Cancellation of holidays, reduction of living space, instead of spontaneous purchases in the supermarket only offers from discount stores: the Wolter family from North Rhine-Westphalia is affected by the current situation in many areas of life. Report the craftsman André and the trained geriatric assistant Bianca, parents of four children.
FOCUS online: As a self-employed artisan, you are suffering from the current situation. Tell me, what's different from before?
Andre: Where do I start? Maybe during winter break. We went skiing as a family for many years. We always stayed in the same rented house. There was a hot stove, a wonderful shelter. And always a great start to the beginning of the year. According to the motto: We are fine, let's be aware of it. In recent years it was always a kind of motivational drive, and it always turned out well.
Andre: We had to cancel winter vacation. That was and is a turning point for all of us. Confidence that everything will work out suddenly no longer exists. Last year I saw our youngest son on his snowboard for the first time. He was so happy.
Now the snowboard and skis stay in the basement. Although in recent months my wife and I have already realized that our old life could end soon, there is nothing that can be overlooked anymore. The children also understood it clearly.
Was there a specific trigger for the canceled trip?
Andre: Several. The car broke down, the order situation was bad and then, in mid-January, winter unexpectedly arrived. When it's -10 degrees and there's snow on the roof, installing windows is difficult. Logically, customers do not want to be frozen during this time.
“You can no longer trust anything or anyone.”
But shouldn't we expect snow at the beginning of the year?
Andre: In all the last few years, January has been pretty stable. Weather-wise, February was hard to predict and sometimes so was March. There is no doubt: some unknowns are part of the calculations of a self-employed person. Under normal circumstances, it somehow evens out.
But that's the problem: the circumstances are not normal. A delivery that was due to take place in early January has been postponed. “We cannot attend the appointment”; Unlike before, these types of calls now almost cause panic. How is all this supposed to continue?
After all, my business does not only include large clients, to whom, as recently, everything is postponed for several weeks, until we reach the question of whether they will continue to deliver… There is also enormous volatility in the smaller orders. To put it in a friendly way: customers have become more cautious…
And worded in a cruel way?
Andre: You can no longer trust anything or anyone. I recently had an appointment to install doors. I left, with about 40 kilometers left I thought: You better call again. “Oh, the doors…” I heard. He doesn't want that anymore. “I completely forgot to cancel you. “We are painting the doors now, it is cheaper.”
I swear, this is not an exception, this is the rule now. You get a call and people want everything to happen immediately or they will leave. Or you plan everything in advance, stand at the starting blocks and then say: No, no, that was just a consultation.
Comments like: I got someone who does it for half the price are becoming more common. I honestly have to wonder: How does something like this work? Keyword: increased material and operation costs. How do your companions live?
“I used to buy whatever we wanted at the supermarket. Today I almost exclusively receive offers.”
You just talked about the canceled trip. To what extent do you still have to limit yourself as a family?
White: Where before I left 50 euros at the supermarket checkout, today it is about 100. I no longer like shopping at all. I used to get what we wanted. Today I receive almost exclusively offers.
Andre: We downloaded apps from various discount stores. We are constantly looking: Where are there additional discounts?
White: Bakery bread is too expensive for us. A loaf now costs almost four euros. And in a large family like ours, a lot of bread runs out.
Andre: We bake ourselves. Flour, yeast… It's still affordable.
White: But the Sunday rolls are missing. It was always a kind of ritual: going to the bakery and then sitting comfortably with the family around a nice basket of bread for breakfast.
Andre: If you work hard all week, sometimes 24/7, because there are clients who still call at ten at night, a reward like this is just good. Then you will know again why you are doing everything.
White: Now we get baked muffins at the discount store. We have calculated it and it is the cheapest. We communicate the situation openly to the children. So far, with a few exceptions, they've handled it pretty well. Our little boy recently revealed what we all initially thought: Sunday breakfast isn't what it used to be.
