Money, Get Away

One Way - Road Closed

One Way - Road Closed

This is my last week of work at school, and I’m facing what is perhaps my most tricky mission so far.

Last Friday, my boss asked my to teach a three-days class to total beginners in the private sector. I’m pretty much the only teacher who can actually speak English so I obliged. The reason why the employees only get three days of French? They are being laid-off and these classes are part of their severance package. Because the top employer in Ottawa is the federal government, and because a lot of positions there are bilingual at some level, their employer thought it would be a good idea to get them started on their French.

I arrived Monday morning wondering how to deal with the whole situation. How much French could I teach in three days, and how willing would the employees be to learn? How would they handled the fact that they were losing their jobs?

I found my students already sat at the meeting table, eating breakfast. All smiling and all friendly. Phew. I decided to not overlook the “elephant in the room” and asked a few questions about their plans considering the news.

The employees were obviously not happy with it. None of them can retire yet, and some had been working in their positions for over ten years. They are qualified employees, yet not that young that they can easily be retrained. And above all, none of them ever thought their jobs would be cut, because their employer is semi-public. The whole situation just sucks, and as one of them said, given the current economical times and Christmas coming up, it’s not a good time to be unemployed.

I know North American medias tend to exaggerate the news, but I can’t help being a little bit worried myself about this whole economic crisis thing. We will be traveling for a few months, so we will rely on our savings. I plan to find another job when I come back, although I could always teach again for a period of time if needed. But we have to be money-savvy.

Strangely, even though I still get paid by the hour, have no benefits and no guarantee of a steady income when I work at the school, I feel better off financially than a lot of people. I think I have managed, so far, to avoid to big North American pitfalls. Fist of all, I have no debts. I went to university in France and didn’t have to pay tuition fees since education is almost free. I don’t own a house, so no mortgage. I pay for all my purchases cash, because I usually save beforehand. I pay off my credit card every month and to be honest, the balance is usually ridiculously small. Second of all, I have never invested money in stock market: I only have a regular low interest saving account. It doesn’t make me rich, but doesn’t make me poor either. That’s all I ask.

What worries me? Maybe knowing that getting a nice job will be harder in the next few months, or next few years. Maybe knowing that the cost of living may rise much faster than my wage. Maybe knowing that I need to take care of my financial health because no one else will: after all, banks go bankrupt and governments around the world are doing a nice job of showing people how to get deeper and deeper into debt.

But there is nothing new for me. France has been in crisis for quite a while now. By the time my generation had finished university, we had realized that housing was generally speaking not affordable, that we couldn’t get a proper job with whatever degree we had and that, on top of everything, the cost of living was steadily getting higher and higher. This is one of the reason I didn’t plan my future in France. I like the country but I found times very depressing, and apparently, it hasn’t changed. Most of my friends there are smart, have great degrees, speak a few languages and yet can’t get a permanent position. They go from unpaid internships to two-months long contracts, from temporary positions to minimum wage jobs and meanwhile, live with their parents because they can’t afford their own place. It sucks.

There isn’t much we can do during a financial crisis (well, traveling is my option!). We just can’t control it. However, we can control how we spend our money. Given that North American’s life is based, centered and directed on consuming and that we are constantly bombarded with ads and commercials to buy this and to buy that, to subscribe to this and to borrow from that… it may not be easy. But maybe something good will come out of this. Maybe it’s time to rethink the way we live. Maybe.

How about you? Are you worried?


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Filipinos are known to be fatalistic. Whatever happens, happens. However, I try to plan ahead and be on the schedule as much as I can. Obviously, there are unforeseen circumstances, but I suppose I am still optimistic that the future would be not dark. I suppose as long as I work hard for it, the reward would arrive.

  2. Great post! My financial situation is almost like yours-no debts at all. But I’m mostly worried about my job that is owned by private sector. Their auction is now less than $2cdn and until how long they will declare bankruptcy. Although the employees might not be affected, we might lose huge amount of salary if another private company comes along. It happened years ago and nobody was paid for the time they worked (2 weeks)…they’re still fighting for that money.

