‘It’s overwhelming to have to say ‘no’ so much’

Sally Vicary looks at how many times a week she turns on the oven.

“I decide what the kids and I are going to eat for the next four days and do it all in one day to save costs. I’m more likely to use my slow cooker than the oven — it’s not as expensive to light up,” says Vicary, a single mother of three children aged 12, 7 and 5.

Like huge swaths of the Irish population struggling with the cost of living crisis, Carlow’s mother – who is on welfare – is on constant economic vigilance.

“I go around unplugging things, turning off switches. It is a circle of constant observation.

She cannot afford to give pocket money to the children and the usual day trips were not possible this summer, although she managed to take a day trip to the forest park of ‘Avondale before school starts.

“It took three weeks to save money. After buying the ticket, I spent €11 on drinks for the kids. I bought myself a coffee. I couldn’t afford the food, so we brought a packed lunch with us. I said “no” to a teddy bear in the gift shop. It’s overwhelming to have to say “no” so much. »

Vicary has been “watching the numbers” since January, when she started the year with five debts.

“I then started paying off my debts. I thank the Lord for doing that because interest rates have gone up. I have two debts now and only one at high interest.

Determined not to get another loan this Christmas, Vicary focuses on buying food and heating. “I look at fluffy blankets under the Christmas tree – anyway we can warm ourselves without turning on the heating system.”

“It’s a constant watch circle,” says Sally Vicary of Bagenalstown, Co Carlow. Photography: Patrick Browne

Karl Cronin, national spokesperson for MABS Ireland, says personal debt is now occurring due to factors beyond our control.

“It’s important for everyone to recognize that personal debt is due to things that happen to people – rather than to themselves. It’s because of the conflict in Ukraine and rising interest rates.

Cronin outlines the steps to taking control of our finances, starting with a financial health check.

“Make a family budget. What exactly happens every week? And what comes out? Prioritize expenses. Not paying your mortgage or your rent risks losing your house. Not paying your electricity bill risks disconnecting. Food and medicine are other priority expenses. Look at your remaining financial commitments: personal loans, credit card repayments, car loan repayment. What can be postponed or renegotiated to a lower payment? Identify your discretionary spending. What can be reduced or excluded if things don’t balance out at the end of the month? »

Cronin says it’s important to know where to look for advice and support.

“MABS Ireland is free, publicly funded and judgment free. Abhaile, a government program for anyone with three months or more of mortgage arrears, offers in-court mentor support if you find yourself in court threatened with repossession. There is also a range of insolvency options. MABS can identify the one that best suits your needs and guide you through the next steps in contacting an insolvency practitioner. »

The Department of Social Welfare has an “exceptional needs payment” that we can qualify for, Cronin points out.

“This is a one-off payment to help with a one-time exceptional cost, for example the electricity bill has been estimated for 12 months, arrears have accumulated and you owe €1,000. It takes that pressure off. You first meet with a social worker to discuss it.

Cronin says a lot of people, if they can’t pay the full balance of a bill, don’t pay anything at all. “They’re surprised to hear ‘well, pay what you can afford – maybe €50 this week, €50 more in a fortnight’. Doing this shows you’re dealing with the situation, not that you’re dealing with it. ignore.

He says it’s important to engage and communicate with lenders or creditors. Ignoring the problem leads to increased stress. “Most often, the lenders or the creditors work it out. It is in everyone’s interest not to allow arrears to accumulate.

“People are in dire straits”

Ann-Marie Gaynor, founder of Irish Budgeting Mammy (irishbudgetingmammy.com) and author of The budget booksays many – who were unaccustomed to financial stress in the past – are now suffering.

“I haven’t gone below 300 messages per week in my inbox since July.

“People are in dire straits. Many of my supporters are Gardaí, nurses, civil servants. Many of them fail to make ends meet. Fuel and food are the big costs.

Ann-Marie Gaynor of Irish Budgeting Mammy.
Ann-Marie Gaynor of Irish Budgeting Mammy.

Deirdre, who prefers not to use her last name, worked as a nurse for 30 years. Her adult children no longer live at home. “I’m not in the throes of a financial crisis right now, but I’m trying to make choices that will get me through the winter.”

Based in Co Waterford, she notices how much more expensive it is to fuel her pellet stove.

“The price of a 15 kg bag of pellets last April was €5.90, now it is €8.30. It’s a big leap.

“I wonder if I should buy an imported or Irish brand – the imported brand is cheaper but not as good quality.

“I am more aware of all aspects of managing my home, my household chores. For example, I’ve found it cheaper to buy a laundry egg from an eco-store and fill it up than to buy any brand (even my own brand) of liquid or powder detergent.

Fiona O’Malley, CEO of mental health charity Turn2Me, says mental health can decline with financial stress, creating a vicious cycle.

“It can be even harder to focus on managing invoices. People can miss work and lose income. Money problems worsen and mental health declines further.

She recommends self-care strategies to manage psychological distress:

  • Exercise – even a little – boosts mood and energy.
  • Relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, yoga, meditation can all help.
  • Get your sleep. Fatigue increases stress levels.
  • A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole foods, and omega-3s helps mood and energy (can be done on a budget).

And don’t forget the positives – easy to do when you’re under financial pressure.

“Take a moment to appreciate what you have,” O’Malley urges.

“Close relationships, your health, your pet, the beauty of the nearby beach, the sunset in your backyard.

“Give yourself a break from worries. Soak up the beauty. Worrying does not solve a situation. Actions do, so [make a financial] plan and stick to it.

In Carlow, Vicary has a new hobby – for 246 consecutive days she has been swimming in cold water.

“If I’m very stressed, I get in the water. In cold water, you have to be here and now. You can’t think of numbers. You need to focus on your breathing. So you relax.

  • Turn2Me runs weekly support groups (online, anonymous, free) to help with anxiety/low mood (turn2me.ie)

Ann-Marie Gaynor, founder of Irish Budgeting Mammy, talks about the steps she takes to reduce financial stress:

  • Only go shopping once a week, get everything you need for the week in one outing, avoiding trips where you need more milk and walking out with something you don’t need , such as soft drinks.
  • Make a meal plan by trying to use what you already have in the kitchen. Know your supermarket, to buy just what you need. Use a small cart.
  • Use ethnic supermarkets. “I buy giant bags of rice from my Asian supermarket for €10 – last two a year.”
  • Allow €20 to €30 aside for occasional expenses (a coffee to go). Once it’s gone, that’s it.
  • The loss of a TV package reduced Gaynor’s budget by €75 per month.
  • Can you pay a weekly sum online for various bills?
  • Don’t worry if you can’t pay an annual bill all at once. Pay monthly by direct debit – anything to ease that financial burden.
  • Plan early for big events. Christmas, First Communion, Confirmation. Set aside money throughout the year.
  • Talk directly to children about money. “We’re not going to do that this week. I’m short – I have to pay this bill.
  • Separate into envelopes the fixed weekly amount of money for food, fuel and entertainment – ​​in Gaynor’s case, beauty products. “If one week, I have no more money for food, I draw on the money for beauty products. A benefit of money is the psychological feeling of spending – you break a note, you feel a psychological loss. So you are less likely to spend.
  • Be aware of emotional spending. Think about it – when you overspent, how was your mood? What are your triggers? Maybe a specific store? “Mine is a pharmacy – those beauty products! If I have a medical prescription, I send one of my older children with – I stay out
    of the shop. »
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