We were recently issued with a challenge: Spend the six weeks of lent living on what we could get if we both found ourselves out of work and on benefits with no redundancy money or notice.....
At first it seemed as though it would be a quirky or interesting thing to have a look at......but as I looked at our finances and then realised that, in our situation, we would only get the most basic of benefit levels (£111.50 per week between us) a number of things began to dawn on me.
Firstly, this was going to be nigh on impossible and, secondly, for increasing numbers of people this is reality....
Before the meeting at which we were told the amount of benefit we would be in receipt of I did some preparation and listed all current, actual, monthly direct debit and SO outgoings - quite a shock. This was before I even began to look at 'discretionary' spend and disposable income. I didn't need to do the maths to realise the level of change was going to be measured in factors that didn't bear thinking about, which in itself was both shocking and sobering.
There was quite a rapid progression from considering the scale of changes we would need to make and the pace at which we would need to make them to putting oneself in the position of others and considering the type of decisions that need to be made: Water, electricity,gas, telephone, broadband, TV package, house insurance, car.....There's no way we can keep them all, and even then those left will have to be reduced. Any loans, credit card balances and so on would need to be renegotiated.....urgently and significantly. Expenditure on food and drink reduced by at least 60 or 70% overnight!
All other insurance policies... personal, life, terminal illness, health, loan protection, fancy add ons to house insurance, cancelled immediatley! Pension payments...... gone! The list seemed almost endless and, from this perspective, the implications catastrophic.
After (theoretically, but accuratley) calculating by how much and how quickly we could reduce our basic living expenses we faced the fact that, on the basic level of benefit to which we are entitled as a couple, we had £35 per week for food and £6 per week each to spend! (that's not a typo)
The 'as a couple' statement suddenly became very relevant when, at a certain point in the meeting, it dawned that if we were not married...but just two single people living in the same house, we would get £71 each, which would represent a monthly increase of some. £116 which at these levels is very (very) significant.
Suddenly the ease with which one can judge those who 'choose' to split in order to 'get more money' seems both harsh and unrealistic!
Although we don't actually start 'living on benefit' till next Wednesday I am already realising how blinkered my views can be.
Anyway, that's it.....I am going to blog about how I spend my £6 a week....and how long we last before 'splitting' becomes pretty much a neccessity.