Hello, I am Deborah. I am a single parent of two gorgeous children. I live in one of the most affluent parts of the world, Flanders. And I like to talk to you about poverty.
We all know about poverty one way or another. On a daily basis we get confronted by harrowing images of underfed, badly clothed, often extremely ill children and adults, who are most probably also plagued by (civil) war. Not a day goes by, or we see images on the news from Somalia, Syria, Pakistan and other far away countries. “Third world poverty and problems” are spoonfed to us regularly. So much so, we have started to take it for granted.
You might ask yourself, why does a woman in such a rich region of Europe want to talk about poverty and the cost of living? Well actually, and this isn’t an easy subject for me, when it comes to Western Standards, I am poor. And the cost of living is a burden I carry for my family everyday. When I became a single parent and had to start paying all the bills myself, I became caught up in what is called “fourth world poverty”. In other words, poverty which happens in rich, Western countries. I am sure you all know the Third World, but have you stepped out of your front door yet, to see which one of your neighbours is having a hard time coping on no money? Since the economic crisis, the Fourth World has increased exponentially and more and more people are facing real problems.
When it comes to my own case, I have written a blogpost: Here . It is the story on how I became financially stuck. Today, however, I’d like to tell you how I counter the cost of living on the money I do have.
I have about 1200 euros a month, including child benefits. At the moment 600 euros is going to rent. So I am left with 600 euros for other bills and foodcosts. 300 euros on bills and 300 euros on food, clothes, medical emergencies, birthdays, outings etc (which is a weekbudget of 75 euros). I have been living on this minimum now for a few years, and boy, have I become the Queen of Frugal! Although, everyday I prepare a fresh meal for my kids. Soup, potatoes-veg-meat, and pudding if money allows. Also, everyday, my kids get a wellpacked and healthy lunch to eat at school.
It is my job every week to do the grocery shopping. After a few years I have now figured out which things I can get cheap in which stores. Fruit and veg I will buy at the local market on Fridays. The weekly shop is mostly done on Saturday, right before closing time. As the shops are closed here on Sundays, shopkeepers discount their food heavily on Saturday evenings. I will buy a week’s worth of meat and put it straight in the freezer. Which means the kids can still eat well, and I can keep within budget. Have you noticed, when I talk about “eating well”, I only refer to the kids? I do not include myself into this equation. On 75 euros a week, mama can’t afford to eat properly. It is then where the local foodbank comes into play. I eat whatever canned food they provide me each month. It fills the tummy, and I am extremely greatful for whatever I receive. But it won’t make me the healthiest person on the planet. At least I won’t go hungry.
A few years ago, I have had the opportunity to live abroad. I lived in the UK for awhile. So I know quite well what prices are like over there. And I still try to take advantage of this fact. The best example are kids’ shoes. About a year ago, I went to Antwerp on a citytrip. I went into the local Clarcks shoe shop, thinking to buy some shoes for my son. After browsing the shop for a few minutes, I realised the shoes were almost triple as expensive as in London. Normally I can find a nice pair of wintershoes between £20-£25. The same shoes in Antwerp were 65 euros. In other words, John Lewis is my friend! I buy all my kids’s clothes/shoes etc online from John Lewis in bulk. I then pay 8 euros in delivery cost, or deliver it for free to English friends, who then bring it over to Belgium. 21% VAT Belgian gov, I won’t play this game!
I also do the same with medicine. Your regular run of the mill, nothing special paracetamol in Belgium costs around 5 euros. Ibuprofen will be about double. A big pack will set you back 18.00 euros. Otrivine nosespray: 8 euros in Belgium (give or take a few cents). £3.00 in The UK You can imagine the bulkbuy I do whenever I encounter a Boots or Wilkinsons.
I am lucky, I have a roof over my head and food in the fridge. My kids are healthy and I am not dropping dead on the sidewalk of malnourishment. I have a brain in my head and will scour two countries for the best deals and prices. And I keep an eye out for any benefits or money I am legally entitled to. However, a lot of people in my position do not have this luck. For my family, the cost of living is horrendously high, but we cope and we get on with it. I have learnt to live with less. What must it be like, for people not being able to do this? People who are socially outcast, the sick and disabled, the single parents and so on. The Fourth World, equally to the Third World, is our problem too. It is right on our doorstep! And I urge everyone to contribute where you can. We are lucky, we are not wartorn and we can have a bright future. But we can’t let an entire generation grow up wandering on a daily basis, whether they’ll be warm in bed that night or whether they will have full tummies tomorrow.
Thanks for reading.