Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Carrots

As in metaphorical carrots - and sticks. Delicious orange crunchy carrots are also good and we should talk about them someday - but today I want to talk about metaphorical carrots.

Sticks are all well and good. The big stick in our case was a fear that we wouldn't be able to provide for our baby son during what we thought would be hard times, labouring as we were under a pile of debt. As a result we began to budget, live a lot more frugally and organized our finances to pay off the debt as quickly and cheaply as possible. In time it was possible to re frame that initial impetus into something resembling a carrot - living within our means has bought us a much more interesting, productive life in many ways. Home cooked food, brewing, DIY, thrifting, handicrafts, gardening and the knowledge that there is cash left in our accounts come the week before payday all make for a much more satisfying life than one lived on the never-never. The fruits of our labours became goals in themselves. We had made the transition from living frugally out of sheer necessity, to making it an enjoyable way to live.

The initial motivating  fear remains and resurfaces every so often - when we have overstretched ourselves, or forgotten a bill payment was due, or know we have to find money for a big purchase. It rises irrationally when we still have money to spare but can't afford to make an overpayment on debt - a completely irrational fear for someone who two years ago didn't even have a budget for debt overpayment, or anything else for that matter. Still, I tend to go a little berserk at these times and start devising ways that we can live on stale bread crusts and sell our remaining possessions to make ends meet, until someone (usually the person having their ear bent at the time) lends me a little perspective on matters.

Since we decided on a vague plan of action for the future that I could feel enthusiastic about - moving to Norfolk - the carrots have multiplied. I have had to rewrite the budget this week having missed out a glaringly obvious expense on the original; and my first reaction was not fear of financial doom, or recourse to my stale crust recipe collection, but sheer annoyance that we would have less money to put aside towards our move in a few years. Then came the fear of doom, but that was fleeting and besides the point. Now that I have a long term goal to work towards, an alternative to just plodding on as I am forever, I have a renewed enthusiasm for all things frugal.

This has been a week of tracking all of our spending down to the last penny. We have baked and eaten bread almost every day with gusto, soaked pulses and dug out half used packets from the back of the cupboard for frugal meals, religiously switched off appliances at the wall and I have earmarked large swathes of my remaining craft stash for various money saving baby projects for The Girl (even going so far as to break out needle and thread once again, which is never my natural inclination). Every little money saving action feels like a gallop in the right direction; and I am making the most of it whilst my energy levels and enthusiasm hold up. At the same time, I have to remind myself not to go to far with the all austerity - the goal is to get to Norfolk in five years and continue to live a good life in a new setting with new activities, not to put off living until we get there.

So, I would be interested to know, what motivates you to live frugally and manage your resources - carrots, sticks or something in between? Do you ever take it too far?

5 comments:

  1. Love this post! Having laboured under debt payoff for 5 years I know exactly how you feel. Never ever did I think that we would be able to live on one salary and still save money every month..it's still a blessing that I haven't quite got used to.

    I can go between extreme frugality, to spending like a mad woman in the space of 24 hours..balance is very difficult to find..but I am working on it! Books is a good example. I should not have stopped buying books as they make me happy..so I'm allowing myself them again...whereas living without make up is easy for me and I don't feel deprived.

    That's the key: save towards your dreams but allow yourself some things that you love along the way.

    PS. How I wished that we lived nearer to each other....it's difficult to find people IRL with the same ideas and hopes :)

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  2. When I moved to the island 5+ years ago to be with BH I hadn't properly researched the job market. Shame, because I still haven't got a job and have had to go onto JSA + CTB. BH has MS (a lot of acronyms here - sorry!) and is therefore on DLA etc., so our budget is very tiny as the Government aren't generous with their handouts - even though I worked and contributed Tax and NI for nearly forty years. Our savings are all spent and we try to shop only once a week. Bills keep going up faster than our income so we continually have to find ways of making ends meet. Hence the large veg plot, the crafts, the home brewing and all that stuff.
    Still, I keep trying, and one day I might get a job - just in time for me to retire and collect my pension probably!

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  3. Laura - Definitely. I love books, though I have started using the library again. Thrifted stuff and craft materials are my other 'thing'. I love finding unusual bits and bobs like pottery. It is something I haven't allowed myself to do in a long time, what with all the decluttering, but I think I will set aside some money next month and see what treasure I can find.

    Albedo - I can imagine the Hebrides are a hard place to live frugally unless you are prepared to be as self sufficient as possible. You can be forgiven for jumping in with both feet 5 years ago, what an awesome lifestyle change to have made (besides, the job front on the mainland isn't so great these days :)). I hope that you find it a rewarding life nonetheless - fingers crossed on the job front.

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  4. Great post. I have been feeling down in the dumps about my thriftiness lately, and this post reminded me that I need a goal, a light at the end of the tunnel, to work towards to keep my motivation going. My husband is very pessimistic when I talk about setting an early retirement goal, so right now my only motivation is a more immediate one: being frugal helps me be at stay at home mom for my children in their early years.
    I think I take this luxury for granted a lot.

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  5. Sorry SuSu, my blogger hasn't been notifying me of comments, I have only just seen this!

    I have certainly knuckled down and thought carefully about our finances and every penny that goes out. If a goal escapes you at the moment, then focusing on the day to day achievements is also good - how much enjoyment you extract from being at home with your children.

    Meanwhile, perhaps wage a sneaky war of attrition on the hubby to make him see sense :)

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