Monday 9th January, 2006


The ‘working poor’

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Nicholas Dean of Personal Financial
Advocates Ltd. Photo: Lester Forde

Increasingly, with the astronomical cost of living, those whose salaries once would have put them in the middle class find themselves struggling to make ends meet. They own no assets and often live pay cheque to pay cheque.

These are the people we define as the working poor.

This series by the Guardian Features Desk looks at the profile of these workers, their spending habits, their choices and dilemmas. It also looks at solutions to their difficulties—offering advice on how to budget, save and invest.

AYANNA Smith* is a self-confessed spendthrift. She often finds herself overspending.

Though it doesn’t stop her from looking fashionable and trendy, Smith, who works as an executive secretary at a financial firm, says that each month she finds it difficult to pay her rent of $450.

Uninsured, she does not have any savings in any financial institution.

People like Smith make up the “working poor” in T&T.

According to Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia (, the term working poor describes individuals who maintain full-time jobs but remain in relative poverty.

These individuals, the Web site added, had negative net worth and lacked the ability to escape their situations.

“There were some months when I had no other choice but to borrow,” Smith said, in an interview at her two-room apartment in Laventille, on October 15.

Smith, who receives a salary of $3,500 plus an acting allowance of $450, rents a semi-furnished apartment with burglar-proofed windows.

“Most of the furniture in this apartment, I met there. I just bought a couple of things to make myself comfortable and entertain my friends,” she said, pointing to her peach and white concrete abode.

Sitting on a bench in front of her landlord’s garage, Smith admitted that her wild spending and lifestyle were her biggest problems. These she promised to change in the new year.

“Money is never enough to ever go around, it’s frustrating,” the 29-year-old complained as she brushed her long two-toned weave away from her well-made-up face.

Melissa McIntyre* is a single parent. She, too, can never seem to make ends meet.

Even with two salary increases in three years, the 31-year-old mother of two can hardly set aside anything to save.

A receptionist with the North West Regional Health Authority for the past ten years, she said she moved from her parents’ home after being transferred to another health facility.

With this move she has incurred additional expense.

“My grocery bills have increased, I have to hire a taxi to take my children to school, pay a rent and utility bills,” she said in a telephone interview on October 20.

“I am still awaiting [a] travelling allowance,” she said.

She has $5,000 saved in the company’s credit union. She said she gets a 50 per cent discount on services at the hospital. She has a health plan for herself and her children, and a pension plan, both through her employer.

Before becoming pregnant with her second child, McIntyre said, she used to purchase clothes on credit. Those were the days.

“I cannot tell the last time I bought clothes.

“I made uniforms to wear Mondays to Fridays to lessen on the purchase of clothing.”

Fortunately for McIntyre’s childless younger sister Cindy Trent, her pay cheque for the past year and a half had allowed her to save at least $100 a month.

Trent, 27, who works as a receptionist at a lawyer’s firm, said although she does not receive the benefits her sister enjoys, she was saving for the car of her dreams.

“The $100-a-month savings is reaping great rewards,” she said in a telephone interview.

In August Trent, who still lives with her parents, was able to make her first down payment of $1,800 on the car.

“Although I am not pressured into contributing to the home just yet, I know very soon I would have to give something.”

Trent said she spent most of her free time at home watching DVDs or dining at TGIF, a fairly expensive restaurant, with her boyfriend.

Although Trent joked of stealing from her cash pan recently to buy a gift for a friend, she never takes money from her car fund.

*Names have been changed to protect the subjects’ identities.

According to financial coach and mentor Nicholas Dean of Personal Financial Advocates Ltd, most of the money problems people face are not because of not having enough money, but due to their spending habits.

Speaking during an interview at his office on Carlos Street, Woodbrook on October 26, Dean said the most common method of spending was impulse spending.

“It is all about how one deals with their response to marketing and advertising stimuli,” said Dean, dubbed “The Debt Therapist” by his clients.

“I have a client who works for $1,000 a month and was able to make it through the entire month with money left over. There is another who works for $30,000 and just could not seem to save a penny,” he added.

“Poverty begins and ends in the head.”

People need to win the war in their heads first and then change their mindsets.

“If you think you are poor, then the world gives you exactly that,” he said.

“Each month you have choices that could lead you out of debt or deeper in debt.”

©2005-2006 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

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