A typical trip to our farmers’ market in the summer used to involve me planning to spend twenty dollars and leaving sixty dollars poorer. I brought home giant, reusable totes full of summer’s bounty: juicy tomatoes, other-worldy cucumbers, huge bunches of purple kale, cauliflower in every color. Throw in the odd half-pound of locally-made cheese and a grass-fed steak for dinner and it wasn’t hard to go over budget. If I did all my shopping at the farmers’ market we would never have any money. (It doesn’t help that Trader Joe’s and Baby Gap are a stone’s-throw from the market).
We try to be pretty careful with our money. Neither of us want Stephen to work more than necessary, and we would both prefer that I stay home with the babies for the time being. I’d like to teach music lessons once we’re a little more settled in a particular location, and maybe join a local orchestra, but in general, unless you live near a family member willing to babysit, there aren’t many jobs that allow a parent to work part-time without paying more than they earn in childcare.
And anyway, who wants to? Ok, ok, I am aware that some money is generally necessary to function in our country. I’m not sitting here wishing we lived in a log-cabin in Wisconsin on zero-income. But we have got to get away from the idea that the only work that matters is paid work. We all acknowledge that spending money doesn’t make us happy, yet we tend to still define ourselves by our money-making pursuits.
Erica over at Northwest Edibles (one of my favorite blogs) coined the term “negabucks” as a way to quantify the value of work done to improve life quality without spending money. I think this is a brilliant idea. I don’t (currently) work, but I can do a lot to reduce our spending while bettering our lives.
And so we come back to those juicy tomatoes. They are the biggest reason I decided to garden last year. I cannot resist a fresh summer tomato. They are hardly the same creature as the hard, orange, Florida-grown supermarket offerings. And they are EXPENSIVE at the farmers’ market. So I grew tomatoes. Did it save me money? Probably not really, if you figure you can buy canned tomatoes for fifty cents a pound. But man, were my tomatoes delicious.
Gardening had other rewards as well. I spent time outdoors. I lost a ton of weight walking the two miles to my garden every couple days. I learned the joy of nurturing a tiny seed into something dinner-worthy. Laila ate pounds of cherry tomatoes weekly, often plucking them from the vine herself. She got to see nature in action. The bowls of tomatoes beautified our home and, yes, improved our meals. I could go on and on.
We do a lot of things ourselves around here (though we’re not homesteaders by any stretch). I bake most of our bread (and because I am lazy, this has resulted in us eating much less bread than we normally would, which is supposed to be better for one’s health anyway). Stephen cures bacon and changes the oil in our cars. We look around for opportunities to learn new skills and save money at the same time.
We are lucky in this country, because we don’t have to live this way. I am grateful that life doesn’t demand I spend my days hoeing corn, scrubbing clothes, and chopping firewood. I can focus on the things I like to do, because I like to do them and because they make our lives better. This isn’t any kind of moral, everyone-should-do-things-this-way argument. But it is fun and rewarding to try your hand at new things and to find your work of better quality than you could afford at the store anyway.
What ways do you have to avoid outsourcing your work to more costly and less capable hands? Does your family have any good ideas for saving money while living better? I would love to hear about them.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go clean the raisins I bought Laila’s cooperation with out of my bed.