'I’m a cook, cleaner, nurse, driver, tutor, caterer, shoemaker'

A Turkish mother sews shoes to make ends meet but donates to others in need.

A drawing of a woman sewing shoes
[Jawahir Al-Naimi and Muaz Kory/Al Jazeera]
[Jawahir Al-Naimi and Muaz Kory/Al Jazeera]

What's your money worth? A series from the front line of the cost-of-living crisis, where people who have been hit hard share their monthly expenses.

Name: Latife Bayram

Age: 38

Occupation: Homemaker and caregiver

Lives with: Her husband, Akif (47); two sons, Alperen (21) and Yusuf (10); two daughters, Bediha (17) and Esma (7); mother-in-law, Ikbal (86); and sister-in-law Mesude (52), who has an intellectual disability.

Lives in: A 90-square-metre, three-bedroom flat in the district of Mamak on the outskirts of the Turkish capital, Ankara. The four children share one bedroom with two bunk beds; grandmother Ikbal and aunt Mesude share a tiny room; and Latife and Akif occupy the main bedroom. The family owns their flat, which they bought for 66,000 Turkish lira in 2009, which was equivalent to roughly $42,150 at the time.

Total monthly income: 29,800 lira ($1,527). This includes Akif’s salary from a job as a shoe factory worker (12,000 lira, or $615) and a pension he receives from a previous job (7,500 lira, or $384) as well as Ikbal’s pension (4,100 lira, or $210). Additionally, Latife receives an allowance of 4,200 lira ($215) from the government because she is the registered caregiver for Mesude, who cannot live independently. This month, Latife made an extra 2,000 lira ($102) sewing shoes at home in the evenings.

Total expenses for the month: 38,300 lira ($1,962). For the Bayram family, April 2023 - most of which coincided with the Muslim month of Ramadan and the Eid-al Fitr festivities - was a month in which they made a large charitable donation and had some irregular expenses, for which they used credit cards.

A woman with her two daughters
Latife with her daughters, Bediha and Esma [Didem Tali/Al Jazeera]
Latife with her daughter Esma [Didem Tali/Al Jazeera]

“My friends often tell me if I did all the jobs I do around the house for a company, my salary would be at least 50,000 lira [$2,561],” Latife Bayram jokes as she sips tea from a tulip-shaped glass, and she might be right. “I’m a cook, cleaner, nurse, driver, tutor, caterer, shoemaker.”

She sits in the dining area of her Ankara flat, a lavish table of Turkish delicacies in front of her: dumplings, stuffed vine leaves, a variety of pastries, stuffed meatballs, strawberries and baklava.

“We love guests. We love sharing whatever we have,” explains the full-time homemaker for a household of eight.

Born and raised in the village of Kayseri in Central Anatolia about 350km (220 miles) from Ankara, Latife married her uncle’s son when she was 15 and moved to the Turkish capital as a young bride.

“When you grow up in a village, you have to do everything by yourself. You never throw anything away,” she says. This taught her to maximise whatever little resources her family has. “The cheese in this is homemade,” Latife points at a plate of börek, a pastry made of thin dough and stuffed with a variety of fillings like meat, cheese, vegetables or potatoes. “I made the top crusty layer with stale bread.”

According to the Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions, in March, the poverty line, the minimum cost for a family of four to cover food, housing, ultilities, transport, health and education, was 31,240 lira ($1,600) - a steep rise from 16,052 lira ($822) in March 2022. Likewise, the hunger line - the bare minimum needed for a family for a family of four to not go hungry - which stood at roughly 5,000 lira ($256) in March 2022, doubled to just below 10,000 lira ($512) a year later.

A graphic showing inflation in Turkey
[Muaz Kory/Al Jazeera]

This means that for families like the Bayrams, whose income lingers above the hunger line but falls below the poverty line, resources do not stretch much beyond buying the essentials.

Latife has a hectic daily schedule, worsened by the rising cost of living.

To keep up with her unending domestic duties and seize every opportunity to save money, she often finds herself working from 7.30am to midnight with few breaks.

