Times & Dimes Podcast

Episode 5: Coping with uncertainty during  COVID-19

Where do you turn in uncertain times? Host Graham Clark talks COVID-19 and using YouTube for financial research with Evelyn, a pastry chef turned restaurant hostess, whose workplace met an unfortunate fate during a global pandemic.

GRAHAM CLARK: This is Times & Dimes, a podcast brought to you by Sun Life. We're talking to everyday Canadians about how money affects their lives, happiness, and well-being. I'm your host, Graham Clark, with today’s guest, Evelyn.


GC: Thank you so much for joining us today.

EVELYN: Yeah, thank you for having me.

GC: I just can't get over how, kind of… brave you are for talking about money because it's just, it's something that nobody wants to talk about it all, you know.

E: Yeah, fair enough. I think that's kind of where my wanting to talk about it came from. I'm really not good, I've never been very socially good, at not talking about things you're not supposed to.

GC: So, you’ve got a pretty good filter when it comes to this?

E: I like to think so. It's definitely a lot of trial by error, and making mistakes, and then picking yourself up and trying again. And also, like, it's something I'm working on now, but trying not to be so scared of money in general.

GC: Right.

E: Because there's multiple sides to it where you start to get a little, like— you just get a bit nervous about having it or not having it, or what do you do with it when you have it, and what do you do with it when you don't have it.

GC: Yeah, absolutely.

E: It’s a dynamic.

GC: You were saying that you've learned lessons by kind of in your dealing with money. What's the lesson that you had to learn kind of the hard way?

E: I think prioritizing. Prioritizing your spending is a big one. I can't think of a specific example of it biting me in the butt. But, at the same time, I feel like there is a lot of moments where you'll go and you'll potentially not save for something, but you'll, on a whim, decide, yes, I really need this thing. And then a life event happens and you're like, oh my gosh, that was the money I had put aside for in case of something like this.

GC: Right, yeah, and then it's hard to part with that money even though that's what it was sitting there for...

E: You’re then in a pickle of I have this thing that I've spent that money on, now I have this thing I need to actually prioritize in my life. There's a YouTuber who recommended— did a video about money and how her consumption had changed, and it really inspired me with one of the tips, which was just the concept of when you want to buy something, ask yourself, “Why right now?” Not “Why I need it?”, but “Why this moment in time?” I'm also someone that loves shopping, but doesn't like spending.

GC: Like, you're a thrifty shopper, but…

E:  Indeed. Frugal.

GC: … but finding that thing is so nice. It’s so nice to find the thing you want, and… yeah, the hunt, the hunt is more of the thing, you know.

E: For sure, but I could also go to a store and be like “I want that, I want that, I want that, I want that” and then get to the end and be like, “I'm going to put everything back.” I am the king of the two hours on digital shopping and then just being like “delete cart.”

GC: Speaking of digital, you were just saying that you were watching a YouTube video about money. Is that something you do? Is that something you're researching, money and how to use it?

E: I tend to lean towards YouTube as a big part of learning any kind of skill. I tend to look for— and I mean more like a trade skill or something that way because I like to learn lots of little things. When it came to money, I was introduced to a couple channels on YouTube through my recommended videos from other people I’d watched, and from videos I’d watched that we're approaching spending from a perspective that was more in tune with someone in my age bracket, potentially someone in my career field, and less traditional overall. And so the idea of really trying to learn it was— if I could kind of diverged slightly, I grew up not really knowing a ton about money at all and seeing my parents either have it or not, but low-key struggle most of the time. And so, when it came to me being more of an adult and needing to live on my own and finance myself, I was kind of at a loss of how people did that. So, YouTube was the first place I really went to for that information and it's still where I gain information. I definitely look in other places as well. I listen to podcasts and stuff for it as well, but otherwise YouTube is my main source. And Google. Google's great.

GC: Yeah, absolutely, and I admire the fact that you're trying to expand your knowledge of this topic because I think a lot of people are so intimidated by talking about money that they don't do anything at all. Do you think that that's something that your parents kept close to the chest and didn't want to talk to you about?

E: Yeah, a little bit. I definitely feel like— I was raised with divorced parents, and I was definitely aware of the styles of living and how they differed in that way. And I've always been somewhat observant and just come to learn that… there were moments that I've spoken to my mom about now where I was like, “We couldn't afford to go on this trip” and she's like, “You never actually asked me if you could go on this trip.” So, I had like stepped into the role of “We can't afford this” and not asked to go on the ski trip, or something like that. And, again, these are not major huge things that I'm sad I missed. It was more just the amount of awareness I had is, like… it's a bit of a bummer, but also interesting, the curiosity around it and the fact that it was so prevalent in my home, yet it wasn't discussed.

GC: Yeah, I think it's a thing a lot of people go through their entire life, not discussing it, that everybody knows more about money than me and is just not telling me because it's a secret thing that everybody doesn't talk about. Is that you're feeling?

