I am talking today as a struggling university and journalism student, as a person who has on and off been on social assistance, as a person who has been on unemployment insurance a few times, as a person who has a couple of times been technically homeless and has been through the surreal roller coaster nightmare of couch surfing, as a temp worker, as a minimum wage worker and currently after having endured several years of bullying that resulted in suffering a long and hard battle with depression and anxiety – temporarily on ODSP.
Because of this, I know all too well the struggles of being in poverty, of having had to live in inadequate housing that was detrimental to both my physical , mental and emotional health, of having to rely on food banks and sometimes community drop ins for meals, of dealing with threatening intimidating , demonic -like calls from creditors, of having spent several years afraid to file my taxes because of fear that I owed money and having heard rumours and hearsay of what could happen to people who owed money in taxes and moreover what could happen to people who didn’t have the money to pay what they owed in taxes.
Not to mention how often there were times when I felt that I really had reason to worry about being able to come up with funds to pay my rent and worry over being tossed out into the street like a bag of garbage instead of being treated like a human being that mattered.
Feeling like I have been through the often seemingly ludicrous labyrinth of the social system – I turned to social activism for healing and for a sense of empowerment. Through social activism – I have learned that empowerment is something that we can only really truly gain by giving to others.
I was so very grateful to learn about this course: “Financial Literacy “
I felt after all the financial stress I have gone through, as a person living below the poverty line this was an opportunity that I could not afford to miss.
A favourite quote of mine from Benjamin Franklin states “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”
Through this program I have come away feeling more confident about my future because I feel that I am much more armed to deal with my financial issues than before. I don’t feel like I am blindly stumbling in the dark when it comes to dealing with important financial issues.
I realize now that having a sense of security about one’s financial health does not necessarily have to come from having a plush bank account but more importantly feeling secure about your future regardless of whatever your economic circumstances might be comes from having taken the time and effort to make “an investment in knowledge” and when it comes to securing your financial health, this applies across the board to everyone including both the non-poor and those living below the poverty line.
Through having participated in this program, the three most important things that have stuck out for me in taking care of my financial health is to:
- know what my rights and entitlements are
- know what my financial responsibilities and obligations are
- take control of instead of hiding or running away from my financial worries
The third lesson- take control of my financial circumstances is really and most truly the most important thing that I have learned from this program.
Taking control of your financial situation involves if you have debts or feel that you may have an unsettled debt, find out to whom and how much money you owe . Making sure that even if you have had a loan paid off that it is discharged so it doesn’t affect other financial decisions you may wish to make in the future.
I also learned to be wary of how little consumer protection banks have.
Other important things that I learned through this program are:
– the differences between mandatory and discretionary benefits when dealing with OW and ODSP and also what are the differences between allowable assets and exempt assets;and
– what benefits one may be entitled to when one leaves OW or ODSP and for how long and how to appeal benefits that have been denied and the process involved.
Another thing that I learned when taking this program when dealing with one of the only two certain things in life “taxes” what I am as a low-income person entitled to and the differences between refundable and non-refundable tax credits.
And last but not least, I learned how to secure one’s financial health as we move towards our retirement. We live (as John Stapleton used the term), in a “parallel universe.”
Much of the media information regarding financial retirement advice is geared towards the non-poor and the advice on investing in RRSPs that we often hear about in the media is geared towards people in the non-poor income bracket but that people who are in the low income bracket would often in this “parallel financial universe “ be well advised to do quite the opposite.
The program “Financial Literacy” has definitely proved to be for me “an investment in knowledge.”
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Houselink, John Stapleton and other instructors who helped teach this course.
(Note: Pamela gave this talk on Friday February 27, 2015 at West Neighbourhood House as part of the panel for the Launch of Welcome to the Financial Mainstream? The applause was long and loud from the 100 or so people who attended.)