Friday, August 7, 2009

Confessions of a light green, going-for-broke mom

There’s guilt about being caught. And there’s true remorse and changing ways.

I think the same can be said about frugality and being green. You can do it because of circumstances beyond your control, or you can do it because it matters. Right now, I’m trying to see where I fit.

I’ll be honest in that this recession hit our family hard. My husband’s industry was one of the first to be hit, and we’ve lost roughly $50,000 in income over the last 14 months. 50 grand can do a lot of things, and losing it hurts. I won't even go into how bad. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t make the most of a seemingly bad situation.

Going to a one-income family has taught us a lot of lessons. You might see green, but we’re being radically frugal in our lifestyle. Gone are the daily cups of soda from Speedway. Gone are meals and movies out, replaced from cooking at home, often from scratch – and the kind of scratch that doesn’t come in a box. We fill out our children’s ever-outgrowing wardrobe with hand-me-downs and resale shop finds. And I’m trying to hold off as long as we can to buy anything.

The funny thing is, we've learned to live in such a way that I'm surprised we "needed" all of that income in the first place. I'm sure there was a lot that was quite simply wasted. It kind of makes you wonder where our priorities were.

That’s not to say this green thing is a sham. I’d wanted to reduce the chemicals in my home, and we were weeding the vast number of cleaners out of our home already, replacing it whenever we could with a general cleaner, or even better, vinegar or baking soda when needed. (It’s amazing how easily that works.) I love fresh produce, so we hit the farmers market hard, and this season, started our own gardens, to moderate success. We worried about chemicals, so we now grow them naturally, for better or worse. I felt guilty about those plastic poopy diapers sitting in landfills for eternity, and we’ve settled into a pattern of cloth at home, disposal at day care. I scour the organics section of the grocery to find steals, and I’m thrilled when I do.

Have I truly changed? I don’t know. Like a dieter who’s craving chocolate, I think about the things I want to buy but are simply out of reach at this time. I’d love to replace a lot of things in our home that are outdated and just worn out. I’d love to update my wardrobe. I’d love to relax with a brand-new book with that newly printed smell. I live vicariously through the people I know who travel, eagerly listening for a crumb of their adventures, of which I’m not able to partake for the very long future.

The thing is, I think I’m not alone. Our country went into a no-buying panic mode for six months or so, and finally has given up and gone back to consumerism. If this Cash for Clunkers program is any consideration, I think as a country we’re itching to buy something, we just don’t have the resources.

I’m curious to see how I’ll turn out. For my family, we plan to hang tight, dig out of our financial crisis, then reassess where things are before we make major - or even a lot of minor - decisions. But I’m guessing the lessons we’ve learned during this journey will stay with us for some time.

What about you? Has the recession impacted how you do or don’t live green? Leave your comment below or join us for the APLS blog carnival. Submit your post to goinggreenmama at gmail by Aug. 15. And watch for a wrapup of the discussion here on Aug. 19.


Green Bean said...

This is such an interesting post. Sometimes, when I hear that the economy is turning around, I get worried that all these more frugal (and therefore greener) changes will go by the wayside. That everyone will go back on the spending binge. No one talks about it and kudos to you for doing it.

Not, btw, that I doubt your commitment to living a green life but it is easier without resources to live a non-green life.

Looking forward to the carnival!

Lisa Sharp said...

I'm sorry about your husband's job but I love that you can look on the bright side and see the good that is coming from it.

Jenni at My Web of Life said...

Thanks for a thoughtful and well-written post. It reinforces my own belief that green and frugal are not mutually exclusive things. It bothers me when people associate being greener with spending more money. Nothing could be further than the truth. Although most truly green and fair-trade products do cost more, the savings that you receive by living a more conscious life and cutting back on the extras will more than make up for it.

I would also like to echo Green Bean's concern about green and frugal changes going by the wayside at the end of the recession. Hopefully the new habits stick!

Steph @ Greening Families said...

I know how hard it is to want new things and not be able to afford them. As someone who was in that place for ten years, I want to tell you that (1) it will get easier and (2) you and your husband will be SO proud of yourselves - as I hope you are right now!

As to your question, I think the fact that you now marvel at how much money your family used to spend is the biggest sign that you won't go back to that life once your family's income rebounds. I've seen, both in our family and in others who tightened their belts, that perceptions about the value of money, time, possessions, and happiness shift to the non-commercial realm. We'd so much rather continue to shop at Goodwill knowing it lets us save the earth's resources and have money to support charities we love than buy new clothes.

Thanks for hosting the carnival and all my best as you move forward in your new life.

Beany said...

That is awful that you had to personally experience such a loss in income. 50K is alot to lose. However, I'm amazed at your resourcefulness and commitment to living a more conscious life. Sending good vibes your way.

Rjs said...

Beany and Lisa, thanks for the positive thoughts. We are getting through this - as everyone will! (Not to say I haven't had my bad days or months, but that's ok.)

GB & Jenni, I still wonder about the frugality post-recession, as in whether people will just breathe a sign of relief and go back to the way things were.

Steph, I agree...hopefully more people will focus on shopping with values rather than just buying what's new!