Three hundred and thirty-three

Poverty and Obesity

In impoverished communities (in developed countries) there is frequently less access to fresh fruits, vegetables, and safe recreation areas for children to play in, and larger number of fast food restaurants.  This combination, combined with lower income and therefore lower food budgets, creates a situation where obesity rates in adults and sadly children can be very high.

Childhood obesity has risen dramatically in North America in the last generation.  Overweight children can lead to adult obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, and fractures related to obesity – all of which result in higher costs for medical attention (for the individual/family and the government).  According to Ana Garcia from The New York Academy of Medicine, “one in three New York children is obese or overweight and prone to developing chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. As these children grow up, New York State will spend an estimated $136.3 billion from 2011 to 2020 to treat diseases whose underlying cause is obesity.” (From a letter in The New York Times)  That’s a lot of overweight children.

But what can be done?  Brett Taylor on the CBC News Health website suggests the cost of exercise (organized sports, etc) for children is too high in Canada for low-income families to afford.  That the cost of a television is cheaper than a year of hockey or swimming lessons.  He suggests building more government-funded recreational facilities.  A lot of comments to the article say kids used to play outside and ride their bike, so why do they need money to do this.  I’m in two minds about this.  I totally agree that being active can be free or cheap and that kids need to spend more time running around and less time playing video games.  Unfortunately a lot of low-income neighbourhoods are not safe to play on the streets in.  I live in Parkdale, and road hockey in the middle of Jameson Avenue is impossible.  There was also a shooting on that street a few months ago.  Not to say kids should be kept inside, but gone are the days that you can just let your kids run free around the house/apartment and come back five hours later (or at least not in the city – this could still happen in smaller communities).

Then there’s the debate between whether fast food or home-cooked food is cheaper.  The more I read, the more I see all different perspectives from very passionate people.  There are those that say that fresh healthy food is cheaper because you can stretch it a long way (ie. make large batches or soup or chili, or use a big bag of lentils for numerous dishes).  Then there are those that argue that cheap food is fatty and therefore fills you up more.  Zoe Williams from The Guardian argues that on a penny-per-calorie basis, fast food is simply cheaper:

I think there’s an element of projection here, where people who can afford to eat well – and do – still secretly yearn for a Big Mac, and it’s their own yearning rather than political deliberation that makes them think they’re looking at a lack of willpower from the McDonald’s classes. But this has nothing to do with willpower.

I’m not sure I agree with this, although I do enjoy the way she put that.  I worry all the time that I project things on other people because of my background.  I guess we all do to an extent.  I don’t think you could buy a meal for a family of four at McDonald’s for less than $20.  I just went to No Frills the other day, spent $20 on veggies, fruit, and whole grains and with a little creativity and cooking, I have healthy food for myself for a week (which, even if I had a family of four, means I’ve spent way less on many meals of  healthy food than the one meal of crap).

During my vegan month I realized just how much our diet affects our moods, emotions, our body functions, what our skin looks like.  Eating crappy food causes you to be slower, less motivated, feel worse about yourself.  It’s a vicious cycle.  Of course, if you are working two jobs in order to pay the bills, it’s going to be hard to spend a lot of time cooking healthy meals.  But making a big soup only takes thirty minutes and not very much effort.  It can be done.

My friend Jenn, when suggesting healthy living as a topic for my last month, told me that there is a small town in the States that is initiating a by-law saying that no more fast food restaurants can build in their town because the obesity and poverty rates are so high that people can’t make appropriate choices on their own.  This is scary.

I don’t know what the answer is, but the link between obesity and poverty is a real thing.  If you’re already depressed from not having money, eating an unhealthy diet of sugary processed foods is not going to help you get motivated.  But if your depressed, you want easy, cheap, filling, comfort food.  And then what habits are you teaching your children?  It really is a vicious cycle.

Three hundred and thirty-two

Poverty, the Great Depression and war times

UN Poster

I was speaking to my grandmother today on the phone about poverty and different definitions of poverty and she said that most older people understand being poor because of growing up in the Great Depression and then war times.  Although she was young during the Depression and WWII, she recalls how hard it was for her mother to feed the family and keep the household running.  During the Great Depression 30% of the Canadian work force couldn’t find a job and one fifth of the population depended on government assistance to survive (Wikipedia).  Although the start of World War II boosted the economy by the creation of more jobs, it was still difficult for families to cope.

