We were doing okay for a little bit, until COVID-19 hit and once again I was a single mum doing a university degree, living on benefits. Benefits that could hardly cover the cost of living. When my employer went into self-isolation because of his health, all future projects were put on hold.
Since Sunday, I’ve been living off $35 that has dwindled down to $25 on Tuesday and now it’s a $15. This isn’t the first time I’ve been broke, and so far, $15 at Friday seems okay. But I know what I can manage this week, will not be what I can manage the next.
I’ll get a bill. It’s always a bill that upends a delicate balance between staying afloat and pawning the few valuable items I have left. If I go to my ex-husband, he’ll say I don’t know how to spend money. Even though he knows we live on government support, he will say I’m irresponsible with money and that I just want to go out and have fun.
I don’t have a bed for my four-year-old. Baby sleeps in my bed, wriggling through the night clutching to me. I can only afford one bedroom. We had to move to the Inner West to be near childcare, because my ex refused to change, stating that if I did, I would have to pay the fees. When I had an income, it was meagre at best, though it made saving up for payments easier.
Our place has a garden, concrete, and plants. Filled with junkyard toys found on the street, rusted and flaking. People leave out forgotten toys, broken or old. There was a pair of wellies left on our doorstep once, but they didn’t fit him. Shame. He really needed wellies, still does, and the rainy season is yet to come.
I stopped the gym membership first, then a forgotten Celtx subscription that billed $30 monthly for scriptwriting services. Then came the take-away coffees and baby’s kinder surprise eggs. I’m frugal with bills, shutting off lights every night, unplugging the unnecessary. I have this flatmate who puts the kettle on twenty times a day but only uses the water five times, constantly flicking the switch but rarely relieving the contents. I haven’t had a hair cut in five years and when it gets too long, I cut it myself. I used to dye it black. I still have a packet of dye in my cupboard that I’m saving for when I’m in a particularly sorry state. The ends are a charred brown, but since there are no friends to visit, it feels like a waste to use it now.
I regret the trip to the dentist before all this happened. It was only a month ago. A dip into my savings, but I was working, earning money, so I knew I could replace the funds. I paid my university fees just before I lost my work. As a resident, I can’t apply for HECS. The paperwork is in the works and even so, I won’t be a citizen for at least another eighteen months. Until then, we are floating like a life-raft with a punctured hole, slowly and surely sinking to the bottom of a financial abyss.
Editor’s note: If you are undergoing financial hardship, you may be able to receive support from the following services: