If you were forced to live in poverty, how well could you stretch your dollar? Would you be able to make it to the end of the month with money to spare? These are the questions United Way is posing to people all across Canada.
The United Way’s Make the Month campaign launched this week in Edmonton. It challenges Canadians to put themselves in the shoes of those living in poverty.
“The questions that come up in the simulation force you to make some very, very difficult decisions,” Mike Kluttig, vice president of community engagement with the United Way, said.
“The types of decisions that are going to affect your family life, your health, childcare and of course, your financial wellbeing.”
One in 10 Canadians lives in poverty, with each city posing different challenges. In the Capital Region alone, there are about 120,000 people – 40,000 children – who live in poverty. So, could you do it?
The United Way has set up an online tool that simulates the limited budget many Canadians struggle with to meet life’s basic needs for one month.
The test first asks Canadians to select the city nearest to them. Then they’re asked to simulate the life of a single person, a single-parent family or a two-parent family.
Once you choose, you’re given an amount of money to start out the month. The lump sum for a single person living in Edmonton, for example, is $1,170. A two-parent family in Edmonton starts the month with $2,229.
You’re then asked a series of questions that require you to make some tough life decisions, including what type of food you’ll buy for yourself or your family and whether or not you can afford unexpected costs like medical treatment for a family pet or other family emergencies.
Each question comes with a number of possible choices – a choose-your-own adventure, so to speak – which force you to decide how you want to spend your money, and what you will make a priority.
“The questions are developed based on real life scenarios of people living in poverty in the region,” Kluttig explained. “It is a true selection of the types of things that people face and so it gives that real, true glimpse into the types of challenges that people have to deal with.”
Here’s a sample question posed to a single person living in Edmonton:
Your pet is sick and won’t get better without treatment. You choose to:
- Pay for treatment at a cost of $268
- Have it put to sleep at a cost of $102
- Hope for the best at a cost of $0
The United Way then spells out the impact of the choice you made and subtracts the cost from your monthly budget. The United Way said about 20 per cent of people who try out the tool make it to the end of the month with money to spare.
Kluttig said the response to the campaign has been very positive and it’s generating a good discussion.
“What we’re seeing is people who are sharing their perspectives on poverty in the region, challenges related to the economy, and we’ve been seeing people who are commenting who have lived experience and talking about the things that they’ve gone through and how similar it is to the types of things that are in the simulation, the choices they have to make, and how important it is to have supports for families.”
The Make the Month campaign started a few years ago and has now expanded to 14 regions across Canada. The initial project was funded by Calgary’s Imperial Oil at a cost of about $60,000.
To put yourself to the test, visit the United Way’s website.
Watch below: B.C. dad shares story of living and working in poverty in Metro Vancouver