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Friday, March 04, 2005

Friday Night After A Bad Friday Day.

So, a study today has recommended that people's debts do not exceed 45% of their annual income. Oops. It's a bit late now. Without going into what my annual income is, nor how much I owe, I can safely say that my debts are several times my annual income, rather than less than half of it.

It is, of course, wise advice, but it doesn't represent real life for me. I did a four year University course, with a student loan for each of those years. Then living off a credit card when I spent 8 months with no income. And, of course, I am not blameless and also bought sometimes essentials and, yes, sometimes I spent on extras on credit cards after my benefits had finally been approved. When I say essentials there, I do really mean essentials. I'm not talking about an essential pair of jeans, or an essential night out. I'm talking food, electricity tokens, and such.

But yes, I have also caused some of my debt by buying things on credit when I could have lived without them. Clothes, books, household things. One incredibly depressing thing about being on low levels of benefits (for 18 months or so I got around £42 a week) is that it is not like being a bit skint when you're waiting for payday. It is a level of poverty and misery which you have no apparent way out of. In my case, miracle cure would have got me out of it, as I could have then been able to work, and afford things again. But there was no miracle cure, and no other way out. I was barely able to get out of bed, even less able to leave the house.

As a result, every week money was a struggle - in fact, more of an impossibility than a struggle. Once bills and electricity token were covered I was left with around £15 a week for food, transport, socialising, clothes, toiletries, emergencies, treats, presents for people etc. But with £15 a week, and the only accessible shop to me being expensive, virtually all of that money went on food, and a little left over for travel - mainly to medical appointments.

So, no hope of (what were those other things I mentioned?!) socialising, getting new clothes, toiletries, dealing with emergencies, getting the odd treat for myself or birthday or Christmas presents for others. There was just no feasible way of even entertaining the idea of spending on any of those things.

As nowadays there are very few cash machines which dispense £5 notes, I would get £10 out one week and £20 the next, then £10 again then £20 the following week. This was how I had to go about getting hold of the £15 I could spend.

When you are poor it is very difficult to take advantage of situations where richer people can save money. I have talked about this lots before, but basically, you can't take advantage of 'Buy One Get One Free' or '3 for 2' type offers spontaneously, as throwing things which aren't immediately required into your basket is just not possible. Similarly, it is much easier to take advantage of kilos of free washing powder when you have a car to take you back home, rather than a bus and a two-mile walk. Not to mention that poorer, or disabled people may only have a local 'corner shop' which they can realistically access. These places are often more expensive for general items, and don't have so many special offers. People with transport, for example, can shop around, getting the best prices.

But above all it's miserable. You're constantly counting pennies and having to make choices between loo paper or sanitary towels, and there is no end in sight. You're not skint until you get paid next week. You're not going to have to skip biscuits / coffee / whatever until Saturday. How your life is is how your life seems it will be for the immediate and perhaps long-term future. If your fridge breaks, then you don't have a fridge any more. If you don't have a winter coat, then you get cold til the spring. If, like me, you gain weight, then you have to continue to wear the same clothes even when they are two sizes too small.

I don't want to sound melodramatic or like I'm pleading for sympathy or pity. I'm not. Nowadays I have more income than that, and though I am often skint, it is generally a different level of skint and I usually at least have food in the house. However, that period of time was appallingly difficult and it is important that people know how it really is to live on a tiny amount of money.

Ok. Rant over. Well, that particular one at least. For now.

The web is full of Photoshop contests, of varying standards. I found one, quite accidentally, which impressed me muchly. Everyday Objects Swapped with Musical Instruments.

Chocolate has been banned for NHS Staff?? Why is this not head of the news? It's nearly as bad as all this bloody no smoking nonsense.