Random (but not really)

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Time or Money

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about work and time and poverty.

That would be because I’m currently not working. (Short version: last year this time I was physically ill from the way my supervisor bullied me, so I quit, because I didn’t deserve to be treated that way.)

I was terrified by that decision, but almost immediately my health issues ceased, so I realized I’d made the right choice, and tried not to worry about money.

Over the spring and summer I worked for several months through a staffing agency, but instead of taking a permanent position that wouldn’t make me happy in the long run, I decided to go back to job hunting. However, that’s not the point of this.

A couple months into not working I discovered something: Except when we spent money on expensive items I was using for house projects (I re-protected our wood floors and the repaired, re-protected, and recovered the kitchen chairs), our expenses remained below our income.

I tend to be frugal with money, but I was still surprised that we weren’t hemorrhaging money. I mean, we no longer had almost half our previous income, so how we were keeping our heads above water?

After a lot of thought, I realized it came down to multiple things.

1. I’ve spent the last decade paying off debts and building up our savings.

Currently, the only debt we have is our mortgage. All student loans are paid off, the car is paid off, we have no outstanding credit card debt. This means that not only do we have a cushion, but also that the only money that has to go out each month is for the mortgage and utilities and necessities.

2. We have only one car, it is relatively new, and we have done regular maintenance on it.

When we purchased our car we focused on reliability and gas mileage, because I’ve owned unreliable cars before and I hated them. HATED them. This means that we have escaped the unexpected expenses that come with a car that breaks down, as well as the related problem of trying to finagle rides while the car is in the shop and all that time suck. (We get our car maintenance at a place within walking distance of both our house and Michael’s work. The car gets dropped off on his way to work, and picked up on his way home. Basically: no time lost.)

3. We’ve replaced every single appliance in our house since we bought it.

All those unexpected expenses of a broken furnace or washing machine have already happened. It also means that the new appliances are more energy-efficient than the old, so they cost less to run.

4. Because I am not working, I have time to bake and cook; This has decreased our food bill far more than I ever would have expected.

One reason is we no longer have days where we both come home from work and neither of us wants to make dinner. Eating at home is far cheaper than going out to eat, of course, but on top of that, buying ingredients is cheaper than buying prepared items. I’ve also had lots of time to freeze and can fruits and vegetables from the Farmers Market (I did this before, but it did take part or all of a weekend). All of which means that our food bill is much much less than it had been.

It also means that I’ve had time to expand my repertoire in the kitchen, and to get more recipes down pat, so if I don’t want to spend much time cooking, I have multiple recipes that require little time and effort, and come together quickly because I’m familiar with them. All of which means that I’m making a wider variety of dinners, which means I don’t want to go out to eat as much, since I haven’t had the same meals in rotation for a month (or year). Realizing that I can make something more delicious than I’d get at most restaurants is even further encouragement to cook, so it’s a self-rewarding cycle.

All which brings me to my point: Poverty isn’t laziness.

We can get by with less money because I have the time to do things that save money in the long run. If we were making the same amount of money and both of us were working, it would be a struggle to make ends meet, because I would no longer have the time to cook and take care of house maintenance.

But more importantly, we can get by with less money because I’m starting from a far more secure place than most people: We have a reliable car. We have savings. Our monthly bills are low because we have energy efficient appliances, a fuel efficient car, and a cheap mortgage.

Terry Pratchett of course said all this much more elegantly in Men at Arms:

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of okay for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. These were the kinds of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years time, when a poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

We don’t have to keep repairing our car. We don’t have to keep repairing or replacing broken appliances. We don’t have to spend a lot of money on gas, because we were able to purchase a fuel-efficient car. We don’t have high utility bills, because we were able to purchase energy-efficient appliances.

We don’t have to keep buying new boots.

This is why the myth of the lazy poor outrages me so very much.

I have lived struggling to make ends meet before. Where the car breaking down not only meant a struggle to come up with the money but also time wasted trying to get around without a car. Where I had to work an exhausting job, with a schedule that changed from week to week, where my sleep patterns were constantly interrupted and I rarely get two days off in a row. And heaven forbid I get sick.

Instead, I am in a place where I spent money in the past so I could save money in the future.

Where I have the time to spend less money.

I know precisely how lucky I am to be in the situation I am and it’s not because I’m more moral or smarter or less lazy. It’s because I got lucky.

And for this, I am thankful every single day.

Powered by WordPress

books main pictures cats e-mail