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Living on welfare (or Ontario Works)

On the season one finale of Ratehub’s Real Money Talk Podcast, Tyler and MoneySense Editor-in-Chief Sandra Martin sat down for one of our most impactful conversations yet. Fatma was living a luxurious life in Egypt with her husband and their twin boys. As a successful psychologist and university professor, money was never an issue. That was until her world turned upside down and she, and her twins, fled her home and to move to Canada. The transition to life as a refugee in Toronto was difficult, but she speaks with us about adjusting to her new conditions. She sits down with the Real Money Talk to share her experience and talk about the tips she’s learned along the way. 

Fatma’s move to Canada

Fatma was a successful single mother, with a very comfortable life in Egpyt before fleeing the country. Arriving in Canada, she found herself in a very different situation. Her financial situation forced her out of the hotel she and her boys were staying in. She was in Toronto with no idea of where to go and had to ask for directions to the Red Cross, so she could find the resources she needed. It was a difficult period in her move, but she was able to find a basement apartment to live in and began to rebuild her life in Toronto.

“I feel that we have grown up together. I grow with my family here… most important is that we live, we’re safe, and I have hope for the future,” says Fatma. “I have to appreciate the small things… One dollar really matters. Before it didn’t matter, it’s nothing. But now I can appreciate the small things, the small actions. And I learned to be positive.” 

How a refugee saves money

Although her finances are tight with the limited resources she receives through government support programs, she still is able to make do. “Each month I have to say I’ll cut from here, we’re not going to buy this, we’ll have to cut the bills. I’m learning how to reduce my hydro bill, my phone bill.” Fatma has picked up money saving tricks like only doing laundry at night and shopping at thrift stores for winter clothes. 

Fatma learned to avoid the flashy deals that some phone companies offer to save her money as well. She stopped a zero-dollar phone plan but found that the hidden costs were significant. “When you think about it the phone is not zero cost… so I decide I choose what I need. I need minutes to talk and a plan for the internet, so I went for what I need, not what you want.”

She takes advantage of the recreational programs that the City of Toronto offers to keep her boys active and happy. They love hockey, and have been skating and playing the sport with tremendous joy. She also mastered the art of getting her kids into the best municipal activities, explaining, “this morning I registered them at 7 o’clock  [AM] for swimming.” 

Fatma’s advice and future

It has been a hard adjustment, but Fatma and her boys are happy. She’s hoping to become certified as a psychologist in Canada, using her ability to speak Arabic as an advantage and provide service to Arabic speakers who can’t use an English-speaking therapist. She knows it’s a long path but believes that she can do it. 

Her message to newcomers and those in a similar situation to her is simple. “Be positive. Be humble. Move forward. Whatever you have, appreciate it.” 

Hear our entire conversation with Fatma, as well as Tyler and Sandra’s tips to save some extra money on your trusted Canadian personal finance podcast, Real Money Talk. 

Listen on Apple or Spotify