front for the year-long membership, but his employer reimbursed him 90 per cent through a company wellness incentive. “It’s not one of those fancy gyms,” says Beri. “It’s just a local gym, with sufficient machines. They have good classes—yoga, kickboxing—but it’s nothing special.”
Subscriptions: $10 per month, for Spotify, Netflix and Amazon Prime, split with his roommates. Beri’s TV tastes tended toward the dark and comical: Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Santa Clarita Diet.
Clothes: $120 per month. “It depended on the season. In winter, I would buy $600 worth of shoes or jackets from Sport Chek or any mountain gear shop, but then I wouldn’t buy for a while,” says Beri.
Dining out: $40 per month, at vegetarian restaurants. “There aren’t too many options near my apartment. I’m purely vegetarian, so if a restaurant makes any dish with meat, I won’t eat there,” says Beri.
Entertainment: $15 per year, for movies at Scotiabank Theatre in Mississauga. Beri only went to the theatre a few times each year to watch big-budget blockbusters like The Avengers. Most of the time, he used the Scene points from his Scotiabank debit card.
Haircuts and hygiene products: $30 per month, at the home of a Mississauga hairdresser named Winnie Pham. “I don’t go to her shop, I go to her house, where she has everything set up,” says Beri. “She usually gives us discounts.”
Savings: $1,000 per month. “The first two or three years after college, I was just going from one paycheque to another, until I got the full-time job at the airport,” he says. Before leaving his job to travel, Beri made enough money to set something aside each month.
Travel: $12,000, for his trip around North America. “It was a really long trip, and it was solo, so I was paying for everything.”
When the pandemic hit, Beri got stuck with his parents and grandmother in a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house in Punjab. But he continues to pay roughly half of the rent for his apartment in Mississauga. Beri’s roommates were nice enough to cover a bigger chunk of the rent in his absence.
With monthly car insurance, lease payments and his gym membership on hold, and his phone plan reduced, Beri’s biggest day-to-day expenses include buying groceries and ordering takeout for his family.
Beri, who became a permanent resident last year, is applying for jobs in the GTA, but fears that high unemployment rates will drive competition and make it difficult to find a position when he returns to Canada. “I’ve been applying like crazy,” he says. “I managed to get a couple of interviews for marketing and brand ambassador positions, and they were nice enough to conduct them over Skype or WhatsApp, but nothing came of it.” And he’s still not sure when travel between India and Canada will be allowed. “In the back of my head, a voice keeps saying, ‘Dude, what if you’re unable to find a job?’ ” says Beri.
Without an income, Beri has been living on the $8,000 remaining in savings after his trip around North America. He figures that should last him for the next three or four months, even if he spends recklessly in India, because Canadian dollars go a long way in India.
Though getting stuck in India during a pandemic has pushed him well beyond his comfort zone, Beri has learned to embrace it. He started writing jokes and taking Spanish lessons to pass the time. But above all, Beri just wants to get back to his routine. “Enough with the vacation,” he says. “I need to get on with life, find some work, contribute to society and do some good.”
Post-pandemic spending in India
Rent: $600 per month, for his Mississauga apartment. The monthly charge for an empty room eats into his savings, but he’s okay with it. “I don’t want to give up my space. It’s in a good location, right by Lake Ontario, and I don’t think my roommates would appreciate living with a stranger. We have a special friendship and I don’t want to ruin that,” says Beri.
Car-related payments: $192 per month, for a lease that expires in 2021. “Thankfully, I don’t have to pay for gas, and the insurance company automatically paused my car insurance payments.”
Cellphone: $15 per month, split between his Canadian phone plan with Fido and an Indian phone plan with Jio Mobile, which gives him two gigs of data per day. “Everything is cheap here. It’s crazy. People here don’t have an Internet connection in their home, they just use phone data to hotspot everything, from their smart TV to their Wi-Fi.”
Groceries: $25 per month, at small stores near his parents’ home. Though his mom does most of the grocery shopping, Beri helps out a bit. “I don’t want to be a freeloader,” he says. Beri and his family’s grocery bills are relatively low because of their vegetarian diet. “It’s not that it’s insanely cheap, but my family and I don’t purchase any meat products, which are quite costly.”
Gym membership: $0. “None of the gyms here are open. I do go for walks, but it doesn’t cost me,” he says. “Near my parent’s house, there’s a high school with a field, which they recently opened for public use. I go there every morning from 6 to 7 a.m., when it’s not too hot out.” Beri was in the habit of going for long runs in Canada, including a marathon last fall, but he’s stopped during his time in India. “We don’t really have side roads or pathways that are running-friendly,” he says.
Subscriptions: $10 per month. Beri still splits these payments with his two roommates, despite not living in the Mississauga apartment.
Clothes, furniture and appliances: $0 per month.
Takeout: $15 per month, for him and his family, primarily from local spots. “All the shops over here are mom-and-pop style. You can find McDonald’s and other franchises, but it just doesn’t taste as good.”
Concerts and entertainment: $0 per month. While movie theatres and other venues remain closed, Beri binges TV and movies like everyone else: “I watch Netflix, Amazon Prime. And I read books,” he says.
Haircuts: $2 per month. “The barber shops over here are open now, so I’ve gotten a couple of haircuts,” Beri says. “It’s really cheap.”
Savings: $0 per month.
Travel: $0 per month, since arriving in India. Beri plans to spend about $1,000 on a plane ticket back to Toronto.