Money Musings; Homage To Thrift-Wizards

(This post started out as just some musings inspired by a Facebook convo yesterday/this morn with an old friend.)

A dear old friend of mine wrote a post addressed to all of us, her Facebook community: “I wish all good things for you – peace, enough money to pay your bills and buy chocolate, health OMG do I ever wish you health, happiness, friendship and food, and a working car.”

I wished the same back at her, but with the caveat, “Except don’t wish any kind of car on me, working or otherwise.”

She responded, “OK, no car for Jenny!” (She knows how I am.)

[Special note to you longtime readers who are already more than familiar with my “car”-guments: You might want to skip down this page to where it says TL;DR. Actually you might want to skip there anyway, since 1) I can be rambly (though I have at times aspired to be the Seth Godin of the green movement, as I so admire his gemlike posts that offer endless depths of wisdom and generous attribution in a tidy little package); and 2) the real prize of this post lies in the TL; DR paragraphs at the end. Unless you just get a kick out of hearing me spiral off yet again about the joys of automobile non-ownership, in which case, come on along for the “ride”! Read on, and thanks for your stalwart support.]

OK, so — You might ask, why would I say don’t wish a car on me? Why would I not want a car even if someone gave it to me?

Why? Because there are so many other things I would rather do with that $8,000 a year than spend it on a car. (I remember reading somewhere that’s how much a typical car owner has to spend every year, between insurance, repairs, regular maintenance, yadda yadda.)

But let’s say you’ve got a paid-for car, and your expenses are just $100 a month for insurance and $100 a month for gas. That’s still $2,400 a year! And of course, that $2,400 a year doesn’t include routine maintenance, or unexpected repairs.

My bicycle costs me a couple hundred a year in tubes and repairs, and I probably shell out another $100-200 a year in Uber fees, or paying a neighbor for rides. And once in a while I’ll rent a car. In 2018 I rented a car to drive up north for family reasons. For a person who likes to make $12k to 15k a year (and that’s before taxes), I live a lavish life, and part of what makes it possible is that I don’t have to deal with a car.

“Yeah, but!!” — I can hear people saying. “The car allows me to have a job and earn money, which makes the expense worthwhile.” That response usually shuts down argument. Not for me though.

First of all: For people making $8 or $10 an hour, which is a surprising number of people in the USA (at least people I know), a car ends up being a big trap. You need a car to get to your job, and you need your job to pay your car expenses (and of course, repair expenses go way up, on the kind of car you can afford at $8 or $10 an hour). One breakdown and you’re in the hole financially (and possibly in trouble with your boss for arriving late, needing to take time off, etc.). Better to just get a job you can walk or cycle to, or even better yet, create a home-based business you can really enjoy. Even if it’s less money than you’d be able to make at that job, you might end up with the same amount of disposable income, or even more. But even if it’s less — hey, you get to work at home, or close to home. Cutting out the commute: Priceless!

And second: Even if I were making far more than that $8 or $10 an hour (which I’m not, because I can have everything I want on $12k to 15k, and would rather have free time than more money), I would still always be able to find better uses for my money. (I have actually lived on 7K some years, but it wasn’t by choice, and I didn’t get to have everything I wanted/needed — though I lived much better than one might expect).

“Yeah, but!!!” I can hear some people saying: “Who would want to live on 12 or 15 thousand dollars a year?”

To which I have three answers: my personal answer; my answer for society as a whole; and my answer for you, the person who wants to live large, with the freedom to play and explore and do the work that makes your soul sing.

My personal answer: I want to, because that’s all I need to live a lavish life; and also because I have come to believe, through much reading of brilliant expert sources, and from my own direct observation, that extreme income disparities create too much ecological pressure on the earth, and financial hardship on people. By the way, in case you are curious, I am a libertarian, politically/fiscally speaking.

My answer for society: Although they may not want to, many many people are living on 12 to 15k right now, or far less than that. Yes, I am talking about people right here in the USA. And this was BEFORE the pandemic. Now, there are even more in that boat. In fact, layoffs in the USA have now soared to 39 million! That is a tenth of the U.S. population! People basically suddenly forced to live on zero. If you (or your family or friends) find yourself in these circumstances, the best thing you can do is learn how to be among the happy minority who can comfortably live on this. Because there are signs that it may become the new normal. And, as Henry David Thoreau put it, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

My answer for you, the person who wants to live large, with the freedom to play and explore, and do the work that makes your soul sing: The less you can live on, the more you can afford (both time-wise and money-wise) to play and explore. With your overhead expenses radically lowered, making a living at your own cool little cottage business suddenly isn’t out of reach. Or attending a month-long French-language intensive in Paris, starting a Dada raga thrash band just for the heck of it, walking across America, publishing your manifesto on astrological composting, or whatever other aspiration you feel you don’t have money/time to fulfill.

(On that note: Earlier this week I purchased a garden box from a local couple who have started a business doing that. They advertise in the For Sale section on NextDoor. I paid $40 for a beautiful sturdy wooden box made to my exact dimensional specifications, and delivered to my door within three hours. From what I hear, this is just a hobby for them, but if they had to, they could probably turn it into a steady enough livelihood, if they lived by DEEP GREEN eco-thrifty living principles. They delivered it to my door for no extra charge. BTW the delivery vehicle they used was their car, but the box could just as easily have been delivered by a person with a large sturdy bicycle-towed cargo trailer — yet another of the micro-business ideas I’m always touting.)

