The easiest way to not pay any taxes

I was talking to an acquaintance about photography the other day. As someone who has been very passionate about photography for many years, he wanted to get more serious with this hobby and maybe become a full time photographer in the near future. Knowing that I’m a part time photographer, the conversation eventual led to camera gear that he’s about to purchase.

“What do you think about Canon 5Ds, 16-35 F2.8 II, 24-70 F2.8 II and 70-200 F2.8 II?”

Since we were in front of a computer, we quickly looked up how much everything would cost.

  • Canon 5Ds camera- $4,399 CAN ($3,399 US)
  • Canon 16-35 F2.8 II lens- $2,159 CAN ($1,449 US)
  • Canon 24-70 F2.8 II lens – $2,559 CAN ($1,749 US)
  • Canon 70-200 F2.8 II lens- $2,829 CAN ($1,949 US)

For a total of 11,946 Canadian buckaroo! Since we’re in BC, we need to pay 5% GST and 7% PST on top of the selling price. Meaning if my acquaintance were to buy all these camera toys brand spanking new, he’d have to pay an extra $1,433.52 on taxes for a grand total of $13,379.52.

“Holy cow, that’s a lot of money, at 3% dividend yield that’d produce about $360 in annual dividend.” The dividend investor nerd in me thought immediately.

“The Canon holy trinity lenses are awesome. I’ve used them many times before. They are great lenses that produce super sharp pictures, but they’re very pricey. Have you considered buying used camera and lenses?” I asked.

“That’s silly, why would I want to buy something that someone already used? I would never buy used camera gear in a million year.”

Dumbfounded, I couldn’t really say much about how great buying used is after his strong statement. All I could tell him was to seriously consider it if he needed all these expensive toys to become a better photographer.

In the back of my mind, I kept thinking that if he were to buy everything used at the listed price and not pay any sales taxes, that’d save him 1,433.52 buckaroo. That extra $1,433.52 he was very willing to pay would have easily gotten him another used superb Canon prime lens, or a plane ticket to Europe.

It’s fine buying new, but handing over $1,400 in hard earned cash to both the federal and provincial governments without finding possible ways to reduce that amount somehow? That’s just silly.

Later during our discussion, he asked about what I use for my photography business. I briefly mentioned my arsenal. He was shocked to hear that I was using a camera that was released 8 years ago (I purchased it about 3 years ago) and my bread and butter lens was released 18 years ago (I purchased it about 7 years ago).

“I’m shocked that your pictures are this good when you’re using such ancient dinosaur gear.”

Hiroshima 2

Perhaps the dinosaur gear did make Hiroshima look like an ancient city… 

portrait 3

portrait 9

portrait 7

But the dinosaur gear probably did just fine with the portraits.


What I didn’t tell him was that I purchased all my existing camera gear used and never paid an extra cent on PST and GST. I also failed to mention that expensive camera gear do not make you a better photographer, just like how an expensive sports car doesn’t automatically make you an awesome race car driver…

When I got home that day, I was very curious so I looked up the master excel sheet that I’ve been using to track all my photography gear expenses. It was interesting to note that when I first started photography, just like this acquaintance of mine, I was purchasing brand new gear. However, as I got more and more serious with photography and started to purchase the so-called high end professional grade gear, I began purchasing second hand camera gear to save money.

If I had purchased all my existing camera gear brand new, it would have cost me around $8,000 including taxes. However, because I purchased everything used and looked long and hard for good deals, I managed to buy everything for less than $3,500, or a saving of around $4,500. That’s a lot of money that could be used for other purposes, like buying dividend paying stocks, a vacation, or car payment.

The above conversation got me thinking… are there any easy ways to not pay any taxes?

The answer is of course, YES! 🙂

To be honest, I’ve always hated having to pay taxes on top of the listed price. My solution? Avoid paying sales taxes whenever possible (legally of course).

Buy used
As mentioned above, I purchased all my existing camera gear used. Not only did I save tons of money, I also didn’t have to pay any taxes. The savings alone is mind blowing, especially when you start buying more expensive cameras, lenses, and lighting equipment.

Looking around in our house, a lot of items were purchased used as well. About 90% of the baby items like clothes, cloth diapers, crib, and toys were purchased second hand off Craigslist, thrift stores or various mom’s groups. Some of mine and Mrs. T’s clothes were also purchased used.

Sites like Craigslist, Kijiji, Facebook groups, and online forums are great places to find great deals on used items.

Still don’t believe buying used is the easiest way to not pay any taxes and give yourself a great deal? Here’s another example. About 7 years ago I purchased a Canon 17-40 F4 lens for $663.46 CAN (or $580 US given the exchange rate back then). After using this lens for 7 years, I recently sold the lens for $600 CAN. A brand new lens on Amazon goes for $749 US. That’s less than 3 cents per day for “owning” this lens for 7 years.

Buy fresh produce and basic groceries
Here in BC, one does not need to pay any sales taxes on fresh produce and basic groceries. However, you need to pay the extra 12% when purchasing processed food items. I believe this is the same rule for most Canadian provinces & territories and US states too.

