How do you deal with work and money for now and in the future? Do you live from day to day or are you deliberately planning your financial future? And do you arrange ‘later’ yourself or are you a member of a pension fund?
Alexander Mullenders had his own company, but now has to make ends meet living on WIA benefits (Occupational Disability Benefit).
Alexander Mullenders (48)
Profession: None at the moment, previously interim manager and consultant in the field of marketing, sales and customer service
Weekly works: Not, he suffers from a burnout
Income: WIA benefits of 990 euro per month
Pension is arranged? No
How did you become incapacitated for work?
“I ended up suffering from a burnout and depression when I was in deep financial trouble. Things started to go wrong when I wanted to expand my business by taking over another company. The other company had the legal status of a general partnership, with existing clients I thought could just be transferred. As it appeared, the latter wasn't the case when it comes to a general partnership. All clients were able to leave and so they did.”
Leaving you with a company without revenue?
“Yes, and that while I had made significant investments. There was no money coming in at all and I was unable to pay the instalments. In such situation, your money is fading rapidly. I tried getting things back on track for a couple of years and even started working for an employer for a while in order to make at least some money, but by that time I was already completely burned out. You just cannot imagine what it is like to worry about money day in, day out. You are only busy trying to survive. I think that situation breaks down nine out of ten people. You are constantly living in fear that another bailiff shows up on your doorstep and yet another letter from a debt collection agency arrives by post. And that is not to mention the shame. It took me about four, five years before I finally dared to ask for help."
What was the amount of your debt by then?
“Approximately 150,000 euro.”
How did you manage to get out of that situation?
“After a lot of hassle, I finally received debt counselling from the municipality of The Hague. For many years, I lived on the absolute subsistence minimum. The process is completed now, but there are still some unpaid bills from that time that have meanwhile increased to an extent for these bills to create new problems. I am not quite worry-free yet when it comes to money.”
You now receive WIA benefits for partially disabled.
“Yes, those benefits amount to around 990 euro per month, but these payments will come to an end in three months. My income then decreases to 70 or 80 percent of the level of welfare which is about 852 euro. I am barely able to make ends meet receiving 990 euro. It is a big help that my mortgage payment is even less than 200 euro, but I would have major problems should the interest suddenly rise.”
How will you manage?
“I honestly don't know; I think I have no other choice but to work. I don't receive any supplements to my welfare payments from the municipality because I am a homeowner. They just tell me I should first sell my house. That seems a bit weird to me because, when I sell my house, I am entitled to social housing and housing benefit which would cost society a lot more at the end. The government is so much focused on not having one euro end up in the wrong hands, that a lot of money is not awarded to people who actually need it. It is definitely not my intention to plead for simply cancelling debts, but I do believe society has the wrong image about people who have debts. These people really aren't profiteers who are unable to handle their money. Most of them suddenly ended up in a situation of disproportionate hardship, for example because they lost their job or partner.”
How much did you earn previously?
“Back when I was still an entrepreneur, I easily earned between 8,000 and 10,000 euro per month. I used to go out for dinner very often, took extensive winter holidays and long weeks of summer holidays, wore fancy suits and shoes. I didn't have to think twice about any of that. The contrast is huge. It is my birthday today but I cannot even come up with a present I could ask. I am no longer thinking about new shoes, clothing or fragrances. I no longer have any wishes because I know I won't be able to buy anything.”
I assume we don't have to ask you about your savings…?
“No, I am not saving any money. I just make ends meet every month. The entire house of cards collapses should something unexpected happen.”
What is your plan for the future?
“I am currently in the process of retraining, made available by the UWV (the Employed Person's Insurance Administration Agency), to upgrade my CV in order for me to be eligible for a job in policy advisory. I have also established a foundation, Stichting Scipova, in an attempt to improve the process of debt counselling. I hope to be able to turn this into paid work in the future. I have been through so much myself; I want to prevent others from having to go through the same. It would already help if policymakers would talk to an experience expert such as myself more often, prior to hem preparing new plans with the intention of helping people in debt. I really want to commit to that goal.”
Do you think about your old age sometimes?
“I would like to, but I am not sure how. I always said I wanted to be able to stop working at the age of 50, but that's no longer feasible. I used to have a large sum of money on my banking account, but that money all disappeared. I do have an apartment at an attractive location and I expect that apartment to be worth a lot more in a number of years. Other than that, only AOW (state pension) will be available to me and a very small pension on the few years I worked as an employee at the start of my career. But if I get a job later on and have 600 euro per month more to spend, I can easily save a few hundred euros per month.”
Is that enough?
“I don't know. Maybe, if I am able to save 200 euro per month over the next twenty years, it could possibly be enough. My life currently revolves around the short term and I cannot afford the luxury of looking further ahead. It is just not possible for me to put any money aside. Fortunately, I still have some time left. And it's also a big help that I have meanwhile become accustomed to living on very little money.”