Tuesday, 31 March 2020

#16: How to live on less and still thrive after an income reduction

There have been two, self-imposed, periods in my working life in the past decade when our household income has dropped by about 50% overnight. Both have been associated with significant life choices and change of work direction, moving from secure jobs to starting something new. The first period was when we founded Dementia Adventure back in 2009 and the second was relocating to North East Scotland last year. The first time was when our kids were tiny, this time, not so much.

Maybe you have chosen to start up a social enterprise or have become self-employed in the last year? Maybe you have seen your wages reduced or even wiped out due to the current virus-crisis? The following tips are all things I have tried following a significant drop in income and are aimed at supporting you to live on less, still thrive and stay well.
  1. Back-up: Identify who or what is your back-up? Knowing that someone or something is your back-up is often enough to get through your difficult times. Read my previous blog post on Back-Up and identify someone in your life and ask them - will you be my back-up?
  2. No food: Well not completely of course, but there is some great evidence associated with intermittent fasting, longevity and physical inflammation reduction. It also helps with food cost reduction - if you’re fasting 2 days a week, it can mean a significant saving (small print - do check medical advice before embarking on any fasting programme).
  3. Grow food: We have grown our own food for fifteen years now starting with basil on a window sill, tomato plants in pots and garlic in the small patch of ground in the yard behind our tiny terraced house. You can grow potatoes from seed to plate in about 10 weeks (lettuce in much less) and only need a bucket or container and the seed potatoes. Try cutting the ‘eyes’ out of your existing potatoes and planting these if you can't source seed potatoes at the moment. Growing and eating your own food can provide you with great taste, great nutrition whilst also giving you a green workout, saving you money and can be highly effective at alleviating low mood.
  4. Slow food: Fast food deliveries are the fastest way to run out of money and often contribute to physical and mental ill-health, further worsening our peak stress situations. Growing to love oats for breakfast, baked potatoes for lunch and rice and beans or lentils for dinner are cheap staples that have sustained thousands of people for generations. Take your time to eat it too, savour each mouthful, putting your cutlery down - making your smaller meal last longer is another trick for eating less and costing you less.
  5. Save to buy: my granddad would say, “put away the money for it each week for six months, and if you still want it after six months, then you can buy it” - often, of course, the thing I had thought I wanted, I no longer wanted by that point. Deferring buying those ‘must-haves’ is another cost reducer.
  6. Monthly direct debits: Take a close look at all the regular monthly payments going out of your account and ruthlessly cancel everything except those critical to sustaining your situation. If you are locked in on a contract or have some other tie-in then speak to the provider about a payment holiday and temporarily suspend the payments. If you want or need to be more drastic cancel TV subscriptions and sell the TV and go back to the radio and books, sounds harsh but you might find you have more productive free time. 
  7. Moments in nature: Nature is on our doorstep, is free, is ever-changing from one day to the next and can teach us a great deal about frugality, change and happiness. Find some food scraps for the birds, take a seat under a tree and listen to the sounds. Find some moments in nature every day and see how this can bring joy into your situation. Try keeping a nature diary or nature notes.
  8. Keep a gratitude journal: Write down three things each day that you are thankful for. Such a simple thing to help you identify the positives relative to your situation.
  9. Be ready to grab opportunities: Make time to update your CV, make a phone call to someone in your industry or in the work sector you would like to work in, or to someone you know and admire. Take a free online course, get yourself ready to grab the new work or income opportunity when it comes along. And it will!
  10. Start an investment habit: One of the problems this crisis has really brought to light is the fact that so few people have any savings. It sounds counter-intuitive when you are struggling for money but try starting with saving pennies or pounds in a jar or rounding up payments online but cultivate a habit of saving and investing for when you do have more income again. Then when the next crisis happens, you’ll be better prepared. Premium bonds are a safe way of gambling without losing your money and there are many investment products on the market now which are accessible and accept very low entry points for new investors starting as little as £1. Compound interest is your friend so do try and leave the amount untouched until you have to access it. 
The list can go on and if you have lost a significant proportion of income recently making the change to living on less whilst still thriving can be very challenging but you can and will find a way that works for you. Engage with the finances, engage with the support offers available and pay attention to the things which bring you joy - and are free!  My joy yesterday came from this butterfly...

Nairn beach butterfly made of stones and driftwood
Nairn beach butterfly