Buying fresh produce and basic groceries and making your own meals at home is another easy way to not pay any taxes at all.

Making your meals from scratch is also a great way to eat healthy. You know exactly what you put into your food and you have a better control of your nutritional intake. You’ll be surprised how many processed food items have unnecessary ingredients and are typically high in fat, salt, and/or sugar.

Negotiate with merchants
This is probably my all time favourite. If purchasing a costly item, I often would ask the merchant if there’s a discount for paying cash (must be the Asian genes in me for doing this). It doesn’t hurt to ask, the worst thing that can happen is for the merchant to say no. From my experience, most big chain stores would just say no, but some stores may give a small discount. Some stores like it when customers pay with cash, since then they won’t get dinged by credit card/debit card transaction fees. Some shadier stores may even go as far as waiving the sales taxes if you pay with cash (don’t ask me how their accounting work).

Occasionally some stores may even advertise that they’d pay all the sales taxes as an incentive to attract customers. The Brick seems to do this every year here in Vancouver. This is a good chance to take advantage of not paying any taxes and save yourself some money.

Even if you have to pay taxes, it’s worth it to ask for a small discount. Why? Because sales taxes are added after the list price. So, even a small discount of 5% on a large costly item will provide some small amount of saving. That’s more money in my pocket and that always brings a smile to my face.

So there you have it, a few easy ways to not pay any taxes at all.

Dear readers, do you have any experience with not paying any taxes? Do you have any tips that you’d like to share?


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30 thoughts on “The easiest way to not pay any taxes”

  1. Hi Bob,

    I am an avid photographer myself as a hobby. I owned one of the smallest DSLR which is a Olympus E-420 and has not upgraded for years due to advancement of smartphones. I am on the market for upgrade and considering Canon M50. Are you familiar with this small mirror-less camera?

    As for recycling and used items I am a great fan. I still visit Value Village and other thrifty shops once in a while. We bought used furnitures when we used to have a house and keep it until we sold our home.

    • I haven’t had too much experience with mirror-less cameras but they look enticing especially due to the weight and I like the idea that these mirror-less cameras have higher sync speed so off-camera flash work becomes a bit easier when you’re trying to key shift. 🙂

  2. Recent subscriber here! This is another testament that I should buy used camera. Though I often buy new gadgets, I tend to take good care of it so I can hand it down to my siblings: desktop, printer, iPhone etc. If it’s broken then I’ll fix it. And it do me more good to ask my friends for gadgets that they don’t like. (I got 2 monitors for free and a camera.)

    Is there any category about photography on your blog? I would love to learn about dividend investing (although I’m an index ETF investor) but learning about photography from time to time would be a good way to take my mind off the economy . . . for a while.

    • Hi PP Gal,

      I don’t blog about photography specific topics on here. There are a lot of photography tutorials and blogs out there to improve your photography skills.
      My suggestions for improving your photography skill
      1. Go out and shoot as much as possible
      2. Learn to shoot in semi-manual mode (i.e. aperture priority or shutter priority mode)
      3. Learn to shoot in manual mode

  3. I was charged GST and PST by Canada Customs for a used film camera. Should I appeal this or is it correct

    • If the item crosses the border then all bets are off. Canada Customs gets to decide what they want to do. If it’s not a lot of money I’m not sure if it makes sense to appeal.

  4. Unfortunately, he’s not alone. Mr.W doesn’t like to use anything used, although as soon as you take anything out of the box, it’s used.,

    I bought cameras, and cellphone on Craigslist before. Use them for awhile or unlock then resell back in the day when T-Mobile didn’t have the iPhone. The fact that no sales tax on the second hand goods is great. I bought 1week old nexus phone, listing price $399, I bought for $330, sold again for $375. All parties are happy, as the first guy got a free upgrade. 🙂 I get to experience the pure android experience. And the last guy save $100 from taxes and discount to an almost brand new nexus.

    • Great examples of why buying used is a great way to save money, especially when you can sell them for about the same price.

  5. I’m so puzzled by people’s aversion to buying used! For camera gear, it’s such a no-brainer! The cost savings are huge, and as long as you’re buying well-made products and testing them out first, there’s no downside. That stuff is built to last, unlike most consumer products these days. When friends learn that most of our furniture has come from flea markets and consignment stores, they’re usually shocked, and not always in a good way. But it’s such a win-win for us: better made stuff than the garbage for sale these days, and at a far better price. (Plus no sales tax!)

  6. Hey Tawcan, nice topic.

    A vast majority of people really seem to underestimate a used product. That’s why you test it out to make sure it’s still in excellent working condition. A car, a camera, etc can work just as well, just don’t buy a dud.

    Plus is there really such a difference between something 10 years old and brand new now? Like you’ve shown you do GREAT things with something older than the year 2000 (it was probably top of the range at the time).

    Great analogy with having a better car does not make you a better driver.


