People Tell Us What It’s Like Living Paycheque to Paycheque

A single mom, a working professional and a recent graduate invited us into their homes and shared what their daily lives are like.

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01 October 2016, 1:00pm

Babies are expensive. All photos by author.

This story first appeared on VICE Canada.

It's the day before you get paid and one of the longest days of the month. Since your last paycheque, you've spent all or most of what you earned on bills and daily expenses before the next cheque even arrives in your bank account. If your paycheque were to be delayed, you wouldn't be able to make ends meet.

This is the life of someone living paycheque to paycheque, and it's a reality for more people than you think.

According to a Canadian Payroll Association (CPA) survey released this month, nearly half of all Canadians are living paycheque to paycheque. The survey's findings also indicate that four out of 10 Canadians spend all or more of their paycheques when they get them.

While these are high numbers, at the end of the day, they aren't all that surprising. We've all watched our bank accounts slowly diminish to three or two-figure numbers in between paycheques. When rent, bills and groceries take away a huge portion of your pay, most people are left with a pretty sad amount left for other expenses, and barely any for leisure.

This may sound a lot like the life of a broke university student, but it's hardly just students living paycheque to paycheque. Our tendency to shy away from talking about money has left us assuming anyone who has a steady job is living comfortably and continually tucking money away for retirement. We assume that people who don't seem like they're struggling are financially stable.

But seeing that half of our country is living on the financial edge, we spoke with some Canadians who were willing to share what it's really like to live paycheque to paycheque.

Alicia, Mental Health Advocate

"My daily life living paycheque to paycheque is a lot of anxiety. If a big unexpected expense were to come up, it would really throw me. I would not be able to handle an unexpected trip or something like that as easy as somebody who's being paid a fair wage for their skills.

I work in program creation for mental health nonprofits. A lot of people who work for nonprofits live paycheque to paycheque because there's just not a lot of funding. And also a misconception about, like if you work for a charity then somehow your passion will pay your bills.

For me it's just weird because I have a TED talk, I've spoken at the UN, I have a book—everything on the outside would say that I shouldn't have to live this way but I still have to continuously prove to people that I am worthy of even getting something part time.

Some of the biggest expenses I deal with would be things like food, medication, other kind of health care costs. I live with my partner and he's more well off than I am so I try to still keep everything fair, so house costs, contributing as much as I can to rent, and I think just my phone and things like that.

Right now I feel stuck. I feel like ever since I left university, I've been in the same place, where I really love what I do but I haven't moved forward in the rest of my life. My place now is very similar to the place I rented in university. If I wasn't living paycheque to paycheque, I think I would be able to say no to things that I know are unfair.

I get a lot of people coming to me asking me to advise on something for free, even if it's a really expensive project. Right now I feel anxious saying no to these things because I worry about it compromising a contract and I'll be in an even worse position in the future. If you have more stability, you don't have to put up with that."

Ana, Nanny

"I moved to Toronto from Ecuador in 2008 and worked as a nanny. I had an amazing job for five and a half years, but I stopped working there because I became pregnant. So I went back to Ecuador and married my husband, and after that, I've been surviving here in Toronto on the government's EI paycheques.

I feel the pressure of not knowing how I am going to manage this month to pay rent and food and still have money for my daughter. It's hard, pretty much even to buy groceries. I have to get coupons for her formula, coupons for her diapers, I go on Facebook and I trade things on Bunz Trading Zone. I'm really, truthfully the most resourceful person I know. And I don't mind being that way, but it gets tiring.

I paid for spousal sponsorship in February so my husband is supposed to come here. But it's going to take a while before he gets here because he needs to get accepted and there's a lot of paperwork.

I feel like I'm at my wit's end. If things don't happen fast enough I will just move back because it's very expensive here. But over there, there's no such medical coverage there like there is here. At the same time, it's very terrible that my husband hasn't been able to meet his own daughter.

It is happy every day though, with my daughter. She's pure joy, she's a very happy baby and she sleeps all through the night. She makes it all seem a little easier, but I know our reality is not that easy."

Brody, Barista

"I just graduated in May out of music theatre performance. Now I'm working at a coffee shop as a barista. I've kind of always had the idea that I'd like to produce stage shows but it's so expensive. Right now that's kind of unrealistic.

Coming out of school I knew I would need something to eat and pay the bills immediately. I came to Toronto because, being an actor, there isn't much work outside of a big city. So my parents were really sweet about everything and they paid my rent for the summer. For the first couple months I was OK, but I needed to start paying my own bills eventually so I got the barista job.

It is difficult. I realize that yes, I am going paycheque to paycheque, but I try not to worry about it too much. I just got paid on Friday and usually by [mid week after that], I am already starting to run really low. What I tend to do is, I only do laundry every two weeks because I have a lot of clothes. When I'm very low on money, I'll go to McDonalds and get something for $4 instead of buying $80 worth of groceries.

I don't buy anything new. I buy all of my electronics refurbished, I buy all of my clothes secondhand or I get a lot of it from my brothers, most of the furniture I just got this weekend at the thrift store. So I got really lucky. I couldn't imagine what I would have done without those things.

I'm approximately 40k in debt, and that's not a lot by any means, but those student loan payments are starting in November for me, and I have credit card debt on top of that. Trying to get out of that and look at a future where I'm not constantly paying $1000 a month just to exist, is completely unrealistic for me right now.

If I was to live a cookie cutter, boxed-in lifestyle, eating the same thing everyday, spending only a certain amount, I think I could pay for everything ... and that's a very strong 'think.' I could pay for rent and maybe $100 worth of groceries. I'd cook all my meals and never eat out. But I think that's so unrealistic. No one wants to live that life."

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