Shopping cross-border in the US when our dollar was stronger or near par was FUN! We couldn't believe the deals we were getting. I might go 3-4 times a year as a day trip with a bunch of girlfriends and spend a couple of hundred bucks but come home with a trunk load of stuff! It's like I hit the jackpot or something sometimes. But guess what? Even with our dollar today at a buying rate of US$1= C$1.25, or a few years ago US$1=$1.60, it was and IS STILL FUN and tons of deals to be had! In Canada, we don't have sales like they do. When they want to clear their floors for new inventory, they REALLY mark down their stock. If you hit the right weeks, which is probably around now, your dollars can stretch a LLLOOONNNGGG way. While you're shopping you have to keep in mind that you may get pulled over and pay duty/taxes. You have to factor in the exchange rate. If you live in the Toronto area, you would cross-border shop in Niagara Falls/Buffalo/Tonawonda/Williamsburg, New York.
It kills me that the Canadian government instead of charging us custom/duty fees, they're thinking that they'll be nice and charge us only the sales tax! What the heck is that all about? We're buying something in the USA and we're paying Canadian sales tax as well??? I know it's not helping the economy with us shopping outside of Canada, but it's not like most people do it every week or anything.
Shopping online? We Canadians get ripped off either way when it comes to postage whether the items are being shipped from a local or Canadian company, or if we're having it shipped from outside of Canada. It's downright mean. It's gouging! Remember to check which shipping service they use, too. If it's a private seller, like someone on ebay, and they're willing to mark the package under C$20 or as a gift under C$60, you might get lucky and not have to pay anything. If they ship via Canada Post and you have to pay only taxes, they'll charge you a non-refundable $5 plus the taxes. I have bad luck with customs. I think I have an "L" on my forehead sometimes. Once I ordered a book and paid US$12 including shipping. Wow! I would have save at least C$10 but ended up paying more because they opened up the package even though they sender declared a value of $10 and charged me the taxes which was 15% (8% PST* + 7% GST** for those of you who aren't familiar with our taxes in Canada but currently at 13% - the new gov't was nice enough to bring the oh so profitable GST down 1% at a time) at the time a couple of years ago), plus the $5 handling fee on the $24.95 Canadian retail value!! Can you believe it? It wouldn't even have been worthwhile for me to dispute it because it states that the $5 is a non-refundable service charge! If they are shipping via UPS or Fed Ex, be extra careful because their custom brokerage fee over a certain amount is substantial!
If you're shopping on eBay and the company has a link to their real store, you can sometimes call them and ask them if they'll give you a discount if you don't buy it off of eBay thus avoiding their eBay and Paypal fees which are hefty! A lot of times, they are more than happy to oblige and will even give you additional discounts. If you don't ask, you don't get!
The cheapest alternative was to pay for shipping to someone who lives in the states where we know is coming up next or to where someone we know is traveling to. Whoever carries all of our goodies back, we are forever grateful and indebted to and we affectionately call them our "pack mules". Another alternative is to ship directly to a hotel if you have a reservation and they will hold your packages for you.
Unfortunately, shipping directly from the US means possible customs/duty fees, plus taxes, much higher shipping costs which means it probably wouldn't be worthwhile. But, if we have the patience, shopping US$ companies can mean substantial savings and wonderful selection. Consumers in Canada will NEVER understand why we pay so much more for most things. I could complain all day and nothing will be done to help us bring down our costs, but I am allowed to rant and rave, aren't I?? Just look at the savings we benefited from when our Canadian dollar was almost at par! Not much. Oh yeah, Hallmark decided they'd do us a favour and take the two price tags off their cards. WooHoo!!
Did you know ... that when an online US company won't let us enter our Canadian billing address for our credit cards even though we're having the item shipped to a US address, you can "fool" their systems? I've done it many times!
* PST - Provincial Sales Tax
** GST - Goods and Services Tax - almost everything has this one tacked on