    • Hi Tristan,

      People like buying new because it’s nice and shiny. But buying new also means costing a bit more than buying used. Some things make sense buying new, like underwear, but some things just make sense buying used.

  7. Love the push to buy used items! I try to buy anything I need for Hobbies used (especially when I am just starting the hobby to make sure I like it).

    Minnesota does not tax most food items (there have been talks to tax items high in sugar or fat) and we also do not have tax on clothing. When I lived up north, there would be people from Canada down shopping on the weekends for Clothes and Shoes so they didn’t have to pay sales tax!

    • That’s pretty awesome that Minnesota does not tax on clothing. Here in BC we don’t need to pay PST if the clothing is for kids younger than 12. Makes sense for Canadians go hop down and buy stuff down there.

  8. I try to buy used as a matter of course for basically anything that costs more than $50 new. But I’ve never thought of the additional savings you get taxes. That really is something!

  9. Just working on my income tax yesterday–I figure I could come out ahead by carrying over some RSP contributions to next year to maximize the Family Tax Cut this year. I’d pay more tax this year, but estimate a ~25% return on this money in terms of lower taxes next year. Too bad I can’t invest more money at that rate!

  10. Buying used stuff, I love it!

    A few years ago, I was able to build a home gym with the exact materials I used at a professional gym, but for 1/10 of its price. There are so many people who want to get in shape, buy all the super high tech stuff and sell it 6 months later as it is gathering dust 😉

    I never thought I was saving taxes on top of it though! you just made my day!


    • Home gym is awesome because you don’t have to fight with other people for the same equipment. Best of all is the fact you got the equipment for 1/10 of the price. Totally awesome Mike.

  11. Buying “used” items are definitely a great way to avoid paying taxes. When I started my career 6 years ago and got my own little apartment, I basically furnished the entire place by getting used (sometimes FREE) items from various sources. Having the Asian heritage, buying fresh produce and basic groceries is almost embedded in me. One of my philosophy is to buy items without any barcode.

    Bargaining is quiet rare in the western culture (especially here in North America). However, I still ask for any discounts whenever I shop at retail stores. Knowing people working in the apparel industry, most staffs are authorized to give the customer 5-10% discount no questions asked. (Don’t be greedy though~)

    Another unique way that I used to do to get ahead on tax was to postpone income deductions on my pay checks. One of my previous employers (a SME) allowed me to setup my income payment where they don’t have to deduct tax on each pay check, instead, I’ll make a lump sum payment at the end of the year. This allowed me to get a bigger paycheck each time throughout the year, then I’ll use it for some decent investments, and make sure I have enough cash to pay off all the tax owe at year-end.

    Technically I was still paying the same amount of tax, but I did managed to capitalize by delaying the payment. Unfortunately, due to complicity and company policy, not many employers are willing to provide this type of service. Once again, just like bargaining, it wouldn’t hurt to ask your payroll clerk next time.

    • Hi Jack,

      A lot of the furniture I used when I started living on my own were used as well. Many of the ones we own today are used too. There’s nothing wrong with used furniture. Good point on the postpone income deductions, will have to look into that.

  12. The same applies to banjo’s. A new Stelling Red Fox is $5250 (as per their webpage this morning) but I had been shopping around and got mine used for $2100. I knew they usually sold for $2500 if in good condition, but this was a motivated seller, so, wins all around! The same with my Deering Maple Blossom – I got it used for $1400 back in 2001 and new they’re closer to $4000. I already knew that a brand new instrument won’t make me be able to all of a sudden play like Bela Fleck. 🙂

    I have no qualms with getting something used, as long as it is still in good condition and a fair price. Especially when you don’t have to pay sales tax.

    • Buying used it totally awesome. Because the depreciation is already done, when you eventually want to sell the item, you can get most of your money back anyway. 🙂

  13. Good for you! Buying used is beneficial in so many ways, including financially (purchase and taxes) and environmentally. Still blows my mind that so many people “have to buy new”. In many cases, this is a complete waste (albeit convenient).

    As for the sales tax, its pretty much only North America where you pay it separately. The rest of the planet seems to incorporate these taxes in the sticker price, which is far less frustrating when checking out (especially when paying cash). Never understood why it’s added after the fact, you still got to pay it anyways and it’s much more convenient for the shopper. Any ideas?

    • Good point on the environmental impact for buying used. It’s a waste buying new all the time since it takes so much materials & energy to produce something new.

      Don’t get me started about adding sales taxes separately. I don’t like it and wish we can do it like Europe, Asia, and rest of the planet. It’s so much easier. I think it’s added separately because the different states and provinces have different rates, so it makes more sense to advertise the before-tax price.

  14. As a hobby photographer, I could ot agree more with you. Most contribution to a picture is no the gear, but the photographer. Some of my stuff – mainly flashes – is second hand. works just fine.
    When more active as photographer, I also dreamed of the gear you list. Ration kicked in and I go with far less top notch material. There will be the once in a while regret (like 1pct of the time). That does not justify giving away 3§0 dividend per year!


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