Many Canadians at one time or another have done some shopping in the United States and most have probably remarked at how good the prices seemed while they were there. You’re probably one of them! But did it really stick with you? Do you realize exactly how much more we have to pay for things up here in Canada?
In the past couple of years, with the loonie doing so well, I have significantly increased my amount of cross border shopping. Actually, since the closest border town to me is 3 hours away and barely has any shopping centers, I have more technically increased the amount of my online cross border shopping. How is this possible when most online merchants either don’t ship to Canada or charge handsomely to do so? The answer is I don’t ship the items that I purchase to my home, I purchase and ship them right to the border in groups and go and pick them up there later.
How Much Cheaper Is It?
A lot! Although not for everything; you do have to pick and choose! Many items like food, clothing, and furniture can easily cost 50% less or more than the identical item would cost here in Canada. One easy way to find out what is cheaper and what isn’t, is to go online and visit a few Canadian E-tailers or even bricks and mortar stores and check out the prices of a few items you are interested in buying. Then proceed to similar American sites and look for the identical products to compare prices.
My favourite sites to do this with in the USA are Amazon.com and Walmart.com. Their inventory is so huge that they carry almost any mass produced product out there, so you’re almost sure to find what you’re looking for! They can also be great to buy from because Walmart.com has free shipping to any one of their own stores where you can pick up your order and Amazon.com has free shipping on almost any order over $25.
What Are Some Good Items To Buy?
Clothes – With all of the outlet malls in the states, brand names can be dirt cheap. Shopping on or close to Black Friday will guarantee that you get some amazing deals. Doing this can sometimes be even cheaper than shopping at second hand stores here in Canada! Catching a special at an American online clothing store can also yield fabulous results if you time your purchase with a sale, use an online coupon, and maybe even get some cash back.
Baby Stuff – We just recently had our first baby and we bought almost all of our baby stuff either from Amazon.com or Walmart.com, including the crib and the change table. The crib had a regular price of $360 at Sears (see it) here in Canada and was selling for $187, regular price, at Walmart.com (see it). That’s almost 50% off considering the dollar was at par. The same was true for almost all the other baby stuff we bought including a baby swing, rocker, breast pump, play yard, jumper, mobile, and so on.
Furniture – I don’t have a lot of experience buying furniture in the USA, other than a high end office chair, because it is large and hard to transport. However, much like baby furniture, you can really save a lot of money if you have a large truck, SUV, or minivan to move it with.
Electronics – Electronics are often quite competitively priced in Canada, especially computer parts and other geeky items. However, big ticket items like flat panel TVs and full computer systems can be significantly cheaper. You have to approach it on a case by case basis, but sometimes there can be big savings if you look hard enough.
Tires & Car Parts – There is a huge discrepancy in tire and car parts prices between the USA and Canada. I outfitted my Mazda 3 with 8 new tires (4 winter, 4 summer / all season) and 4 new wheels for much cheaper than I could have here in Canada. The highly rated all season tires that I bought from Tirerack.com were priced at $63 per tire, while most Canadian online and local tire shops were charging at least $120 for the same tire. After gas to the border, taxes, shipping, and all other costs considered, I still saved $500 or more over the cost of buying the identical or similar 12 items here in Canada.
Another example that didn’t go in my favour was just recently I needed to replace an oxygen sensor in our Subaru Legacy when the engine light came on. I made the rookie mistake of getting it replaced at the dealer without doing any research because I just wanted to get it dealt with quickly. I ended up paying $385 for the part alone and later found out I could buy an OEM version of the exact same part for $150 from AutoPartsWarehouse.com! Canadian parts suppliers also had it for about $260 with free overnight shipping. If I decided to go with a generic replacement part, I probably could have gotten it for as little as $50. Now that’s a lot of money wasted!
Food – While you are down picking up your other items it is always a good idea to visit a grocery store for some food. There are a lot of different items to buy in the States that we don’t have here and the prices on most items are usually significantly cheaper. You might as well stock up if you are making the trip anyway!
Gas – Most people already know this, but you should always fill up your tank whenever you go across the border. Gas is usually 20 to 30% cheaper there than it is here. Try to time it so your tank is close to empty when you go across to get maximum savings. Also, if you drive a little further past the gas stations that are right next to the border, you will usually find that the prices are even lower.
Finding A Place To Ship Your Stuff
The most important aspect of this strategy, other than grouping your purchases to maximize the efficiency of your trip, is to find a good place to ship your packages to. It is better to order your important items online and have them shipped because you don’t want to rely on the fact that a local store will have them in stock. For instance, many local Walmart stores don’t even carry the same items that they have on Walmart.com and even if they do it is often at a higher price. The USA Walmart we shop at actually didn’t carry practically any of the baby stuff we ordered from Walmart.com.
Deringer’s, a local business in Calais, Maine that we always ship our stuff to, charges about $3 per package shipped to them. They accept packages of almost any size and they didn’t even charge more for 4 large tires mounted on heavy rims. It’s always just $3. I found the place by Googling around with phrases like “shipping to Calais Maine border” and “package holding service Calais Maine”. There were actually almost no search results that came up but I did find an obscure forum post that made reference to a few places so I started calling around to get prices.
I eventually came to find out that there are at least 10 places that accept packages in the area, but Deringer’s was the closest to the border and, oddly, also the cheapest. So if your online searching doesn’t yield good results, make sure to hit the phone book or Google Maps and call up some of the local businesses in the area and see if they accept packages.
Another slightly more expensive option is to sign up at ShipToTheBorder.com and they will connect you with a business partner in your border town that accepts shipments for $5 or sometimes a little bit more for heavier packages.