Depression-era planning for today and tomorrow

Carisbike

Drop your second car in favor of a bike and lose weight, stay healthy, save money and run errands at the same time! Photo: M a r t i n M o n t i g e l l i via Flickr.

The debt debate out of Washington exhibited many qualities. But sanity wasn’t among them.

In fact, the smart money says that enacting the spending cuts called for in the deal between President Obama and Congressional Republicans will pull money from the economy, kill jobs, stop orders for goods and otherwise hamstring an already flogged economy. At the same time, the deal’s failure to call for any new source of revenue basically constituted the recipe for a new Great Depression circa 2012. One doubts this is what the Mayans meant when their calendar was formed, but it’s ominous nonetheless.

Basically, Washington just signaled what those of us in the peak oil aware world already knew: the end of growth is here. The way to cope is to cut household spending and the way to make money is to look to different industries, particularly those that are relocalized.

In order to prepare for the coming and irreversible decline in the American economy, I recommend that you sit down with yourself, your spouse or partner and carve out a money conservation plan that will help you weather the change a little less painfully. The major areas to consider are:

  • Energy
  • Food
  • Personal expenses
  • Household expenses

A plan that works for you

When doing this, consider the key categories in each of these areas and then run through them based upon your current lifestyle, looking at places you can cut back to conserve cash. Also look at ways to invest money, such as insulation around the house, or a new bike, that in the end can save you money. It’s all very personal to you, your family, and how you live.

Perhaps you’re a spreadsheet type of gal, honing in on every detail and going so far as writing a budget seeking to cut, say 25% of expenses overall. If that’s your style, go for it. What a fantastic challenge! Make it as detailed as you like, and give yourself metrics to gauge your success. Then, when you reach your goal, reward yourself with something that decreases your costs even more, like building a cold frame for winter veggies.

Or maybe you’re more an intuitive type, preferring to sketch out the areas you need to consider, think about them, and begin to apply behavioral changes through ramping up your awareness around the house and when shopping. When you start to see a reduction in costs and savings pocketed, reward yourself with a celebration — throw a potluck for your women friends and share the cost-cutting plan. Everyone is trying to stretch their dollar these days, so we might as well be open about it and share ideas!

Whatever works for your personal style is what you should do. But by all means, do it! 

Energy

On energy you’ll want to consider heating and cooling cost; appliance expenses, especially cutting dryer use, using power strips, and unplugging anything that has a stand-by mode. Also transportation, including commutes, considering how you might carpool, use public transit, limit errands to when you’re doing multiple things, and substituting biking and walking whenever possible. Gone will be the “joy ride” or aimless travel.

Share your ideas for energy cost cutting in the comments field below.

Food

You’ll want to look at cooking more meals at home, planning potlucks, attending inexpensive church or school dinners, and the cost of pre-packaged processed foods on your budget’s bottom line. Not to mention your bottom’s bottom line!

“You are what you eat” suggests that food as a budget item affects in a big way healthcare as a budget item.

Also consider how much can be grown at home in all seasons, especially produce that you can swap. And if not at home, you can grow fruits and vegetables in your community garden.

You’ll want to be honest about how much you eat out, and why. This is one of a family’s biggest budgetary sucks. Get this under control, and much else falls into place.

Also look at canning and food preservation, along with making double batches of soups, lasagnes, casseroles and other foods that can be frozen (your freezer is likely running anyway) to cut down on the time spent cooking, giving you the convenience of frozen foods without the expense, preservatives and calories associated with processed versions. You might try reheating things this way.

What are your ideas for food expense cost cutting?

Personal expenses

Personal expenses include everything from shaving cream to hair cuts to gifts to entertainment to clothing to travel and vacations to shopping from boredom and manufactured desire or a sense of inadequacy. Drop the Netflix expense and try the library for books and DVDs. On clothes, do almost all hand-me-downs and second hand for kids and consider trades for you and your spouse.

This line item also includes health care, whether in the form of insurance, deductibles and prescriptions or gym memberships, seeing a counselor/acupuncturist/massage therapist; buying herbal teas and homeopathic remedies or attending retreats and seminars.

File education under this one, too. Perhaps it’s child care, private school or college for your kids. Or professional development, software costs or memberships. Do you need these expenses? Can you substitute on-the-job training, apprenticeships or bartering to get the knowledge? Will a career you wish to enter even be viable as the economy shrinks back? What is a better investment relative to those careers that will be on the rise?

How can you stretch a dollar further? Substitute DIY approaches for external expenses? Or cut costs for kids and luxuries that have morphed into necessities? I’m sure you’ve got ideas for cutting personal expenses so please post them below.

Household expenses

So much of what we do today is based on the idea of living like a king and throwing things away. One of the easiest ways to cut household expenses is to look at how much of your lifestyle depends on acting unconsci0usly, or on using things that are disposable.

Simply cutting out paper towels, plastic bags, and single-use items like single serve food and drink items and paper products for gatherings can save a lot for you, and for the larger energy/environment/climate equation. And all of this is totally painless.

Consider issues like decoration, seasonal expenses, and cleaning items or cleaning personnel. What can you do without and still enjoy your home and spaces? How can you add natural touches found in actual nature to celebrate the seasons? And how can you apply a little discipline and elbow grease to get the cleaning and chores done yourself or within the family?

The bottom line

There’s that bottom line again.

You can get more fit, be more engaged with life, have more fun, get closer to family, and save money all at the same time. Doing so in advance, through conscious choice, is always better than having it done for you because you got sideswiped by the unexpected.

We’ve entered the era of not only the end of growth, but also very possibly of serious decline. Don’t you be the one caught unawares. Budget now to win later.

–Lindsay Curren, Lindsay’s List

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About Lindsay Curren

Lindsay Curren has no intention of ending up the Scarlett O'Hara of the 21st century, dizzy and confused as neo-Rome burns. Instead, the Staunton, Virginia based writer, designer and high-heeled survivalist writes Lindsay's List, the women's conservation blog and edits Transition Voice, the online magazine on peak oil and the coming life of sweaty labor and, hopefully, nicer manners.

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