Green Wizardries: The First Steps

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Last week, we discussed the single-income family as an adaptation to lean times.  Frankly, the system is gamed against families where both spouses work. You end up paying far too much of your income in taxes and when you do drag your cadaver home from work and commuting, the house is a mess, the laundry is dirty and no one has cooked supper.  No one could as the whole family was out for the day.

I had a couple of letters from friends who read last week’s column.  Both of them have experience being  in a single-income  household.  One was a house husband for some years and the other was the working-for cash husband.  Both of them felt having one person at home was a real blessing.  One partner would go out and get the cash and the partner who stayed home made sure as little of it left the family as possible.  Both friends are quite well off now.

That is the secret to financial stability.  Never worry about the money that is coming in to the household.  There will always be something, even if it is only welfare.   Only worry about the money that is going out.  We did that and got out from under a heap of debt incurred before we got together.   We became debt free very quickly.  From then on, we have never had any money problems.  

I became ill in my last year of university and my health was not stable enough to hold down even a part-time job.  I was devastated because our society teaches us that we are only worth the amount we earn which is total crap.  I was able to create and manage a budget, cook healthful meals from scratch, make my husband packed lunches for work and iron shirts up to the level expected of a Lieutenant- Commander. I even learned to make my own spray starch.  It was fun and I felt good that I was able to be a help even though I was not earning money.  

Because of our approach, we were able to save a lot more money than other Navy couples where both worked at professional jobs.  Most of them are probably still paying for their mortgages.

I was able to figure out how to do all this because I had a library card.  I got out books on frugality and voluntary simplicity.  I recommend, “Your Money or Your Life,” by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez and, “The Tightwad Gazette,” by Amy Dacyczn.  Amy got out of paid employment so she could have children and spend time with them.  She was able to manage the family finances, raise five children comfortably on one income and pay off their house.  Reading those two books will be very good first steps.  

The next step is to plant something, even if it is just a pot of herbs on the windowsill.  If you have a bit of land that is weedy and needs a huge amount of labour to get it ready to grow some vegetables or flowers, you can skip all the double digging and just plant some squash.  If the soil is not very fertile, you will not get very big squash but the leaves of the squash will shade out and kill the weeds.  

One farmer I know did this with a field that was badly infested with bindweed.  He planted it to pumpkins and was able to make a fair bit of money selling the you-pick pumpkins at Halloween.  After a few years of this, the bindweed had given up and died leaving the field open to cultivation of other crops.   

The next thing to do is look at your unavoidable expenses.  That is rent or mortgage payments, various insurance payments (usually a scam), cable, internet, groceries and so on.  Total that up and then decide if you really need the cable and internet.  I know a person who decided their internet was too costly so they phoned up and asked to cancel their internet service.    The service person was very helpful and finally just asked what they would like to pay.  They agreed on $25 a month and that is what they pay to this day.  They pointed out to the internet rep that they could go for a cup of coffee and a piece of pie at their local cafe and use their internet for free and that money would stay in their community and still be less than the ghastly amount the internet company wanted for their monthly service.  

Next, you need to have a library card and get some cookery books from the library to teach you how to cook inexpensive and nutritious food from scratch.  It is not that hard.  My husband is still amazed at the speed with which I get a meal on the table.  

From there, you can learn to brew your own wine and beer for pennies a bottle.  Mend, sew, knit and do all that fun stuff that we have been taught is a chore.  Grow lots of flowers to put on your table with really fresh salads and home made pickles and bread.  Life really will get better with these few, simple first steps.