Over a six-week period, as part of the ‘Out of Pocket’ series, Global News is examining how inflation is impacting Canadians from coast to coast.
Lise LeBlanc was a mother of two managing a single-income household battling a mountain of debt when she founded the not-for-profit and Facebook group Mom Jeans.
“I had just taken on an additional piece of debt — I had just bought a new couch, buy now pay later. I was like, ‘What am I doing?’ I already had debt, I was like, ‘This is so stupid,'” said LeBlanc, who is from Saskatoon.
The group will often participate in ‘no spend’ challenges, where members are encouraged to buy nothing but the necessities, and bimonthly clothing swaps to promote spending less on clothing.
“It kind of started as just this debt challenge, ‘Let’s motivate each other to get rid of debt,’ and it really has morphed into this whole community group,” LeBlanc said.
“People really quickly realized that it was a safe space to talk about their problems and ask questions that they may not feel comfortable asking their family or asking publicly.”
LeBlanc began specializing in helping women who had recently separated from their partner and were learning to balance single-income households, but lately, she is seeing families hit harder and harder by inflation.
Statistics Canada said the prices for groceries in Canada in 2022 rose at the fastest pace since 1981, with prices going up by 6.6 per cent in Saskatchewan on average.
“As far as inflation, groceries seem to be the biggest thing coming up,” said LeBlanc. “In our house, we just really stick to the basics: rice, beans, produce that’s on sale and frozen produce. We don’t buy meat or dairy; it is really expensive.”
While wages were on the rise near the end of last year, they haven’t kept up with the rise in living costs.
When Samantha Schneider joined Mom Jeans, she took on an unofficial leadership role regarding fundraising and organizing assistance for members.
“We started organizing clothing drives, and grocery drives for members,” said Schneider.
They hosted bimonthly clothing swaps and offered things to other members of the group before throwing something away.
“There is a lot of waste reduction in a lot of ways. Every bit goes a long way for a lot of these people and a lot of these women,” said Schneider.
Mom Jeans now offers emergency funds and micro-loans to members to discourage credit card use.
“We look at their income, we give them an amount that we think is reasonable for them to pay back and give them quite a generous payback period and it is all based on trust,” LeBlanc explained.
She said the group has experienced 100 per cent repayment since the program began.
Caleigh Farkas, a two-year member of Mom Jeans from Martensville, Sask., said Mom Jeans came into her life at just the right time.
“I was in the middle of a separation, grieving the loss of my mother, and raising a two-year-old and a six-month-old,” said Farkas.
In May of 2021, Farkas experienced unexpected car trouble that was going to result in $1,000 in repairs.
“We are very anti-credit card,” said LeBlanc. “It gets a lot of people into trouble and there are a lot of members in there who are climbing their way out of credit card debt.”
Mom Jeans was able to offer Farkas the money for her car repair from the pot of emergency funding that the group had created.
“It really helped,” said Farkas. “The support was obviously needed. I was a student at the time as well and had student loans.”
LeBlanc explained that Mom Jeans members often discuss how scary and uncertain it feels to be responsible for a large pile of debt.
LeBlanc worked as an administrative assistant making approximately $42,000 per year when she founded Mom Jeans in 2019. After mortgage payments, daycare and monthly bills, she explained that there was very little left at the end of each month.
She had accumulated almost $53,000 of debt.
“When I decided that I needed to make a change, I was all in.”
She started donating plasma twice a week, selling things from her house and taking any small, odd job she could find.
LeBlanc ended up paying off $52,905 of debt in 20 months using Dave Ramsey’s ‘debt snowball’ method.
“You pay the minimum balance on all your debts and put a little extra into the smallest debt. Once that debt is paid off, you take the amount you were paying into it, plus the little extra, and add that amount to your second-smallest debt and so on until the debt is gone,” LeBlanc explains.
“My approach worked for me, but won’t work for everyone,” she said. “Those who prefer a slower and gentler approach are valid, and it can be done low and slow as well.”
The Facebook page is accepting new members but will remain private to protect the vulnerability of some of the people who post.