Three hundred and thirty five

I was flipping through the Toronto Life January 2012 edition, in their “Where to get good stuff cheap” section when I came across this sentence: “On sale for $495, it’s as cheap as it is versatile”.  And they are writing about a DRESS!  A cotton, plaid, shirt-dress – nothing fancy.  The more I look through the section, the more I see why Torontonians are constantly lured into spending money.  Nothing in the “good stuff cheap” section is all that cheap.  I guess they’re trying to go for how to get expensive items at a discount.  But I’m not sure “cheap” is the right word for a $495 cotton dress!

Prices stand out to me since living on $4 a day.  I never really noticed how expensive things are.  It’s hard to buy milk and cereal for under $4 (or almond milk, as I’m still on the no dairy thing from vegan month).  And I’m definitely not buying any new clothes or anything that isn’t completely mandatory.  It’s interesting how not having those “rewards” (like buying a new sweater, or treating yourself to a chocolate bar) makes you change your reward system and value different things.


We (as in you, the readers, and I) were talking about really understanding what it’s like to live in poverty in Canada, and how I need to hit the streets to see what life at the poverty line is really like.  I only need to walk outside my door to see this.  I live in Parkdale – a mix of low-income housing, lots of new immigrants, artists, and gentrified areas.  It is a diverse section of Toronto with lots of character.  There are “hipster” bars beside run-down cafes and food banks.  Walking up Jameson Avenue, lined with tall, low-rent apartment buildings, you run into all sorts of different people.  There are hard-working newly immigrated families.  Students goof around, old men mumble to themselves, and drug addicts get high or come down.  Teenage girls giggle and their mothers or fathers push carts of groceries home from the discount store.  There are people of all colours.  This is a working class neighbourhood, with some poorer than others.

In the Parkdale 2011 Report Card on Health, Housing and Food Security (which Parkdale failed most categories),  The Parkdale Community Health Centre explains: “57% of our clients report income under $20,000 and more than 30% of our clients live with mental health issues.”  I love Parkdale, but I watch some of the people here struggle – sometimes dealing with mental illness, sometimes dealing with money at the bank, sometimes just dealing with life at the coffee shop.  I wonder what they are thinking as they stare out of the window over their coffee for hours.

Here are some residents of Parkdale who explain what poverty is to them (from The Toronto Star):

Three hundred and thirty-four


There have been times this year when I’ve really not wanted to write.  When I’d rather just relax and do something completely mindless.  When I procrastinate writing until 10pm, even though I have had the blank page in front of me all evening since I arrived home from work.  When the energy just doesn’t seem to exist to do something productive.  When a glass of wine and sleep seem like the only course of action.

These times are intensified when I don’t have plans that need to be accomplished that day.  I always get more done when I have more to do.  It’s motivation and deadline-driven.  When I have to be out of the house at a certain time, I will get everything I want to get done accomplished before I leave.

But what happens when I feel overwhelmed because I have no money to spend, no place to be and stressed because the “to be paid” stack of bills is getting bigger and bigger?  Combine that with a lack of exercise, and bad processed fast food common in low-income households, it can create a downward spiral difficult to get out of.

Today is a “I don’t want to write” day for me.  Although I do not live in extreme poverty, I can see the beginnings of the downward spiral.  My “I don’t want to do anything” days are becoming more frequent, and that scares me.  All caused by stress and money.

A little motivation is sometimes what I need to kick start my life and pull me out of my funk.  So here’s a video from of how anti-poverty activists are really making a difference:

And check out their Living Proof website where they show the good news about what is happening with extreme poverty around the world.  Here’s an inspiring video of a woman who is now growing her own crops to provide for herself:

It’s always great to hear some good news.  And it’s definitely helping my mood, putting things into perspective, and motivating me to keep going.

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 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!