During times when our society is fully operational and a full pay-packet the norm, it’s second nature for us to rely on the efforts of other people, ‘buying’ their services. We get someone to prepare our morning coffee; to make our dinner; to clean our house; to mow our lawn; to tell us how to exercise…
And over the past decade or two, the internet has grown the list exponentially. By way of just a small handful of examples, it now includes summarising the news (Twitter); reading us books (Audible); entertaining us (Netflix); and, plundering an encyclopedia on our behalf (Google).
But what happens when society is not fully operational, meaning some of these services aren’t available? Or, due to economic conditions, I don’t have my usual disposable income at hand?
As a starting point, it might be somewhat liberating just to recognise that all the services I’ve mentioned above – while they might seem like essentials we can’t live without – are in fact all things we are perfectly capable of doing ourselves.
But, for me, the magic comes when I mindfully take the reins back. I’ll give you an example.
I own a clothing business with my wife, which is both seasonal and growing – meaning that it is subject to fairly wild swings in cash flows. Temporarily, our bank balances can be reduced to paltry reserves. While this is part and parcel for a lot of business-owners, it’s certainly not something that sits with me comfortably. But I have at least been able to significantly reduce the level of stress and fear I experience in these times.
One specific thing that helped was by starting to practice what I refer to as “tight-ass Tuesdays”, which is essentially a commitment I made with a small group of friends to be as frugal as possible on Tuesdays. We encouraged one another and documented our results in a dedicated Whatsapp group.
Some of the immediate behaviours to stem out of this challenge included becoming very innovative with whatever was available in the fridge and cupboards, preparing often-times unconventional but otherwise perfectly enjoyable breakfasts, lunches, dinners and deserts. I discovered that I would not go hungry without money for a day. And there is something hugely gratifying about taking a lunch into work that you’ve prepared yourself that morning.
Tight-ass Tuesdays also inspired me to check the offerings of my small vegetable garden, or notice the excessive amount of ripe lemons on a neighbour’s tree, which in turn inspired my meal preparation. Fresh basil? Omelette. Zucchini? Vegetarian lasagne.
I also really reduced my reliance on using Ubers to get to work or for meetings, instead riding or running in, or relying on public transport to get to meetings – even if that meant having to use two separate train lines. I found that riding the train during the day, without the peak-hour madness, is actually a really pleasant way to travel. Small-talk optional.
You get the picture.
None of this is rocket science. We are all of course very capable of changing our behaviours to become less reliant on the services of others, in some way, shape or form. For me, using the format of “tight-ass Tuesday” helped motivate me to really push the boundaries of what I could do, to save money and in the process realise my capacity for self-reliance. My efforts weren’t perfect. I couldn’t entirely avoid spending money. But that is not the point.
The point is that through a change in circumstances (albeit self-imposed), I not only discovered a level of self-reliance and ingenuity I didn’t realise was there, but also found gratification in practicing fiscal restraint – thereby challenging the conception that equates lots of money with happiness.
These challenging times are a perfect opportunity for us to explore some new ideas and practices, to challenge our sometimes wayward beliefs, and perhaps find a level of contentment which has been unnecessarily evading us for years.