The Cost Of Being You*

*The general “you”, not the specific you!

Hey everyone. I hope you are all enjoying the day. It’s cold and snowy here in Montreal at the moment, but that’s ok by me. It makes the neighborhood sparkle and shine :)

Before I begin, let me qualify this post by stating that the statements I am about to make are generalizations and as such, have no bearing on any quantitative scientific inquiry.

That being said, here we go…

A few weeks ago I was having a discussion with an acquaintance of mine at a small get together hosted by a mutual friend. During the evening, the acquaintance in question – let’s call him Boris – and I started talking about the high cost of living, and of course, that always opens the door for me to “pitch” my thoughts on the topic of living a simpler lifestyle.

Before I got there though, Boris confided to me that even though he and his wife enjoy a combined income of well over $80,000.00 a year, they were way over their head in “life” debt brought about by credit cards, a mortgage, a line of credit, two car payments, school tuition for their two young children, personal taxes, residential taxes, school taxes, vacations, not to mention the daily outflow of cash brought about by feeding a family of four, gas for the car and other assorted “essentials” needed to keep everyone “happy”.

I sat there listening to him lament the fact that their hard earned money was causing them nothing but grief while being the impetus for many an argument about their lack of cash-flow.

Now, I could have gone into my “simple living saves all” spiel and that instead of having two cars, maybe they should only have one…or that the two week family cruise vacation they all went on last year might have been better served had they taken that money and paid down a credit card or two. But I didn’t. Instead I replied, “wow, it costs a lot to be you!” Boris shrugged his shoulders and nodded knowingly as his wife entered into the room, nipping our conversation in the bud!

Later that evening as I walked home, I began to reflect on the importance of what I had said to him earlier and was overcome with a feeling of – for lack of a better word – happiness that I wasn’t him, because honestly, I definitely could not afford it!

If you have checked out my About Me page you’ll see that in a good year, I make less than $15,000.00. And in the past few years I have lived nicely with just under $13,000.00 a year.

I have no qualms about my “meager” income and in fact, am proud that I can live such a rich and full life on such a low – according to most – income. But that’s the beauty of being me (pardon the pretentiousness)! It really doesn’t cost much being me at all. And while a lot of that might be due to my embracing voluntary simplicity as a life style choice, I feel it’s more a question of personal and social values that have been with me since I was a boy.

When I was young, I grew up in a single parent household where I had to become a tad more independent at an earlier age (11) than most kids that I knew. So we could eat and have a roof over our heads, my mom had to work long hours and many times that called for her being away for a couple of days and nights. During those times I had to learn to fend for myself. I loved it though, and looking back, I would not change a thing. These experiences helped shape my independent nature, and as I got older, I realized that it was up to me, and me alone, to make myself happy or miserable. And while I did fall into the consumption lifestyle in my twenties, there was always an underlying feeling that all was not right in my world. My independence had been replaced by the cultural and societal norms of living a complacent lifestyle of ambition, toil and consumption. I realize it is not fair – or scientifically valid – to lump all citizens of capitalist society in my generalizations, but it is how I felt at that time and deep down inside, I knew that I would eventually have to make a dramatic change in how I not only lived my life, but how I saw myself vis-a-vis how others saw me. Definitely not an easy thing to do!

Thankfully, I discovered the concept of Voluntary Simplicity and the rest as they say, is history, which you can read more about here if you haven’t already.

So…what does it cost to be me? Not much actually. My biggest expense is rent ($726.00 a month), followed by a bus pass in the winter ($83.00 a month) and food, which I am not sure of the cost since I eat out as much as I eat in.

More importantly though, I think not in terms of what I spend, but more on what I don’t spend. I don’t own a car. I don’t own a cell phone.  I don’t have cable TV. I don’t take vacations except when I visit my sister once a year to the tune of $80.00 for the round trip train fare. I don’t buy new clothes but rather buy gently used clothing from a Thrift shop for massive savings. I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t smoke. I don’t gamble….etc etc…you get the picture.

Now, I realize that my single life with no dependents is extremely different than Boris’s who has a wife and two children to worry about. It is way easier for me to live a great life on $13,000.00 as my financial obligations/responsibilities are so few.

So, let me contrast Boris’s life with another family I know who get by quite nicely on about $30,000.00 or so a year, AND they have one additional child! This is a family who owns their own home – albeit still mortgaged – and who still manage to go away for a couple of weeks every summer while enjoying the fruits of their labor.

How do they do this? They do so by living within their means and sometimes below their means as well.

For example, they own just one used car – paid in cash – which is a relatively old van that faithfully gets them from point A to point B and even beyond! They all share one family cell phone (not a smart phone) for when the kids go out or when the parents need to receive an important call, otherwise they make do with their trusted landline. They also share a family computer – with the exception of the oldest child – and they have two “old style” TV’s which work nicely for all concerned. They also have their own garden that produces fresh fruits and vegetables every summer and they eat very well.  And while their children lack for nothing, I’m sure there are family discussions about how nice it would be to have a play-station 3, iPhone or a BluRay DVD player. I’m also sure that they too have their own issues of financial hardship at times…but here’s the BUT…this is a family who has made a committed effort of not living beyond their means. In essence, they are shunning the Joneses rather than trying to keep up with them! And, I think, more importantly, it is because of their personal characters, economic values and perceptions of entitlement.

If Boris and his wife really wanted to pare down their financial obligations, they could get rid of one car, maybe move into a less affluent – but still nice – neighborhood, cut their entertainment/vacation costs and so on. Yet I doubt that they would even consider doing such a thing because it wouldn’t fit into the image of who they are – or possibly – who they want others to think they are. That might sound a tad harsh – and to be honest – I don’t know them all that well. But from what I’ve seen on the more than a few occasions when we’ve hung out together, my assumptions fit their public personas. Which is why I didn’t begin a discussion on the benefits of living a simpler life. I felt that any such talk would most likely have fallen onto deaf ears. Maybe one day in the future…but not now.

Now…I hope you all don’t get the impression that I am judging Boris’s family and their lifestyle while placing the other family high on a pedestal of simple living, because I’m not! We are all free to live our lives however we want, and that is one of the beauties of living in a relatively free and democratic country that has adopted capitalism as a way of life.

What I am saying though is…if you find that your lifestyle is at the root of most – or all – of your complaining, then it might be time to seek an alternative way of living. One that allows you to be you, rather than a construct of what society expects of you.

Or not! :)

So…is the cost of being you detrimental to your overall life satisfaction? Or have you come to terms with how you want to live your life regardless of what others – or society – expects from you?

As usual, I’d love to read your thoughts on this topic so please, keep the conversation flowing by adding a comment below.

OH…and I’m now on Facebook if ya wanna be friends. You can friend me at https://www.facebook.com/lyle.robinson.528

Oh oh…can I ask one more favor please…I am trying to gain more “likes” for my The Joy of Simple Facebook page. if you wouldn’t mind, could ya pop over to https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Joy-Of-Simple/550286035018295?ref=hl and like my page pleeeeezzzzzzzeee! Thank you :)

Take care and all the best.

Lyle

ps: Looking for some fine art photographs to adorn your walls? Then please feel free to check out my Etsy shop @ https://www.etsy.com/shop/PhotographyByLyle

colorful-doorways-etsy

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