The Modern House Hunt: Thorold, Ont. allows this couple to live the single income life they want

By: Vin Heney on April 26, 2017

For Michelle and Stuart McPherson, leaving Toronto meant returning home.

After seven years in Toronto — most of which was spent in their beloved east-end neighbourhood of Leslieville — the couple decided to bid adieu to their adopted home and build a new life in the Niagara region. Toronto had just become too expensive.

After a hunt through the Golden Horseshoe, the couple settled on Thorold, Ont. — a picturesque small city just southeast of St. Catharines. There, they found they could have the lifestyle they wanted.

Toronto livin’

No matter how you slice it, Toronto is expensive, but the McPhersons found a way to bring their costs down — they rented an apartment through Innstead, a local housing cooperative.

Not only did this mean saving on rent — their two-bedroom apartment cost them under $1,200 per month — it meant their living arrangement could grow with their family.

“We made up our mind that as long as we lived in Toronto, we’d probably live there, because if we decided to have a second child we could move into a larger unit within the co-op. And other people could move into smaller units if their kids moved out and they found themselves ‘overhoused’. It was set up in this progressive manner where people could have the right amount of house for the size of their family.”

It kind of felt like a cue to change things up

But even with below-market rent and flexible housing, they were struggling to make sense of the numbers. With Stuart working at an environmental non-profit, and Michelle nearing the end of her maternity leave, they were facing Toronto’s notoriously high child-rearing costs. Add a sudden job loss to the mix, and they knew it was time to make a change.  

“After the maternity leave, we weren’t ready to put our daughter in daycare, so Michelle decided she wouldn’t go back full-time," says Stuart. "She started working part-time at the library, but around that same time, I suffered a job loss. We were looking around wondering what was going to happen, and it kind of felt like a cue to change things up.”

So change things up they did. Stuart began applying for jobs around southern Ontario, and through some inroads he’d made with the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, he learned about an opening that fit his experience. He applied, landed the job, and within a few months, the young family was Niagara-bound.

Hunting for a home in Thorold, Ont.

Michelle (originally from Niagara Falls) and Stuart (originally from St. Catharines) had never really planned to return to the area, but when the opportunity arose, they were excited for the change. At first, they looked to buy a home in downtown St Catharines, but found that the nearby communities were more affordable, more spacious, and more walkable — three factors that were high on their list.

“We wanted walkability — that was something we grew to love about Toronto. So we mentioned that to realtors, and they’d point out the sidewalks. But the grocery stores and the library were all half an hour walk away! It was a value we wanted to instill in our daughter, that walking was an option to go places.”

After a few close calls, they landed on a three-bedroom, two-bathroom, 1,400 square foot home in Thorold, Ont. — a small town just 10 minutes from St Catharines. Originally listed at $245,000, the McPhersons managed to close the deal for just $215,000; great value, especially given the spacious yard and the recent strength of the Niagara housing market.

We wanted walkability — that was something we grew to love about Toronto

“What’s nice about Thorold is that it’s walkable: five minutes to a grocery store, 10 mins to our daughter’s school, 10 minutes to the library or early-years centre. And because it’s on the Niagara Escarpment, there’s a section on the Bruce Trail about five mins from our house, which is amazing because we like to do a lot of hiking. And Niagara boasts this incredible canal path that goes from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie, so I can ride my bike to work, which is what I did in Toronto and something I really appreciate.”

Living on a single salary

The other major benefit of the move is the lifestyle that it affords. Like many young couples, they struggled with the big costs of Toronto — daycare fees were outrageous, homeownership was out of the question — but in Thorold, it was suddenly all possible.

Thanks to some savvy money habits the couple established while in living Toronto — including cooking at home almost exclusively, reducing fixed expenses where possible, and tracking their spending — they began designing a life that only required a single income.

You have to figure out your own numbers ... and work from there

“When we moved to Thorold, those habits were kind of ingrained, so we had an idea of what we could afford on a single salary, and we didn’t go over that. The bank will say you can go up to extravagant numbers, but then you look about what you’d have to pay per month, and it’s kind of scary. You have to figure out your own numbers of what you think you can afford and work from there. We knew we wanted a second child, so we designed a lifestyle based on one salary, and figured that if in a couple years, when our kids were in school, if Michelle went back to work our savings would start going through the roof. So that was the plan.”

The side hustle

The new arrangement had one other major appeal: it gave Michelle the chance to start a side business making and selling small-batch pottery. You can check out the one-of-a-kind, handbuilt pieces over at ‘McPherson & Daugher’.

“It would have been really difficult to be working full time, being a parent, and starting a side hustle, so we were in a position where we could start it with minimal investment," says Stuart.

Michelle found a local studio she could work out of, started an Etsy page, and made contacts at a local store where she could her pottery as well. It’s still a very small business thus far, but it's growing.

With more time on their hands and more space to roam, the move back home seems to be growing on the McPhersons with each passing day.

Not unlike a bottle of the region's finest.