“We Can’t Live On What We’ve Got”

The odd thing about when we get to the point of saying that we absolutely can’t, is that we can. Somehow, we always do. Yes, You Can poster by Steve Henderson, based upon Dream Catcher

Admit it. You’ve said this — to yourself, to God, but probably not to your soul mate, because it really wouldn’t go over well:

“I don’t know how we’re going to survive on what we’re making. We need more money, but I just don’t see how.”

Or a variation on the theme.

I was talking with a woman the other day who expressed a similar sentiment, and it reminded me of, well, me, several years ago, when I slammed the budget book down on the Dead Cat Table (most people call it a buffet, but an unfortunately geriatric family cat died on top of it and the name stuck) and told, er, sort of shouted at, God,

“That’s it! We need more money. You’ve just got to do something.”

Two weeks later my husband got the pink slip.

It’s not like it wasn’t a surprise; the company had been making tummy rumblings for years and we knew that our day of being expelled would someday arrive. It’s just that you always tend to think that someday is permanently in the future.

Because there was one decent person in management, my husband received a generous severance package, and because we have never, ever lived on what we make (which has always been moderate, incidentally), we had savings set away.

When you’re in survival mode, you sail a bit along the current and see where it takes you each day. Autumn Sail, original painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas

That’s the good news. The bad news is that what we were living on before — the amount I, um, mentioned to God — was significantly more than what we were budgeting ourselves to live on now, through a time of uncertainty that had no clear, foreseeable end.

More good news: we made it, on significantly less, because we had to. We were in what I call Survival Mode, which means that you cut every single unnecessary expenditure because the alternative is not particularly pretty.

Many people who want to save money, however, aren’t in Survival Mode (thankfully), but because they’re not, the steps they take to save money aren’t quite so brutal. They don’t have to be. But this gentle approach may not result in what these people are looking to do: save money, significantly.

So let’s pretend, for a moment, that you are in Survival Mode, and consider what you need to do to make your resources stretch further:

  1. Question every single expenditure for its necessity. Sure, I know you can afford the pizza, but if you were in Survival Mode, you wouldn’t buy it Tuesday. Nor the coffee on Wednesday. Nor the cute flip flops on Thursday. These things add up. Stop buying stuff. If we stopped right here, this would be enough to practice on for months.
  2. Stay out of the stores and stop reading the ads. If you don’t see it, you won’t be tempted.
  3. Seek out free or cheap. Let people know you’ll take their cast offs; scour yard sales; haunt second hand stores. But remember point number one — buy it only if you need it.
  4. If you don’t know how to cook, learn. Eat in season; wean yourself from boxed food; and simplify your palate.
  5. Turn off the lights; don’t let the water run; wear a sweater if it’s cold; turn on a fan before you resort to the air conditioner. Cable TV? This is not a basic utility. Seriously.
  6. Look at what you have already, and use it. Unfinished craft project? Finish it before you start another. Jeans torn at the knee? Make cutoffs; they’re coming back into fashion. Old, ugly TV that still works? Don’t replace it yet. We have far more resources than we think we do.
Even when times are tough, there is always brightness and light, somewhere, in our world. Little Angel Bright, original oil painting and signed limited edition print by Steve Henderson

Saving money is more of an attitude than it is a series of tricks and tips, and it all begins by asking ourselves one, double faceted question:

Do I really really need this, and can I do without it?

As this is the essential Survival Mode question, it comes with a caution: saving money taken to its extreme results in uber frugality, or cheapness. While it’s important learn to live on less, cutting everything to the bone, all the time, decreases the joy that money can, and does, add to life.

So while you can teach yourself how to live on less by pretending that you have no choice, when you do have a choice, don’t take things too far. Be thankful for the resources you have been given, and use them wisely. Don’t feel guilty when you indulge, but don’t indulge to the point that it feels normal.

Available in paperback and digital formats at Amazon.com

Saving money is a lifestyle, and we customize what we do according to what works for us as individuals and families. My book, Live Happily on Less — 52 Ideas to Renovate Your Life and Lifestyle, walks you through the real, sustainable changes that you can make that will work for you.

All of the fine art in my articles is by Steve Henderson. His work is available in all price ranges, so if you find something that you like, there is a way that you can own it:

Manufacturers and retailers — license Steve’s work through Art Licensing

This article is linked to The Chicken Chick, My Joy Filled Life, Alderberry Hill, Mop It up Monday, Tough Cookie Mama, Teaching What Is Good, Memories by the Mile, Coastal Charm, Growing Home, Walking Redeemed, Intentionally Domestic, Hope in Every Season, Raising Homemakers, Holistic Squid, Mama BZZ, Kelly the Kitchen Kop, Frugally Sustainable, Adorned from Above, Thankful Thursday, Live Laugh Rowe, We Are That Family, Tasty Traditions, All Our Days, Happy and Blessed Home, From the Farm, Bible Love Notes, A Peek into My Paradise, The Thriftiness Miss, Our Heritage of Health, Small Footprint Family, Friday Flash Blog, Oh So Amelia, Little House in the Suburbs, Nourishing Joy, Natural Living Mama, Butter Believer, A Blossoming Life, The Prairie Homestead, Moms the Word,

This article was originally published on ThoughtfulWomen.org.

