Saturday, September 10, 2011

Living On Nothing (Almost)

This week has been a real eye-opener for me. I've never had things fall together so easily with regards to finances, and considering I don't and will not be getting a job, and am not going to applying for any government assistance beyond the tax rebates and credits I get already, that's saying something.

What did happen is that due to some effort on the part of my ex, I'll now be getting a fair amount in spousal support every month so that I can stay home and care for our autistic son. Add the almost monthly payments from various levels of governments, and I'm almost surviving.

All I need to do is cut my expenses.


I started out this morning asking myself, "What can I get for free?"

That question was in part brought on by my reading this weekend of the book Free: The Future of a Radical Price, by Chris Anderson. Although it's two years out of date (and a LOT has happened in those two years, especially in the book publishing area), it still contained some thought-provoking ideas, the most disturbing (but not surprising) of which, to me, at least, was the likelihood that as consumers get used to free, they'll resent paying anything at all for electronic information, including books and music. So how's a home-based writer supposed to make money?

I'm still thinking that through, but there ARE options, and they're good ones. Merchandising, public speaking, teaching, and so forth are all ways writers make money while giving away books. And the upside of free is that (hopefully) people will actually read my stuff. Which, really, is the only point of writing. If nobody reads my stuff, or if everyone who does read it hates it, I'll just fantasize in my head and spend my time playing viola or Sims.

And really, my basic income, while not excessive, is enough. And isn't that what we pray for? Give us THIS DAY our DAILY bread. Nothing here about retirement plans, or well-stocked pantries, or even enough money in the bank to pay the bills tomorrow.

Just enough for today. Which I have, with thanks and praise to God and my ex-husband.

So I stopped thinking about what I could GET, for free or otherwise. Instead, the question becomes, "How can I reduce my costs of living to as near zero as I can get?"

For some things, I may be looking at getting stuff for free, or trading stuff I have but don't want or need for stuff I want and/or need. Or re-purposing stuff I already have but don't use or need into something a little more useful. Or simply reviewing the need or want and figuring out if I really did need or want what I think I did.

Once I changed the question, answers started appearing if by magic. I got a book from the library about home organization that's so clear and simple even I can do it. The author starts at the entry way, and says that there are five things every entry must have, including a "landing strip" for keys, wallets, purses, bills, etc. I don't have one--I use the kitchen counter, which is awkward when I need to wash dishes (which I do at least once a week...).

I also got a book about sewing simple gifts, and one of the projects is a hanging with pockets that's so simple that even I could do it. I thought about adding a valence at the top with curtain hooks facing out to hang keys on (that courtesy of a book on sewing simple curtains I read a short wile ago), and voila! I will post a picture of my "landing strip/wall art" when it's done and hanging up. And the good part is, it will cost me some time, but I have all of the fabric and notions I need to make the thing.

I needed a fruit bowl that would go with my kitchen. I have newsprint, flour and water in abundance. I'll take a picture of the paper mache bowl when it's done...

(And did I mention that of all the free things most of us have access to, the public library system has to be at the top of the list, value-wise?)

I also realized that I need to give at least as much as I get. I'm not emotionally cut out to be a freeloader, and even though I'm providing real value to society by keeping my son out of a group home, I need to do more than just line up at the food bank. I need to give back.

So I thought about what I have. My record player is broken (thanks to said autistic son), so the records are being offered up on the altar of Kijiji (actually, I just checked my email and am arranging pick up as I type this...). The old, broken washing machine went just as fast, and will be gone from the house by tomorrow at this time, hopefully. These things are of real value to someone else, and worth less than nothing to me, due to the space they take up.

In return, a few months ago, I got a six-year-old washer and dryer set from someone who had upgraded their appliances. All I had to do was talk a friend into loaning me his van to pick it up. (And when the van broke down on the 401, who did he call for a ride home? Not the taxi company, that's for sure...) I also got a good used computer, which has been re-homed at my ex's school.

This fall, I'll be looking at my free time, too. I already do some volunteer work, but there's room for a bit more, especially if I can find something my son and I can do together.

It's not quite a return to the barter economy--I'm not giving directly to the person who's giving to me, but to someone else. And there is a place for money. But the real skill is in knowing when to give and get for free, and when to pay or charge.


DearHelenHartman said...

Wonderful thoughts. Keep at it, keep talking about what you're doing. Find like-minded folks (find people blogging about faith, life changes, autism, living on less) in the blogosphere, follow and comment, they will do the same and in time, you may well find you can supplement your income with online means.

Ruth Cooke said...

Thanks for the comments, Helen. I'm working at it... :)

That's really my hope--to make some money writing books on those topics, as well as fantasy and science fiction. But I have to write, first!

Dave Walker said...
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