Living the Simplest Life: My No Spend Life
If you are battening down the hatches because income is tight the solution is to Not Spend Any Money. This may seem obvious but spending can be such an ingrained habit that you don't notice that you are doing it. Money just dribbles away on one small thing after another and then there isn't any. This is an unfortunate truth that may not be a problem on a generous income but becomes big trouble very fast when your income is reduced. If this is you, let me tell you a secret. Discretionary spending is discretionary. Which means you don't have to do it.
I mostly don't spend money because I know I will have to spend money. That sounds paradoxical, but hear me out. This year I have spent $500 replacing all the baffle plates and fire bricks in my broken wood heater. I had a gas leak in my gas bottle fittings last week and am waiting on the plumber's bill for that. While the plumber was here he told me that my gas bottle has been installed illegally and very unsafely and needs to be moved away from drain and under-house access, approximate cost $700, which seems a lot, but at least then the house won't blow up if there is another gas leak.. This is why I don't spend money, because financial emergencies happen all the time. If you have a much reduced income your emergency fund will not be a nice sequestered amount of money on the side that you don't touch, it will be pretty much all the money. You don't touch any of the money, unless you absolutely have to, such as for eating and paying bills.
Now this may sound terrifying and dire but it isn't that bad. I learnt much of what I know about Not Spending from my parents who spent almost all of their adult lives being missionaries and living under the poverty line. They managed to meet all the emergencies of life by Not Spending and I have followed in their footsteps. Ok, so this is the important bit. Not Spending sounds like a grey and miserable life sentence, but I will tell you this. I live a glorious life of much sweetness and many incalculable joys. Our society tries to sell us the line that Having Lots of Money is the best of all possible ways to live in this world, but it just isn't true. Having enough money to eat and pay the rent certainly is necessary, but genteel poverty is a wonderful way to stretch the creative imagination.
One of the best resources I know for living a better life with less is The Art of Frugal Hedonism by Annie Raser-Rowland and Adam Grubb.
This is not a book of practical tips so much as a joyous romp through the philosophy of living on almost nothing and loving it. A very great part of the issue of living on a reduced income is our attitude towards our new circumstances. If we determine to treat it as a game and an adventure rather than as a bleak punishment from the gods we will be much happier and more resilient. Your income is going to be the same if you are cheerful or miserable, so you may as well be cheerful. This is my version of Stoicism 101. Or maybe you are choosing to live on much less so that you can travel or buy that farm in the country or to write a book or work less. Whatever the circumstances, think about the joy you can derive from the simplest life, and how brilliant it will be to stick it to the Man.
Now, how to break that habit of spending? This is easy but it took me years to work out. In order not to spend you have to stop going to the shops. Really. Just don't go. Shopping is not a leisure activity, at least it won't be from now on. I happen to think I am very good at not spending money and I also have ethical objections to buying new stuff and yet, and yet, put me in a shop full of beautiful home wares, a well-curated antique shop, a book shop, an op-shop and I can assure you I will find something I 'need'. And yet if I don't go shopping at all I don't have any of those needs. I go to the park instead where I can enjoy the oak trees without feeling that I have to take one of them home with me. And beware of virtual shopping. Browsing online is no better than walking through the actual shop. Delete all the online shopping tabs and don't go there anymore. Don't watch TV, unsubscribe from all the advertising emails, and don't accept junk mail in the letterbox. Keep your life ad free. I use a (free) ad-blocker that comes already installed with my (free) open-source Linux software on my laptop and I just don't see ads anywhere, and after a while of living like this you lose the 'need' to spend money or to acquire pretty and useless widgets. It takes a little while and it sneaks up on you but eventually you realise that the world of things has quit its hold on you, and then, my friend, you are free.