    My work is also cutting down hours on the new people…totally sucks for them. I just hope we all can survive this financial crisis real soon.

    I got your number and I’ll text you.:)

  3. Reading this post made me feel as if you have voiced out my own feelings on the issue. Like you, I too do not invest in stocks and shares and minimize usage of credit cards and as far as possible, pay in cash. Yes, I am responsible for my own financial health!

    Wish you happy travels Zhu.

  4. Hi Zhu,

    I’m not worried… But I feel lost because I cannot understand why and how all this happens. May be I’m “naive” or a moron… How is it possible that from one day to the other all the money vanishes? And just because “the market” wants! Who the f… is “the market”? Is it some kind of evil spirit going around and playing with the money? Is it possible that all those known as “powerful governments” around the globe do not know who “the market” is? Is “the market” so powerful that was able to destroy the economy of the US, half Europe, Japan and even China?

    I’m honest Zhu… I kind of resist the idea of such a powerful force without a face…

  5. I agree with you. It’s very sad that the young generation can’t afford their own homes and have to live with their parents. My oldest son is 21, still a student in Michigan. He wants to look for an internship in California over the summer, but I know that he can’t afford rent, so he’ll have to stay home. I don’t mind now, but only if he needs to keep doing that when he’s graduated.

  6. Not so much worried – I’m aware that the world is changing and thus we need to change our direction a little in accordance. Of course it’s never pleasant when people loose their jobs and income but there have been financial crisis before, it’s simply part of life – things will pick up again.

    Zhu, I have given you an award – please collect.

  7. I graduated from high school in 1990, at the start of a global recession that lasted quite a while (although it was like a wave, hitting different parts of the world at different times). It was pretty doom-and-gloom then, too, because there is more competition for university places when the economy slumps. When times are tough, people rush off to retrain… (as you know!)

    So I went travelling. That’s the best idea I ever had. If I’m going to be poor, I might as well be poor in a new place and be stimulated by my surroundings!

    I think the older you get, and the more cycles you see, you know that where there is a ‘down’ there is an ‘up’ and vice versa. I had a rather fancy-sounding provincial government title nearly one year ago but I left to explore new directions, even though people said I was crazy for doing so and quick to cite government jobs as being more secure.

    Security isn’t found in doing one job for life and worrying whether that job will be there tomorrow, it’s in knowing if that job evaporates I can make money other ways. There are simply no guarantees… for anything. My philosophy is that the best investment is not in stocks that fluctuate in value but in myself: learning new skills, and doing things that are meaningful. Money comes and goes over a lifetime.

    I remember the dot com boom and bust (not so long ago!), which affected many people of my generation. So many things were overvalued, something had to give. Market bubbles like real estate and technology eventually burst, but people are quite resilient and always find a way to get through it. The sky is definitely not falling… but as you’ve said, if you have less to lose there’s less to worry about.

  8. Getting paid by the hour is really insecure. Several years ago, when I was a contract engineer in California, a co-worker of mine fell off from the roof top and hospitalized for a few weeks. He didn’t get paid 🙁

  9. I’ve been searching for a full time job for a while.. I am anxious but not worried until my economic situation is bad. That will take a while still… And you are so funny about the flood! Good luck with the travels. I know I do not read blogs enough right now.. Too busy working and searching jobs… 🙂

  10. Interesting and readable post Zhu and most of all a good question – but hard to answer:
    What I worry the most is actually all the people’s worries. I don’t mind a break on buying all the things we don’t need (consumerism), but we need investments and keep the economy going.

    In lack of incentives, I do hope companies at least invest in competence building – that’s where we really need a raise.

  11. Yes, good questions, and you echo thoughts many of us have. I think good things will happen: people will rethink their priorities and hopefully a result will be less greed and materialism and more frugal thinking and careful choices – like you!