After Latife prepares breakfast for her family and takes the children to school, she typically spends her mornings and afternoons cleaning, shopping, cooking and attending to the needs of her octogenarian mother-in-law, Ikbal, and Mesude, her sister-in-law.

When the children are back from school at about 4pm, Latife sits with them for about two hours to help with their homework and make sure they are prepared for the next day’s classes. She cooks dinner at 6pm, serves it at about 7pm and cleans up after 8pm after preparing the children’s school and meal bags for the following day.

“I’ll be out of the kitchen at around 9pm,” she says.

By 10pm, her children, mother-in-law and sister-in-law are in bed, but that doesn’t mean Latife’s day of labour is over. From about 10pm until she goes to bed at midnight, she sews shoes by hand for additional income. Although the work is not regular, in April, she made 2,000 lira ($102).

A woman sews shoes
Latife, a mother of four and a homemaker, sews shoes to earn additional income [Didem Tali/Al Jazeera]

Medical needs

All of the adults in the Bayram family suffer from chronic illnesses.

Latife has type 1 diabetes, which she manages with regular insulin injections. Her husband, Akif, has asthma and type 2 diabetes, for which he uses inhalers and pills. Ikbal also has type 2 diabetes, which, like Latife, she manages with insulin.

The family doesn’t know exactly what Mesude’s intellectual disability is; her condition was never officially diagnosed. However, she has limited verbal skills and mobility and requires daily assistance from a caregiver, a role Latife currently fulfils. Mesude also has breast cancer, recently went through a mastectomy and had a heart attack in March.

Latife feels fortunate that thanks to universal healthcare in Turkey, they have health insurance and these illnesses don’t result in high medical bills.

“We didn’t spend a penny on the diabetes treatment or even Mesude’s cancer,” she says.

However, at the same time, the cost of many other essential services has doubled. Latife no longer goes to hairdressers and cuts her own hair at home as well as her oldest daughter’s. But she does take Mesude monthly. Her haircut now costs 150 lira ($7.70) instead of the 80 lira ($4) from a year ago.

Photos in an album
Mesude loves collecting headshots of people and has a prized collection of hundreds of neatly arranged headshots - including one of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan [Courtesy of Durmus Bayram]

Because of Mesude’s status as a severely disabled person, the Bayram family qualified for a large state subsidy on a car. In 2021, the government said it would pay 50 percent of a car that had originally cost 300,000 lira ($15,369), so the family decided to take on some debt and buy it.

“It’s hard for Mesude to walk or use public transportation,” Latife explains. “We need to drive to the medical appointments.”

They are making payments of 5,000 lira ($256) a month on the car. April was also time for the vehicle’s annual maintenance, which cost them another 3,700 lira ($190).

Also in early April, Latife had to buy a new vacuum cleaner - for 12,500 lira ($640), which they will pay for in 10 instalments - after a medical emergency she had while using the old one.

“When I was cleaning our home with the old vacuum, my back was suddenly struck with debilitating pain, and I couldn’t even straighten myself. It turns out I have a herniated disk,” she says and adds with a sigh, “Just when you think you’re doing alright financially, there’s always something that comes up.”

Despite the challenges, Latife stresses that she is optimistic about the future and feels fortunate for the life she has, particularly compared with the hard days she spent as a 15-year-old bride in Ankara.

Yet, she adds, “It just wouldn’t hurt to take a break occasionally or go on a vacation. Regrettably, our family has never been on a vacation. We’re living in a country surrounded by three seas, but my kids have never seen the sea.”

Over the month of April, as part of a collaborative project, Latife Bayram tracked her expenses with reporter Didem Tali.

Here are the expenses that tested her finances the most.

Expenses over a month

A woman and her daughter
Latife and Esma shop for groceries in Mamak. The family consumes roughly 50 loaves of bread a week, the price of which has more than doubled in the past year [Didem Tali/Al Jazeera]
Latife and Esma shop for groceries in Mamak. The family consumes roughly 50 loaves of bread a week, the price of which has more than doubled in the past year [Didem Tali/Al Jazeera]


Universal healthcare in Turkey has eased much of the family’s financial burden. However, trying to provide a balanced diet for a family with a complicated medical history is becoming increasingly tricky with the skyrocketing price of food.