18 Responses

  1. Mia

    Very good advice about survival mode, I have lived like that all my life (whether I needed to or not) because it just made sense to me, and when the time came and we were incomeless, I really didn’t have to do anything different, I even started thinking up new ideas on saving and couldn’t come up with anything new, needless to say this skill saved my sanity, and if I really got the urge to spend I’d go to goodwill, as for cooking, I always cooked, but since husband was now home, he became the cook, it gave him something to concentrate on instead of sulking, and feeling bad.

    1. Mia — you are unusual for our society, but I imagine that stress has been less for you than it could have been. Obviously, income-less is always stressful, but I can’t imagine how people go into it with a mountain of debt on their backs.

      I hope that your husband finds enjoyment in cooking — and that he’s good at it! All throughout history, until now, individual homes lived with the skill of their individual cook, but now, so many people don’t know what that’s like because they’re all eating out of, and thinking out of, the same box!

      I wish you and yours a beautiful, stress-free weekend. — Carolyn

  2. Katrina

    I’m at the other end of the age spectrum and watch friends who have bought and bought and bought now having to downsize their homes. It isn’t fun to turn off the acquisition habit and get rid of the accumulation of years of self-indulgence. They worry and moan about what to do with it all: many sets of dishes, knick-knacks, clothes, fancy furniture. It is like they are having to part with children. Once the “ridding” is finished and they have some junk-free time, they agree that all the “stuff” was a burden, not a joy.

    1. Hi, Katrina — I’m glad that they are unburdening themselves, and not trying to hard to hang on to something that makes them stressed and unhappy.

      I talked with someone having a yard sale the other day, and I was so, so glad that I wasn’t doing one of these things. We’ve done one once, and we let people name whatever price they wanted. At the end of the day, we had only one requirement — “If you’re buying something, you must take something, for free, in additional to what you buy. Doesn’t matter what it is, just take it.” We didn’t box up anything for later, which was our goal.

      It’s hard to get rid of that stuff, but I’ve found the easiest way is to find someone who needs it — either an individual person or a used store or charity — and give it away. So liberating to be free of the stuff, and a good feeling to know that good things will be used and welcomed by someone who needs it.

  3. Katiehomemaker

    Your article came to me on the exact day I needed to hear this. Thank you! NOT HAVING MONEY STINKS! I am getting ready to begin a new year of homeschooling our two girls, and just got a job offer from a friend. I am going to turn it down because I really think our school year would suffer and I would be was too stressed. I have been a stay at home mom for years. When your kids are little, everybody sees it as cute and idyllic for you to be at home, but as your kids get older (ours are 10 and 13), the eyebrows raise a little bit and people stop asking you about work or what you do. It has been extremely imporatant to me to find friends who do what I do. It has helped a lot, and your article was like a dose of vitamins on the perfect day. Thanks!

    1. Hello, Katie — your observations are astute ones. Even within the community of people who accept and embrace moms being at home, there is a perceived age window of appropriateness for women to stay home with their kids, even when they are homeschooling them. I know a number of women whose husbands, unfortunately, are the driving force pushing them out of the home and into the office or retail store, because the woman is seen as more of an extra income generator than she is as a resource who can make the existing income do more and better.

      Other families, as you observe, are a peer pressure force — you’d think that by the time we were out of junior high, we would be immune to these forces, but our society is increasingly driven by a push toward conformity and complacency. In another post, you mention church (as a place to pick up quilt scraps and other extra oddments that people have hanging around) — it’s important to recognize that the church environment can be one of the most demanding, when it comes to uniformity and conformity. Sadly, many churches are NOT places where people can be uniquely individual, questing, questioning people — they can, up to a point, but when they cross the line, they are quickly nudged back to it.

      In the days when we participated in an organized church, we were always odd man out — literally. Not choosing to participate in this theoretically optional activity or that, we were regularly ostracized from the group, until we realized — either we could follow Christ, or the group — the combination, at least with the options we had available in our region — wasn’t an option.

      So whether you’re dealing with family, friends, secular or religious — you have to figure out what you believe in, what works uniquely for your situation and your family, and stand up for it. Otherwise you get stomped on. — Carolyn

  4. Katiehomemaker

    ps-I think we arsty-crafty people are really fortunate in ways, because yes, certain items can be expensive, but just mention to one person at church that you just learned to knit or quilt, and you will nine times out of ten find BAGS of free stuff on your front door step. Because EVERYBODY has too much stuff! What a blessing that can be!

    1. Thank you — and I did hop by, on Tuesday, but the hop was closed. Is it open for entries only on Sunday? That’s my shutdown, no computer day, because I’m on the thing all week. — Carolyn

  5. This is excellent! We need to hit survival mode before it is ever a real battle to survive. Thanks for the inspiration and for linking up again last week!

  6. Can I add a link on my blog to your page? I love what you’ve put together. #3 really stands out to me!! I love doing that!

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    1. Yes, Amber, you most certainly may, and I thank you very much for doing so.

      The hardest thing about saving money is NOT buying things. It’s not that we don’t buy stuff — it’s that we think carefully before we do. As much as I enjoy saving money, I haven’t stopped buying yarn — and I buy the good stuff, with silk or cashmere or merino in it, not the fluff in the boxstores. But because I don’t buy a lot of random stuff that I’ll wind up throwing away — yarn or otherwise — I have the money to invest in the quality stuff that will last, and will satisfy.

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