Pudding and Salsa

ID-100368725Food banks are a great resource for those living on limited to no extra funds after rent and other life necessities are paid for. And, although I feel bad about even being picky from receiving donated food, these suggestions could make a world of difference:

  1. Think about the meals people will be eating from the food you’re providing. Pudding is great as a treat, but salsa with nothing to dip into it is depressing.
  2. Not all people on limited incomes have a place to cook their meals. Providing items that are easy to heat up is ideal.
  3. Some people may not have access to a fridge or freezer, so frozen items only work for those people who have the luxury of cold storage.
  4. Fresh items such as fruit, vegetables and bread are always welcome. A limited income makes it difficult to eat healthy.
  5. If you’re providing the bags the food is in, please make them durable for all kinds of weather. You may remember my trip a few years back to the food bank where they gave me paper bags which broke apart as I got off the bus in the rain. Encourage people to bring their own bags.
  6. Provide recipe suggestions for items given, especially if it’s not apparent which items go together. For example, pasta and sauce make sense, but coconut milk, apples and bread make less sense. Supercook provides recipe suggestions from ingredients you’ve included, but not everyone has access to a computer at home.

Anyone can get to a point where they need the support of a food bank or soup kitchen. It’s not only income assistance and disability recipients in the lines. Often it’s single parents, students and the elderly. Poverty does not discriminate.

Image courtesy of jk1991 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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And the rent goes up again

houseI have lived in my current home for over eight years. In that time, my landlord has increased the rent every year. This year is no exception.

When I first moved into my place, I rented two of the three rooms while the person I sublet from kept the third room. My portion of the rent was $750/month including utilities and cable. It was a nice neighbourhood and walking distance to shopping, transit and my daughter’s school. In the back of my mind, I thought of that third room as income, either as a foster parent or with a roommate.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the gal did not tell the landlord she was subletting to me. Honestly, I was so happy to have slipped through the cracks that I didn’t push her on why she didn’t ask to do a credit check, obtain a month’s rent in addition to the security deposit or charge me a pet deposit. I had just ended a marriage and didn’t yet have a job; I wasn’t going to push my luck.

In the past, every rental increase notice spurs me into a house-hunting frenzy. It’s the only thing I haven’t cut back on from being in poverty. Has the perfect property become available? Can I be more accommodating with location and amenities? My application at BC Housing is one of 13,000 and housing co-ops require credit checks. My odds aren’t improving.

This year, I’ve decided not to go crazy about housing. Yes, it’d be awesome if my rent was subsidized as it would drop my rent to below $500/month. However, living in a neighbourhood where an updated 3-bedroom can cost $2000/month, I recognize my good deal of $1100/month. That third room currently houses a roommate.

Could my situation be better? Sure. It’d be great to have a landlord who cashed the rent cheque in a timely matter or who dependably (and without much reminding) upgraded the house and its environs. I would love a better layout of my place or even real hardwood floors instead of the fake paper version. But I couldn’t ask for better neighbours and my daughter’s high school is just as close as her elementary school was and I’m able to keep my two cats. I continue to update my files with the co-ops and BC Housing.

I don’t have a land line or a TV or a car anymore. But I do have a safe place to call home.

Image courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Random acts of kindness

ID-100141040Random acts of kindness come in many shapes and sizes. Some people like to be acknowledged for their good deeds while others prefer to remain anonymous.

I’ve heard people say they wish they had the money to help out. And sure, money can help non profit organizations buy the supplies they need to support their clients. Kind actions, however, cost nothing and mean everything to the recipient.

Holding the door open for someone with their hands full is a random act of kindness. Filling your parking meter as you leave so the next driver doesn’t have to dig around for change is a random act of kindness. Buying a homeless person an umbrella to stay dry from the rain is a random act of kindness.

A few years ago, a friend at work said to me “Can I see you for a sec?” I followed her outside to her truck parked nearby. She slid the door open and presented me with a box full of food goodies. A huge package of fresh chicken, tasty mixes for dips, chocolate, oatmeal packs, sweet baby peppers, organic pasta. I was moved to tears.

“Oh my god, you didn’t have to do this” I sobbed, thinking I was SO glad she’d done it. It was too good to be true! “Of course I did,” she replied. “I was raised by a single mom too and remember the hard times. It’s the least I could do.”

My daughter and I oohed and ahhed over the surprise box of food. We felt rich as we added the sun-dried tomato pesto to our organic pasta. We slowly savoured the chocolate. We made that food last as long as we possibly could.

About a year later, my roommate brought home a friend who had run out of food and was on income assistance. I quickly packed a cloth bag with half a chunk of cheese, apples, bananas, bread and peanut butter. He was apologetically grateful. I was finally able to pay it forward.

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsapreator at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Who says money can’t buy happiness?

The person who said money can’t buy happiness has never lived below the poverty line. They’ve never worried about where their next meal is coming from or how they’re going to pay their rent or the bliss of collection agencies no longer eating up the minutes on their phone.

Image courtesy of cooldesign at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For me, happiness is my bills being paid on time, a fridge full of food, saving a bit of money each month, going out with friends and not having to rely on them to buy my hot chocolate, not borrowing money from anyone and not being afraid to answer the phone from a service provider.

