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paycheque project

Name: Brian

Age: 36

Annual income: $16,668

Debt: $4,000 in student loans; $2,400 cellphone bill

Savings: $3,900 in registered disability savings plan

What he does: Plumber apprentice, now on disability

Where he lives: Toronto

Top financial concern: “I want to find some meaningful employment to earn some money just to help improve my situation, such as having my own small business in cloning cannabis plants for growers and patients. I would love to be able to find a way to purchase [my parents’] house when they have to sell it but there’s no way I could ever afford this.”

In 2011, Brian’s life was falling into place. He’d finished studying construction at George Brown College and secured a coveted apprenticeship as a plumber. He was 27, working four days a week and looking forward to a full-time career. “I made $34 an hour,” he says. “I was quite proud of where I was at.”

Two years later, his luck ran out. “I was laid off on Thanksgiving weekend,” Brian, now 36, recalls. Months later, he went to pick up some contacts from his optometrist, who examined his eyes. The news was bad.

“I was going blind in one eye,” he says, due to keratoconus, an eye disease that damages the cornea and leads to vision loss. “The [doctor] told me ‘You can’t go back to work. You can’t drive. You need to have a corneal transplant in your right eye.’”

Brian was fortunate to undergo the transplant as part of a clinical trial, which saved him thousands of dollars. He then had a procedure on his left eye to help prevent blindness. But his vision is still profoundly impaired.

“I have cluster headaches, double vision that’s distorted and my depth perception is way off,” he says. “You feel like you’re broken.”

Because of the dangers stemming from his impaired vision, Brian cannot work as a plumber. He receives disability payments: $1,319 a month from Ontario’s Disability Support Plan (ODSP), a provincial program that helps disabled people with food and housing.

People on ODSP can work. They can earn up to $200 in net income a month without having their payments reduced. At amounts over $200, 50 per cent must be returned to the government.

Brian also receives $70 a month from the Trillium Benefit Program, which funds prescription drugs for Ontario residents who have high prescription drug costs in relation to their net household income. To be eligible for the program, residents must spend about 4 per cent or more of annual after-tax household income on prescription drugs.

Despite his challenges, Brian says he’d like to work. He’s currently looking for employment in a restaurant kitchen, a job he could try since it doesn’t require perfect vision and where he can work in low-light conditions.

He has toyed with going back to school but still owes $4,000 in student debt. The collection agency has been calling him, looking for repayment, he says. “It’s very challenging.”

The end result is that he doesn’t have enough money coming in to cover his living expenses, so his parents give him money to make up the difference. “My parents help out a lot,” he says, something for which he is grateful.

In addition to assisting with medical expenses, they provide him with meals and laundry, as well as drives, when he needs them. His family is currently saving for the cost of specialized contact lenses, which will cost thousands but that can help improve his vision.

Brian does occasionally treat himself with money from his father. Although he acknowledges he can’t really afford them, he recently bought a few meals out, a $1,500 Daymak e-bike and cannabis plants. His medical marijuana is another expense. “I spend $155 on weed a month – it’s my prescription,” he says.

He cultivates cannabis plants, a hobby he’d like to transform into a business. “I want to find some meaningful employment to earn some money just to help improve my situation, such as having my own small business in cloning cannabis plants for growers and patients,” he says.

As for the longer-term, Brian contributes $108 a month to a registered disability savings plan, a vehicle for parents and others to save for a disabled child’s financial security. Contributions to an RDSP are not tax deductible and the federal government will match contributions, if the family income is low enough. One can contribute any amount to an RDSP each year, up to the lifetime contribution limit of $200,000.

Brian would love to buy his parent’s house, but “there’s no way I could ever afford this. Even just the land transfer tax is unreachable,” he says.

“I’m really thankful for what I do have. And so grateful for having loving, supportive, smart parents. But it should be me taking care of them – not them taking care of me.”

His typical monthly expenses:

$975 on rent and utilities. “The rent goes up 1 per cent every year at my place. It’s a one-bedroom apartment that’s not in a basement. I’m quite lucky.”

$0 on renter’s insurance. “Renters insurance is quoted at $550-$700, which I can’t afford, but I’m going to have to get it somehow.”

$0 on laundry. “If I do laundry, I come to my parents and do it. It’s one of the ways I save money.”

$108.30 to his registered disability savings plan (RDSP) account.

$74 on groceries. “I have $74, after everything, for food. My mom bakes a lot. And my parents make me some extra meals – I just buy vegetables. It gets pretty tight. I stopped eating junk food.”

$65 on eating out. “I don’t eat out really. I had Ali Baba’s on Saturday and it was $20. These little things add up.”

$50 on a transit pass.

$0 on gym membership. “I ride my bike for fitness.”

$155 on cannabis. “I get a lot of cluster headaches. I smoke weed. I have my medical marijuana licence.”

$259 on hobbies: “My current hobby is gardening my cannabis plants. It’s not exactly cheap but it does save me money in the end. [I buy] clones, soil, feed and tools.”

$0 on haircuts. “I’ve called it quits since the pandemic and cut my own hair and don’t see myself paying for a more expensive future haircut.”

$25 on cellphone. “I’m with Primus.”

$55 on Internet.

$16.70 on clothing. “I buy clothes on an as-needed basis, such as shoes, pants, socks and briefs. I buy from the outlets on [Toronto’s] Orfus Road, which is the best way to look nice.”

The name and some details may have been changed to protect the privacy of the person profiled. We want to thank him for sharing his story.

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