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How a Family of Five in Newfoundland Lives on $63,100

Feb 13, 2020


Family Money is an ongoing series, looking into how Canadian families are really spending and stretching their money every month. If you wish to participate, please email cbcparents@cbc.ca.


Jeff and Amanda live in St. John's, Newfoundland with their eight-year-old daughter and three-year-old son. Their 17-year-old daughter resides with her birth mother in another province. Together, Jeff and Amanda bring home a combined household income of $63,100. But in many ways, they are still playing catch-up due to some older financial decisions. We asked them some frank questions about money, in an effort to really start a dialogue about how Canadian families are doing financially. Here's what Jeff and Amanda had to say:  

 

Are you a single-income or dual-income family?

Dual. However, my husband's work is sporadic — he's an audio visual technician based out of two hotels in St. John's. It seems to be feast or famine with this industry. Right now there aren't a lot of hours, as there are very few events happening. Meanwhile, my work is consistent and salaried so there is very little fluctuation with my income.

What's your monthly budget? Do you have one? 

Not really. But we are currently in the 12th month of a bankruptcy. I will be paying a monthly sum to the agency we used for our bankruptcy until July 2020. The approximate amount is $400 monthly and a percentage will go to our debtors.

Each month we submit a report that outlines our non-discretionary expenses versus our income. We pay for childcare for our two children that live in our home (approximately $1,100 a month and child support for the eldest child outside the home at approximately $380 monthly). In addition, we budget for our power bill (the same amount every month throughout the year) and this amount monthly is $443. Phone and internet/TV bills are consistently around $225 and $210 monthly. Other expenses like groceries and gas are on an as-needed basis. It works out to be quite a bit for a family of four with one vehicle.

In addition to your salaries, do you receive any additional assistance — government benefits, family support, etc.?

We receive the child tax benefit, which is $562 monthly. 

What are your monthly fixed expenses?  

  • Rent: $1,300
  • Childcare: $1,100 
  • Groceries: $1,000 
  • Power: $443
  • Debt/Bankruptcy: $400 
  • Child support: $380
  • Gas: $320
  • Phone: $225 
  • Internet: $210
  • Prescriptions: $ 20 

For the month you’re looking at, tell me about what you bought for your family that could be considered non-essential — dinner out, treats, new clothes

Birthday parties are a biggie! It seems as if there is always a birthday party happening and each party gift is a card with $20, so a total of $23.

We luckily have been given a lot of clothing as hand-me-downs, or we grab items from thrift stores. Clothing or thrift store items probably average $25 monthly. For dining out (i.e. fast food pick-up, not really dine-in restaurants), we spend about $60 monthly on average.

How much were you able to put away in savings?

We haven't been able to save in years. The last savings I had was pre-children — in 2010. For years I was using a line of credit and credit card to keep debtors at bay. I finally decided last year to stop that cycle. We are still living paycheque to paycheque, but I can happily say that we have not accumulated debt in 2019.

The plan is to keep that momentum going and someday the plan will include putting $50 away for each of the three children and our dog fund. I want my kids to not bear the weight of student loans, like my husband and I. After my four-year degree, I owed $42,000 and my husband — after a diploma program — owed $20,000. We moved on with life (i.e. having children and buying a mobile home, one car) and the debt was too much to continue.

How much debt did you accumulate?

  • Student loans: $62,000 total
  • Mobile home: $49,000 
  • Car: $19,000
  • Line of credit: $16,000
  • Credit card $12,000

Are you paying debt off? Can you?

The financial stress and life stress caused my depression to relapse. After consulting with a counsellor it was clear I had to change the financial piece and continue to work on my own mental health. I went to a credit counsellor and after much consulting it was clear that bankruptcy was the right decision.

Do you feel secure financially?

I don't think I have ever felt secure financially. I grew up in a home where two parents worked extremely hard to make ends meet. I now have my own family and I feel even less secure. I don't want a lot from life. I don't need to keep up with anyone else. I just want to feel secure.

My strategy is to keep going with the bankruptcy and to see what happens next. I don't know if I will ever own a home again or go after the masters program I always wished to complete. I just want my kids to have a more secure life and to be financially literate and confident.

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