Rather than figuring out how to produce nutritious meals with the random donations from the food bank, I now have multiple dinner options based on my food preferences. Instead of searching every nook and cranny of the house for spare change, I now buy a monthly bus pass for my daughter. No more struggling to pay the rent now that I have a roommate.

I’m living on less money than many people I know, yet I’m happy with what I’ve got. Gone is the shame of not being able to provide for my family. Money can buy happiness. I can finally put my money towards enjoying rather than just surviving life.

Dollar Store Shopping

Image courtesy Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee / Freedigitial photos.netTypically, when someone says Dollar Store, junk comes to mind.

Yup, that’s right. Junk. After all, what could you possibly find of value at a store where everything only costs $1.25?

Prior to my descent into poverty, visits to the Dollar Store were for purchasing party supplies, Halloween costumes or craft supplies. Later, when I had $20 for the week to feed my family and my pride prevented me from going to food banks, the Dollar Store became my best friend.

Granted, dairy and meat products can’t be found at your local Dollar Store (or can they?), but just about everything else can such as whole grain pastas, sauces, baking supplies, condiments, snacks, beans, canned fish, veggies and fruit and sometimes even cereal. Additionally, the Dollar Store has a myriad other useful items on the cheap such as toiletries, cleaning supplies, household items, pet food and greeting cards.

But how do Dollar Stores make money? Some products are comparable to those found at Safeway while other items are worse than those found inside chocolate eggs. Well, the easy answer is that the brands sold at Dollar Stores have no advertising behind them and celebrities don’t endorse them. Also, products come in smaller sizes and there’s no guarantee when a product is in stock.

After the third fixture in my house stopped working, I was ready to give my landlord a piece of my mind. Before I did that, however, I thought I’d try an experiment. I unscrewed a light bulb from a room that I know I bought at Home Depot and tried it in the light fixtures that weren’t working. And you know what? They worked!

Other worst buys have been cotton swabs, deodorant, hair colour and dish soap. Purchases which have made my life better include deep cleansing pads for cleaning my floor, whole grain pasta, muffin mixes, condiments such as ketchup and mayo and puzzles.

Yes, there is a lot of junk at Dollar Stores, but you can also find valuable items. What are some of the best/worst products you’ve found at your local Dollar Store?

My 52-week money challenge

52 week money challengeAfter years of being chronically broke, I’m finally in a position to save money. My journey out of poverty has finally begun.

Despite my apprehension of not overcoming my negative relationship with money, I’m relieved to report that losing my job, filing for bankruptcy and going on income assistance in the space of two months had a profoundly positive effect on me.

I came across the 52-week money challenge a few months ago on Facebook and knew this was a doable challenge for me. The premise for this challenge is quite simple; put away the same amount as the week you’re at. So, on week one, you’ll put away $1 and on week 15, you’ll put away $15. At the end of the 52-weeks, we’ll have saved $1378, which will pay for a trip to Montreal to visit with my sister and her new baby.

I have since placed the 52-week money challenge image on my desktop as a constant reminder of what I hope to achieve. Each Monday, my daughter and I collect the amount required for that week and eagerly deposit the coins into a wooden treasure chest we painted. I’ve just passed week 9 and have $45 in my account.

For many people, I know that $45 doesn’t seem like a lot of money. However, having spent many months where $45 was all I had available to feed myself and my daughter for a month, I have a new appreciation for every dollar I save.

I know there are many ways of saving money and there are pros and cons for both. What’s worked for you?

If not poverty, then what?

It’s fairly easy to be good with money when you have none.

Now that I have a steady source of income, I have to admit that I’m somewhat hesitant to embrace this new phase of things going well for me. Not because I don’t feel I deserve happiness. The fact is, I’m terrified I’m going to make the same financial mistakes I did at the beginning of my journey into poverty.

Speaking of which, I think it’s safe for me to say that I’m no longer in poverty. Instead, I have moved up to join the ranks of low-income families. Which is good news because it means I have a established a steady income of sorts.

In order to not repeat the mistakes of my past, I need to remind myself that I’m just as responsible for getting myself into this mess as I am getting out of it now. Here’s a recap of how I did it;

  • Dec 2011 – At the end of an inconsistent year work, my laptops were stolen from my home.
  • May 2012 – After several months of falling farther and farther behind on bills and losing my last two clients, I filed for bankruptcy.
  • June 2012 – Applied for and started receiving Income Assistance. My parents helped out a lot.
  • Aug 2012 – Started a back-to-work program that offered so much more than how to get back to work.
  • Oct 2012 – Got a part-time job with a non-profit.
  • Jan 2013 – Started the process of applying for PWD (persons with a disability).
  • March 2013 – PWD application finally submitted.
  • April 2013 – Non-profit I worked for ran out of funding to pay me, but did sign me on for another project.
  • May 2013 – Child support increased. Identified health problems.
  • June 2013 – Approved for PWD status. Got bus pass.
  • July 2013 – Roommate moving in. Taking courses online. Starting new project for non-profit. Rectifying health issues.

Writing down my accomplishments has reminded me how much I’ve learned in the last 18-months. I have acquired new coping skills and have built a network of people who support and love me. I’ve made new friends and have reconnected with old ones. I have gone from getting paid once a week to getting paid once a month and you know what? Yes, I’m (finally) better at managing my money.

The only direction to go now is up.

What has the last 18-month’s looked like for you?