Monday, September 14, 2009


According to a survey released by the Canadian Payroll Association, 59% of us are living paycheque to paycheque. By which they mean that 59% of people would be in financial difficulty if a single paycheque was delayed by one week.
"We were shocked by that number", said the chair of the CPA. Really? I'm shocked it's that low.

Meandering through the comments on the CBC's website (always an interesting, if frustrating exercise), we learn that this is entirely the fault of free trade/globalization/Stephen Harper. (For what it's worth, that's the considered opinion on such things as climate change and tooth decay as well, but...)

I have a different view. (When do I not?) Eight plus years of intently studying people as they walk the aisles of my grocery store has taught me that a very great many people have next to no shopping savvy. They cruise the store on autopilot, stuffing things into their carts while hardly even looking. They'll buy brand names, even when there's no appreciable difference between them and the store brands. (Sometimes, there's literally no difference, other than the graphics on the containers.) You might as well set your money on fire.

One gentleman bitched quite passionately on that CBC website that Kraft Dinner ("Canada's National Dish") now costs $1.69, and I would really like to know where that man shops. Price Chopper's regular retail is $1.29. But if you watch your flyers, a 12-pack of that stuff goes on sale somewhere five or six times a year for $9.99 (less than 84 cents a pack) or less. Or, if you're smart, you can make your own KD for a fraction of that price.

There's an absolutely staggering sense of entitlement among most people these days. The definition of "luxury" vs. "necessity" has shifted considerably over my lifetime. When I was a young child, a television had only recently crossed that threshold; the standard size was twenty inches. In 2009 it's hard to find a house with fewer than two televisions in it, and the size has approximately doubled. Twenty inch televisions are still available--and they're cheap!--but who wants one? Add in all the "required" peripherals--the Blu-Ray DVD player, the digital/HD boxes, the PVR, the video game console(s), and all of a sudden you've spent a couple of months' salary. Did you need to? You say yes, of course you did, and I say no, you've got your needs and your wants tangled up there somewhere.

People in Canada love to complain about how the cell phone companies gouge them to death. Everyone who's read my blog for any length of time knows my surefire solution to that problem. But if you really do need a cell--if you're actually the VIP you think you are--scrap your landline or go with Skype.

Do you buy a Timmies or two every day? I know you're doing your patriotic duty and Tim Horton's thanks you kindly, but two Timmies a day--weekdays only-- is $806 a year. Not quite the chump change you thought you were paying, is it? (I won't even crunch the numbers with Fourbucks, I mean, Starbucks. If you're actually giving them business, you can afford it and good for you.)

Moving up the expense ladder, how big is your house? Ours tops out at 1450 square feet--and we bought it expecting to raise two children in it. (The average American house size is 2349 sq. ft...and it has more than doubled since the fifties even as families have shrunk.)
When we became homeowners five years ago, we went about the process ass backwards, at least from what I've been able to determine. It seems as if many people find out how much of a mortgage they can carry, then find the nicest house they can at that price point. We deliberately toured the cheapest homes we could find, and picked the one that was (a) in the best shape and (b) the most livable. At the time, we could have carried a mortgage on a home at almost twice the price...but that was then. What do you do if (when) interest rates creep up? What if your pay is cut? What if...what if...does anybody ask "what if" any more?

Don't get me wrong, I do sympathize with people who are struggling to get by. I've been there myself. But, to borrow a slogan from one of Canada's banks, "you're richer than you think." Don't believe me? Amy Dacyczyn raised her family--six kids--on less than $30K (U.S.) a year...AND saved $49,000, while making several significant purchases. And yes, she and her family remained debt free.
Now granted, the "Frugal Zealot", author of The Tightwad Gazette, was rather...extreme. But I'd recommend that book for anyone interested in saving money. You can pick and choose: if you're financially comfortable, you may only implement some of the thousands of ideas in here. If you're balls-to-the-wall desperate, you might Dumpster-dive, and this book will tell you how to do it safely.

At the very least, before long you won't be living paycheque to paycheque.


Anonymous said...


I'm at a loss to explain it. We live paycheck to paycheck.

And its a good one.

We only have one TV, our house is 1475 square feet, and paid for! (no mortgage)

No cell phone, cheapest Internet I can get (DSL basic), cheapest TV service available (Look Communications, but they're going bankrupt)

We shop at Food Basics (no close price choppers, sorry) as well as Zehrs (for the better selection).

I've cut out golf, going out for lunch and no longer buy premium beer, IF I buy beer.

But we still have a cash flow problem.

The biggest single expense is the groceries. And that's the one area we aren't compromising yet. We buy a lot of fresh healthy stuff, and that's expensive. Hell, if we lived on chefboyaredee and Kraft Dinner I'd have tons of disposable income....

The one thing that is really hard is the mental aspect. I've been working my ass off trying to get ahead, but we just can't seem to get there. I should be able to afford luxuries, that's the class I'm in for crying out loud. But I can't. I'm only staying afloat and that becomes demoralizing after a while. You get tired of just working to exist. I work to earn a living, I don't live to work, and at times I just don't feel like we're doing much living, we're just existing.

This damned capitalist/consumerist society sucks the big one, but I just can't seem to find an alternative!

Rocketstar said...

Two things I always say:

It's the little things that really add up quickly (like the $4 starbucks coffee) and live below your means.

I'd love to charge up those credit cards and buy some cool new stuff, but o your point, do I really NEED them? No.

Ken Breadner said...

I hear you loud and clear. We're still not eating as healthy as we should be, but we do go to the market for quite a few things and Oakridge Acres (aka Well-Fed Foods) for all our beef. And yeah, it's pricey. We tend to buy in bulk wherever we can.
You, of course, have kids, which means four more hands in your wallet...