I’ve spent the last few weeks running around like a headless chicken, preparing for and then tidying up after a big event at work. I did some calculations last night – in the last two weeks I’ve done 70 hours, not including the conference dinner. This doesn’t sound so bad, except that only 28 of those hours were paid (they’re hoping to find some extra money in the conference budget for me), the main stretch was nine consecutive days full of people – important people, paying people and hard-working volunteer people – and all my bills seem to come in August. So I’m taking it easy now that I’ve got time for a few days off, and hanging in there for payday next Thursday…
Worrying about money takes up more time and energy than I would have thought. At the moment I’m juggling bills – the health insurance installment is late because I forgot about it in the madness; my car insurance will have to wait till my next pay comes in – luckily my insurer has a grace period which means I’m still covered; my performer’s insurance needs paying before Friday’s gig, but I’ve lost the letter so I’ll have to use the online option and that means moving money around and borrowing a credit card (must find time to go to the bank and get my debit card back), and meanwhile I’m eating down the freezer stash and working my way through an inadvertent excess of brown rice, because it goes off quicker than white and I don’t want it to go to waste, and taking advantage of leftover food from the conference. And I have to sew up the incipient hole in my shoe. Etc, etc, oh my aching head, etc.
Which has been making me think about the habits of waste and comfort that we’re used to and that are so hard to change. Some examples:
- After being pretty poor for over a year, it’s only in the last month or so that I’ve really started trying to minimise my grocery bill. Just last week I discovered the oh-so-handy $ per kg value written in tiny, inconspicuous type at the bottom of supermarket price tags. As mentioned above, I’m cooking from the stash. My “minimum” weekly shop has gone from $80 to about $50, although this is not maintaining the staples and frozen stuff I’m using up. In more flush fortnights I’ll look for specials to refill the freezer with. I’m intrigued by my new definition of “minimum” – from ‘what we’re going to eat this week’ to ‘what’s the least possible stuff I can get away with buying’. I’m also exploring the beans-and-lentils and add-a-little-bacon-or-chorizo-so-you-think-it’s-a-meat-dish solutions – my new favourite is a veggie bake with some bacon in it, and lentils with curry sauces (from the stash) are good and tasty now that I’ve learned that lentils need a generous addition of salt or flavour. It’s taken me a long time, and several oh-god-I-only-have-$30-and-it’s-nearly-rent-day incidents to get to this stage. My habits of thoughtlessness are hard to break. I still haven’t conquered the packed lunch issue, partly because stress leads me to the comforting fat content of pies and chocolate.
- Someone suggested that it’s time for me to buy new shoes, just because they’re mended near the ankle and a piece of purely decorative plastic is falling off for a second time. These shoes are very comfortable, and a bit of glue and 10 minutes of sewing (5 of them spent looking for needle and thread) are all they need to keep going for another two years (I’ve only just realised that I’ve had them for two years already – they’re doing pretty well for their age and the amount of use they get).
- Trying to make every little bit count is not a central value of our culture. We throw stuff away like there’s no tomorrow, quite literally, with no thought for the future – we don’t think about the resources put into creating things, the effort which is wasted when we through stuff away. Being poor is enlightening me about the value of things that are usually discarded without thinking about it. I made mashed potato the other night and found myself peeling carefully so as to keep as much potato as possible. And then I was pleased to be able to put the peelings in the worm farm. And I’m looking for a container to hold veggie-water till it cools so that I can use it on the garden – my “soil” is actually free mulch from a tree that got cut down and needs all the nutrient-adding help it can get. Eventually if I manage to grow my own potatoes I will have a nearly closed system of potato use! Potatoes -> Peelings -> Worms -> Potato plants -> Potatoes. I’d like to try and do this in other areas too, so that I consume less and waste less, and everything that goes out that possibly can goes somewhere useful, to compost or the op-shop or a new purpose.
- In July I was sad because I seemed to have very little in winter clothes, and after my birthday I spent a chunk of my birthday money on a few items. And the next day my car insurance bill arrived and I was sad again for a different reason. And just this weekend I looked in the other side of my cupboard and found more winter clothes. I hadn’t even thought of looking more carefully at my cupboard! Whoops. These new things will last me a good few years, and I could do with a few new things to replace the dying ones – but I could have got away with waiting…
Useful lessons for me to remember?
- How you spend and how you live are based in cultural assumptions and norms – that doesn’t mean they’re optimal. Knowing that they’re not absolute or optimal doesn’t mean it’s easy to change them, though.
- Learn to accept imperfection and to value utility above appearance.
- Try to identify and reduce the externalities / wasted resources in what I consume.
- And a topic that seems to be coming up in several areas of my life at the moment: focus more on the oft-neglected “Reduce” step of Reduce-Reuse-Recycle.
I’ll be interested to see how these new ideas and attitudes go when I have more money… I hope I’ll continue to be thoughtful and thrifty. Yet another reason to go out and find a second job! 😛