The other day, I discussed the battle I have between caring for the world’s resources and driving something that runs on million-year old dinosaur juice and ended up getting slightly political. I promise not to do that this time!
The next dilemma is one of skintness. In some ways, we’re pretty well off. We own our house outright, receive no state benefits (or any other to be honest) and owe no-one any money at all. But our actual income is tiny. Rachel has chosen not to work at all to focus on growing vegetables, minimising our need to consume (making clothes, repairing things that most people would throw away) and attacking some pretty serious DIY – like making solar panels for our hot water. Her own Blog is a good way to see what she’s up to.
As you’ll see, it’s certainly not all joy, but there is an overall feel-good factor. I wade in occasionally when muscle or extra brain power is required. Similarly, I bounce creative ideas of my good lady wife when it comes to writing, and she’s good at making sure I get the paperwork done…
I keep working because we do actually need some income. Firewood is not free (apart from the rare occasion when we score a load) and I have an expensive hobby – cars! I am also rather prone to eating meat. However, I also write about old cars for a living, so my income levels are sadly nowhere near that of Mr J Clarkson. Maybe if I wrote about posh stuff, I’d earn more money, but I don’t like posh stuff…
Despite being so skint that we’ve had to delay buying new shoes, we still feel a strong urge not to penny-pinch too much. We won’t buy poultry that isn’t free range for a start. In fact, like beef and pork, we often buy direct from farms. That way, you can get a huge chicken – much larger than you’ll get in a supermarket – and we can have an entire week of meals from one bird. The carcass is boiled down to make stock which enables rice and pasta dishes that can be made very cheaply indeed. That flimsy, £5 supermarket chicken that had a hideous, caged existence isn’t looking so good. It doesn’t taste so good either.
I’m the same with fuel. I support our nearest petrol station as often as I can, regardless of price. I’m not driving vast distances at the moment, so the extra cost is easily justified. Mind you, I checked the prices yesterday and the supermarket was an entire 1p cheaper. Less than £1 difference for a fill-up. This is therefore hardly the largest frivolity compared to other running costs.
We try to avoid the bigger businesses. We do shop on the high street, though sadly even with our good intentions, a big supermarket shop still tends to happen every six weeks or so. Aberystwyth is blessed with a large number of independent retailers though, and the independent coffee shops are a far nicer place to hang out than the Morrisons Cafe. Or tax-dodging Starbucks.
The problem is, when everyone focusses on price above all else, quality suffers as manufacturers try to out-do each other with cost savings. That’s why supermarket meat, especially the cheap stuff, is so horrible. An animal somewhere in the world probably had a really horrible life, then its innards are packed full of water so you feel like you’re getting a good ‘weight’ of meat for your £1.
That said, we make quite a lot of savings by buying own-brand food – like breakfast cereal and pasta. There’s less of a welfare issue here and to be honest, you can find yourself paying a lot more for a product that isn’t necessarily any better. With tea – a very, very important part of my working day – we buy Fair Trade, because lives do depend on it. Again, more expensive, but we feel almost duty bound to pay a little extra, even with our low cash reserves.
Living this lifestyle has certainly been educational. It’s amazing what you can actually live without. Certainly some large sacrifices have had to be made. Visiting friends and family has been largely reduced and I only bought four cars last year. We also attended far fewer 2CV camps than in previous years.
Fortunately, we live in a beautiful part of the world, and there’s no charge for standing and looking at the view, or walking up a hill (though we do need to invest in some decent waterproofs). We’ve also made a great many friends, so while we dearly miss our chums further away, we have got friendship on our doorstep too. Not something we’ve really had anywhere else that we’ve lived. We’ve never had a ‘local’ before either – something we didn’t budget for. Again, it’s amazing how little you can spend on a night out when you have to.
That again is a dilemma though. Especially during the winter, our local relies on local custom. I’d love to do more to support them, and other local businesses. It’s all well and good buying what we term as essentials from local companies, but it would be nice to be able to spend more. After all, without support, these local businesses will one day close – as our village shop already has. Proof that if the only thing that matters to you is cost, you might find that the quality of your life deteriorates as a result. Think more about what you actually need, and where your hard-earned money goes next. Thanks. A Hippy.