  12. The amount of borrowing that has occurred over the past 10 years has been amazing especially in the UK. Credit Cards, 100% mortgages, huge loans, etc have all assisted and the bubble had to burst at some time.

    Luckily I’ve got some savings and am in a secure job, but there are many who are not in this situation and are facing ruin.

    A lesson to be learnt.

  13. @Linguist-in-Waiting – Europeans are pretty fatalistic too… we have been through a lot in history so I guess ups and downs are expected.

    @Bluefish – I work for private sector as well, and since we depends on gov’t budgets, work is pretty unsteady too. But even in public sector positions can be cut so…

    @Celine – I think taking control of our financial health is the best thing we can do so far.

    @Scarlet – Did you get the job, by the way?

    @Agnes – Well, being debt-free was probably easier for me than for most North Americans. As I said, no students loans needed in France, and I don’t have a house, so no mortgage.

    @Guillermo – I feel the same. This is virtual money we are talking about most of time and I find it hard to grasp the reality of it. Even stock markets are weird for me… I’m too down-to-earth for that kind of financial game I guess.

    @Gutsy Writer – It can be difficult… I know most of my friends in France had to move back with their parents at one point because they just couldn’t afford rent.

    @Caroline – We should see things like you do, no point in worrying after all. Maybe you haven’t been brainwashed my American media yet 😉

    @Gail at Large – I know a lot of my students who graduated from uni. at the same time as you said they went to Japan to teach English, or to Europe for further education. They came back right on time when things picked up again. Good point!

    @Khengsiong – I hate being paid by the hour but I have never experienced something else… so I’m used to it. I only have 4 sick days… per YEAR!

    @expatraveler – I’ll be looking for a job too when I come back from traveling, hopefully I won’t search too long. Good luck!

    @RennyBA – I understand what you mean. But it’s a vicious circle too, the more governments tell us we are in deep trouble, the less people want to invest, the more the economy is down…

    @Brenda – People are more frugal apparently, but hey, this is North America. I don’t have high hopes. This continent was build for consumerism…

    @NewWrldYankee – I’m staying positive and it is a great time to go traveling after all!

    @Adem – I heard the housing market was crazy in the UK, similar to France’s. I can see people getting into debt… I’m not surprised.

  14. Hey Zhu. Interesting thoughts here. I feel bad for those people you’ve been teaching, but (don’t call me heartless) they’re just more statistics really. Already in my home country Britain there have been lots of lay-offs announced, and two fairly big retail names have gone into administration. Here in France things are looking shaky. It’s not quite as bad as the US or Britain yet, but in another couple of months it will get worse I feel.
    Maybe I’m just crossing my fingers and hoping I’ll be spared, but I don’t feel immediately concerned for my own position. I am concerned about the plans Hubby and I had been making though. Now is not the time to be looking for a new job, even less to be thinking of selling our house and moving!
    I guess we’ll just see what the next months bring. I’m not too worried for you though, you have your head on straight and both feet on the ground!!

  15. I’m concerned, but not panicked. My financial situation/habits are very similar to what you described as your own, however, as a product of US universities, student loan payments do loom over my head.

    I tend to view the whole economic situation and frenzy surrounding it as overkill. The economy goes and up and it goes down – has for as long as “economies” have existed. Humans have short memories. When it goes down, we think it’s the end of the world. But in reality, it’s normal. And it will go up again.

  16. Just some months ago I realized what financial crisis means… people are obliged to take vacations for several weeks, production sites close down, I see people loosing their jobs. Actually I’m not quite sure if I will keep mine next year due to the fact that my company doesn’t win projects to the same extent as they did in former times. The bad thing about the crisis is that I will have to postpone my plan to move to Canada as finding jobs won’t be easier at the other end of the world I suppose. So let’s see what happens in 2009 and maybe there’s a chance to move in 2010. Can’t wait to experience a new country…

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