Many people, for one reason and another, find themselves in straightened circumstances, for limited or indefinite periods of time, but does this mean they should put their lives on hold until fresh income makes life enjoyable once again?
Life, and to the Full
The Good Book says we only get this one life, but even for those of the reincarnation persuasion, this life still has its own precious value and should be appreciated to the full … and can be, financial circumstances notwithstanding. It takes some creativity and extra work, but being forced to think twice before purchasing isn’t necessarily a negative.
A priority reshuffle which generates savings might mean a vacation, or avoiding debt, or it may mean a breadwinner could make career decisions based on different priorities than income. I have written previously about a culture of acquisition pervading western society, and whether our purchases deliver the satisfaction we anticipate, or if accumulation is really more of a habit than a necessity.
And of course, this question becomes especially relevant on a reduced income.
Don’t just Survive – Thrive
Realistically, unless we take drastic measures to live “off the grid”, we do need some level of income to put food on our tables and keep a roof over our heads. But necessities aside, can we not just survive, but thrive, on less?
Totally Free Activities
Besides basic food, shelter and clothes, most of the important things in life are free! Time with family never has to cost a bean – walking the dog, or the baby, taking the kids to the beach or park, and even couple time; whether you like board games or feeding birds, it’s all out there.
Put Your Hands Where I can See Them and Step Away from the Mall!
On a daily basis, depending on financial necessity and commitment to lifestyle change, there are more or less things that can be done to spend less – staying away from malls might be the biggest income saver of all. Unless you have nerves of steel (or consumer paralysis), window shopping usually doesn’t remain free, when cups of coffee or lunch to keep the strength up, or falling in love with a “must-have” item is counted.
Food Savings: Planning
Supermarket shopping and meal planning, while requiring some organisational skills, are other areas where significant savings can be made over time. Work out some staple recipes with core common ingredients, mix them up for variety, and buy in bulk or on special when available. Try to plan menus around in-season vegetables, since these will be cheaper. Decide in advance what the necessities are and buy only what’s on the list while shopping. Doing more food preparation at home rather than buying ready-made is both healthier and generally cheaper, and you can involve children in the preparation of meals, which is always great for bonding and developing self-sufficiency.
Go one step further, and save both money and teeth by avoiding softdrinks or juice – tap water is virtually free, and in some places actually tastes decent. Yes, the kids will bellyache, but they’ll get used to it. Really, I am that cruel.
G.Y.O. – Grow Your Own
If you’re really keen, you can grow the more expensive of the fruit and vegetables which constitute your core ingredients – but bear in mind that it may be a good idea to concentrate on high-harvest, low-area crops – potatoes, for example, can be a good choice, since they can be grown successfully vertically and produce well, whereas onions and carrots are usually cheap to buy, while to grow they need a lot of space for the harvest that would make the effort worthwhile.
Home Savings: Treasure and Tat
While home magazines sing their siren song, tempting us with all-new kitchens and trendy bathrooms, unless the place is really falling to bits, existing fixtures generally will suffice for years to come. Instead of craving to rip the lot out and start over, we can take a leaf from the book of rental chic – as demonstrated at Apartment Therapy, renters are creating beautiful spaces, while by necessity retaining sometimes less than beautiful existing features. These inspiring people demonstrate the eco- and pocket-friendly possibilities and benefits of effective recycling. By avoiding soulless, store-bought tat, their homes reflect personality and originality.
Reduce, Reuse, Upcycle
Secondhand stores, often supporting charities, contain troves of treasures from clothing to furniture to household items, many full of the character of decades past, often solid and made to last. Clothing, and other things, can also be upcycled for reuse in an original way. Here again, a rummage through the internet will turn up sites with ideas for upcycled clothing design. Furthermore, if you have thrifty friends, consider swapping or bartering useful items.
Priceless (Free) Gifts
If you’re on a tight budget, gifts can be a drain on the pocket, but depending on skills and interests, friends and relatives can just as well be recipients of handmade gifts. Made with recycled materials, these can be free to make, and priceless for the receiver. From jewelry to hand cream to a cover for his motorcycle, the world wide web is a fund of ideas for the willing.
Living on a budget doesn’t need to be a source of gloom, but of pride in achievement and overcoming a challenge, and encounters with simple pleasures. Having to work together on money-saving projects can be a bonding experience for a family or couple, and a mental renovation may be the catalyst for realigning priorities towards accumulating a hoard of emotional wealth.