Although many people truly enjoy their jobs, more and more people are literally stuck in jobs that are neither satisfying or allow them to “get ahead”. In America, 25% of workers work more than 40 hours a week, and over 20% of them work at least 60 hours a week. That is far more than our ancestors worked in pre-industrial societies, where people had more time for leisure. There is an “opportunity cost” involved in working. When we are at work, it takes time away from building our own personal social capital doing the things we love to do: spending time with our children, families, leisure, reading, learning a new skill/hobby, etc. Even exercising and keeping ourselves fit becomes a challenge when we slave away 50 hours a week sandwiched between a daily commute of two hours to and from the workplace. That is close to half of an 168 week gone right there. Most workers have to work steadily until July to pay the taxes on their incomes alone. No wonder some people refer to this whole system as “wage slavery” — as there is little left over for “us”, even at the end of a lifetime of working.
The reality facing most of us within the current economic system in a post-industrial world, is that we have to work to earn wages, and we need wages in order to live. The positive aspects of this in times of economic prosperity are many: we have the money to buy whatever we want, eat whatever, move wherever, whenever we want, save, invest, etc. Money, in a sense buys us a measure of personal freedom. But when there is an economic slowdown in the economy, shortages of work and drops in incomes, all of our buying and spending habits necessarily become more restrictive.
The implications on our lifestyle, happiness and even self-identity is obvious, especially when so much of our inner happiness is tied to our ability to consume and spend, within an economic system that encourages one to consume and acquire debt. We are conditioned through our advertising, media and economics to correlate our personal freedom and self-identity with money and work. Consuming has become a patriotic “duty”. Our sense of self and even self-worth become tied to our possessions and our ability to possess. The more we collectively work and increase our purchasing power, the more we collectively drive up market values and the cost of living itself.
The catch is that in many cases, work can make even the most pleasant things challenging, boring or mundane when we are forced to do them 50 hours a week. I wonder how many of us would enjoy some of the most leisurely things we do, when forced to do them for someone else, on their terms for 50 hours a week? How can we then reclaim some of our autonomy and personal freedom, and work less, or even live without working?
In any event, all of us are at some time in the near future going to have to make the huge adjustment in our lifestyles — we consume far too much. Even though people laving within their means and spending less is bad for a capitalist economy, it is going to hit the fan soon enough. We cannot go on living beyond our means, as well as working even more than we already do at the expense of so many other vital aspects of our lives. Life is too short. No rich man on his deathbed ever second-guessed himself on whether he should have put in more time at the office! Learning to save money is key to a better quality of life. Living cheaply is all about learning to do with less. The equation is simple: not working + enough money to live = freedom.
How to Live Cheaply Without Working
- Reduce consumption. Living cheaply depends on buying less. This is the core factor in making living without working possible. All of us have become accustomed to consuming far too much, eating far too much. Do we really need all the things we spend on monthly. If we take stock of our monthly expenses, there is likely a lot of excess to be trimmed.
- Make a strict monthly budget. Itemize everything you buy in one month. Highlight all the things you can either do without, reduce, or replace inexpensively. Replace name brands with no-name brands, etc. With every purchase ask “do I really need this?” It is surprisingly easy to live without everything from paper towels to packaged foods.
- Cut your monthly utilities. Do we really need cable? A long time ago, we used to get about 10 channels or so over the air. Advertising alone paid for the broadcasters expenses! Then someone got the idea of taking all the sports and putting them on one “specialty” channel, all the movies on another “specialty” channel, all the talk shows on another “specialty” channel, etc etc. Now we pay for each channel individually — plus all the while still watching commercials! Again, someone is getting ahead here and it isn’t us. If you live close to big cities, you can receive several dozen HDTV channels for free over the air with a special antenna and TV receiver. As far as cable televison goes, most public libraries have great selections of DVD movies to borrow. Also learn to cut back on things that spike your hydro like air conditioning, etc. You can even do without paying for Internet access either by finding free WiFi zones like your public library or one by your home. Finding secured WiFi is an option too!
- Work for short periods. Work at as high paying a job as you can for short periods, say 6-9 months, saving every penny and living as frugally as possible. Then take a year off. Just repeating these cycles over and over again can greatly enhance your personal freedom to do new things, learn, travel, and enjoy life. Working for casual temp agencies might be a good idea. You can even combine the best of both worlds: travel and work at the same time by teaching TEFL abroad.
- Grow your own food. If you have any space in your yard, using it to grow vegetables can greatly reduce your grocery bill. People even are growing vegetables on the roofs their apartments with success. You don’t need as much space as you might think to grow vegetables. Adopting a vegetarian diet is one of the best things one can do to reduce their carbon footprint as well. Growing and eating locally frees one from the slavish dependence on the industrialized corporate food supply as well. Industrialized food supply has its dangers.
- Cook from scratch. Learning how to cook might sound like a daunting task to some, but with the extra time, you have by working less, blearing how to cook is key to better health and saving money. Sit down and plan your meals from week to week and cook some of them in bulk to free up even more time. Make large pots of stews, curries, casseroles, skillet meals etc, to free up even more time for leisure, which after all is the objective in living without working.
- Live with roommates. Living with others can cut your costs down to a few hundred a month. Living with several people in a house or large apartment reduces the cost of utilities, food, and adds a measure of security to your life as most of the time there will likely be someone home. Housesitting is another option, so is “couchsurfing” or even squatting.
- Get a bicycle. The best and most economical means of personal transportation, period. One can find a used bike on Craigslist for under 100 dollars, easily. It makes sense to buy a cheap one that you can easily replace too, with the rising trend of bicycle thefts. Having things one can afford to loose and replace also frees us from our “things”.
- Learn to scrounge. Freeganism is a growing social culture of people networking to share goods and services, and for good reasons. I know of lots of people that have furnished most of their apartments with good stuff they got by dumpster diving. Things like electronics, used computers and furniture are things you do not need to pay for, if you look at the “free” section of classified ads long enough. There are even lots of online sources for bartering goods and services. Learn to be a cheap bastard. Learn to never pay full price for anything. Learn to barter. Learn to do with less.
- All of these lifestyle changes empower us and enhance our personal freedoms and choices, while working for a living and marching to the beat of the employer’s drum pushes us in the other direction, making us overworked and more dependent on a cycle of over consumption. Living without working, or even working less gives us back control over our own lives that the vicious cycle of work-earn-spend-consume takes away.