“I have to make do with 40 euros a week”

Published on: 17 December 2021

How do you handle work and money for now and for the future? Do you live hand to mouth or are you consciously planning your financial future? And are you taking care of your future yourself, or are you part of a pension fund?

Renia Mers (64) absolutely wants to get away from financial assistance.


Renia Mers (64)

Profession: Beginning budget coach

Hours worked weekly: 24 hours

Income: Financial assistance of 1016 euros net

Savings: None

Pension set up? Yes, accrued pension through previous jobs


What kind of work do you do?

“I’m an independent budget coach. I recently registered with the Chamber of Commerce as a business owner for the second time with my company. I’m planning to start facilitating workshops and creating budget plans for clients from January 1 on.”


What did you do prior?

“I worked at various banks full-time for 37 years. I was mainly involved with complaints and quality. When my department was eliminated during a reorganization, I decided to retrain as a budget coach. But just after I started my own business, my whole life fell apart. My relationship ended, so I had to move out of our jointly owned home and in the years after that I had a stroke twice. It was a difficult and stressful time, during which I was not able to establish my new company. Hopefully it will be successful this time.”


How much money do you make now?

“I don’t have an income from my own business yet, so for the time being I’m getting financial assistance of 1016 euros a month net. In addition, I receive a health care allowance, but I don’t get to keep any of that, of course. My last salary at the bank was about 2200 euros a month net, so this new income took some getting used to.”


How do you manage with that amount?

“As a budget coach, you figure out how to handle money at some point. I give myself a weekly 40-euro budget. Once that’s gone, that’s it. No, it’s not a lot. But I don´t want to be in debt, so I don´t have a choice. I’ve been having to get by on this amount for the past five years, so I’m used to it by now. It’s hard to get out of financial assistance once you’re in the system. Once you’re past 50, it’s really hard to get hired anywhere. I did some volunteer work at times, where I got a 100-euro-a-month honorarium. But other than that, you’re not allowed to earn any more, before they start taking it off your benefits. It is through the project ‘part-time business owner on social assistance’ by the municipality of Utrecht that I’m able to do start this business now. I’m very happy with this opportunity, because it makes it a little more dignified to be on financial assistance. Plus, I’m assuming that my company is going to be a success.”


What are your monthly expenses?

“My rent is 673 euros. My phone subscription is 28 euros a month and I pay 90 euros for gas and electricity. Quite a bit. And internet, TV and phone calls cost me 70 euros a month. In addition to my health care insurance and liability insurance, I also have funeral insurance at 15 euros a month.”


I have learned that you should do things not just for the money, but that they should also give you some joy

What else do you spend money on?

“Groceries; those 40 euros a week are mainly spent on that. I also spend money on books, because I want to keep up with what’s happening in the world. And I have a newspaper subscription at 15 euros a month, because I think it is important to be informed about what is going on in the world. Occasionally, I go to the cinema or the theater, or have lunch with friends or my daughter. I also have an annual museum pass.”


What do you do to save money?

“I started eating less meat, because that is expensive. I also buy seasonal vegetables and fruit, because they’re often cheaper. I pay attention to promotions – especially since everything has gotten more expensive again. Pricey things, like laundry detergent, I buy in bulk when they’re on sale. That’s how I save money. I can wear the same clothes for years, particularly coats and shoes. Although, I just had to buy a new coat, because my old one had become too big; I lost a lot of weight when I was sick. The things I kept after my divorce, like the washer and dryer, are still operational, thank goodness. So, I won’t have to spend any money on that for a while. Plus, I try to do as many free things as possible, like taking courses through the union.”


Do you have any savings?

“No, not anymore. I used the buffer I had – 800 euros – to create an online environment for My Sweet Steps, because I am determined to get out of financial assistance. I hope I can recreate my buffer once I have clients. I’ve always taken care of myself and I want to be able to do so again. It is important to me to be financially independent.”


Were your parents well-off when you were growing up?

“No, I’m from a big family with eight kids. I’m the youngest. When we still lived in Aruba, my dad always had two or three jobs. But when he lost his steady job, there was simply not enough money to take care of all of us. As a child you are aware that there is no money, but at the same time, you don’t really notice it. Not until other people start making comments, and then you realize that poverty is apparently something you should feel ashamed of. It shaped me. My parents wanted a better future for us. That’s why we moved to the Netherlands when I was 14.”


Are you planning for your old age?

“Yes, I’m getting close. In 2024, I’ll be eligible for a pension. Fortunately, I accrued some pension when I worked for the banks and I’ll be getting my Old Age Pension, plus a little pension through my ex. In total, I think I will be getting about 2,000 euros a month. Compared to what I have now, that will certainly be enough.”


How do you envision your life at that time?

“I’m just going to keep working, because I enjoy it and I don’t know what else I would do, if I stopped. Just sit at home all day? I’d rather do something useful with all the knowledge I have acquired over the years. The only other thing I would like to do is to travel. I did a lot of that in the past, but when you don’t have money, that’s not an option. So, yes, as soon as I can travel again, I’m certainly going to do that.”


What is the most important thing you have learned about money?

“That you should do things not just for the money, but that they should also give you some joy. Everyone needs money, but it doesn’t always make you happier when you have it. I have less now, but I am happier than I was when I was still working full-time. I would leave the house at seven in the morning and get home at seven in the evening. All I did was work. There was no time to really enjoy anything. Except the annual vacation, but that would be just two or three weeks. I noticed I was always short on time. Now I have more time and less money, and I’m happier.”