‘Money struggles are devastating, but we’ve hit rock bottom and held it together’

Jul 02, 2021
Sue and Susan have 'broken the bank' in their time, but they've found a way to deal with their money struggles. Source: Getty Images

I had recently been discussing finances with my friend Susan. We agreed that whether we have too little or too much, at some point it becomes a dilemma in our lives.

I’ve never been terribly focused on money. I was born in the north of England, in a hard working, lower class family. We didn’t have much money yet, as children, we wanted for nothing. I was loved, cared for and happy.

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As I got older, I only needed enough to house, feed and clothe my family (with a bit extra left over for things like an occasional holiday or the odd treat). Yet many are fixated on the accumulation of wealth, the management of their wealth and what to spend it on. Expensive homes, expensive cars, exotic holidays — in essence, possessions. Material things to advertise how wealthy they are to their friends, neighbours and the world.

What those type of people don’t realise is that their wealth will not buy them true love, happiness, contentment or good health. Sadly, money is the root of all evil. It allows people to buy armaments that mutilate and kill others. It gives them power to use to intimidate their fellow man.

Personally, I’m on the bones of my arse. Everything I’d worked so hard for, I lost (through no fault of my own). I have no savings, take no holidays, wear mostly secondhand clothing, but I have so much more than many. I have enough to pay my rent and put good, nutritious food in my fridge and pantry. I can buy a bit of wine and tobacco (necessary evils for me). Most of all I have family and friends who love and care about me.

I am content with my lot. I’ve learned common sense plays a great part in my financial stability. A certain amount of money comes in and there are certain amounts that need to go out. If more comes in than goes out, the surplus is saved. Heaven forbid it being the other way around! It means I’m not able to buy a car, take out private health insurance, go on holiday or even eat out. Living on a fixed income, as I do, means this situation will never change.

Certainly, there have been periods when my financial position has been more comfortable, especially in those years when I was working full-time and had a well-paid job with a supportive partner by my side, but it’s important for me to ‘always look on the bright side of life’.

However, Susan was born into a family of, what I would consider, relative wealth. During her life she has also experienced difficult financial times.

Susan writes: I had the financial support of my parents from the day I was born, but when I got myself into financial trouble I tried not to call on them. When I made the bold decision to buy a small hotel in France and put it against the sale of the house in England my parents had given me, I faced the consequences of my actions. I struggled to make ends meet and endured other financial hardships, without informing them.

The hotel was closed down by the village mayor at one point. It needed rewiring. The situation for me was dire, but my parents’ were in dire need of assistance too. Their health had declined and they needed care. I returned to England to look after them as I wanted them to spend their last days at home. I was fortunate that they paid the overheads of my closed hotel during that period.

After they died, their bank accounts were frozen while the legalities were sorted. The solicitor sent a letter to the bank advising them of the inheritance I would be due, which freed up some money and allowed me to return to France.

By this time, the work on the hotel had been completed (using money I’d been given from an uncle), but the local mayor put another road block in the way and I was unable to make a living. I sought out the help of French social services, something I was unable to do in England, and had the mayor’s ban overturned. I could finally lodge holidaymakers, though it was at a guest house and not in the hotel.

Eight years later, I found myself in financial trouble again. My French restaurateur boyfriend Pierrot had sold his business and I had sold mine so that together (with my daughter) we could buy a property with two cottages to run a holiday home. One of the cottages needed restoration, while the other made a suitable holiday home. Our capital covered the materials needed to restore the dilapidated cottage, but with only our pensions to keep us going we relied heavily on the revenue from the holiday home, which significantly declined when travellers went looking for warmer weather in which to spend their time. We did not have enough money to cover our overheads.

Pierrot’s daughter loaned him money to make up the shortfall. I re-budgeted to ensure I could cover my half of the expenses. We decided to sell the holiday home, but we were unable to do this because of a communal septic tank. The worry was too much for Pierrot; he had a heart attack and died.

I was then faced with this dilemma on my own and eventually came up with a solution that would allow for the holiday home to be sold. Money from the sale went to repaying Pierrot’s daughter and it also allowed me to breathe more easily.

Susan said she spent many months emptying the house before the new owners arrived. She sold what furniture and effects she could and gave away those things she couldn’t sell. She says her positive outlook helped get her through what was a great strain in her life. Like me, she has become so used to ‘economising’ and only spending on necessities that it has become second nature to her.

I find it remarkable that two women, living on opposite sites of the globe and coming from very different backgrounds, can still end up struggling with money so significantly. Proof that it doesn’t matter how much or how little you have.

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