As Winter gets really under way here in the Southern Hemisphere I’ve started thinking about how bloody miserable it is to be cold. I’m OK though. I have a decent job. A reasonable cost flat (with double glazing I must add!) And power is included in the rent. It also helps that this space is a tiny studio, so heating equates to the equivalent of one room with a super-efficient heat pump. I also like to knit so have a nice array of warm-as sweaters and socks.
I do OK in the colder months, I state again.
But many people don’t
I want here to acknowledge that I write this from a place of privilege. White middle-class privilege. I was lucky enough to go to university. And to go debt-free due to an education fund set up by my parents when they were young and rich and had the means. This education has enabled me to work in an area I love (libraries.)
I left university with a BA and no debt. Later, I paid for my library diploma out of my savings from oral history work done part time as an under-graduate and was the grateful beneficiary of a partial fees-paid scholarship. I incurred a little debt for my final course fees, but it was nothing compared to most people’s crippling indebtedness. And, through scrimping and saving I’d paid it off by the end of the summer after I graduated from library school.
I now work at a university in its library. I have two undergraduate level tertiary qualifications. I have no debt. Thus, I am not only lucky and privileged. I am also highly unusual.
For most millennials, at least my peers and friends, they have thousands of dollars of debt to pay off. It’ll take years. Decades for some. I won’t even talk about the interest.
I now also want to briefly mention money… We all need it. But it’s just a thing. Well, increasingly it’s an electronic transaction prompted by the beep of a plastic card. I don’t think you can discuss the costs of daily living (aka survival) and its socio-economic effects without mentioning dollars. It’s how our world works at present. Capitalism is king.
And even though I am a no-student-debt-owed-white-middle-class-privileged-well-educated-late-20’s-woman, I know personally how hard living in a money driven society can be. I know this because even though I have no debt and a decent (ish) job and a warm (ish) house I am still poor in the eyes of income levels and pay scales.
Admittedly, I do choose to work less than 40 hours a week. Some of that is imposed by chronic health problems, sure, and I’ve made allowances for that in how I set up my working life, but the rest of it is because I like the lifestyle and value the quality of life working less gives me.
However, it still doesn’t mean I do not worry about money. I live on less than $500 a week inclusive of all expenses, including rent. I’m frugal sure. I’m careful with my money. I don’t drink alcohol frequently. Trips to the movies are treats rather than a weekly thing. I cut my own fringe. I don’t run a car. I use the library. But I still buy lipstick and scented hand lotion and op-shop designer dresses (op shop for eco-values as well as the affordability.)
This concept of eco values has played an important role in my life as someone who does not have a lot of money. It justifies sacrifices and rewards certain choices and behaviours within the framework of environmentalism. For, as an eco-chick, I try to live low waste and this is an excellent way to cut costs. (Note, I think zero waste as a term is an impossible goal and not necessarily a useful form of terminology, so I say ‘low waste’ instead.)
I buy most things package free and fresh. This cuts costs on food immensely even before we’ve even begun. And as stated above, I buy second-hand clothes and well, to be honest, second hand everything. I like the stories the items carry as well as the values of re-use.
These already mentioned actions save money, sure, and that is great and makes my current lifestyle tenable. But they also work on altering social and political ecologies. Values of reuse and repair are touted and, if I use myself as an example, show how little I think we really need to be able to live well.
Most people would probably think that if you live on $500 per week (note I am single with no kids which does make things easier…) then you’re living in poverty.
While I live in a rental, my rent is not extortionate, and my landlords are fantastic people. I eat well. Some of which I grow myself, more of which I hope to produce from my container garden come Spring. The rest of my food is bulk bought or from the farmer’s markets. I don’t have a lot of money, but I have enough to not just get by but also live well within my means and according to my personal values system.
This personal values system has helped me craft a lifestyle where I have one thing in abundance. And that is time. I have time to do yoga and go on bush walks and cook (not just because it reduces costs but because I genuinely enjoy it.) It gives me time to garden, a new hobby I am getting more and more into because I find working with plants calms my anxiety and (excuse the pun) literally grounds me. And, I have time to write. To write these blog posts with time for careful consideration and reflection. To pen poems. To work on the draft of my novel. To write short stories when I want to. Equally, I have the time to investigate issues I feel passionate about like environmental issues, food politics and sustainable living.
Today I ask you to consider the things that are important to you. Ask yourself what inspires you? Identify what you are passionate about. But also ask, what is currently costing you having more of these things in your life?
Think also, about the cost to the environment from the political and economic systems of capitalism and consumerism that currently run our society. Ponder the cost of living.
By asking and really thinking about what you are prepared to pay to live well (and this comes with a variety of definitions), I believe you will think about factors such as environmental degradations and plastic waste alongside the national mental health crisis and child poverty. Clearly, this issue of cost is as complex as it is broad in scope.
Lastly (and most importantly, I feel) I ask you as an individual, as a member of a community, and as a human in Society, when will the price be considered too high? The price not just of ‘Getting By’ but of Living in the largest sense of this word where all life on Earth is respected and protected… When will the books get re-balanced and new margins drawn? I won’t say profit margins, as I think that is part of the problem. I think we need a whole new way of accounting for ourselves in the world.