Oh, one more note about cars: As I say in my book and elsewhere on this blog, one form of car ownership that isn’t too hard on your wallet or the planet is shared ownership. With more multigenerational families living under one roof now, car-sharing becomes more feasible. And a group of four or 10 neighbors could just as easily share a car (or pickup truck, van, etc.) and all of its related expenses. Once I even stayed at an eco-village where the whole eco-village (maybe 75 people) shared one vehicle.

TL; DR :

— Enjoy the philosophy behind my blog, but aren’t always up for a rambling soliloquy? Or, want more content, plus interactivity? Join my Facebook community DEEP GREEN BOOK BY JENNY NAZAK to see a steady stream of bite-sized posts (including links to super chewy articles and sometimes vids) and be able to add your comments and meet likeminded people. And buy yourself a copy of my book DEEP GREEN to get a slim, condensed how-to manual (written in my same light chatty style, but much more pared-down to nuts-and-bolts suggestions and numeric benchmarks), to speed your progress on your path to freedom.

— And now as promised, the real prize!!! As I see it, my highest role as a promoter of the “Grassroots Green Mobilization” is not as a writer or speaker per se (though I enjoy doing both those things, and feel pushed to do them). Rather, what I really am is a connector, hooking you up with the best-of-the-best resources for living large with an ultra-low footprint. The appendix of my book is a head-spinningly rich, yet ruthlessly curated, list of the best resources I’ve discovered to date. Today, I’m highlighting two bloggers who are listed there, in the subsection titled “Wizards of Prosperity and Thrift.” These two popular bloggers are financially well-off people, highly successful in mainstream USA-merican terms, who have radically reduced their financial overhead in order to enjoy economic and creative freedom.

1) Mr. Money Mustache: created wealth and financial independence for himself and his family by radically reducing their need for money and material goods, while still maintaining a comfortable lifestyle. His goals: “To make you rich so you can retire early”; “To make you happy so you can properly enjoy your early retirement”; “To save the whole Human Race from destroying itself through overconsumption of its habitat.” “Early retirement through badassity.”

2) Early Retirement Extreme: “a combination of simple living, DIY ethics, self-reliance, and applied capitalism.” He and his wife live on $10-14K a year, combined.

Do you ever read something that’s so good and to-the-point, that you are struck mute on the spot, and all you can do is point and sputter, and think to yourself, “THIS!! YES!!! THIS!!” Well, that happens to me quite a lot in the presence of my favorite books and blogs, and these are two of them. Both of them are very famous and have a kabillion followers, and given the quality of their writing and thinking, I assume they are both constantly invited to speak at high-level international conferences and such. So they don’t need me to promote them. But I need to promote them to get the word out to you, because they are a great resource to all of us who are pursuing a life of true abundance with an ultra-low footprint. Go delve into their troves of practical wisdom! The screenshots below will explain my insistence. The fact that I even upload images at all is an indicator of how much I want you to check out these blogs. (As you, my beloved and highly esteemed regular readers, know, I am a bandwidth-cheapskate, who tends to stick to plain text.)

I actually had not read either MMM or ERE for awhile. Definitely not since the pandemic, but even before then. (I stay pretty wrapped up in discovering and sharing resources, and sometimes the virtual pile gets pretty big). Now that I’ve visited their pages to snag the URLs for you, their lists of current posts are calling me with a siren song, and I have a feeling I’m going to be up into the wee hours tonight devouring the latest from two of my favorite Wizards of Thrift! Oh but wait, there’s more!! If you are as goofy thrilled as I am about dwelling in the terrain where eco consciousness intersects with purposeful cheapskatery, you will want to join the MMM-inspired Socially Conscious Mustachians group on Facebook. Hope to see you there!

Further Reading:

Bicycle boom in pandemic — more people using pedal power. (AP story by Olga R. Rodriguez in Daytona Beach News-Journal, May 25, 2020.) People craving exercise and sunshine, or seeking a more hygienic alternative to public transport, are turning to bicycle riding:

“The pandemic is proving to be a boon for bike shops, which have seen a surge in demand, with people waiting in line at still-open shops and mechanics struggling to meet the demand. All around the country and the world, bicycles are selling out and officials are trying to take advantage of the growing momentum by expanding bike lanes during the pandemic or widening existing ones to make space for commuters on two wheels.”

Very happy to hear this news, as I am sure that there is also going to be a trend toward more car use this summer, as a lot of people who can afford to do so will be using cars instead of Greyhound or Amtrak for their vacation trips. Hey, but what if we started to see a fad for long-distance bicycle travel!? People traveling long distances in groups for safety and companionship. (My ideal vision of the future has the whole USA crisscrossed with interstate bike paths. I know that long segments of bicycle path are already there in some places. But wouldn’t it be amazing to have a full-on interstate system, with numbered signs just like on the motor interstate highways. And with the bicycle version of “truck stops” for eating and tent-camping!)