After working through some of the issues that confront us when we consider living in a different way, the elephant in the room is the actual cost of living. It’s not an easy thing to calculate, and to be honest, I’ve given up trying. There are so many variables, so many unpredictables, and then my experiences that show clearly that when I’m living the right life for me, things seem somehow just to work out. Perhaps because money is really life energy itself, it has a fluidity that contracts and expands as necessary? I don’t know. But there does seem to be some magic about it sometimes.
That said, I got curious. I’m not teaching at the moment, and my income is down about half. I had hoped, back in February/March, that the garden would save us some money. While I’m off, I’m not commuting, so that must be saving us gas money. We have no heating costs during this part of the summer. You get the idea.
Your Money or Your Life gets you to calculate your “real” hourly wage by factoring in all those work-related costs that would disappear if you weren’t working: gas, commuting time, clothes, the right car, socializing with peers, golf club membership, whatever. Thankfully our jobs don’t require a lot of these! But still. This is often where new parents realize that one parent’s income is going straight to childcare, and that it makes more sense to do the childcare themselves!
We are living pretty simply these days. We had talked when we knew our income was going to drop about putting ourselves on a strict budget to get by. It never happened. We put off some big expenditures that weren’t essential, the Skipper started using the more fuel-efficient car that I was using before, we’ve been eating out of the garden. I keep an eye on the bank balance, and we seem to be breaking about even, which, I have to say, amazes me.
Yesterday I got curious about what had happened to some of our monthly costs, whether they really had gone down as much as our bank balance would suggest. I was, as the English say, gobsmacked by the results.
I used to keep pretty close track of our spending, so I have a rough idea of some of our baseline costs. I know, for instance, that we used to have a hard time keeping our food expenses (groceries and meals out) under $1000/month. For two people I found that pretty embarassing! And we cook from scratch everyday!
Now I was just ball-parking from our bank statements, so these are very rough numbers, but in comparing a few months over the past year, there’s a definite trend. November groceries came to around $685, meals out $350, total: $1035.
In June, our groceries were definitely decreasing at $550, and perhaps more importantly, we were eating out significantly less: $170. Total: $720. I still worked for much of June.
I know July’s not quite over yet, and I’m factoring in the $10-15 I’ll spend on bread today. But the numbers are still pretty shocking! Groceries: $288! Meals out: $144. Total: $432! And the tomatoes aren’t even ripe yet :).
Now, truth be told, there are still a ton of variables here. Salmon is at the peak of it’s season right now, and it’s currently on sale for around $4/ lb. We’ve realized that we’re not going to get any fishing in this summer, and even if we do, we won’t be catching Sockeye! So we’ve spent about $200 filling the freezer with enough to get us through the rest of the year. We bought a vacuum sealer last summer when we were fishing, and we’ve been beyond happy with the results. We still have a few portions left from last summer, and they still taste like they were caught yesterday. And we could easily spend more than $200 on gas and food to catch enough fish to get us through another year. So that’s money well spent as far as we’re concerned, but it’s not included as July groceries.
I also haven’t factored in the expenses of the garden, of course. I know what I spent on seeds, and I’m not telling! 🙂 And we’ve brought in soil, set up irrigation, bought ingredients for organic fertilizer, etc etc. So I’ll do another ball park at the end of the year to see if we broke even. And next year we’ve got big plans for an overhaul of the veggie beds that will definitely require some investment. But I still think the results suggest that once the infrastructure is in place, the veggies keep coming in. And we’ll have many jars of tomatoes on the shelf for the year!
So does the simple life and a big garden cost less? Gas has gone from $400-500/month to $155. I wear old clothes and no one sees me. I cook and clean and compost. We need to find a few hours in the week to bake bread and make soap, both of which we used to do regularly. We plan to make more beer and perhaps wine. We desperately want to put in a woodstove to eliminate our heating costs, but there’s an up front cost. Then there’s the kitchen reno! So the jury’s still out. But it’s looking better and better!