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‘I Feel Like I’m Failing Them’: How Low-Income Parents Struggle Over The Holidays

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Jasmine, 32, is looking forward to Christmas, a rare opportunity to spend an entire day with her twin 8-year-old boys. But she’s also anxious ― anxious that she’ll disappoint them because she can’t afford to buy them the few gifts they asked for this holiday season.

“Some days I feel like I’m failing them,” Jasmine, a single mom who works two jobs, told HuffPost. “It almost makes me feel like I’m not trying as hard as I think I am.

The holiday season is in full swing. According to seasonal ads and movie classics, this should be the most joyous, magical time of year, when families exchange nice gifts and enjoy festive meals. But for low-income families and those living paycheck to paycheck, it can be the most stressful time. There are concerns about how to scrape money together to buy gifts and pay for holiday meals. Then there are worries about lost wages for taking time off or child care costs if parents work while the kids are at home. There’s anxiety about the basic expenses, too. When school or day care is closed, that also means children don’t have access to meals they typically get during the day.

“If you think about low-income families, there are really ongoing financial pressures throughout the year,” said Caroline Ratcliffe, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research group. “Those financial pressures can intensify during the holidays,”

For these families, it isn’t about making more sacrifices or working harder. For many of them, there are no more frills left to cut and there are no more hours in the day available.

Veronica and her 2-year-old daughter receive a holiday meal box at Open Arms Mission Food Pantry in Antioch, Illinois, in 201


Northern Illinois Food Bank

Veronica and her 2-year-old daughter receive a holiday meal box at Open Arms Mission Food Pantry in Antioch, Illinois, in 2016. The Northern Illinois Food Bank’s meal boxes are packed with a turkey or ham, potatoes and other traditional holiday foods for a family of eight.

According to Julie Yurko, CEO of the Northern Illinois Food Bank, 77 percent of the clients who use the organization’s service are part of working families.

“It dispels a myth, this preconceived notion that these are not hard-working families and aren’t doing everything they can to provide for themselves,” Yurko said.

Most weeks, Jasmine doesn’t take a single day off. During regular working hours, she’s a phlebotomist at a lab, where she earns about $30,000 a year. At nights and on weekends, she doubles as a liquor ambassador. She educates customers about a particular wine or beer at stores or at sporting events. That earns her about $2,000 more a year. Jasmine makes too much money to qualify for government benefits, but it’s not enough to cover her expenses.

“You need so much of certain things. It costs so much,” Jasmine said. “When you don’t have it, you just don’t have it.”

Many families face the same issue. Even though the unemployment rate has fallen, wages have remained stagnant. 

One of the biggest expenses Jasmine struggles with each month is food. Ideally, she’d like to spend about $400. By shopping at multiple stores to get the best deals, and getting some help from a food pantry that’s operated by the Northern Illinois Food Bank, she’s able to shave that expense in half. The food bank she visits is run out of her sons’ school and is going to be closed over the holiday.

Not having access to the food pantry was another consideration as Jasmine tried to budget and prepare for Christmas.

Like most parents, Jasmine wants to make her kids feel special over the holidays. According to a recent report from Bankrate, a website that provides financial advice, 54 percent of polled parents said they felt pressure to overspend during the holidays. 

Jasmine can’t consider overspending. Instead, she’s being extra resourceful and has to accept that there will be some disappointment.

The twins handed her a pretty reasonable wish list this year. They asked for new shoes and clothes. They each wanted a crucifix necklace.

She was able to find the necklaces at Marshall’s for $15.99. The rest of the requests will have to wait.

To save up for gifts and Christmas dinner, Jasmine didn’t buy a single thing for two weeks. Instead of paper towels, they used hand towels. Jasmine made meals with only what was available in the cupboards ― a lot of canned goods and pasta. She drove just as far as she had to go and not a mile more to save on gas. She’s been stretching her toiletries and doing larger loads of laundry so she doesn’t waste detergent.

In a recent Bankrate survey, 54 percent of parents said they felt pressure to splurge on gifts over the holidays. To come up


krisanapong detraphiphat via Getty Images

In a recent Bankrate survey, 54 percent of parents said they felt pressure to splurge on gifts over the holidays. To come up with money for gifts, many low-income parents have to ration food and toiletries to come up with extra cash for presents.

Rationing and making hard decisions is common among families who are struggling to get by, Yurko said.

Clients who visit the food bank will stock up on oatmeal and peanut butter, because those are filling foods They water down juices to make them last longer. Parents will often go without food so that their children won’t go hungry. They’ll pay half an electric bill one month to have some extra money to work with.

“They will make tough choices as they’re stretching,” Yurko said. “They’re buying what’s most important at this moment.”

But the holidays are just a symptom of a bigger issue. Most struggling families don’t have any sort of savings to cover something more dire, like a major medical issue. About a quarter of families have no non-retirement savings, said Ratcliffe. She added that having just $250 to $750 set aside for emergencies could help protect families from financial ruin because once an unexpected bill arises, families can fall prey to predatory loans that can hurl them into a cycle of debt.

