Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Freedom 55 Here We Come!

Happy New Year!  Guess what my resolution is?  To blog more often.  I have set a goal of at least one a month and I am putting it in writing so it is here for all to see.  Feel free to send me reminders if I miss my goal.

What better way to start of the New Year than a fascinating blog about...fiscal responsibility! Did you think I was going to say weight loss?  Part of living sustainably is living within your financial means and Jerry and I are about to embark on that journey big time.  He officially starts his retirement pension in May of this year when we will have to live on about a third of our past income but till then we are without a pay check!  Yes, it is rice and beans for us for the next 5 months! We knew that this day was coming and we have saved money to cover our expenses over the next months but still it is pushing us out of the very comfortable zone we have been in for the last 35 years of getting a very decent wage deposited to our bank account every two weeks.
There is now a notebook on the desk to write down every penny we spend over the next couple of months to track where our money is going.  We sat down a few months ago and made up a new “retirement” budget based on our current expenses.  All that is missing is the glass jars that Gail Vaz-Oxlade suggests on her wonderful show “Till Debt do us Part” (  In fact we used the budget under her resources.  I often watch that show and am always shocked at the lack of financial knowledge the couples have.  Note to parents: the most important lesson to teach your children is fiscal responsibility!

For Jerry and I this exercise is really reverting back to the way things were when we were first married 33 years ago – we had a budget, we had envelopes instead of jars (why did I not see the potential then to be a guru to the masses?), the cash went in the envelopes and when it was gone we did not spend anymore.  We were very careful with credit cards always paying off the balance and used credit sparingly.  We only ever lived on Jerry’s salary and my salary went first for a down payment, then to pay the mortgage off on the house and the occasional trip – and we lived very well.   We always saved at least 10%-30% of our income and that allowed us to invest in rental properties and mutual funds.  Ultimately, this system gave us the opportunity to build our eco home and to allow Jerry his “Freedom 55”.

Choosing to live sustainably saves you money in a myriad of ways.  While our house cost more to build upfront our monthly costs will only be 15% of our income where most people have housing costs upwards of the 35% suggested by Gail.  Owning a Prius and making trips multifunctional keeps our transportation costs at about 7% of our income rather than the standard of 15%.  Using vinegar and baking soda for most cleaning saves on the grocery bills as does a vegetarian diet – beans and lentils are much cheaper than meat.

Making choices about what is really necessary for day to day living also saves you money - I am probably the only cell phone customer left that pays $10/month and not under a contract, we choose not to stop for coffee and tea every time we get in our car, we rarely eat in a fast food restaurant, and we borrow books from the library or buy them at Value Village.

Doing a budget again after many years gave us a chance to review what was important for us to spend our money on.  We still have an amount for charities that we hold dear to our hearts, there is still a monthly massage that I swear is a need not a want, there is money set aside for a yearly vacation and there is money for an emergency fund – another must from Gail’s suggestions.

To be honest, after years of hearing Jerry complain about my spending habits (which I swear were not horrible anyway) I am looking forward to the challenge of living within a budget and finding ways to stretch our dollars.  Our “Freedom 55” will not look like the TV ads, luxury vacations, golf courses and yachts but it will be a totally awesome, fulfilling life starting with the peace of mind that only a budget that balances can bring.  Oh, and tonight for dinner?  Lentil soup!