Is it possible to live lean and socially and environmentally aware in surburbia and still be generous?
I think the answer is yes.
But before I sound self righteous, let me say this – I/we are on a huge learning curve in this area, so I am still on the first part of the bell curve in this experience. But I want to share how we are doing it to help others get a vision and some practical examples of how it works.
I say all this as a single (modest) income earner, in a very basic and modest house in suburbia with five dependants. The need to write this little article came out of a conversation with someone recently who had the same size mortgage as us, who had less kids and more income: They said it couldn’t be done and they wouldn’t attempt it because, well, it couldn’t be done. Yet it is the burden of having two full time workers that is killing them physically and emotionally. I see the latchkey kids and the new toys on my street every day, and the result is chaos in the family and a lack of happiness or peace outside of more consumerism. Is there a different way? I believe there is.
How can you do it?
Firstly, you have to make an intentional decision to back off in consuming and look for ways to live leaner but also have a ‘generous’ attitude and intent to be able to bless others and see the big picture in the world and the community.
Step one was a revelation that we overspent and overconsumed, whether it be living on credit cards, getting takeaway, buying non essential items. We got rid of the credit cards, all our cars are 10-15 years old and all renovations are done on a ‘need to’ basis.
We regularly look through our stuff and realise we have too much. A lot of what we don’t need is given away, taken to the Op shop or traded online for things we needed.
Then we strip everything back: This year all the kids played one team sport each, Rugby League, soccer and Oztag – one small fee each for 5 months of fun, and then in Summer we surf, fish and spearfish. We don’t have Foxtel, if we want to watch a game I go to someone’s house that has it, rather than replicate the cost.
Also, I ride my bike to work most days, and even though I live close by, I could probably manage it almost anywhere in the Shire, which reduces carbon emissions and increases fitness.
The best furniture we have is the stuff other people were throwing out. A coat of paint and a sander gives you a shabby chic look that people pay thousands for in Paddington.
Benefits: My wife can still be at home while the kids are young and we can give 10% of our income to Church, where community needs are met daily but need regular funding (if you are not a Christian I still believe you should give 10% of your income to a charity, to the needs or to a local cause) and we are still able to give over and above that to the needy.
Regardless of my theological position on finances, I have found the more I have moved toward greater financial integrity (eg total honesty with ATO, etc), the more I have given to Church and to charity, even when it was difficult, the more money has come in from the most unexpected sources. I have had $85,000.00 come in from unexpected sources since 2007, most of which we were able to give to charitable or not for profit organisations, and some of which was used to do essential renovations and go to conferences, holidays that we would not have otherwise been able to do. But it was our relationship with God and His directing that enabled us, through prayer, to see that most of that money was not for us. As we better understood that, the more came, and the more we were able to give, because I feel God could finally trust us with it. In previous years that was not the case but we needed to change our attitude toward money before God could bless us.
Also, Kel can volunteer at Playgroup and at the school, where the needs are great but budgets are not.
Socially and environmentally:
Where possible we use the ETHICAL SHOPPING GUIDE. www.ethical.org.au
While you can go to this site and purchase a hard copy, I find with 40% of phones now being Iphones you can get it from Itunes Apps store.
I find that our groceries split 40% between local produce at Paddy’s markets (we go every second Friday) and 50% at Franklins (using the ESG) and 10% hand to mouth (Take away, Convenience store). We can achieve about 75-80% ethical purchasing and still come in on or under budget. But best of all, we know we are not engaging in the process of oppressing or taking advantage of workers or raping the environment just to obtain consumerables.
The first time you use the ESG it will take you about 50% longer to do your shop, but once you become familiar with brands it takes only as long as your regular shop.
One of the best things you can do, financially, environmentally, therapeutically and for your kids is to get involved in some type of permaculture or hobby farming on your surburban block. If you have kids, they will thrive on this, learning responsibility, time management, to nurture and care for animals (good preparation for future parenthood).
Pretty much any backyard block, or even a townhouse or unit, can at some level be involved in this.
At the moment, we have native Australian bee’s which are stingless, which are really an ‘Ark’ as colony collapse disrorder is wiping out the worlds bee industry and with it a huge amount of our food crops. These bee’s have just been domesticated and are unaffected by CCD. They produce small amounts of honey but do a great job pollinating your garden plots. To obtain a hive go to www.aussiebee.com.au
Our chickens and ducks produce eggs for our table and fertiliser for the future garden. They also kill backyard pests as they fossick around the yard free range. The rabbits are not as productive but they have taught the kids a lot about caring for animals and the life cycle – even a bit of sex education thrown in for free!!
The next step is to now turn all usable area’s into garden beds and produce fruit, herbs, flowers and vegetables, all watered by rainwater tanks.
We have been able to involve the kids in the area in these projects and our neighbours have helped out in building pens etc, and we have been able to bless them with bee hives, honey and eggs.
Other things that we have done and will continue to do is to go fishing and hunting to gather food. One feral deer that we shot was equivalent to three months worth of food in the freezer. It was top quality meat and removed an introduced species from the ecosystem. We had so much meat we were giving it away. And every time we have been spearfishing someone has brought home dinner in a way that is sustainable for the fish stocks.
Giving in non-financial ways
One the best ways I have found we can be generous is with our time.
In the ten hours a week I gave to Rugby League as coach and Chaplain I made a decision: I could have earnt an additional $300.00 per week in that time but there was a more pressing need – just as a Church needs unpaid volunteers, so do community clubs. So I made the decision that investing in the future of those young people and the club was the best thing I could do with that time, and if I included my kids in the process it wouldn’t take me away from them.
Also, if Church leaders are going to ask people to give of their time unpaid to help run Churches, then we need to firstly lead by example in this area.
Kel does the same with play group and school reading.
So instead of earning an extra $600.00-$1,000.00 a week we have chosen to volunteer that time to see changes in the community that can never be measured in monetary ways – just like the thousands of volunteers in clubs and groups all over the world. But we need more people to forsake monetary gain to chase the consumer train to see more of this amazing opportunity for mentoring to happen in the world.
I have been changed by the thought that the Kingdom of God is different to the way the world currently operates. If God’s reign looks like restoration between us and God (through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection) us and each other (Love thy neighbour), with ourselves (being authentic with the things we need to change in our lives) and and the world around us (the earth, the oceans, the skies, animals – the planet we live on) then part of that restoration starts with having a giving attitude and then incrementally stepping away from the consumerism and ‘me first’ ways of society and stepping into a way of living that is highly dependent on God’s provision (which we see every day in nature, but we need to do our bit to ensure it’s safety and sustainability) and isn’t selfish but is communally based, where just like in the Book of Acts in the Bible “They shared everything they had so that none went without”.
Is it possible? Our journey so far says it is if you get a vision for it and work at it. It’s challenging, but very rewarding.