Your family’s largest expense may surprise you

Printer-friendly version
Appeared in the Toronto Sun

If you asked average Canadian families what their largest expense is, many would probably say housing. And you can’t blame them. Mortgage and rental payments are a painful monthly reminder of how much we pay for this basic necessity.

But what if we told you that the average family’s largest expense is, in fact, taxes?

When we say taxes, we don’t just mean income taxes. We’re talking about all the taxes you pay to all levels of governments (federal, provincial, and local). This includes both visible and hidden taxes— everything from income taxes, which are less than a third of the total, to payroll taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, health taxes, fuel taxes, vehicle taxes, import taxes, alcohol taxes, and much more.

In a recent report published by the Fraser Institute, we track the total tax bill of the average Canadian family from 1961 to 2014.

For 2014, we estimate that the average Canadian family (including unattached Canadians) earned $79,010 in income and paid $33,272 in total taxes—or 42.1 per cent of income—while just 36.6 per cent went to food, clothing, and shelter combined. Indeed, Canadian families spend more on taxes than the basic necessities of life.

But it wasn’t always this way.

Back in 1961, the first year we have calculations, the average family paid a much smaller portion of its household income in taxes (33.5 per cent) while spending proportionately more on the basic necessities (56.5 per cent).

In fact, since 1961, we find that the total tax bill increased by 1,886 per cent, dwarfing increases in shelter costs (1,366 per cent), clothing (819 per cent), and food (561 per cent). Even after accounting for inflation (the change in overall prices), the tax bill shot up 149.2 per cent over the period.

And now taxes eat up more income than any other single family expense.

So why should Canadians care?

With more money going to the government, families have less to spend on things of their own choosing, whether it’s a new car, technological gadget, or family vacation. They also have less money available to save for retirement and their children’s education, or to pay down household debt.

While there’s no doubt that taxes help fund important government services, the issue is the amount of taxes that governments take compared to what we get in return. With 42 per cent of income going to taxes, Canadians might wonder whether they are getting the best value for their tax dollars.

Are we paying too much, too little, or just the right amount? That’s up to you and your family to decide.

But to make an informed assessment, you must have a complete understanding of all the taxes you pay. Unfortunately, it’s not so straightforward because the different levels of government levy such a wide range of taxes—with many taxes buried in consumer prices and hard to discern. Therein lies the value of our calculations.

Armed with this knowledge, we can hold our governments more accountable for the resources they extract and continue a public debate about the overall tax burden, the amount and scope of government spending, and whether we’re getting our money’s worth.

Subscribe to the Fraser Institute

Get the latest news from the Fraser Institute on the latest research studies, news and events.