If you have never had to count your pennies (literally) to live day to day, you may not be able to empathize with today’s featured clients. But believe you me, when times are desperate, it can feel like there is no way out – and people give up. Where do you think a large percentage of our homeless population arises from?
A mother in her mid forties and her adult daughter came to my office before Christmas. They were at the end of their (financial) tether. Mum had divorced in 2003, and is receiving $521 per month in child support – there are two teenage children at home too.
Mum has not been able to work for more than two years – a chronic pain sufferer – arthritis, scoliosis, degenerative back discs, etc.
Her teenage son already shares some of these symptoms, and is going through some treatments for his pain.
The adult daughter was laid off in 2008 from a good job, and plunged into depression thereafter.
Four people struggling to survive – not a single job between them.
In many such instances, I see families turn to their credit cards to supplement their income. But by 2008, this family’s credit capacity was already exhausted. In fact, in the Fall of that year they each entered a debt management program (one single monthly payment for all debts), so no further credit was available to them.
When parents go through personal struggles like this, the will to survive is remarkably strong – why? Because of their tremendous sense of responsibility to their children. Mum was tired, beaten, broken. But there were three youngsters counting on her to help make it to adulthood.
Giving up was not an option. Don’t get me wrong – mum is not a super-woman. She cannot even sleep at night because of her pain. If there is any extra money at the end of the month, she may buy some pain killers – on-the-shelf meds you and I take for granted in our bloated medicine cabinets.
But she decided she would pursue every damn option and possibility open to her to help raise her kids. And in so doing, she inspired her adult daughter not to give up – but rather to fight for her life and future too.
How did this family pull themselves out of a dire financial situation?
The first major positive is the family finally received subsidized housing from the City of Toronto. Their co-op rent is only $226 per month, as opposed to the $1,100 per month it might otherwise be.
Second, mum applied for Disability Income from Social Services. Her case was denied at first, but she launched an appeal, and with help from her rejuvenated adult daughter, they were successful, and now she receives more than $500 per month such income.
Her daughter investigated many alternatives for her own future, and decided she would like to go back to school and develop new skills. She applied for a Nursing degree at George Brown, and was one of a small group accepted from 5,000 applicants!
But how to pay for this second chance? She uncovered a program called “The Second Career Strategy” offered by the Ontario Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities. She was approved, and began her studies in September 2009. The Ministry pays for her tuition and books, AND pays her $590 every two weeks during the school year. Fantastic!
So now, although it is still very tough, there is income coming into the household from these various sources, and this, together with subsidized housing, is giving them a chance.
How can you manage credit card debt on a tight income?
The only change left to make was to walk away from the old credit card debts – the ones they had converted into a Debt Management Plan two years prior. One had to repay around $300 and the other $200 – money they simply could not afford.
I helped these ladies see there was no shame in giving up on these old debts, and completing the clean sweep of change to their personal finances. They each declared personal bankruptcy last week. Now, if there is any money left over at the end of the month, they can treat the teenage son to a hot tub treatment for his chronic pain; or maybe even a proper massage for mum to ease her pain.
Their glass is half full now. Yes, there is no employment income coming into the house, but through their tenacity and indominatble spirit and desire to survive, they have cobbled together alternate sources of income – and are paving the path for a future income from the daughter’s nursing education. Well done !
Note: I wrote this post in early 2011. I was delighted when the daughter contacted me recently to say she is now a full fledged RPN, and the family is doing much better now. And bless her, she wrote an essay for me to give my own daughter who was considering a nursing profession. I’d be happy to share it with anyone interested – her essay has a tremendous amount of useful information.