When my husband died my household income declined sharply. Although I did receive the survivor's benefits from his Canada Pension Plan and superannuation, that amount was 50 percent of what he had been receiving. His full pension amounts were low enough that he had been entitled to an Old Age Security benefit but, being under the age of 65, I wasn't entitled to receive that top up. The harsh financial reality is that the total amount of pension coming into this household was reduced by about sixty percent.
Anyone who has lived alone can tell you that a household of one is not sixty percent less expensive to run than a household of two. My mortgage payment and condo fees remained the same, my home insurance went up, my car insurance and car maintenance costs were largely unchanged, and - because I'm not eligible for the senior's home owner grant - my property taxes more than doubled.
I'd left work to care for my husband during the last months of his life and did receive a small unemployment insurance cheque for a while. but that ended four months after he died. I found a new job but because of some on-going health issues of my own I chose to leave it, stay at home, and try to get by on solely on pension income.
Tight does not begin to describe my budget.
Just to be clear, I'm not complaining here. I'm doing okay. I have all of life's essentials, I'm surrounded by loving friends and family, and I'm gradually making a new life alone. I did experience some big changes though, and I learned some good things along the way.
These days I'm very clear about want versus need. I don't ignore every want - life is no fun without a few little treats - but I consider very carefully before I spend my money and I economize where I can. This is where the green(ish) part comes in. It turns out that much of what I do to keep my budget in check is also good for the environment.
I don't buy stuff I don't need (or at least not very much of it), and it's amazing how many tchotchkes, shoes, clothing items, and dishes I don't need. If I don't buy it, I don't need to pay to maintain it, or store it, and I end up throwing far less away.
I source most of my craft materials and the fabric for my sewing projects from thrift stores. It's far more affordable than shopping retail and it extends the useful life of items others have discarded.
I walk for most of my errands around town, only taking my car out if I'm going to be carrying something very large or heavy. I'm not such a purist that I don't drive at all, but walking when I can reduces my fuel bills and car maintenance costs. It also reduces my carbon footprint.
I buy plain, unprocessed food because it's less expensive. It also usually comes with less packaging. I do end up with some plastic, cardboard and tin to recycle, but much less than I used to.
Being vigilant about waste is the most important thing I do for both my budget and my impact on the environment. I can't afford to buy things and then not use them up.
Unless I'm putting it by for future use, I don't buy more food than I can eat. I try to use every edible bit of the food I do buy, including peels, cores, tops, leaves, skin, bones, shells, and fish heads. It saves me money, makes respectful use of the energy required to grow/catch, transport, and package what I eat, and it produces some wonderfully flavourful stocks and sauces.
Whenever I can, I use rags made from worn out flannel sheets instead of paper towels, cloth napkins instead of paper, and glass jars and covered bowls instead of plastic wrap. Freezer bags do have a place in my kitchen but I reuse them as many times as I can. I also reuse the heavy zip closure bags that dry fruit and frozen goods come packaged in, and the liners from cereal boxes (awesome sandwich wrap!).
I use envelopes and any blank paper that comes in the mail for drawing, art projects, and making lists. I cover both sides of the paper before I send it to recycling.
I don't buy clothes unless I absolutely need them and when I do buy them, I usually buy second hand. I mend my clothing and wear it until it's worn out, then use the salvageable fabric, buttons, and zippers to make new things.
All of these things are kind to the environment.
My new, very simple life works well for me. I can take quiet days, and rest when I need to. I spend time outdoors every day. I know exactly what I can afford and what I can't, and I can plan for that. My stress levels are greatly reduced.
Isn't it nice that many of those changes benefit the environment too? That's a win/win.
Do you have any frugal green living tips you'd like to share? Please feel free to comment here, on my Facebook page, or on Google+. I'd love to hear from you.