At 71 percent, Turkey’s food inflation last year was the highest among the countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which had a 15 percent average.

Earlier, it was even higher. The United States Department of Agriculture (PDF) reported that in May 2022, average food prices in Turkey were up 92 percent from the year before.

Latife’s comparisons from her local markets and grocery stores align with these figures. A loaf of bread now costs her 5 lira ($0.26) instead of the 2 lira ($0.10) that she paid a year ago, and the Bayram family consumes roughly 50 loaves of bread a week. A 5kg (11-pound) bag of sugar jumped from 40 lira ($2.05) to 110 lira ($5.64).

A carton of eggs, a staple protein for the family, rose from 35 lira ($1.79) to 65 lira ($3.33). Latife remembers that in 2021, a litre of milk was 2.5 lira ($0.13); it is now 15 lira ($0.77).

“Once we eat well, we have little else going on,” Latife says. “I never spend any money on myself. We don’t have any luxuries, such as going out to the cinema or taking holidays.”

“Good nutrition is a top priority for us. No matter how high the prices get, we can’t compromise on eating well,” she adds. “We also have family visit us and often cook for them. It’s important for us.”

April 2022: 400 lira ($20) for bread, at 2 lira ($0.10) per loaf*
April 2023: 1,000 lira ($51) for bread, at 5 lira ($0.26) per loaf 

Food on a dining table in Turkey
Latife, who loves hosting guests, has prepared a table with Turkish delicacies such as manti, borek, stuffed vine leaves, baklava, and tea [Didem Tali/Al Jazeera]


Latife tries to take every opportunity not only to save money but also to contribute to the family financially.

As a skilled cook who always gets compliments on her food, she decided a few years ago to start an Instagram page to sell her homemade products such as mantı, a type of small dumpling typically filled with beef and a labour-intensive dish popular in Turkey.

Latife quickly found buyers among time-poor urbanites who appreciated delicious, homemade food.

“I was getting big orders from office workers for batches of 10, 12 kilos [22, 26.5 pounds] of mantı at a time,” she says. She priced the product at 100 lira ($5.12) for 1kg (2.2 pounds).

“[But then] the price of the beef went from 110 lira ($5.64) for a kilo to 220 lira ($11.28) in a year,” she says.

To make up the difference, Latife felt she should charge 200 lira ($10.25) for 1kg of mantı instead of 100 lira ($5.12), but with the new price, she found no buyers so has given up her side hustle.

April 2022: 110 lira ($5.64) for 1kg of minced beef to make manti*
April 2023: 220 lira ($11.28) for 1kg of minced beef 

A woman shows a photo on her mobile phone
Latife shows pictures of the recipients of the donations she and her friends made to families in Chad during Ramadan [Didem Tali/Al Jazeera]

Donations and gifts

During the holy month of Ramadan, observed from March 23 to April 21 this year, Latife donated her entire 4,200 lira ($215) caregiver allowance to charitable causes.

Roughly half of it went to the survivors of the earthquakes that devastated southeast Turkey and northern Syria on February 6.

She donated the other half to families in Chad via a contact from her local Quran group. She was thrilled when these families sent thank-you messages and photos of their dinner tables over WhatsApp. “There is always someone who has less than you,” she reflects.

In April, Latife spent another 2,300 lira ($118) on a quarter of a gold coin to give as a wedding gift to a relative, which is a tradition in Turkey. Close family members give each other gold coins for life’s momentous events such as births, weddings, graduations, circumcision ceremonies and sometimes even birthdays.

Even though it is a substantial expense, gold-gifting is a social contract fulfilled mutually, and Latife is happy to support her relatives.

“This family also gave us a quarter for my youngest son’s circumcision, so it’s our turn now,” she says.

April 2022: 1,460 lira ($75) for a quarter of a gold coin*
April 2023: 2,300 lira ($118) for a quarter of a gold coin

A graphic showing the cost of consumer goods in Turkey
[Jawahir Al-Naimi and Muaz Kory/Al Jazeera]

Education and school supplies

Even though Latife says she is content with her husband, she laments having been a child bride: “I was a smart kid. My teacher begged my father to keep sending me to school, but my father didn’t agree. My brother became an engineer. Had I continued my studies, I’m sure I’d be successful too,” she says. “I would never want my daughters to go through what I did and stay uneducated like me.”

