Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Thoughts about the future

This post is in two parts, intended to preserve some ramblings I posted on an Adaptation discussion list, a place where we talk about adapting to a low-energy low-cash future. My blog here is public, but also a journal for me - when I come back in a year or five, I want to remember what I was thinking about, what I was planning, what I was working on.

~~~~~ PART ONE

My family would probably be nearly as unprepared as everyone else, if I had not stumbled on Sharon's blog this past spring.

I was a gardener - but I grew flowers and a couple herbs. From someone's garden blog, I was led to Sharon's blog. Shortly after, she issued her Independence Challenge. I've been doing that challenge now for almost 6 months, and been working hard at it.

Part of that time was spent floundering around and wrapping my head around the changes we'd have to make. Finding resources, reading things, talking to my family, figuring our what parts of our plans might have to be abandoned.

I feel sorry for the folks that will not have the "adjustment" time before they are forced to make major changes in lifestyle, with far fewer resources. It's gonna be tough to catch up - impossible for many.

I get to go to auctions and yard sales while there is still little competition for useful items. I get look for good deals on food without standing in lines. I get to buy a grain mill and a water filter and a pasta machine before they are out of reach. I have an education and some financial resources.

It's easy to feel "holier than thou" when we watch the oblivious masses continue to shop. But they are oblivious because the media and the government are both telling them that things are going to be OK. And because it's hard to imagine the decline of the US as a wealthy superpower, let alone the decline of our own expectations. Most of us have been drilled all of our lives to measure our happiness by our possessions and our socio-economic status.

This past weekend, I was at a youth retreat in Towson, MD, with my daughter. On the way down, my car started acting funny, so on Saturday I hunted down a car service joint (Firestone) to hook up for a computer diagnosis. While I waited the 2 hours, I walked down the street to a Panera Bread and had lunch - iced chai, a pannini, and a scone. Tasty, but I spent $10 that felt wasted. The place was packed, as were the shopping centers around me.

I had a book to read - the 4th in the post-apocalyptic "Change" series by SM Stirling. There I sat, surrounded by real people in a consumer wonderland, reading about fictional people in a post-consumerist agrarian future, feeling unhappy about how much I love Panera's Orange Scones. The world is just full of cognitive dissonance, lately.

I was able to drive the car the 95 miles home, but it will probably need major service. We can't be without a car yet, but we can't afford to upgrade the 2000 Jeep Cherokee to a more efficient car.

Losing a car can mean losing a lot more. I've been carless in the past, and not in a good way - unable to get to better jobs, cheaper food sources. I live in an area with poor public transit - if we didn't have some savings to pay for repairs, losing this car would mean my DH losing the little seasonal retail job he just found, and DD15 losing her job. It is already hard for DH to face working in a Bed Bath & Beyond after spending three years working for his degree. But the savings are a finite resource that have to get us to our "adapting place," and he is a practical guy.

But at least we have that savings cushion, for now. A lot of people are a lot closer to the edge than they realize.

~~~~~ PART TWO

Some pretty good news: DH got a job at Bed Bath & Beyond. They start everyone part-time, up to 35 hours/week. Just short of the 36 where they would be required to offer some benefits. It pays $10.50/hr, slightly more than we expected. We don't know what his schedule will look like.

He doesn't feel good at all about finishing his degree and then working in retail. But it's certainly better than no work at all. It will be an easy job to leave, if something better comes along.

The big point is that it will enable us to pay all our current living expenses out of income, not take the rent out of savings, as we have been doing for 6 months. That's a huge plus for us.

Once we get him settled in, we will find a new job for DD15. The coffee shop she works at cut everyone's hours and will probably go out of business. It's barely worth driving her back and forth. There is a caterer that has a production kitchen within walking distance of us. If they are going to need more help, it is going to be during the holiday party season.

We are putting a second car on the road. Sounds counter-productive, but if we don't, everyone's life will rotate around DH's BBB schedule. He has a 1994 Jeep Wrangler garaged, that needs a transmission. It gets good mileage, and he will use it to commute. The 2000 Jeep Cherokee that gets worse mileage will stay home for me to use sporadically. I go out foraging about once or twice a week, and I usually do fill the whole vehicle. There are soccer practices, and DD15's job until she gets another. And, I need to be able to get to my mother's house (3 miles) if I am going to keep her moving along.

Feels like we are going backward, but we need to do what is necessary to fund the longer-term plan. Everyone will produce income while we can, to pay for the changes we need to make for a different future lifestyle.

We've made excellent progress on our food storage preparedness, which feels great. Our house is mostly ready for winter. The conversion of the unheated attic to living space (by insulating and paneling) has not begun, but I have two months left until my self-imposed deadline. Then my mother will come to stay through the end of March.

With the (rather large) exception of DH not being able to find a professional job, the economic downturn has not directly impacted us much, yet. We did move our savings from a large bank to a small local credit union. Gas prices went down (for now), and we are able to find lots of cheap food. The lifestyle changes we have made were our own decisions, not forced by changes in the economy. So far.


amanda said...

it sounds like you are doing a great job and a lot of thinking! i feel so behind!

Hausfrau said...

I had to spend $938 on tires and maintenance last weekend to keep the car rolling a few more years (ha - I hope!). Hated to spend it, but so, so grateful I could do it without too much pain.