Many of us are caught in the precarious position of being intellectually aware that we are heading into a worsening economy with signs of a looming global food crisis, and feel as though we must simplify or streamline our lifestyle to prepare for possible disruptions in our standard of living. In a world where consumption has become a sport, you may actually find it more satisfying to shed some material weight. Even if your financial situation is not too dire, it is still a sensible idea to keep preparedness in mind.
An increasing segment of the population is already feeling the pinch from losing a job, while the cost of living continues to increase. This group has no choice but to get creative in the way they manage their limited resources for optimal survival. The key to becoming a content minimalist/survivalist is to develop the most efficient ways to provide for basic necessities. The goal is simple: reduce your daily, weekly, and monthly expenses without giving up items that keep you sane.
We can look at the extreme examples like The Moneyless Man, Mark Boyle, for inspiration. His book is an essential guide into the techniques, as well as the lifestyle that has enabled him to live completely and happily off the grid, without money, for more than 2 years. His radical path is not one that many people would choose, however he proves that you can survive with very little money if that is your goal.
Outlined below are some relatively painless and often rewarding tips to survive hard times on a shoestring, or to free up additional funds for discretionary spending.
Turn Off the TV: Why does anyone with an Internet connection still pay for TV service? You can get your news and sports fix, and find all of your favorite movies and shows online. The rest is just expensive noise. Join the growing trend and cut out your paid TV service. You’ll find the financial savings is just a minor part of the benefits to unplugging. If you absolutely need to watch your favorite team’s important games, you may have to get to know your neighbors or socialize at a friend’s house.
Make Your Own: With the TV now turned off, we’ll have plenty of time to produce things we would normally purchase. Our modern world of conveniences has stripped much of our knowledge of how to support ourselves. One of the costliest and least healthy areas of our daily lives are cleaning and personal care products. Using very basic ingredients you can minimize most toxic chemicals in your household, as well as save money for items that help optimize your simplicity. Personal care products such as soap, shampoo, and deodorant are simple and cheap to make at home. Three ingredients to keep on hand; baking soda, distilled vinegar, and Dr. Bronners.
Minimize Transportation: Cars are one the most expensive items we think we need to be functional or happy. They’ve also become one of those staple luxury items that shows your status in society. Let this illusion go; it’s far more important to have your simplicity and the extra savings. Understandably, personal vehicles are necessary in many areas that have inadequate or no public transportation, and cars also represent a tool of trade, as well as personal freedom. But if your family has multiple cars, consider if it is feasible to eliminate one of them. If not, budget and plan wisely for limiting all costs related to the car; fuel, insurance, maintenance, etc.
Reduce Household Energy Use: Conserving energy is one of the most obvious ways to reduce monthly bills. The topic has been written about and promoted for years. You already know the easy stuff like turning off lights, turning the hot-water heater down or off when not in use. But now it’s finally time to get conscious of your precise energy use and begin to turn the meter back using all tactics. Look into supplementing with solar power or other alternative sources to become as self-sufficient as possible.
Produce Your Own Food: The most important step that anyone can take, immediately, is to design a simple garden. With 15% to 20% of the average household budget spent on food, and prices skyrocketing everyday, discovering ways to prepare for food inflation is vital to survival. A low-cost way of producing food off-the-grid is always a great investment no matter the economic conditions. Nearly everyone can engage in some level of food production to save money and increase independence.
Boycott Big Box Stores: There’s a belief that big box stores like Wal-Mart provide the only option available to those on a tight budget who need to get cheap items. Although Wal-Mart does indeed sell many items at low prices, a recent study shows that Wal-Mart stores have repeatedly destabilized the economy of local communities where they are located. Therefore, we should consider the larger picture and support small, local businesses in our quest for simplicity. We also should do our best to avoid frivolous boredom shopping altogether, which big box stores encourage, and resist our culture’s tendency to to make unnecessary impulse purchases based solely on an item’s “special” price.
Buy Local: If we hope to restore prosperity to our communities, and ourselves, we can start by supporting truly local producers instead of mega-corporations. In many cases you’ll find that essential items like food, used tools, and other items can be found far cheaper than at big box stores — if not free. You can begin giving true support to your local community, while obtaining healthier food, by searching for farmers markets and family farms close to where you live. Local Harvest has a database that can be searched by zip code. By connecting with a local farmer, you can obtain healthier produce, often at a much lower cost, while strengthening your local economy.
Foraging: We should re-learn the ability to forage. There is no shame in foraging and many items can be found in our throw-away culture. Even if you can afford to buy something new, discovering a vintage used item for less, or perhaps free, is something to be extremely proud of. This isn’t middle school anymore where you must have shiny new brand name items to be accepted. Your current friends won’t disown you for being more frugal. In fact, when they see your pride of accomplishment on an amazing deal or find, they will likely be envious. As they say, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Happy hunting!
Freecycle Bartering: Beyond the “green” trappings of the Freecycle Movement lies the heart of the best survival technique of all: cooperation. According to Recycling Group Finder, there are nearly 5,000 groups with over 8 million members in 85 countries looking to trade or give away items that are otherwise may be destined for the landfill. On Mark Boyle’s website, Just For The Love of It, he has a wealth of resources to live within what he has termed the Freeconomy. Here you can meet people, learn skills, trade tools and survival items, and even write about your own experiences to help educate others.
Do it Yourself: If you absolutely must have your nails manicured or get frequent haircuts, why not do them yourself? Is it that important to have a “professionally” groomed hairdo? Determine what services that you pay for that can be done yourself. Mow your own lawn, wash your own car and change your own oil; hand wash your dishes instead of piling them into the dishwasher; and learn other new skills for increased self-sufficiency.