Nearly one third of Canadians feel “very stressed about money” on a regular basis – either “often” or “all the time," a new study has revealed.

The Angus Reid Institute (ARI) investigation into poverty found that more than a quarter of people in Canada are struggling to make ends meet.

The online poll examined responders’ personal experiences, rather than just looking at their income.

ARI researchers split the population into four groups based on the results. The Struggling (16 per cent of the total population), those On the Edge (11 per cent), those who are Recently Comfortable (36 per cent), and those who are Always Comfortable (37 per cent).


“For those people who are on the edge, in many cases they’re one unexpected expense or financial calamity away from being in that Struggling group,” Shachi Kurl, ARI Executive Director, told CTV News Channel. “So when you see that more than one in four in this country report feeling squeezed in terms of being able to meet their needs and their family’s needs, that’s pretty significant.”

Respondents were asked about a dozen money-related scenarios. These ranged from having to forgo luxuries like movies (44 per cent of respondents said they had done this) or eating out on a special occasion (46 per cent), to having to use a food bank (16 per cent) or not being able to afford warm winter weather clothing (17 per cent).

ARI also quizzed respondents on eight other areas:

  • Using a “pay day loan” type service that offers access to cash but at higher interest rates (11 per cent of Canadians have done this in their lives)
  • Being late paying rent or mortgage (18 per cent)
  • Being unable to pay a utility bill (24 per cent)
  • Having to borrow money for essentials like groceries or transportation (25 per cent)
  • Living in a place that is too small or too far away from work or otherwise doesn’t meet one’s needs (27 per cent)
  • Being unable to buy new clothes when they’re needed (39 per cent)
  • Being unable to afford dental care (40 per cent)
  • And, being unable to afford good quality groceries and having to buy what’s cheap instead (43 per cent)

“For many Canadians who have dealt with the circumstances asked about in this survey, the experience came long ago – when they were children – and has not recurred since,” the report reads. “For others, these challenges are a more recent occurrence, or have been ongoing for most of their lives.”


The one-in-six Canadians who fall in to the Struggling bracket have a lot in common with those who fit the traditional, income-based standard for poverty in Canada, ARI state in the report. This group tends to include large numbers of Indigenous people, visible minorities, people with disabilities, LGBTQ people, women, and people with high school education or less.

The poll also reports that while household income is highly correlated within the four groups, it is perhaps not as highly as might be expected.

“More than one-in-five of the Struggling (22 per cent), for instance, come from households earning between $50,000 and $100,000 per year – well above the low-income cut-offs for an individual or even a family of four,” the report reads. “Their experiences with the 12 scenarios on the list nevertheless indicate that they are facing genuine financial difficulty, perhaps as a result of factors not captured by questions about their income, such as debt, the cost of living in their areas, or the expenses associated with raising children.”

Canadians with children living at home were asked an additional series of questions about their ability to provide for them. Nearly one-in-five (18 per cent) say they can’t always afford to feed their children as nutritiously as they would like, and nearly one-quarter (24 per cent) are unable to buy their children a requested gift for Christmas or a birthday.

“Think about how many people live in our big cities and how expensive cost of housing is. If you live in Greater Toronto or Greater Vancouver that’s a huge part of it,” said Kurl. “Add to that raising kids - pretty expensive these days. As well as credit card debt and other major, fixed costs. “

Three additional struggles are even more prevalent for Canadian parents and guardians:

  • Three-in-ten (31 per cent) cannot afford for their kids to participate in after-school sports or music programs
  • Four-in-ten (41 per cent) haven’t been able to save any money for their children’s post-secondary education
  • And an even larger number (45 per cent) say they could not afford to pay for a tutor if their child was failing at school