As for Jasmine, she remains upbeat and is as honest as she can be with her young sons about their finances. When they ask for food or gifts she can’t afford, she’s straightforward with them.

“I tell them we have to wait until later because I have other responsibilities. Every now and again, they will cry or get a little frustrated. What can I do?”

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Ontario’s new automated speed enforcement explained

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(NC) To wage the war against speeding, many municipalities across Ontario have turned to automated speed enforcement. Most recently introduced in Toronto, speed cameras are a high-tech solution to reduce speeding and are considered one of the most effective ways to create safer roads and save lives.  

Recognizing police officers cannot catch all speeders, these cameras fill the gap, providing monitoring in specific locations around the clock. When a car’s speed is even one kilometre over the posted amount, it will take a picture of the offending vehicle’s license plate, using the captured photo as indisputable evidence. A ticket is then served to the vehicle’s owner, regardless of who was driving. 

With a focus on high-risk areas, Ontario’s automated speed enforcement cameras are located in two specific municipal areas: school and community safety zones. School zones are designated streets close to a school, featuring reduced speed limits as dictated by local bylaws. Community safety zones are high-risk corridors and intersections, subject to increased fines and penalties.  

While the Ontario Highway Traffic Act outlines the use of automated speed enforcement, municipalities can decide when and where to use cameras to curb speeding. The act does dictate financial penalties for speed violations captured with cameras, which vary depending on the number of kilometres caught over the speed limit.  

Speed enforcement is not new, but part of a broader, integrated road safety strategy that includes infrastructure improvements, awareness campaigns and new uses of technology. City officials hope for a halo effect, inspiring better driving behaviour across entire communities, not only in areas with cameras. A controversial topic, some critics take exception to speed cameras, labelling them as sneaky cash grabs for municipalities. Governments think the opposite. 

Safety advocate and auto insurance provider Onlia is hopeful that the cameras will provide drivers with a reminder to slow down, especially in high-risk areas like school and community safety zones.  

For those who obey the speed limit, automated speed enforcement shouldn’t change anything about your driving style, says Alex Kelly, Safety Ambassador at OnliaDrivers have fair warning as they approach areas with speed cameras, as mandatory signs provide reasonable notice of upcoming automated speed enforcement. Regardless of warnings, the best speed is the posted speed. 

You can start to understand your speeding style by downloading the insurance provider’s new safe driving app that coaches and rewards for you for safe driving habits.

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Online banking: How to protect yourself from fraud

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(NC) Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, a growing number of consumers are regularly using mobile and online banking to paybill payments, transfer money and make purchases.

Although these tools can give you easy access to your personal finances on demand, there are also some risks involved. For instance, your banking information—such as your debit or credit card number, user name, or personal identification number (PIN)—could be stolen. If criminals have access to your online banking information, they can steal your money, which is why it’s so important to be  vigilant when you bank online.

Follow these tips to help protect your personal and banking information:

  • For your online bank accounts, use a strong password that can’t be easily guessed, and never share your user name or password with anyone.
  • Check your accounts regularly to make sure there are no transactions you didn’t make or authorize.
  • When making online purchases, never authorize a website to save your credit card information, password or other personal information. Giving websites this permission will save you some time the next time you access the site, but it poses a real threat if a hacker manages to access your information.

Most financial institutions have policies to protect you from transactions that you didn’t make.

However, you are responsible for protecting your online and mobile banking information. If you give your details to anyone—including your spouse or partner, a family member or a friend—your financial institution may hold you responsible for any unauthorized transactions in your account, and even strip you of protection from unauthorized transactions in the future.

If you suspect your information may have been compromised, change your passwords immediately, and check your account and credit card statements for anomalies and report any suspicious transactions to your financial institution.

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada has created resources to help you protect your online banking information.

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Payday loans: Not the best way to borrow money

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(NC) Payday loans are a very expensive way to borrow money. Even if you’re struggling financially, think twice—and crunch the numbers—before getting this type of loan.

Depending on the rules in your province, payday lenders can charge fees of $15 to $25 per $100 that you borrow.

As an example, let’s say you borrow $300 for home repairs. The payday lender charges you $51 in fees, or $17 for every $100 borrowed. Your loan balance is therefore $351, which amounts to an interest rate of 442 per cent.

There can be serious consequences if you don’t repay your loan by the due date. These may include the following:

  • The payday lender may charge you a fee if there isn’t enough money in your account.
  • Your financial institution may also charge you a fee if there isn’t enough money in your account.
  • The total amount that you owe, including the fees, continues to increase.

There are better options out there

Payday loans should be your last resort to borrow money. Consider cheaper ways of borrowing money, such as:

  • Cashing in vacation days or asking for a pay advance from your employer.
  • Getting a line of credit, a cash advance on a credit card or a personal loan from your financial institution.
  • Getting a loan from family or friends.

Before getting a payday loan and to avoid getting stuck in a debt trap, consider other, less expensive ways to borrow money.

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