By Chris Hibbard - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on January 5, 2024.
We all know that the cost of living in Canada has been on the rise. Everything is more expensive. Taxes, and interest rates are up. Government tries to placate the public with cheaper child care for families, free dental care for seniors, small cheques in the mail to offset rising prices. For one particular demographic in Canada though, all of these platitudes are practically meaningless.
Single people don’t make it into the headlines often – single people, meaning those who are living alone – whether by choice or by circumstance.
“Families get certain benefits related to children. Married couples share in the costs of living together. But single people like me, we’re on our own – period,” said Lily P., a local woman who chose to share her experiences with the Herald on condition of her privacy being maintained.
Lily shares her small house in an older area of the city’s north side. She is in her mid-50’s, and has a full-time job connected to the health-care sector, specifically wellness-services for seniors. She also has a secondary part-time job to help make ends meet.
“I like to think I’m an average citizen,” Lily said.
“I basically work 9-5, have a certain amount of benefits from my job, and I worry about money.”
She said that she feels lucky because the home that she has lived in for nearly 20 years was purchased “before the market blew up. I feel fortunate that I’m not paying the amount for my mortgage that most people have to pay nowadays.”
She said he feels lucky in another way as well: she has a small support system she can depend on if necessary, including a mother, a brother and some friends whom she knows would help her if she asked them.
Lily calls herself voluntarily single. She said that in a previous phase of her life she was married and living with her spouse, which meant that she was economically better off.
“We had two incomes so we had a bigger house, we had multiple cars, we had money to live and money for our hobbies, and I definitely had half the debt I have now,” Lily said.
“When you’re single, there’s no one to share the financial burden with. It doesn’t matter if you make a lot or a little, everything is still paid by you and only you.”
Lily is careful to point out that she is not a special case. She said that since COVID, everything has gotten more expensive for everyone, nationwide. She noted that inflation is terrible, the Bank of Canada’s rates have risen quickly, and everyone pays higher interest on debts.
She called it very annoying that everybody is paying more than they used to, for the exact same services as they used to, and the quality of those services have not risen. She called it a mystery.
Lily is shy to admit her financial situation, but says she earns approximately $3,000 a month from her two jobs combined. She estimated that of that income, about 50 per cent goes to keeping and maintaining her house – gas bills, water bills, electricity and mortgage. She estimated that about $700 a month goes to pay other bills such as cellphone and internet, and a few debts.
She said that about $400 a month gets put aside for annual bills such as property taxes and insurance for home and car.
“What’s left over is for my personal life,” Lily said, “and there’s not a lot of leftovers.” She said that sometimes she has $300 in spending money to last a two-week period – money which covers groceries, gasoline, and she laughed after adding, “and maybe some for wine and for shoes.”
Lily said that she’s always been a “thrift-store kind of gal who stays true to her hunter-gatherer roots,” and she knows some small tips and tricks to save money each money, including things like Taco Tuesday, regular trips to dollar stores, and looking at flyers and coupons.
“I know that times are tough for everyone, especially at Christmas time. I know that it’s even harder for those on a fixed income like seniors.”
Lily said that when it comes to the demographic of single people like herself, they seem to be a somewhat silent group.
“Single mothers have agencies to help them. Families and seniors and those with disabilities have certain agencies to help them. Single people don’t get help from anybody. We’re on our own.”
Lily says she is in favour of a national “living-wage” system.
“I read a while ago that the average cost of living in Canada is basically $22 per hour. And what is our minimum wage? What’s the point of a minimum wage if it’s less than you need to live on?” she asked rhetorically.
Lily claims that finances are one of her major worries in life, especially as it relates to trying to live a healthy lifestyle.
“The Canadian Food Guide tells me I should eat all the things that are the most expensive things. Produce is expensive. Chicken is expensive. Sugar-free foods are expensive. It’s sad that it’s just cheaper to survive off of the bad stuff.”