Austerity Measures

I worked for a couple of years as a bookkeeper for a small company. I loved the way the numbers lined up, decimals all in a tidy line down my screen. I loved balancing the ebb-and-flow accounts down to the cent and the zen-like tranquility that came from reconciling a statement perfectly. So, even though now I just manage our family's money, I still am quite meticulous about keeping track of everything. And I've always preened a bit about our perfect credit scores and debt-free lifestyle.

But recently, to my embarrassment, I realized that we are --ever so slightly-- living beyond our means. Not extravagantly, not obviously. Just enough to make me feel financially arthritic-- joints dangerously creaking on themselves rather than swinging easily along.

Eating just a couple of hundred extra calories a day gets you 10 pounds heavier at the end of the year, but who has the self control to cut back just a little? Nobody. Similarly, a financial crash diet is in order. A money-habit purge to reset our behavior.

For the last three weeks, I've only allowed myself to spend $10 a week. Groceries, household stuff, miscellaneous impulse purchases and costco hotdogs. It's turned into an interesting mental and -- is it ridiculous to say?-- emotional challenge.

Not buying anything, I feel rich. I have kitchen cupboards full of several kinds of rice, flour, sugar, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, spices, oil, vinegar, cocoa, honey, dried fruits, mushrooms, seaweed, tea. Years' worth of accumulated grocery detritus: thai green chili paste and tamarind extract, instant white miso soup and cream of rice. Also, from the garden: eggs, papayas, mangoes, passionfruit, collards, beans, okra, cherry tomatoes, hot peppers, basil, thyme, lemongrass, sweet potatoes, taro, and coconuts. And a zillion wild roosters and pigs and pheasants if we get hungry enough. I have the leisure-- the 1st world priviledge-- of DECIDING not to buy any food.

On the other hand, it has been uncomfortably constricting. RJ's swimmingsuits, already second hand, are getting blue-bleached from the pool, and my beach chair just rusted through its hinges. We are running low on bread flour and we're out of pasta. We have been cutting fresh milk with powdered milk and feeding the cats leftovers. It was painful to go to the store and put the pasta and the cheerios back on the shelf. I figured we have rice and oatmeal. Same difference, right?

Also, today the scraped-up rice cooker and waffle iron went to the thrift shop. That's seems like part of a financial diet too-- cut down on stuff coming in, and make sure there's stuff going out. Streamline. Lean up. Pray.

Hanging laundry on the line, picking okra, making simple meals. Austerity feels religious-- as if going without is good for you. Maybe it is, but I'm not sure it's fun.


  1. Go Becca! Good lessons for all of us!

  2. Sounds like me. Except we have no garden filled with yummies... and my cupboards are starting to look a little sickly :)

  3. Yes, this sounds like my household, too! But I really do enjoy hanging laundry on the line... I think about how it's one step closer to self sufficiency, and I feel proud in a way. I love our local free store and when I go to the garbage/ recycling center and stop someone from tossing perfectly usable items! Even when I had money to spare, I had this mentality, so now that it's not a choice, it comes easy for me. Another thing, having lived in rural India, I learned that simple living and high thinking really is a path to happiness. Just have to go through the withdrawal and detachment first!

  4. Great thoughts (and actions), but I disagree with the statement "who has the self control to cut back just a little? Nobody. Similarly, a financial crash diet is in order. A money-habit purge to reset our behavior."
    True, i am may not be in the same situation, but I don't think a purge is completely necessary. I guess I see it as the financial equivalent of crash-dieting. It's fine to cut back, but what happens when you stop the diet? It's important to set a sustainable budget that saves the right amount of money, but is also livable on a long-term (lifelong) basis.
    When Kate and I got married, we started keeping track of our expenses and income in an excel spreadsheet. Keeping track of things became a (OCD-like) obsessive habit for both of us. Now we are almost always completely aware of where we stand financially. It's been a good habit; I probably couldn't even calculate how much money it has saved us.

  5. You are the most self sufficient gal I know. Which may signify something about the people in and around my life. I wonder at what point do I give up on the learning to cook, garden, raise animals, and generally understand how to combine things to make other things and realize that my greatest gift might be the understanding that it takes a village to survive and to subsequently find people that love me enough to be domestic for me. If the world comes crashing down I feel I'm screwed, or by chance my gypsy notions will save me at last.

  6. It strikes me that you still have a measure of abundance in one commodity: time. Raising a little one means you never have long periods of uninterrupted time, of course. But as long as you don't have to work outside the home to scrape up enough for the essentials, you're ahead of the game. And yes, as long as you're able to take these austerity measures, it can definitely be a fun challenge. Hanging the clothes out, picking your own fruits and vegetables, harvesting those eggs from wild pigs... Anyway, have fun, and may God bless your days!


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