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Exceptions that prove the rule. December 13, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Here’s a piece on how a family has survived despite a massive mortgage problem.

“We brought down our groceries to €70 hour week, for a family of two children with us full-time, and another teenager who was with us part-time, and is now back with us full-time. The grocery bill is now €80 per week.”
“€80 per week for five of you? How do you do it?”, asked Sean. “We do it because we have to”, answered Caitríona. “It’s really, really difficult. I find this just so unfair. If we didn’t pay our mortgage tomorrow, the bank would be in touch with us in 10 days time, and we would be getting letters saying ‘Warning, your home is at risk.’”
Caitríona’s economising, her methodology and financial management were seriously impressive, to both host and listeners. She lives by lists, buying food in season, growing her own, eating low price sugar-free cereals like porridge, measuring the meat protein that will be needed by the family, and buying and cooking accordingly.
“Safe food (Ireland). They reckon that a family of four would need between €141 and €160 a week to eat well.”

What struck me, and don’t get me wrong, I have considerable sympathy for everyone in that situation, was how familiar a lot of this. Shopping using a checklist, avoiding sugary cereals in favour of porridge, energy saving bulbs, a single car, saving for cheap holidays, a sense that money has to be – I don’t like the term, but you know what I mean – husbanded. Like many of us I was on very bad wages for the first half of my working life, I’m on better now but I’m not rolling in money and the habits of that first period have never gone away (and in truth they were habits in my family before when I grew up, a lot to be said for having a grandmother and great grandmother who had lived through the war living with one as a child and adolescent), in part because I’m on contract so there’s always a sense that that could change significantly and for the worse – and there are so many more in a similar or worse situation or who are unemployed.

And it struck me that this ‘insight’ into lives that are constrained by financial limitations, whether due to mortgages, unemployment, low wages, whatever, may seem to some as distant as an anthropological study of people in some remote part of the globe. It is that gulf of imagination and experience that is so problematic. Solidarity, sympathy, understanding are difficult to generate when there’s a detachment from life as it is for people. I could imagine how some would bridle at the reference to the 30euro saved for holidays each week – but that’s a sensible and important practice to my mind. But this is all contradictory for some because they can’t understand how if one person can get by on 70-80euro for food another can’t, or they question how badly off they are if money is put aside for a holiday or some small treat. And so on and so forth.

There’s another aspect which I want to touch on here, because it addresses a different angle. I’ll bet many of us still live a life largely informed by that because those habits are habits that attempt to avoid wastefulness and excess. But many of us have more flexibility. Money isn’t quite too tight to mention and that’s the difference, that space to exist is greater. And that – and I’ve mentioned this before – brings benefits. For example one can subscribe to a couple of magazines and save because one has sufficient money upfront to get a 10% discount. The same is true of say subscribing to a music provider like emusic thereby being able to avoid iTunes or whatever. And again so on and so forth. Having that bit more actually saves a bit more.

One person just about gets by on that sum. Some will see that as license to say that all should get by. But note the simple fact that they have space to grow their own food. So many don’t have that. Friends of my daughter spent literally years in hotel rooms due to lack of accommodation. Others live in rented apartments. And so on. There’s no simplistic one size fits all, one proscriptive approach must be adopted by all. Or everyone can exist on exactly the same come what may.

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