by Rumana Khalifa

originally published in the 2012 Winter Issue

There is no sign that the cost of living will go down. The poor, who are affected the most, work to survive. I am a single woman who had to learn the trick of surviving at an early age. To survive a person needs to take charge of her money and at the end of the day she is lucky if she is left with some change to treat herself.

Here is how I do it every month: I get my pay cheque every other week. I know exactly what is automatically withdrawn from my account: mortgage, monthly deduction for my RRSP and home insurance. I don’t see this money.

Most of what is left pays my utilities and public transit, necessary expenses I have no control over. What I am in control of is my grocery bill.

I receive a weekly flyer at home in which I see the sales for the week on grocery items. I plan what I will cook for the week around these discounted items. It is most important to make a list; I don’t go to the store without the list because it helps me to pick the items that I really need for the week. Most important I stick to my list. Even when there are other items I would like, I stop and think do I need it? The list helps me focus on what I need. For example if meat, poultry or fish is on sale I buy more of these items than I need. I cut them in portions and freeze them. Every other week I buy vegetables and fruit. If I find oil or coffee or other such staples on sale, I will stock up. What I buy every week is bread and milk.

Vegetables I buy in Chinatown because they are cheaper there than the vegetables in regular grocery stores and meat I buy from a wholesaler. For example, I bought a large quantity of chicken legs and divided them and the cost with three other families.

I make sure I save enough money to last me for six months if I become unemployed. Then when I was unemployed I planned weekly and prepared food from discounted items. For example I bought day old bread which is in a special place in the supermarket. You just have to ask the counter person.

Whether I was working or not I always put money in my RRSP and I also managed to save a little extra. I talked to a financial counsellor at my bank and asked him if I was able buy a house. We went over my financial position. He told me that I could borrow my RRSP money if I am a first home buyer. That information was welcome and came at the right time. I made an application through the First Home Buyer Plan, and with the RRSP plus the money I had saved I was able to qualify for a loan. I must repay the RRSP within 15 years.

One year after I bought the house I was laid off from my work. Fear and frustration! How can I manage to pay my monthly mortgage? I went to plan B: hosting international students. I managed to host two students at a time and that money paid my mortgage and utilities and the rest of my bills until I got on my feet again.

Eventually I found two jobs, one part-time and one full time, and I managed both. I had made it again!

I had always valued education, and so I enrolled my daughter in an education fund when she was 2 years old with the money that I was receiving monthly for the Child Tax Benefit. I never saw that money; it went directly to the education fund account which I had opened and which the government matched. At the age of 17 when she finished high school and was about to go university there was $35,000 waiting for her.

I am a middle aged woman, and I find there is always something to learn everyday. I feel I have still more to learn and I am always open to new experiences. I am teaching my daughter to use money wisely and to be aware of the needs and wants of every day life. Also we put any spare change we have in a jar and also encourage friends and other family members to do so. Then we send the money to Africa to help people less fortunate than ourselves and to remind ourselves how lucky we are.

Toronto, Canada