I have a confession to make...I've always made above the average income for most Americans, and althought we weren't wealthy, we had alot of financial freedom that many families don't have. Over the years, my husband and I worked hard to pay off most of our major purchases, and then we spent most of the rest. After all the kids were grown with families of their own, we worried less about finances and spent more freely. I admit, we had become accustomed to pretty much buying whatever we wanted, like spending $175 a month on just t.v. and internet, to going to the store for anything we decided we wanted to eat if we hadn't grown it or didn't already have it in our packed pantry, going out to eat whenever we wanted, not really denying ourselves much of anything.
I lost my job last week, and it was very much a surprise. We soon realized our income would essentially be one third of what we were accustomed to and the idea of being self sustaining took on a new importance. Suddenly we needed to think very carefully about everything we spend, every excess in our lives, and everything we can do for ourselves to be frugal. We are probably better prepared for that than alot of people who find themselves suddenly without an income source. We own a home outright in Kentucky that costs very little to live in energy and tax wise. We have a mortgage on another house in Indiana that costs a bit more to keep going. The utilities for that house have increased over the years but we did get the property taxes cut in half due to living in a blighted area. All of our vehicles are paid for, and we have no credit card debt. We do owe the IRS some money, but have been on a payment plan with them for almost two years and have no worries there.
For all of my adult life, I've always had a garden, feeding my family at least partly with what we could provide for ourselves. Every year I preserve as much of our harvest as possible by canning, freezing and dehydrating our excess produce. But I've never been in a position where doing so might be the difference between whether I could eat or not. I never had to really choose between paying the light bill and buying food. I've decided to write about our experiences as we embark on this new journey of sustainability. No more will it be a casual approach to frugality and feeding ourselves. Now it is a necessity of life!
I'm fortunate that my grandparents survived raising a family during the Great Depression. They had six children; four girls and two boys. They learned how to stretch a dollar and it became a way of life for them. Even when times were better while I was growing up in the 60's and 70's, they continued their frugal ways. Throughout my childhood while my mother worked, my grandparents taught me all the skills needed to sustain myself because that is the way they lived. Never throw anything away, instead, figure out how to re-fashion it to make something useful. For example, every year all of the aunts would clean out kids' closets and bring all the clothes that didn't fit anyone anymore to Grandma's Rummage. Grandma went through and tagged everything, and then there would be the annual rummage sale, complete with advertisement in the local newspaper. All sorts of household items no longer needed by the owner but useful to someone else, dishes, planters, chicken feeders, rolls of wire, old fishing poles, baskets, kitchen gadgets, old furniture, books, games and tools would find their way to the garage for Rummage Sale week. When it was over, whatever clothing didn't sell would be meticulously cut apart by Grandma, carefully salvaging buttons, zippers, snaps and all of the fabric. The fabric would be neatly folded and stored in plastic crates until Grandma started making quilts again in the fall, or sometimes braided or rag rugs. The zippers, buttons and snaps would be sorted and saved for use on other garments later on. My grandparents gave me the incredible gift of knowing how to "make-do" without me even knowing I was learning.
Today I am grateful that my childhood was spent on my grandparent's farm, tending to living things and understanding more about nature than I ever would have growing up in another environment.
So this year, like other years, I have already begun the work of growing much of our food. I have 24 heirloom tomato plants, 18 broccoli plants, 7 cabbage and 8 collard plants all started from seed and lovingly cared for so that I can later transplant them into our garden. I have 25 pepper plants of various types started. In the garden, we already have planted radishes, lettuce, Swiss Chard, beets and turnips. Our asparagus is starting to sprout. This year each little green shoot I see is so much more important to me, and I realize what a gift each plant is.
In spite of being unemployed now, I still have great hope and great expectations about what this next chapter in our lives will be. If we have food and shelter and each other, I think we'll be just fine.