Latife’s oldest daughter, Bediha, is in her final year of high school and preparing to sit the national university entrance exam. To better prepare her, the Bayram family decided to send Bediha to a private school this year, which has significantly increased their education-related expenses compared with 2022.

Bediha has a partial scholarship, but her school still costs 2,000 lira ($103) a month. Although textbooks are provided by the government for free, she also needs much more than the basic textbooks to compete with millions of students also hoping to gain admission to universities.

One consolation is that Bediha can walk to her new school whereas she had to pay 200 lira ($10) per month to take a bus to the previous one.

Bediha’s goal is to become a doctor or a teacher. If her exams go well and she starts university in September, this will mean another considerable increase in the family’s monthly expenses, one the Bayram family has not planned for yet.

“Let’s just hope she starts university in Ankara so that she can still live at home,” Latife says.

A girl studies at a desk, surrounded by books
Bediha studies at her desk, surrounded by books [Didem Tali/Al Jazeera]

In April, the family celebrated the oldest son, Alperen, finding a job. He now works as a goods packer at an online boutique selling mirrors.

This means Latife no longer needs to financially support him with the 100 to 200 liras ($5 to $10) he was typically receiving each week. “But we don’t ask for any money from him either. He wants to get married, so he’s going to save his salary.”

The two younger children, Yusuf and Esma, don’t yet have any substantial expenses, Latife says. They walk to school, take a lunchbox prepared by their mother and usually wear hand-me-downs from other family members.

But in April, Latife bought them 1,000 lira ($51) of new clothes for Eid al-Fitr, which is a tradition in Turkey.

“It was the first in a long time,” Latife says.

April 2022: 700 lira ($36) for Bediha’s education, which included school bus fare (200 lira), books (100 lira) and an allowance (400 lira)*
April 2023: 2,900 lira ($149) for Bediha’s education, which included monthly private school fees (2,000 lira), books (300 lira) and an allowance (600 lira)

A woman serves tea in a living room
Latife at home, serving Turkish coffee to Mesude and Ikbal [Didem Tali/Al Jazeera]

Five quick questions for Latife

1. What’s one thing you had to forgo this month? Thank God, there wasn’t anything in particular we had to forgo this month.

2. When finances get tough, what advice do you have? Think of needs, not wants. Minimise expenditures for anything but essentials. Cook everything from scratch at home. Plan your shopping well and never throw away food. And don’t forget that hard times are a test from God. No matter how little you have, there are always people who have less than you.

3. What’s your biggest money worry? Health. We have three adults in our family with diabetes. Mesude has cancer and just suffered a heart attack. Luckily, healthcare is free, and we didn’t spend a penny so far on our diabetes treatments or Mesude’s cancer. When I was at the pharmacy a couple of years ago getting our regular prescription, the pharmacist’s assistant pointed at the insulin and told me, “Sister, you realise that a pack of that costs 600 lira ($31), right?” We’re managing fine on the government insurance for now, but if we were ever in a position that required us to go to private clinics and pay for healthcare expenses from our pockets, we’d be truly ruined.

4. What’s the most worthwhile expense you had this month? The new vacuum cleaner. I know it sounds like a luxury, but it was not. I’m so happy with it! We’re a large family and the new vacuum cleaner saves me at least an hour a day.

5. What’s the saving hack you are most proud of? I’m proud of how much I’m able to save by cooking everything from scratch, buying seasonal vegetables and preparing all my food at home. It’s a bit time-consuming, but it’s so worthwhile in the long run. If I bought all these foods like the mantı, stuffed vine leaves, pastries and so on from outside, it’d have cost me hundreds of liras - and it’d never taste the same. Even the cheese in the pastries is homemade with the milk brought from our village.

*Last year’s costs were sourced from Latife Bayram.

Read more stories from the series: What's your money worth?

Source: Al Jazeera