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The perceived seriousness of traffic congestion was a crucial ingredient in understanding the well-being of commuters.FRED LUM/The Globe and Mail

Consumption patterns have tilted in recent years: Canadians are spending more on mortgages, gardening, health insurance premiums and bank service fees, and a dwindling amount on reading materials and furnishings.

Statistics Canada's annual survey on spending habits shows household expenditures on goods and services rose 4.1 per cent to an average of $58,592 in 2013 from a year earlier.

Domestic spending has fuelled Canada's economy in recent years, buoyed by low borrowing costs and confidence gleaned from a strong housing market. The pace of spending has outstripped wage gains and, by last year, led to record debt levels. The Bank of Canada cautioned this week, as it cut rates, that "some further increase" in the debt-to-income ratio is likely.

"Consumers have felt good about themselves," said Nick Exarhos, an economist at CIBC World Markets. "The recovery, though uneven, saw housing prices go up quite a bit and borrowing costs go down. So while wage gains were, on the whole, lacking, people used cheap financing and accelerated equity positions in their home to spend."

Recent events – particularly plummeting oil prices – are bound to alter spending habits further. Gasoline prices have fallen while a now-weaker dollar means imports will become more expensive. House prices, meantime, have continued to climb, rendering some cities such as Toronto and Vancouver less affordable, though lower energy prices may also cool the housing market.

Survey of household spending

Canadians opened their wallets after the recession. Between 2010 and 2013, spending grew at an above-average pace on cellphones and Internet access, car repairs, tuition, lotteries and hair grooming services, the survey showed. They also began spending money on tablet computers.

Spending climbed by 128 per cent on horticultural services and by 152 per cent for textbooks. People also spent more on financial services, which rose by 71 per cent to $608 in 2013 from $355 in 2010 as bank service and brokerage fees climbed.

Canadians cut spending in some areas. Spending dwindled on land-line phones, stationary, cars, owned vacation homes, video game systems and televisions.

The survey is important because it is used to help determine the weighting of the consumer price index, and as an input to calculate the country's gross domestic product. Governments also rely on it to help develop social policies.

Shelter accounted for 28 per cent of the household share of spending, while transportation comprised 20.6 per cent and food was 13.6 per cent. These shares were little changed from a year earlier.

Alberta – which had among the country's hottest job growth and strongest wage gains until recently – clocked in with the highest spending among provinces at $71,429, followed by British Columbia. Households in Prince Edward Island had the lowest spending, at $47,410.

The survey is based on a sample of 17,389 households conducted in the 10 provinces. Spending comparisons between years haven't been adjusted for inflation.

Major spending categories by income, 2013

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