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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?

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