Ok, so you have stopped buying stuff you don't need, but what about the things you do need, or the things you still like and want even after your long break from shopping and advertising? One of the pieces of advice from The Art of Frugal Hedonism that has really stuck with me is this: you don't have to faff around with budgets or even think about money at all. It is much more creative and radical to treat every single need or want as a challenge to achieve it without spending anything at all. If you need a thing, or have a want, plan how you can achieve it using the resources already at your disposal. Do you have something you can repurpose? Can you swap or barter or hunt for it on free internet sites? Can you do it differently or do without it? Can you borrow it? If all that fails, then you start looking for it secondhand. Using money is absolutely the fallback option in this approach, rather than the first option for the mind to jump to.
And, as the authors point out, this is how we get to live our simplest lives as an adventure. There is so much more story and interest when our furniture gets scrounged off the side of the road or built out of old pallets picked up from the tip. Nothing adds spice to a walk with a friend as much as picking edible weeds as you go for your lunch. It's great to be eccentric. It gives your friends something to talk about.
And speaking of being eccentric, be brazen about being poor. Our society shames the poor, as though poverty is a moral failing. Which is odd considering we live in a Christian culture. Jesus did not say, "Blessed be the rich" although you might be forgiven for thinking that he did from our behaviour. It is time to remove the stigma from living without much money. When friends invite you out for drinks or dinner, cheerfully explain that you have not a single penny to spend on going out, but why don't they come over for potluck? Then when you are tucking into soup and bread in your own kitchen, share about how you have been retrenched and choose to see it as an adventure, or confide how you are not spending any money because you have always wanted to become a sheep herder in Patagonia and are saving all your dollars to that end. If you have friends who can't deal with that kind of honesty then maybe new friends are in order..
So far these posts have been rather theoretical. Never fear, soon they will be getting practical, but we need a philosophical framework to work from. Well, probably we don't, but I love philosophical frameworks so here we are. What I am trying to steer away from is the idea that money is the most important thing. Sometimes we can get so caught up in the story of money being a good in itself that it is all we can think of, especially if we don't have much. Where I am trying to steer this conversation is toward a place where money is just one of the tools to we use to get us where we want to be. A place of enough, of abundance of good things like time and love and friends and meaning and community and a happy earth and kindness. I will tell you this now, although you already know it. Money can be useful, but in itself it is not enough. In living the simplest life we are learning how to step aside from money in whatever small or large ways we can, and to step into another relationship with the earth and each other.
In pursuing my no spend life the most useful resource I have is a willingness to work within limits. If my first limit is not spending money that draws a line around the things I already have and whatever is available for free in my environment. We often see limits as negative, but that is not necessarily the case. Working within limits stretches your creativity muscle and makes it work very hard. Once I would have gone out to buy plants to fill up blank spots in the garden, but now I have learned which plants to divide, how to grow new plants from cuttings and which ones grow easily from seed and I have a lot of new skills and a garden filling up with plants from friends and the roadside verges that gives me a whole lot more satisfaction than an expensive garden from the nursery. Practising the very limited sewing and mending skills I possess has rescued many socks and clothes from the ragbag and given me extra confidence to do more sewing. Making a decision not to spend money has forced me to learn new skills and every time I learn something I realise there is so much more to learn. Life is too short! Why on earth didn't I start this sooner? Making stuff instead of buying it is the most fun I have ever had, and I say this as someone who isn't that great at making stuff.
Making do with what I have is also very satisfying. It makes me treasure what I have, and learn how to look after my things to extend their usefulness. It engenders gratitude and contentment. Once I stepped off the consumer treadmill I realised what I have is enough. It's all I need. And then when sometimes new things come into my life, mostly when people I know offload things they don't want in my direction, it is so much fun. A new to me thing is an event and a joy and adds to the creative possibilities.
Having said all this I do want to make it clear that I do still buy some things. Wine. Sewing machine needles. A jam funnel and jar lifter tongs. A book on Tasmanian fungi identification. An antique Dutch tea caddy for Paul. These are this year's discretionary purchases so far. When buying stuff is a last resort it is something you think about for a long time. It is considered. Well, except for the wine. I find my no spend life a very good, very calm way to live, and importantly, it allows me to live on so little that I can spend a lot more of my life just being, and doing what I love.