Green Wizardries: A Second Step

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In this little series, we are talking about ways to thrive in lean times.  Lots of people claim that the only way to do this is to live within your means.  I disagree.  I think the best way to thrive is to live below your means.  

Living within your means can mean spending all the money you make but not more.  While living below your means is a habit of spending less than you make every month.  It is a happy feeling when you have an unexpected car repair or need dental treatment to know that you have lots of money to deal with such a problem.  

When I was young, I had a debit card and would go to the bank and put it in the slot and get money out.  I never really knew how much money I had and I never had a plan for saving any of it.  That is what having credit cards and debit cards is meant to do to you.  

It is also far easier to pull out your card and tap it for a purchase than it is to pull out a crisp red bill and see it vanish from your life forever.  For those of you who do not know what cash looks like, a red bill is fifty dollars.  

One of the best ways of developing a conscious relationship with money is to spend only cash.  I learned this in Lancashire, England from people who grew up in the Great Depression.  They had a system where money coming into the family was divided into envelopes.  So much would go in the rent or mortgage envelope, so much to groceries, so much to buy clothes and shoes and on until, at the end,  the husband would receive a little cash for beer and tobacco.  When any of the envelopes was empty, they stopped buying that category.  If a man ran out of beer and tobacco money before the next wage packet, he stopped smoking and drinking for a few days.

To give an example of how that worked in practice, my friends wanted a new car.  The wife ran the numbers every which way but they could not afford the car.  The husband said, “What if I give up smoking?”  His wife did the math and said, “Yes, if you give up smoking, we can afford the car.”  He quit cold turkey and never once mentioned his struggle with that very potent addiction.  

One couple we are friendly with was having money troubles.  We offered to teach them this simple way to manage their money and explained that their situation could be rectified by a single year of lean living.  The husband said, “I want what I want when I want it.”  So we dropped the subject and they lost their house.  

Another couple did want to learn the method of envelopes.  They had lots of money but had bitter and disruptive fights over money frequently.  Once we explained the envelopes to them, they reached a fair division of money into electronic envelopes and decided how much each person got as spending money each month.  The fights stopped at once.  They were very successful at budgeting, or rather the wife was but the husband was happy with the outcome as he could spend his whole allowance on his sail boat with never a harsh word from his wife.  

Once a person has their money under conscious control, they may have a lean year or two while they build up savings but the lean years can still be fun.  Walking, swimming, biking and picnicking are all almost free.  Having the family and friends play board games or do a jigsaw puzzle (available for free from the Free Store) is a pleasant way of spending time with loved ones.  When you finish the puzzle, take it back to the Free Store and exchange it for a new one.  Also lots of great books can be had at the Free Store, the Denman Community Library and the Public Library.

Getting together with friends and family to do art projects is fun and inexpensive.  Does anyone remember the oracle cards we used to make at the Arts Denman House as a free art project? 

Snacks for such occasions do not have to be purchased.  Try popping popcorn and see how fast your family shows up for a share.  Baking cookies with kids is an entertainment and an educational process for them.  

 By the time your couple of lean years are over, you will be really good at living below your means.

A friend suggested that another good step is to create a 4X8 garden bed and grow some lettuce, peas and carrots.  He said once people find out how easy it is to grow great food, there will be no stopping them.  

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