It got me thinking how different our generation is from theirs.  How they wouldn’t have even dreamed of big screen televisions (in more than one room of the house, no less, like many families now) or upgrading to a new car every few years.  How stockpiling when there’s a particularly good sale, counting your pennies, and being creative with money is commonplace in their lives.  How buying things and putting them on credit sounds crazy to them.

I wonder what our generation would be like (and especially the generation below me) had we been through even a small bit of what they went through.  I’d bet we’d be more thankful and gracious for the things we do have and stop coveting more and more and more stuff to make us happy.  Have we become the selfish, self-centered generation we are because of having too much and what we didn’t go through?

[That doesn’t even begin to touch on the thousands of immigrants living in Canada now who have lived through war in their own cities.  War that turned their lives upside down, destroyed their homes, caused them to immigrate and start over in another country.  War that caused extreme poverty.  And what of those people who can’t leave and are stuck living with the war at their doorstep?]

Three hundred and thirty-one

Treating myself

I gave in and bought myself a treat while I was at the grocery store.  It’s hard not to.  It was cookie dough that was on sale for $2 at No Frills.  I know I don’t need it, but I understand what my friend Sarah was saying when she said you get so frustrated and overwhelmed with not being able to spend money, that you just want a little treat to make yourself feel better.  And it actually does make me feel better.

I think sometimes you’re allowed to reward yourself with something little every couple of weeks to keep you going. It just can’t be something really expensive that you’ll be paying off later, and you have to have saved a little money for it.  Even something as simple as $2 cookie dough can keep you going on the right path, so you don’t go crazy, completely give up on your budget and then get yourself in worse trouble then you are in.  I made a couple of cookies yesterday, shared with my brother, and am making a couple today.  Yum!

Extreme couponing

Remember my favourite couponing lady Mrs. January that I interviewed during extreme couponing month?  She just released a coupon database for her website.  As couponing is a great way to be frugal, especially on a tight budget, this relates to life at the povtery line. The database is great.  You can search the coupons, scroll through them,  sort by using printable coupons or not.

I spent today getting back into the extreme couponing thing a little more and am having some really valuable coupons mailed to me. I also forgot how much MrsJanuary.com has money saving tips.

I picked up an extra shift at work tonight to make some extra money, so this will be a short post.  Happy Robbie Burns Day everyone!

Three hundred and thirty

Personal stories Part One

I’ve been talking about sharing stories of people who have been through (or are going through) financial troubles.  I think it’s really important to help understand the many faces of Canadian poverty and how to overcome that.  A few days ago one of the gracious readers of the blog, theragingarcangel (I forgot to ask you if you want me to put up your real name, so I’ll leave it as this for now), commented that he’d be happy to share his financial story on the blog.  We did an e-mail interview and here are the questions and his very personal responses:

1. You said you grew up with a little money, but because of the divorce of your parents, you ended up with a lot less. Do you think your childhood taught you certain ways to deal with money?
– Hmmm…. not initially, no — all I witnessed, as a 15 year old, was the stress it put on mom with two teenaged boys, and a baby.  But I guess we never starved or were cold, so she must have managed to scrimp somehow, and it was in my much later life when she was able to talk to me about that period of time, that I learned how resourceful she was.  Unfortunately, it has only been VERY recently that she has started to impart that wisdom on me.  I think it is “easier” to be careful with money when you don’t have any…

2. What was the turning point that sent you into debt (I’m assuming from your comment the other day that you are paying off debt and that’s why you don’t have any extra money now)?
– A few factors, like a slow moving train wreck:  I came out of university with a year remaining and couldn’t finish because of funds, into an early 1990’s economy that had no jobs (for almost 3 years), and the constant need/obligation/feeling to help out as much as possible to lessen the financial burdens at home…then a bad breakup with my fiancée when I was around 29 which I didn’t handle well (you can use your imagination and you would probably be accurate with the filling in of the blanks here), and THEN… I moved in to my aunt’s house to help take care of her two little girls after their dad went crazy, and became the parental figure for my cousins.  That last one was a great expense as there were many legal things to take care of and so forth. (It may help to know that this aunt is my mom’s youngest sister, and she is only 6 months older than me, and we went to highschool and university together, so she is really more like my sister — big Jamaican family)

3. How have you coped since then?  Negative and positive ways.
– negative –> used to drink way too much ten years ago or so, and spent a lot of money on keeping unconsciousness
– positive –> learned to appreciate my family and friends more, for sure.  Learned to do much more involved budgets and planning…of course the endless stress of remaining employed is always on my mind (especially with the mass layoffs that seem to never end these days all around) and it affects most of my monetary plans and decisions.  But I have slowly been learning to avoid the bars and to buy groceries more and to look for less expensive things to do out, with or without the kids (cousins) and to enjoy video games at home!