E: Totally. I definitely have experienced that a lot in my life and it's also, I think we were raised with this concept of one of the things you never talk about is money… and just the concept that you don't talk about religion, you don't talk about politics, and you don't talk about money were kind of the three that you don't bring up at a cocktail party — or whatever that is to our generation.

GC: (Laughs) Yeah.

E: But I think that's the thing I— again, as I said, I've never really been good at not asking the questions that you're not supposed to ask because there is that like curiosity of why. And, once I realized that I'm in a financial place where I'm… I wouldn't say comfortable. Like, currently with COVID and everything, I'm not the best off, but, at the same time, before that, I was comfortable with the amount of money I was making, I was comfortable with the amount of money I was saving and being able to put aside, and everything that way. And, still, I knew for a fact that I was the lowest earner of my group of friends, simply from the fact that they're all in a very different, higher-paying field.

GC: Right.

E: But that didn't make me uncomfortable. We never really had— we have conversations about money. They have conversations with each other about the incomes that they earn at their places and whether they're being overpaid or underpaid for their tasks. And just from observing and hearing that I'm like, “You guys are definitely making significantly more than I am.” But, again, it's not being used against me and it's not being used against them. It's not something they're boasting about. It's just the concept of being in a field where you're being paid to do a specific task and that task is a financially significant one for a company, in general. Like, they're predominantly tech people and so the concept of you’re creating technology, you're helping create things that millions of people will use, so your skill has this financial value. And hearing them talk about money in a more relaxed way, I think, was also something that helped me feel more comfortable discussing it.

(Musical interlude)

GC: You were talking about your field. What field are you in?

E: So, I'm in hospitality and restaurant services. Yeah, the hospitality industry and culinary arts. I went to school for baking and pastry arts management.

GC: Wow, that's very cool.

E: Yeah, it's a lot of fun. Rather unfortunately, it's absolutely heartbreakingly hard work for a very minimum money. And so I found that, after several years of doing that, I wasn't able to financially feel stable and balance my mental health in any kind of way. So, I decided to— and I also realized that my personality was not necessarily akin to working very singularly by myself in a somewhat isolated way.

GC: Right, yeah.

E: Don't get me wrong — the baking and pastry arts world, and bakers, they are some of the hardest working and dedicated people to their craft and everything, and I in no way want to diminish it because it's beautiful, brilliant work. Just for myself, it wasn't fulfilling the needs that I had, though it was— I still really think it was such a great piece of information to take away and it gives me a huge amount of perspective, in general, when it comes to the fact that I still do work in restaurants.

I shifted focus because I realized that, as I said, I didn't really love working by myself, so I found that interacting with people was a little bit more my speed. I shifted to working… I work front of house at a restaurant. The concept behind it is just that you get to have just a better interaction with the people that you're providing your service to, which was a bit of a disconnect I was experiencing and kind of really stewing in, was that I felt very disconnected from the product I was providing people.

GC: Especially with the baking field, where you spend all this time on it, and then it goes out, and then whoever buys it, then repeat. Just do that five or six days a week, you know?

E: Totally. Well, and it's… I think the perfect example of it, I've never been someone that has worked in a wedding cake shop or anything, but someone at home that's watching a Food Network show where they make these glorious, amazing, beautiful cakes...

GC: Yeah, I'm always I'm bowled over by them anytime I watch one.

E: Right! And then you think about the amount of time and hours that it went into it — and, obviously, the experience is still so glorious for the guests and they love it. But the amount of time that went into it for the amount of time it takes to take it apart and consume it… is such a heavy ratio weighted towards the production.

GC: Do you feel that if it had been the thing for you— like, you really loved being by yourself and doing this task every day, would the fact that it was low-paying matter to you? Or would that eventually lead you to still look into another field?

E: So, I think it would have heavily weighted me towards staying in it now. I definitely think if I had more of a drive about it that I would have really enjoyed staying in it because, again, you meet brilliant people from so many different walks of life and so many different fields. It's kind of like traveling, but while you're working in one place. It's— not so much internationally, but you get to meet so many different people from so many different places that have had so many different stories, especially in kitchens. People have experienced such crazy stories and such crazy life experiences, and, in a place like a kitchen, they're much more willing to talk about it openly. And so I think if I had had more drive, I would have loved to have stayed in it longer, but I did, at the time, with finances and with my mental health, specifically, it wasn't really… it just wasn't fitting the bill. The fact that the isolation was really the thing that was taking the toll on the mental health— and the hours. I worked a job for… I ended up leaving, it was one of the only jobs I really left pretty soon, but I worked there for a month and a half, two months, and I had worked from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m.

GC:  Wow, so you're out of sync with everybody.

