2014 was a real struggle of a year. I spent much of it pondering what to make of my future. The present was feeling distinctly uncomfortable. First, some background for those who don’t know.
My wife and I both quit our jobs in 2010 and moved to glorious mid-Wales. Our income immediately dropped to a third of what it was – out of choice. Rachel was not working at all (and not claiming any benefits before you complain) and I had branched out into the world of freelance classic car writing after several years on staff. Turns out that my dream job of working on a magazine was not without its stresses. Mainly due to management types with whom I failed to agree on a great many things. We were both fed up living a life where we spent most of our time together asleep or watching crap on the TV. Yes, our income (and decision to not have children) allowed us to have fantastic adventures – like taking a Citroen H van to Sweden or zooming all the way to Switzerland in the 2CV – but perhaps there was a better work/life balance to be had.
For several years after the move, we truly were living the dream. Sure, foreign holidays were off the list of things we could do, but then we lived somewhere completely beautiful. Why did we need to go anywhere? We had to make serious cutbacks, but got to spend a lot more time together, working on DIY projects and spending time in the community. That was the real key – an actual community! Turns out it was something we’d been seeking for a long time.
The problem is, the freelance writing market is hampered by there currently being quite a lot of writers, and some publishers not wanting to pay realistic rates. Other publishers have terms and conditions which are frankly horrific. Sadly there isn’t enough work from realistic publishers on which to live. Certainly not if you want that income as your sole income. Even living frugally, we need more than £400 a month. Sometimes I wasn’t earning even that.
So, we’ve spent the past year realising just how little we can live on. It’s staggering really how we’ve managed to cope. It hasn’t been easy, but our desire to be more self-sufficient certainly helps. We’d already cut out a huge amount of frankly unnecessary purchasing. Sorry friends and family – that does mean no birthday or Christmas presents. After all, how often do you receive presents that you don’t actually want? We’ve found birthdays can be made special by merely doing a nice thing, even if that’s just going for a walk. Which is free. We hugely enjoyed the Christmas just gone, and that’s more to do with meeting up with people than presents. Ok, perhaps a bit of chocolate, but then Rachel makes a lot of her own sweets at Christmas. Cheaper than buying a posh-looking selection that’s more box than substance. I’ll take a pot of my wife’s chocolate pigs over a Milk Tray any day of the week.
It can be stressful though. New shoes had to go on the wish list for months, as I simply couldn’t afford to buy any. When I did, I only spent £20. We’re seriously missing family too. We only got to see my family in November because I was road testing a Nissan e-NV200 electric van thing and the fuel for it (via motorway charge points) was free. We couldn’t afford to drive a 500-mile round-trip using petrol or diesel. Not even with cars averaging over 40mpg. Things must have been bad as I only purchased four cars in 2014. The most expensive one cost £375. What was telling is that there was absolutely no way I could afford to run my Land Rover Discovery – a car I had long wanted to own. Saying goodbye to that was hard, but it turned into cash AND a Citroen BX. It was a lifeline.
Eventually, the stress of not having any money got too much. I even applied for jobs away from where we live. Clearly, I was losing my mind. I even had one interview, 200-miles from home. After Christmas, I realised the insanity of this plan. It was time for a career change.
As it happens, a role has now opened up at the community minibus company I do a lot of volunteering for. I’ve only got the job temporarily, as it will have to be advertised and a permanent appointment made. I started this week and it has been a bit odd! Regular hours, alarm clocks, a commute! (of 4.6 miles). I’m going to apply for it permanently, and I really hope I get it.
This isn’t so I can get money and go back to rampant consumerism. My time with that sort of life has gone. It’s been great having to REALLY think about every purchase. A useful skill that seems rather lost these days. No, I actually want to have money, earned locally, so I can spend it locally. I want to buy more from local farmers. I want to spend more at the local shops and hotels. I want to support the people brave enough to take on the huge challenges of running a rural business. People who actually pay their taxes…
Perhaps the biggest victim of my lack of funds has been my poor, almost-200,000-mile 2CV. It has been quite painful to watch her body crumble, and I’ve simply not had the funds to do any more than scrape her through another MOT each year. You can’t run a classic car on thin air, and the lack of body attention is now showing very badly. But, with a job, there’s the chance of resurrection – though I currently have very mixed views on how this should happen.
I must also concede that there are still cars I want to own. Nice cars! Cars that could perhaps cost as much as a few thousand pounds to buy. Then there’s my poor five-string electric bass, which desperately needs new strings and a service. My wife would like some new socks.
On top of that, there’s the money we need just to live! The wood for our wood burner is not free, and nor is the gas for our oven. Plus there are many DIY projects left to perform on our house, for which buying stuff is pretty much essential. Yes, there’s much we can do by foraging for things (like pallets – very useful) and grabbing free stuff where we find it, but actual expenditure is just necessary sometimes.
Even just having this temporary job (writing work is continuing but at a reduced level) has taken a real weight off my shoulders. I can go to the pub tonight and not have to worry about whether I can afford a second drink. You don’t know how outrageous that actually feels.
Sure, it’ll be a shock to the system. I’m not sure I’ve worked more than 15 hours a week since we moved here. It’s quite a lifestyle change. However, we’re very fortunate to be able to live like this and I don’t see it as a failure of a Big Plan. We’ve learnt how to reduce our impact on the world, even though I’m a rampant meat-eating petrolhead. Lessons learned will help make sure that my new income can be stretched quite a lot way. I hope.
It would really help if Ebay disappeared about now.