4. How does it make you feel?
– Obviously it can be frustrating, when you know you want to take a vacation but you can’t justify it because of car payments or rent or the paying off things you owe on still, but I long ago dealt with the fact that this is my life right now, and I am at least lucky to be healthy and live here as opposed to some truly poor place where I would have no opportunity to improve my situation.  At the same time, I know that our society also promotes a live-beyond-your-means-lifestyle, and I am getting older and wiser, so I try not to fall into it.  Cash is king.

5. What’s your financial plan for the future?
– I am saving in an RRSP so I hope to have enough down payment money, a continuing good source of income, and most of my debts paid off (to a legal organization) within the next 12-24 months, so that I can start looking at properties.  Since I was 18, with the exception of when I was 24-28, I have been living with someone, or on a couch, or at my moms, or with friends with kids…I have longed for a reasonable, safe, clean place to call my own.  At 43, a house seems like a distant dream to me now, maybe even a waste of space, since I am single… but it would be nice, and I still like to hope.  Even a little condo would do, if I could have just enough space for someone to crash if they wanted to stay over.
– my plan is simple: pay off things and owe nothing by 2015 (other than where I live)

6. What’s one practical piece of advice you can give other people going through the same thing as you?
– be VERY CAREFUL with Credit Cards, and also pay yourself, even if it is a dollar a day. (That is two things!!) You can’t just work and have nothing, so get strict with saving, even if you have to make someone else take and hold the money for you.  If I had started doing that earlier, I would be in a MUCH better place right now.

Thanks for doing this!  It’s great to be able to post some personal stories.  
– Anytime.  I spend a lot of time educating younger people around me on how to avoid some of the mistakes I made along the way in this life…

Three hundred and twenty-nine

Recap of how I’ve been coping with the $4 a day

I made it through a week on $4 a day through the generosity of friends, pooling resources, extra earnings (although I ended up saving that money), trading a service for a bottle of wine (although I was just doing my friend a favour and the bottle of wine was a surprise – a very nice one), buying cheaply/on sale, cooking in bulk and eating leftovers, and walking or car pooling everywhere.

My total spending for the past week (actually since the 14th) was $11.58 plus a little gas for the few times I drove the car, a few cans of food I had at the back of my cupboard and some almost rotten veggies I salvaged to make a soup which I ate for three days.  I declined outings telling people I couldn’t afford to go.  I went over to friends’ houses and they fed me.  I made delicious, inexpensive treats to give as gifts instead of bringing over the customary bottle of wine.  My sugar daddy boyfriend (he’s not a real sugar daddy) and I cooked big portions together so I could take the leftovers – I brought what I could, he paid for the rest, and I did the clean-up.

I’ve managed to keep eating healthy, although it’s pretty hard to be as picky with food ingredients in more processed foods when you’re on such a tight budget.  Everything I’ve eaten has either been cooked by me or by a friend (no eating out).  I’ve “saved” $159.02 (from my two weeks on $21.40 per day and my week on $4 per day), so I have money for emergencies.  But I realize that $159.02 wouldn’t go so far if say, my car got towed (which almost happened to me this morning in a complete accident and lack of signage – I’m not sure what I would have done if that happened…) or I needed emergency dental surgery.

I also realize if I didn’t have a support system I wouldn’t have been able to do this.  If I didn’t already own some material things such as a toaster or a computer, my life would be different and I wouldn’t be able to afford those things on $4 a day (and the computer, probably not on $21.40 a day, unless I saved for a very long time or went into debt).

I haven’t spent any money at all on treats for myself or on anything that’s not necessary.  I can see that getting really frustrating after awhile and why people crack.  Everyone around me is getting pleasure from spending.  Although I know logically that I shouldn’t get pleasure from spending money (that there are other more noble causes to gain happiness from), it’s hard when it’s all around you.  What if I spent a few dollars here and a few dollars there?  Would that be so bad?  And then it gets to bigger and more expensive things, and then you’re in debt.  Or in extreme poverty cases, you just become more and more depressed because you’re trying to get your life on track, but you just can’t seem to get ahead.

$4 a day is do-able, but in very stable causes, mooching off your friends, and being very strict with everything you spend money on.  And when something goes wrong, you are screwed.