Monday, April 20, 2009

Portrait: Toronto, Ontario

I spent the last 6-½ years working for a small non-profit organization. The money wasn’t great but there were perks in other areas. My business wardrobe was all jeans and Ts, so I never had the expense of pantyhose or dry cleaning. The benefits were beneficial; I rarely paid out of pocket for prescriptions or visits to the dentist. I enjoyed my co-workers and, for the most part, I enjoyed my job.

Earlier this month I was informed that my position had been ‘restructured’; that I did not have the ‘skill set’ for the new position. I was shown the door. There is money to ease this transition. Twelve weeks of pay and the potential to receive an additional eight weeks of pay if I sign a release that will protect the organization’s ass be beneficial for all involved, seeing as they restructured the position of the lone staff member with a child and no partner, who took eight (8) days of paid sick leave in order to deal with mental health issues. I’ve seen the new position and it is well out of my league, since I’m not one for working 60-hour weeks and need the occasional day off to deal with a sick child.

What may save us is that I have always lived cheaply. But, on the flip side, it means that is very hard to scrimp in order to save money. I don’t think I’ve ever read an article about saving money that didn’t highlight how much can be saved by giving up a latte habit. I have no latte habit. What I do have is the habit of making a thermos-full of coffee each morning (the cheap stuff; not the fair trade coffee I’d prefer to be drinking) that would get me through the day. When I had an office to go to.

Living cheaply means that my daughter and I shop at second-hand stores for our clothes and our books. When I left my husband two years ago, I took only what was mine from our pre-marriage days. I furnished the apartment I share with my daughter with items from Craigslist, Goodwill, and Value Village. When I inventory our space, I can find only two items that came to us new and out of boxes – my bed and the bookshelves. I say to friends that if I cannot find it second-hand, then I likely do not need it. My grandparents purchased my favorite pieces –a rocking armchair and a radio cabinet that our TV sits on – new, but almost fifty years ago. The armchair appears in the background of my mother’s wedding photos, circa 1966.

At the beginning of the winter, I bought a pair of leather boots. New ones. Nice ones. They are likely to last me at least five years and can be worn for three of the four seasons. I see these same boots – smaller versions – on the feet of my daughter’s buddies at daycare. Her same buddies that can grow three inches in all directions, seemingly overnight. The Mook’s boots? $5.99 from LL Bean. Well, via Goodwill. There is enough life in them at the end of this year to be passed onto a friend or a neighbour, most likely a fellow single mom.

We own a car, but it doesn’t get out much. We’re on the transit system for our daily to-and-fro. Although you are supposed to pay 70 cents for a child over the age of two, I’ve not paid once for her, even though it’s been 18 months since we celebrated her 2nd birthday. My brother, who has worked for this same transit commission for nearly a decade tells me that most drivers can’t tell a 2 year old from a 7 year old and that it is not worth their time to request the id of a small child. My transit pass is $100 and allows for unlimited travel, which helps on those days when I was on the streetcar four times daily, doing the shuffle from home to daycare to work to daycare to home. Next month’s pass has arrived in the mail, but I already have a buyer for it and I’ll lose just $10. I am hoping that by the time the April pass arrives in late March I will be back at work someplace that is accessible by our disappointing transit system.

Our daycare costs are equal to rent, but 75% of the cost is covered by the city. This program is in place to enable parents to work and be able to afford childcare and food. Of course, you need to be working in order to receive this subsidy and there is an honor system in place. I’ve left a voice mail message for the case worker that manages our city ward. I need to call her again; I do not want to be accused of fraud. They will allow a twelve-week period of not working before they pull the subsidy. I’m already on week nine and I’ve not received any response to any of the resumes sent.

Of all things, it is the daycare issue that scares me most. Without the subsidy, I would be paying $1150/month instead of $150/month. I can’t afford $1150/month. Five weeks from now, if I am not working, I have to either find the money or pull her out of daycare. Believe me – having a 3 ½ year old at home while I’m job hunting is not ideal. And then, when I’m working again, I have to find a new daycare spot. And re-apply for the subsidy. Both will involve waiting lists of 12-18 months. At which point I would be better off applying for welfare (Ontario Works). And will join the ranks of the other single moms keeping it together – raising happy healthy kids while trying to dig myself out of poverty.

Toronto ON Canada