Reading about the efforts of Transition Exeter and ‘The Role of Community in Lessening Consumerism”, it reminded me of a period in my life, the winter of 2009 to 2010, when I was living a very green life on a Finca in Spain. I was there to write a book, but it was out of the way and there was no chance of earning any money and I wanted to get the book done anyway, that was the point of being right away from it all.
OK, best to paint the scene. Incredibly beautiful, up in the hills, fruit trees of every kind, peacocks and chickens and pigs, a large plot to grow veg and a greenhouse which was about 10 metres by 5 metres, so pretty big.
No TV, no radio, but lots of books left there by decades of visitors, so a very eclectic collection. I remember reading about the Irish Revolution of 17 something, and a biography of Prince Charles when he had just got to 30 years old I think it was. Halfway through my stay it started raining and never stopped, more rain than any can remember, ever, filling the dams in two months from almost empty and leaving landslides either side of the Finca, so my car was left behind in the end! It is still there.
The Finca ran on local supplies, with water from the hill, and electricity from the sun, which eventually ran out, of course, so reading was by candles. Heating was the logs cut up in the summer, which also ran out, so it was wet wood burning in the end, all from fallen trees on the Finca or next to it.
But I digress. While there I needed to live on very little, so I set myself a sum of 5 Euros a day, for just about everything. Eggs were free of course, and some veg, and lots of fruit, and avocados to die for, and pretty fair wine was less than 1 Euro a bottle, but it was still not that easy, cheese was still UK prices if not more, as was bread.
So I needed to budget. At some point in all this I had a miraculous discovery. It saved me. I had always thought that budgetting was about not spending what you don’t have. So if my 5 Euros was spent, well, 35 for the week, that was it. The breakthrough came when I realised that budgetting was really a positive not a negative act. It was about spending money on those things you really really wanted, and nothing else. So what happened was that when I did spend some money I truly loved the thing I had bought. And I found that I was spending less than my budget, and then having a 10 Euro treat of Sunday lunch, with wine, at the local bar.
Bit by bit I broke the habit of spending money whenever I went somewhere. If I went to a Christmas market I did not have to buy some Christmas cards, and I didn’t really need a cup of coffee and a cake. And once a month I bought a bar of chocolate and it was the best chocolate I had ever tasted.
When I look at the comments on the Exeter Sustainable Consumerism blog I think how important it is to try to get to see that budgetting, not for personal saving but for saving the planet, should be about the positive, about having those things we really really want, and if we can budget in that way we find we enjoy them 200 x more.
It’s hard simply because we have such a habit of spending. I remember when I returned to the UK how I almost slipped into a shop, why?, just to spend something. I could feel the urge! But I am still keeping down to my one chocolate bar a month, and still enjoying it enormously.
The trick, when you want to buy something, is to stop for just a moment and ask yourself, do I really want it? It is the same with stopping smoking, and probably stopping eating too much. If you can hold off for a few sconds then the craving goes away. Yes, it comes back again, but it then goes away again.
That is the message in Allen Carr’s great book The Easy Way to Stop Smoking, which I bought and instantly stopped smoking. aAnd I have never had a craving for a cigarette since. Not quite the same with shopping! But close!