Molly and Mandy (Milly is out of shot)

by Steven Harris

We often hear people say, being rich doesn’t make you happy, it just allows you to be miserable in more comfort’. But does it? Can you be miserable in comfort without being rich?

 In the US, a study has found that today we often work more hours and take less holidays than medieval peasants did. We work to pay the bills – but what if those bills were to stop coming? Would we still have to work? 

Downsizing has perhaps become a euphemism for an enforced ‘personal comprehensive spending review’, after redundancy or some other financial catastrophe, but should we really view it this way? Isn’t downsizing what we all really wish we could do?

 In the small Welsh market town where I live there are people who have left mainstream full-time jobs, who now work for money only one day a week. Some still undertake their occupations part time; others just take on occasional local work. Not having a ‘career job’ means not having to having to travel much or commute. An inexpensive, cheap-to-run second hand car is fine for the few miles needed. People have chickens, pigs or bees, grow a good proportion of their own food, and partially heat their houses with waste wood. Some even have solar.

 All this means a modest need for cash, and key to this is small bills!

 Now, saying that this is the secret of life would be offensive. Far more of us do work every hour to pay the mortgage/rent/debts, buy clothes, food and keep our children in the current style, but there are things we could all think about.

 Living completely without cash in the UK today is almost impossible. Some have tried, but they usually seem to end up relying on favours from ‘cash-earning’ friends for those things you just can’t grow, make or salvage. Chas Griffin, in his Scenes From a Smallholding books, writes amusingly of the ‘glamour’ of an almost cashless existence – where even raising the cash for a new pair of wellies (daily footwear on a Welsh smallholding) is as challenging financing a new car would be to a family with salaries. So we still need some cash.

So how can we need less?

Well of course this is Energy Saving Week, so I am going to say – USE LESS ENERGY!

The average household in the UK spends over £1,000 a year on energy. This equates to 5% of an average take-home salary. To take home an extra £1,000, you would need a 7.5% pay rise, or to work around 14 extra days a year. So if you could save £1,000 a year on your bills, you could take two extra weeks off work and be no worse off.

It may not be possible to get bills down to nothing – but solar panels and other microgeneration installations can bring them down to a fraction of what they were. Check our website to see which kind of energy might suit your property. They can even, with the Feed-in Tariffs now available, bring you in a bit of income! So while your downsized energy bills get taken care of you can make your salary go further, or take a half-day off every fortnight!

And by the way:  On most days, our chickens eat about 6p worth of feed and lay one extra large organic egg that would cost around 40p at the supermarket. So in a year each chicken could pay for a day off work. (Average take daily home pay = £76; saving on 300 eggs = £102)