I’ve been keeping up with the news and watching the flabbergasting impact Covid19 is having on our world. It’s turning our medical professionals into involuntary war doctors. People in Wisconsin were asked to make the difficult choice between their health and their right to vote. Workers in meat processing facilities were forced to continue their jobs without being able to follow recommended safety measures. Small business owners have no recourse, but to lay off employees if they don’t have enough liquid assets to cover payroll.
And a part of me grieves for the casualties, the sick, the essential workers, and everyone negatively impacted by this invisible and non-discriminating virus.
Another part of me wants to embrace the fact that for all the harm this pandemic has caused, for me as an individual, things couldn’t be better.
I don’t mean this in a mercenary sense. I’m not someone profiting from bootlegged medical supplies or buying dirt cheap plane tickets and traveling the globe. I simply mean that the life I was trying to create for myself has suddenly landed in my lap in the form of a stay-at-home order. Instead of running all over town for appointments, events and activities, my commute is now from my kitchen to my desk by the window. Instead of grabbing snacks on the go or preparing fast meals, I’m spending time looking up recipes and being creative in the kitchen. And the most significant change is that for the first time in five years, I’m living within my financial means.
With no ferry, bus or plane tickets to book, no cocktails out with friends to drink, and no coffees to sip in local coffee shops, my expenses have been whittled down to almost nothing. Further more, I’m proving what I long suspected: I can be very happy living on very little.
I had been struggling to increase my income for a long time because I thought it would give me a better quality of life and because I would have more disposable cash to do the things I want to do. But I’m starting to realize, I wanted more money to keep up with what everyone else wanted to do.
Right now, I have a part-time job with benefits that covers my rent and basic expenses. With my coaching income I can easily cover the rest—including set money aside for savings and retirement. I have everything I need to make me happy.
Where I was running into trouble was when someone wanted to go out for drinks or plan a trip or go in on a project together. Very quickly, I was living beyond my means. I was constantly in the awkward and stressful position of choosing to be social and choosing to be fiscally responsible.
So, I began putting pressure on myself to make more money, so I could afford to do the things everyone else would like to do. Things that, left to my own devices, I wouldn’t care about.
Even though I managed to pay my credit card balance every month, there were always more charges piling up. When I would just start to even out, I would take a long overdue trip with my friends, and I was scrambling again.
Don’t get me wrong, when things open up again, I’ll continue visit coffee shops, have dinners out, and take trips. But the fact remains, I can be equally, if not more content, when I’m not spending money. It’s not that I don’t desire more income. I was thrilled to see that $1200 from Uncle Sam appear in my bank account. But given the choice between increasing my workload or decreasing my spending, I will choose frugality over the grindstone all day long.
Part of it is because I have found a lot of creative ways to create a cushy life for myself that doesn’t cost very much. I live on an island that has lots of natural beauty to enjoy. Since it is only 3 miles wide and 14 miles long, I don’t need to fill my gas tank very often. I have learned to barter for services. For instance, I have access to horses I can ride whenever I like in exchange for cleaning stalls twice a week.
Another factor in keeping me happy with the simple things is my discernment around employment and career choices. It’s less important what I do, and much more important that I do work that makes me feel supported as well as challenged. I want to collaborate and have a sense of autonomy. Most importantly, having a flexible schedule is non-negotiable. Being this particular requires patience and brazenness, but it has landed me in jobs that I love and bring me joy, which means I don’t have to expend resources finding it elsewhere.
Of course, I want to see things open again and people to go back to work. I want people to heal and society to get up and running again. But at the same time, I’m clinging to this moment when I don’t have to choose between social pressure and financial responsibility.
What this pandemic has given me is a bit of relief from that day-to-day stress of needing more income to support a lifestyle I’d be fine not having.