To manage on six dollars a week in times of inflation

Marja Graman (58) from Lelystad has such good contact with her son (36) from Alkmaar that they call each other daily. But she only visits him once a year, because the train ticket costs 18 euros, which is expensive.

Marja has to make do with 60 euros a week. It is ‘living money’, allotted to her by a budget manager. Of the six bucks, she has to dress, buy food and care products like shampoo. This corresponds to 8 euros and 57 øre per. day. For that, you just buy two salmon slices from Albert Heijn. In a way, so for Marja, the AH does not visit quite often anymore, and certainly not in the fishing department.

She replied with a resounding ‘yes’ when asked via email if she would openly talk about the impact of price increases on her life. Hell! Named? Yes! with picture? Also! She is not ashamed. Have you read, she says, that an eighty-year-old man in South Holland recently took his purchases without paying? He could not manage on the national pension, and he also took something for his neighbors. And then people say there is no poverty in the Netherlands. People should know that!

Stay awake

It’s true, Marja’s story of rising money worries is just one of many. Hang out outside a food bank for half an hour, for example in Almere, and you can skim past a handful in no time. A young woman with a big belly brings the food to her car and tells that she now drives far fewer kilometers than before. Going up and down to her in-laws now costs 30 euros, and that money she has to spend on other things. For diapers, for example – she is pregnant with child number three. She drives off and a man in his fifties walks out of the food bank. He says he goes to the gym three times a week. Can he take a bath right away? At home he bathes only twice. He breathes noticeably heavily. Puts a finger to his neck. “I feel it. I’m hyperventilating.” Would he like to say more another day? “Preferably not. It’s too heavy.”

Or call organizations that care about people with the smallest grants. “Our customers are increasingly asking us for extra money,” says an employee of De Tussenregeling, which offers debt relief to more than twelve hundred people in Utrecht and the surrounding area. “In fact, it’s money they should save every month. So they’re eating it now.” Some clients lie awake at night with excitement, “because they do not know what is coming.”

Our customers are increasingly asking us for extra money

An employee of De Tussenregeling, which offers debt restructuring in Utrecht and the surrounding area

A press officer from the Poor Fund: “People stay more at home so as not to have to incur extra costs. It increases loneliness. ”

Director Veerle Rooze of the IDO (Interdenominational Diaconal Consultation) Foundation of Lelystad is increasingly hearing that people keep their energy costs artificially low by downgrading the monthly amount. It provides respite; the undoubtedly painfully high correction afterwards is of later concern. And director Nathalie Boerebach of the Dutch Urgent Needs Foundation is soon expecting a “tsunami” of relief requests. Because prices are high and corona aid measures have been lifted and it is too expensive to live. Aid workers are also better at detecting the resulting problems now that they are finally coming back behind the front door after two years of shutdowns. And no, these organizations add all, the one-time energy compensation of 800 euros does not help. In fact, says the Poverty Fund, “because the compensation is already coming and the final settlement only at the end of the year, people have a more urgent need to fill gaps with that money and buy food and drink.”

Not only benefit recipients like Marja Graman get in trouble. In April, the FNV association asked 20,000 members about the consequences of the increasingly expensive life. About two-thirds of them have a job – in healthcare, in construction, at metal factories, in trains and trams, at Schiphol. Almost half of the working respondents earn somewhere between 1,700 and 2,500 euros net. Two out of three say they can not save now. Nearly one in three is short of money at the end of the month. Six out of ten are dissatisfied with their salary because their salary simply does not compensate for the increased prices. People are working against the rocks.

Errors from the tax authorities

Marja lives on the first floor of an apartment complex. The living room has light carpets, plants in the window sill and – shortly after Easter – chicken statues and Easter eggs on the kitchen table. Some walls are gray and unpainted, the wall on the left is painted blue except for one last piece of gray. No, haha, she will not say how long it has been like that.

Marja has striking light blue eyes (“like a wolf, you say”) and wears her half-length blonde hair. Her roommates are the cat Tipi (14) and the dog Chakka (10), a cross between a labrador and a border collie, which she has outsourced to the apartment. She has a relationship with her boyfriend.

Marja only visits her son once a year, because the train ticket costs 18 euros.
Photo Annabel Oostewegehel

Yes, she says of her life allowance of 60 euros, which until recently was 40 euros. But in February, it turned out that she was no longer eligible for the food bank. “What did they say again? At least I was no longer justified because of the rules.” She knocked on the door of her budget manager, he could add 20 euros a week and really no more.

Marja’s money is managed because she is in debt to the tax authorities. With an advantage “a mistake was made somewhere, they do not know where and how, but I had to pay 6,000 euros back”.

Already close before 2022

More than ten years ago, the rheumatologist said that her fatigue and the stitches in her back, shoulders and legs are due to fibromyalgia, a condition that causes chronic pain in muscles and connective tissue. At the time, she worked at a paint factory, where she packed cans of paint in boxes and lifted them up on pallets. Because of her illness, she needed adapted work, “but they would not give it, because it’s about speed and money, that’s just the way it is in a factory”.

Not much later, she was completely rejected. She is receiving a WIA benefit. She has now been making voluntary food on Thursdays for the visitors in the IDO walk-in house in Lelystad for a few years now.

In the morning and in the evening she takes painkillers. She takes it from a blue medicine cartridge that has room for all days of the week. The cassette is in the middle of her coffee table. These sunny weeks are lovely, in hot and dry weather the pain is much less.

Marja has lived in this apartment since 2018. She pays around 650 euros a month, social rent. Her former home, an apartment in Lelystad, was 200 euros cheaper, but because the neighbor threatened her and her pet, she was forced to move.

So Marja was tight already before 2022. At that time, she already kept her health insurance limited to the basic package, even though physiotherapy was (and is) ‘actually necessary’. Called then already prepaid to save a subscription. Bought her clothes at textile discount store KiK, around the corner from Lidl. Got kibble for Tipi and Chakka from the animal feed bank.

Read brochures

And then Marja rolled into the expensive 2022. Although most bills go directly to the budget manager, the increased prices do not pass her by. She reads carefully in the supermarket brochures now that she is no longer in the food bank and she bikes every day to a different store to make great deals. Vomar, Deka, Lidl, Aldi. One supermarket a day because she also budgets her energy tightly. Let them cookies and sweets and other goodies. And she buys much less meat. “It’s so expensive.” She prepares a leek dish and puts half of it in the fridge until tomorrow. Her dinner is sometimes spinach with a boiled egg.

And she eats more often than before in the walking house, where she also cooks herself. A hot meal for dinner costs 2 euros – “you can not cook for that at home”. And there is everything on the program from flower arrangements to bingo. “That way you stay a little bit among the people.” She dives more often than before into the walking house recycling shop. Jeans cost 50 øre. She lost a ten in KiK.

The temperature at home went step by step from 21 to 17.5 degrees. It’s actually better for her muscles to turn up the thermostat a bit, but Marja fears that too high an energy bill will later steal euros from her living allowance. The hot days are also welcome in this way. She keeps leggings ready for cooler days.

Everyone’s scarcity has its own details, but Marja from Lelystad is anything but alone. While cooking in the walk-in house this Thursday, food banks in the Netherlands reported an increase of six thousand households since early January. According to the chairman of Food Banks Netherlands, these are not just people with a minimum income; modal incomes are also beginning to feel inflation.

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