An interesting way to cope with economic hard times

In today’s shaky economy, I know many of us (including some of my readers) are having real difficulty making ends meet.  There are millions of people trying – and failing – to feed themselves and their families by working two, or three, or even four part-time jobs, without medical insurance, and with seemingly no way out of the ‘rat race’.

Here’s what one family did about that.

As a middle class American, it’s been difficult for me to understand how we are supposed to make a living when there are so many things working against us. How can we go on day after day with the rising cost of food, fuel, utilities, car insurance, taxes and health care, while dealing with the insecurity of unemployment? In the past, whenever I considered these things, I felt a hopeless sense of impending doom in the pit of my stomach. There is so much talk about how to solve these issues, but nothing ever seems to stop the downward spiral of struggle and stress that millions of folks are experiencing.

Like many working people, my life went along fine during the 1980s. I had a good paying job ($42,000 a year) and though I didn’t enjoy the kind of work I was doing as an industrial draftsman, receiving a steady paycheck every week kept me going without much complaint. But then came the Gulf War in the 1990s and after that point I faced nine layoffs over the span of 10 years. By the time September 11 happened, I hadn’t been able to maintain steady employment in the petrochemical industry for over a decade. I would work about three or four months, then back again to the unemployment line.

It was at this point that I realized that something was wrong. The life strategy I had grown up to believe in was no longer working and there didn’t seem to be any answers. Obviously no one was going to get me out of this, so I decided I needed to take matters into my own hands and figure out a way to redefine my basic approach to living.

Lucky for me, I have an adventurous wife. She was on the same page with me and was willing to make some drastic changes in our lifestyle. As a committed team, we decided to figure out another way to survive despite these uncertain, hard economic times. Since we didn’t have a lot of money and because it was getting harder to find steady employment, we decided to rethink our basic values in order to create a life for ourselves where we could be independent and free of needing a career or a full-time job.

There’s more at the link.  It’s very interesting reading.

The solution adopted by that family isn’t for everyone.  Many of us couldn’t stand to drag our kids away from the schools, suburbs and friends that have shaped and formed their lives, and move them into a totally unfamiliar environment.  Some of us would find it economically unsupportable.  However, others have made such a move.  Some have failed;  some have prospered.

I think the real lesson is that we have to be proactive in determining our future.  If we just allow things to happen to us, we’re going to end up part of the problem whether we like it or not.  If we take a cold, hard look at our situation, realize that there’s no future in where we’re at (remember Einstein’s famous definition of insanity), and determine that we’re going to take what steps we can to change our future, there’s a chance for us.  It’s going to take a lot of mutual negotiation with spouses and children, and a lot of trial and error.  We shouldn’t expect to get things right all at once, or all the time.  We should expect mistakes, and be ready to forgive those who make them alongside us, and try something else.  However, if we’re willing to do all those things, and work really hard, we can change our future.  I’ve seen a lot of people do just that.

I can’t specify what any individual or family can or should do about their situation.  Miss D. and I have discussed the article I cited above, and agreed that we couldn’t possibly do what they did due to our partial disability through serious injury (I more than she – although she bakes a mean loaf of bread!).  We simply couldn’t cope with the physical effort required to do all that they did.  On the other hand, we can (and at some point probably will) make the move to a more peaceful environment, and do a lot more for ourselves, and try new things to simplify and redirect our lives together.  We’re going to be talking about and preparing for that over the next two to three years, and regularly checking our progress towards the goal(s) we’ve set for ourselves.  We’re not prepared to wait for an economic juggernaut to flatten us.  It may still do so, but we’ll be running as hard as we can to get out of its path, not waiting tamely in place to be overrun.

William Henley had the right of it:

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

. . .

I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Those words can be true for all of us.  Let’s live them!



  1. Unfortunately in many states and local regulatory areas the start simple pay as you go do it yourself lifestyle is severely hampered by zoning,building codes and regulatory burdens and costs that such a story is impossible. Personal experience of regulation adding 20,000 dollars to the cost of a project after scaling back to avoid the extra 35,000 sprinkler system that would have been required for a 3 bedroom house. The political elite loves debt peons.

  2. Peter, the subsistence 'living off the land' idea was strongly appealing to me in 1971/2, because I was so disenchanted with the meaningless conventional lifestyle I saw ahead of me. This was largely fostered, I'm afraid, by the counter-culture teachings of the professors I loved at the Baptist university I attended.
    For reasons too involved to go into here, I didn't exercise my option of dropping out and heading for a farm, but dropped out and enlisted in the Army. By the time I finished my term of enlistment, I was married, and planned to go to college on the GI bill, and so didn't get to drop out then, either. And then, lots of schooling, divorce, re-marriage, kids, jobs, etc, and I never did quite get around to the rugged simple life.
    And it's a bloody good thing for me that I didn't.
    Like you, I am physically disabled. That means that if I were living in a bare-bones agrarian hippie lifestyle, the bones that would be the barest would be those of my corpse. A primitive lifestyle can't afford those who aren't working every day for their daily bread. That's one of the Third Seal woes of the Apocalypse: You have to work all day, just to get food for that day. There's no surplus, nothing for those who can't work. You have to have a prosperous economy going in order for crippled old men like you and me to get fed.
    Nope, I'll keep what civilization has brought me, for as long as it lasts.

  3. I wonder if there is some sort of daily checklist to guide you in making decisions like this. I would fear, however, that such a list would uncover that many things that are done throughout the day are done only in support of other things, and once all dependencies are removed, there would be nothing to do and no reason to wake up in the morning.

  4. I couldn't help but shake my head as I read that, thinking of how naive and foolish that concept is, especially the health aspects of it. "Taking responsibility for your own health" is fine insofar as eating right and getting exercise go, but to assume that you can deal with or avoid any major health issues through those practices or the application of home-grown herbal remedies is blindly foolish. There's a reason our average life expectancy has doubled since everyone was following the lifestyle they are promoting. Modern medicine is a huge boon. Also, the choice to stop buying healthcare and put $1k into an emergency room fund reveals their true health care plan, which is to get the rest of us to fund their intentional choice to not provide for health care costs if anything goes wrong. Even a simple, common issue like appendicitis will rack up far more costs than their $1k provision allows for, and the hospitals will be forced to treat them in the ER and then recover the cost from us through inflated costs on those of us who do make the responsible decision to pay for insurance.

    Such a plan can only work as long as nothing goes wrong, and as soon as it does we will be paying the price for their choices. I see nothing laudable in their plan.

  5. Pay for insurance. Hmm. OK.
    I used to have a insurance policy, for my wife and I, 50's, good health, non smoking, not overweight, cost us 500 bucks a month, had a damn good Doc, and a 2500$ deductible. One checkup a year, a few odd stitches, maybe a cold or something- let's just say we do not burn through medical services.
    My insurance company quit the biz, my Doc quit the practice of medicine, and my new , least expensive policy available went up to $900 a month, and the deductible to $5200 per person per year. so in a good year I am paying 10K+ for coverage, and if we actually get sick we are out 21K before the insurance picks up a dime.
    Now it is interesting to note the increase in insurance premium basically ate up every disposable dime we had available , leaving us to pay any deductible out of savings or on credit.
    So now my wife and I , for the first time ever, are on the dole. We are actively watching our income to make sure we don't make too much and go over the "cliff", because if we do, there is a 12,000 dollar penalty as we lose the "subsidy".
    So what zerocare has done for us, personally, is the single worst economic hit we have ever sustained.
    It doubled our premium, doubled our deductible, forced a long term Doctor I highly respected out of medicine, left us on the dole, and searching for a competent Doctor who has room for a new patient.


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