I received a shock on Sunday when I was interviewed for a survey at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre. For one question, “What is your income level?” the lowest category started at $40,000. I just looked at the guy and asked, “Could you repeat that?” My reply? “Below the lowest category.”
I almost had to laugh when he asked how much I was spending that day at Harbourfront. Should have said “nothing, because I can’t afford to.” Instead I said “I don’t know.”
This is the way it is for those of us who live barely above the poverty level. In case you are interested, the poverty level for a single person on his or her own in Toronto is just under $19,000 annually. Sometimes my monthly income from all sources is below or at the level that some of my friends have to pay monthly for renting a two-bedroom apartment. So, despite all the crap with the house, I am grateful that I do live in a house and have no mortgage.
I’m reminded of my parents and the everlasting budget, no doubt instigated by my practical-minded mother. In my memoir I write:
Late at night, long after my parents think I’m off in the land of nod, they discuss the family finances. Their loud whispers seep under closed hallway and bedroom doors.
“But we can’t afford that,” Mom says.
“We need . . .” Dad’s voice seems to hit the hallway door.
I throw off my bedcovers, sit up and strain to listen. I never get a clear idea about their plan until it happens or my parents discuss the revised version at the dinner table the next day, (Excerpted from You Can Go Home: Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2013 Sharon A. Crawford)
We didn’t live beyond our means but we were never in debt. Not so with me. My only ongoing debt is that line of credit but I try not to get into it if I can help it. All other credit purchases I pay off in full when due.
What irks me is those unexpected expenses coupled with client work expected to arrive and it doesn’t because it is not ready for editing or evaluating.
That’s what happened this month. I budgeted to pay for those two new window blinds, long needed. (The kitchen one fell on me last summer and the bedroom one was falling apart bit by bit for years). I ordered the service at the annual Home Show and Sears gave me 10 per cent off. This month I did receive a couple of extra payments including the final fee from a client whose worked I finished late in June. There should have been enough for the regular expenses and to pay Sears for the blinds.
However, I had to buy a dehumidifier, pay my lawyer for updating my will (he does give me a discount because I’m an old childhood friend), and the city water and waste bill usually coming in August arrived this month. (Is this a permanent schedule change that the city officials forgot to tell us?) When I totalled all that up, guess what? It’s about the same amount as I owe Sears for the blinds. So without the new work and its deposit payment, I have to hit the few and dwindling RRSPs – again this year – to pay my Sears bill on time.
The race is on which will go first – me or the RRSPs. No bets on this end and at this point I’m not sure I care.
My garden and writing are my salvation – the former for many things including a food source and the latter to help earn a living and to write about the highs and lows of living poor and also writing fiction – sometimes with ideas from my life, often creating disturbing stories.
Maybe you have to live hard in order to write good stories. My mystery short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, fall 2012) attests to this. Check it out at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC505OMPiVNy27zCFfND_8WA which has videos of me being interviewed about my book and one (three minutes long) where I read from one of the short stories, “The Body in the Trunk.” A disclaimer here. No, I have never transported a body in a trunk or any other way for that matter. After all, I don’t drive and can’t afford a car.
Sharon A. Crawford
Only Child Writes