«You only want the best things for your kids»

Man, 31: «You only want the best things for your kids. I prefer to pay for football gear instead of other expenses».

From the age of 14 to 22, I was an elite athlete and travelled the world. People always took care of things for me. Accommodation and other expenses were always paid for. When my sports career was over I continued living like that. I was trained as a carpenter and had a good job, but I started drinking after work and in the evenings, both alone and in a social setting. I rarely got very drunk, but I drank all the time. Even so, I managed to do my job.

But in 2008 my problems started for real. In those days, banks would basically ‘throw’ credit cards on you, and I took up loads of unsecured loans. I never spent the money on anything worthwhile, only on things like vacations in Thailand. I have never owned my own place. I didn’t have a grip on anything. I just wanted more all the time, and always more than I could afford. So I eventually became unable to pay back my credit debt, and I didn’t even bother to read the bills I got; I just threw them in the fireplace.

In 2009, I went through detox and I haven’t had anything to drink for seven years now. In many ways, things got even more difficult when I stopped drinking, since I saw the situation more clearly and realized how serious my problems were. After rehabilitation, I took half a year’s paternity leave to take care of my son, who had just been born. When that was over, I no longer had a job.

I’m now divorced from my children’s mother, and each of us now have custody for one of our children. We cannot afford to live together, since that means we would lose benefits. But we really would have preferred to. Still, we see each other in the weekend, and are on good terms.

The kids are the most important thing for me. I’ve gone to bed hungry, but my daughter never has. I buy all her clothes second hand, through a Facebook group. I haven’t bought clothes for myself for as long as I can remember. Birthdays are very difficult. I was actually glad that my daughter got sick now, so that we didn’t have to arrange a birthday celebration. You are expected to sever a nice cake, hot dogs and bags of candy for all the kids. Parents with money tend to buy gifts for 300 or 400 kroner, even though the school has set the limit at 50 kroner. Even though they tell you that you don’t have to take a gift with you, everyone does it anyway. I hate Christmas. If we need something extra, I have to do some cash-in-hand work. It’s a paradox; when I don’t work I earn more than if I do. As things are, I lose 3000 kroner a month if I work; for example, I need to have a car to get to work, and that money has to come from somewhere.

You only want the best things for your kids. I prefer to pay for football gear instead of other expenses. They don’t understand how hard it is to afford the few things they require. That can be very difficult for us. I shield the kids from it as much as I can. But you can’t really shield them even so.

My boy has started playing football. I prioritize that, but football shoes, equipment and –not least – the membership fees, cost money. It’s hard for me to afford that. Once, he wanted a Pokémon card. All the others had them. My first response was that no, I couldn’t pay it, but in the end I went to the kiosk and spent 55 kroner I didn’t really have, so that he could have what the others had.

We have never gone away on vacations, but we hike and sleep in a tent instead. I haven’t made use of any benefits for that kind of thing, except a free day with support from LOS (a local energy company charity foundation) at the Kristiansand Zoo. I really want to pay my own way.

I don’t have a social life. Everything you do requires that you spend money. The people I used to hang out with are no longer in touch. My life consists of work (now and then) and my kids. It’s good enough, even though it would have been nice with a free day.

Making mistakes and stupid choices for a few weeks can bring large consequences for the rest of your life. I’ve been disappointed with social services. I went three times, but they told me that my social caseworker was on mother’s leave, and that they couldn’t help me. They tell me I’m well qualified and will not offer me to take any courses, etc. My debt has been frozen, and I’m working on getting help with debt management, but I haven’t gotten it yet. Where I live at present, the local NAV office has shown some understanding anyway.

I have always been an optimist. I’m not bitter, and we get by. I’m the only one to blame for my situation. I pay off the most important bills and I’m getting through this. I live in the moment, with little hope that the situation will improve. I have no problem with admitting that I’m poor. It’s important that people know about this, because poverty is a taboo in Norway today.

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