One of the basic ideas in Permaculture is to reduce the need for an income. There are many reasons for this; if we don’t have to go to work every day we consume less, we have more free time to spend with our family and friends, to build community. We also don’t contribute as much to unethical tax-spending, we contribute less to an unethical monetary system if we have less need for money, and we have more time to volunteer for community work etc.
When I stopped working we cut away an income that was corresponding to buying a small car every year. Back then we were big time consumers – two engineers with high incomes, big apartment etc. etc. We had a big car, ate take-away many times a week, spend a lot of money on clothes, gadgets, vacations etc. Some of these things simply just had to go if we were to have me stay at home. I was easy to make these cuts – as soon as we made it known that we would accept 2nd hand clothes, the bags of clothes started pouring in through the door, since I was no longer stressed out of my wits cooking from scratch was so much easier, and the amount of take-away days plummeted to almost zero. We took fewer and cheaper vacations etc. etc.
But the BIG expenses were still there – we still had the car (ask my husband about his relationship to public transportation – not very permie there 😉 ), we still had the mortgage, we didn’t grow food, we used immense amounts of money on electricity and heating (we lived in Denmark). But with one income (albeit a big one) we were living very very comfortably.
Now we are trying to reduce the need for money even more. The primary reason of this is to build resilience: In Rich Dad/Poor Dad – Robert T. Kiyosaki defines wealth as the period of time you would be able to sustain your current lifestyle if you stopped working tomorrow. And that has at least as much to do with how much you spend as it has with how much you earn and put away. When you get to a place where you make more than you spend, that is when you have a surplus – which in some interpretations is where the third ethic of permaculture comes in “return the surplus”, ie. you can reinvest in people care and earth care.
My in-laws were extremely frugal in their lives – it was the way they were raised. This frugality has enabled us to own the house we now live in 100% in a very short time. This eliminates the mortgage-payment or rent – which were 10.000 dkr/month (ca. €1300) when we lived in Denmark and €750/month when we lived down in the village in our rented house. To most people, that is approximately what they earn after taxes… Not long ago in our culture, having a mortgage wasn’t the norm. One of my friends told me that it used to be the norm in Spain, that when people got married, their wedding present would be their first house. These days parents will say with pride “I will leave nothing for you, I will have spent it all!” The reason they are proud is of course that they know that their kids are strong enough to take care of themselves, but the down side to this thinking is, that most couples need two incomes to pay off a mortgage in their younger years, when they actually need to have time to establish their family, and spend time with their kids. Imagine starting off your life together not owing anyone a dime! This is what my in-laws have given us the opportunity to experience, and we are trying very hard to spend the present in the manner and spirit it was given. It means that should Marcus lose his job tomorrow, we would be able to get by even if he doesn’t receive unemployment benefits, and even if he can’t find a job immediately.
Next up is electricity and heating. Once we have the money we will install solar panels, and when that is done, we will no longer have any expenses for electricity – which right now is one of our big expenses as the house is off-grid and we use a generator to power it up (which has in turn taught us to think about when and why we use electricity).
Heating is too, as there is not heat source in the house, and we are learning that indeed a stone house is cold in the winter in Andalusia – we need heating, even if it is just a little bit of it. Right now we have a gas stove, but since we have some 200 olive trees that need pruning once in a while anyway, we will build one or two rocket mass stoves: One in either end of the house (I know that if the house was smaller, we could make do with one – but that is just not us).
The last really big expense on our budget is food, and since we value high quality food, it is a big expense – we find it very very difficult to cut costs here without feeling deprived. This means that growing our own food is number one on our list for next year – that is the project we will focus on. We will start out with growing the vegetables and fruits we eat most of – potatoes, oranges, peppers etc, then eggs and meat, hopefully rabbits, and a few pigs.
Bit by bit we should be able to sell the surplus, but being able to feed your own family is like printing your own money: It is tax-free, inflation free – and most importantly free of pesticides, penicillin, MRSE-bacteria etc.
What would your life be like if you did not have to pay a mortgage, electricity, heating or food? Can you imagine how much freedom you would have, to design your life just like you wanted it? If someone gave you the opportunity to get that tomorrow, what would you do?