E: You're out of sync with absolutely everybody. My breaking point was I, on my birthday, saw no one. I spoke to no one because my immediate family were all in workplaces during their 9-to-5. My brother works in food service and so he was unavailable at a later hour. My friends were all working in more 8-to-4, 10-to-6, all that kind of round time, and I needed to go to bed at three or four o'clock in the afternoon. And I remember just feeling so sad about that. That’s not a nice experience, you know?

GC: You made a couple references to how this kind of stuff impacted your mental health. Do you find that being curious about money and teaching yourself about it, is that very good for your mental health?

E: Absolutely. I genuinely feel that more information is always better. I know— and not so much the “I have a headache, let's go to WebMD and find out that I'm dying.” Not that.

GC: And that's every time you go on WebMD, you're like, “Well, this is it for me!”

E: Yeah, you're like, “Oh, my limb is already gone? Awesome.” When it comes to information, I'm someone that definitely deals— I have like a higher level of anxiety and I find, as someone with higher anxiety, I find that more information really suppresses anxiety.

GC: Oh, that’s fascinating.

E: Yeah, more knowledge about a topic and, in this particular case, with money, with saving, with saving for retirement, with anything to do with— even in the circumstance of the quarantine, knowing the amount of money that CERB is offering. Knowing that I can kind of functionally work with that for the most part myself. That being said, I know there are many people that it's still a huge struggle, but I am single, living in Toronto, and that is my experience with a single-occupant household of just… that is enough money for me to sustain myself while still feeling like I'm not under a complete vice grip of pressure.

GC: As the COVID thing started to happen, you were left unemployed. How did you deal with that when it happened that you were like, “OK, now I don't have the same kind of budget that I did”? How did that feel when you realized, OK, I've got to figure out a new way to live?

E: There have been many times in my life where I've been broke. As someone that works in service, and works with tips, and works with things that are in flux and dependent on the business being there, and the style of business and people's whims, I have experienced all manners of money. And so, when it came to COVID, I knew what items I needed that were the least expensive. I'm talking purely practically from, like, what do I need to live, what can I eat, what can I make. Being someone that loves to cook and cooking being a part of my really, like, therapeutic experience…

GC: Totally.

E: … it was an opportunity for me to kind of try to hone in that way. The fact that my industry was non-existent, I definitely spent a lot of the first couple months of quarantine really exacerbated (sic) by the fact that I couldn't do something. I went from standing on my feet for 8­–10 hours a day to sitting — and that was not fun.

GC: Yeah. You were working in a restaurant and so much of the income that you have is dependent on how people act and tip and all that kind of stuff. Does that feel stressful that, every day, it's just it's kind of out of your control how people are going to tip? And is that something that you've just learned to live with?

E: So short answer, yes. It's something that you just have to kind of come to grips with. Certainly, it's not an immediate experience. I've been serving for three years, but I've been reliant on tips for I’d say five in my income. And the experience of that, when you're making a full-time income, when you're making regular minimum wage and receiving any amount of tips, it's great. It's really cool. It's the cherry on top. But when you are making server minimum wage in Ontario, which is where I am — I know it changes from place to place — the server minimum wage when you're not making any tips is really unfortunate. It's not great. You're not in a great place.

GC: What would you say are your future goals when it comes to money, when it comes to career, when it comes to all those big questions?

E: So, I don't want to be in the restaurant industry over the age of, like— before COVID, I said 30, but now we might have to push it a little bit back. But what I realized was just that I wasn't… I'm not the most happy I could be in restaurants. They’re a lot of fun, but they're very hard work and very physically demanding. I find once you're about 30, if not mid-30s, your body really starts to show the signs of having worked in restaurants for a long time.

GC: Absolutely.

E: And so I wanted to try to distinguish and figure out what was next for me at some point in this time period. Unfortunately, during COVID, I wasn't able to will it to be where I'm like, “Ah, this is what I'm going to do next!” just because of the uncertainty in general of just everything.

GC: Yeah, absolutely.

E: So I, in general, have been working on trying to make small steps in my financial and my career-based educations. I'm trying to work with some of the skills that I have, as well just a little bit of trial-and-error and doing my own thing at home in the time that I've had, just to see if I like doing certain things. I'm trying to make some shelves right now

GC: That’s great!

E: I feel like I want to shift towards something like woodworking or something where I was making things. I realized from kitchens that I enjoyed making items and I enjoyed creating something from something else.

GC: Well, thank you so much. Hopefully, you know, everything's going to work out OK.

E: You know, eventually it does, even if it doesn't look like how it was going to before.

GC: That’s a very good attitude.


GC: Money plays a huge role in all our lives and it's not always easy to talk about it, but we truly believe that having open, honest conversations about money can help improve your mental, physical, and financial health.

Before we go, we'd like to ask our listeners if they've ever found themselves in a situation similar to Evelyn. If you have, you can find resources to help you at sunlife.ca.

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Coping with uncertainty during  COVID-19.

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