Andre: Of course, you could say this is a high-level complaint. But we're not just talking about the food or the fact that we can't fly to New York anymore…
“Every year we were away more time. In the Canary Islands, in Türkiye, now we stay at home.”
Andre: We have been there twice with the whole family in recent years. A dream. At least think outside the box once in a while and show the kids the world; For me, personally, that's more than just a nice thing to have. There is nothing worse than a life that only revolves around your own microcosm. That tires you, your vision becomes narrow. As is the case, unfortunately, with more and more people here in the country.
White: Every year we were away more time. In the Canary Islands, in Türkiye…
Andre: We went to Disney World alone three times… This year we'll probably have to stay home. And that brings us to the next issue: we don't really feel at home anymore.
Andre: Because we had to leave our house. Now we pay 200 euros more for an apartment that is 50 square meters less. For a termination notice for personal use that was not actually…
Andre: Difficult calculation. In general, it may be true that owners also feel the change and have to calculate differently. Some of my clients are homeowners who say they have work to do to cover expenses and, ideally, make a profit. Material costs, maintenance costs, property taxes, everything goes up.
In our particular case, however, things were different. The owner is not only a money shark, but also a human being. He would have done everything possible to get rid of us and therefore the old gradual rental agreement. Because of the long term, he couldn't just raise the rent. We stood in the way of his greed.
White: When the notice came, they said we had sublet, so…
“This feeling that the good years will soon end…”
And that wasn't true?
Andre: You probably can't talk about subletting. We took my grandmother with us. My grandmother was a victim of a flood. She lost her house in the Ahr Valley. And her daughter…
White: My husband's mother died in the flood. We have really had a very bad time. Like I said, when the owner couldn't get through to his number, he left for his own use. His son needs space to live.
Andre: And all this in a time that can certainly be described as unstable in general. After all, Corona still existed. And like I said, this feeling that the good years will soon end…
White: For a while we were afraid that we would have to move into a caravan. Our oldest son no longer lives with us, but finding an apartment for the three youngest (and the five of us) is more than a challenge. At least for people with normal income like us. A family of five now lives in the house we lived in for many years. Too much for personal use…
What about grandma?
Andre: At least he was able to return to his house, which at that time was only half finished. Now everything is pretty repaired. Grandma is fine. Or, well… given the circumstances.
White: Similar thing happens to me. The experience has left its mark. I was recently diagnosed with PTSD and need to take care of myself. I say this openly because I have the impression that some people think: Why doesn't he make money? I support my husband in the company, I am in the final phase of my training to be a stress and burnout coach and I take care of my three children. Honestly, there are limits. Our willingness to act is definitely not the problem.
Andre: The problem is skyrocketing costs, and ultimately it all comes down to that. There's a reason why customers have become so volatile. They are also under pressure and they transmit it.
White: I recently heard that getting a driving license costs about 4,000 euros. I almost fainted. Our second child would be arriving soon. But that's not all, the other two follow quite closely. This means that the issue will continue to cause us headaches for the next three years…
Andre: Fortunately, school teachers have already spoken about what is happening in our country. Tenor: There are many families that have to save. That takes some pressure off. When the kids know it's not just us. If at least they don't have to be ashamed.
White: Shame is just one thing. I wonder what will happen to social interaction in the long term.
“If no one can at least say approximately where the journey is headed for us average consumers”
Do you mean because the scissors are getting wider?
Andre: On the one hand, but also specifically in the family itself. To what extent can we continue to be there for each other under the given circumstances? One thing is clear: at this time we could not take in a grandmother in need. We wouldn't have space for it…
White: …another idea where you could save money to feed six mouths.
Andre: I must say that I look to the future with fear. Addressing politicians in Berlin I ask: Are you really crazy? How am I going to work if nothing can be planned and there are no limits on items like diesel, gas and electricity? If no one can at least tell you where the journey is headed for us average consumers? It is clear that the situation is different for a senior official.
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