The Domestic Economy (part 2)

Suburban Stockade Banner self-sufficiency

new-suburban-stockade-introI have never met anyone who didn’t appreciate a reasonably clean house that is comfortable and looks nice. I have never met anyone who doesn’t like eating real meals prepared from real ingredients and eaten with family and then the washing up gets done afterward. Everybody likes wearing clean, mended clothes; dirty laundry that gets dumped in a heap and then reappears a short time later clean, folded, and put away is a delight. What is not to like? Do you enjoy climbing into bed at night into fresh sheets and aired bedding? I do. Everyone does.

But all of those activities take work and plenty of it. Yesterday I got to read a recent copy of “People” where we got peeks at celebrities’ homes. Beautiful, clean, dust-free, organized homes, or at least that’s what the pictures imply. Somebody does that work and I would bet that it wasn’t Ellen DeGeneres. It is never mentioned in the text who airs the bedding or dusts Ms. DeGeneres’ five (!) houses.

ellen degeneres home economy

Ellen DeGeneres is so wealthy her horse has her own house.

Does this work only matter because Ms. DeGeneres pays housekeepers, maids, cooks, and gardeners to do it? When I do this work on my one house, then it doesn’t count? As far as the Gross Domestic Product calculations go, this is perfectly true.

But it isn’t true for my family. It matters very much to my family that the laundry is done, the meals are cooked and cleaned up after, that the house is maintained along with the yard, that the endless errands are done on time.

It mattered very much to my children that when they were sick, they got to stay home and lay on the couch as opposed to being heavily dosed with Tylenol and shipped off to school or day care. I’m sure that made the staff happier too, along with all the other parents who then didn’t have to have their children exposed to whatever my children had.

Because I stayed home, neither of us ever had to make the dreadful choice of who got to beg for time off from an unforgiving boss (‘if we wanted you to have kids we would have assigned you some’) nor did we have to take unpaid time to do so. Bill went to work as always and as far as his job was concerned, he didn’t have a messy, inconvenient family.

One of the major difficulties today with the entire work world is that it, along with the school system, is still set up as though there is always one adult at home to manage all the home things; an adult to cope with snow days, weather emergencies, illnesses, household chores, paperwork management, car troubles, everything! The work world is very unforgiving of human frailty and human needs.

Bill here. The above passage reminded me of a post, “Of Pigpens and Paradise” at The American Conservative. Most of it is part of a longer discussion about Donald Trump’s blue-collar supporters, but this paragraph really struck home:

“This is why I get so angry at my fellow conservatives who blame bad schools and incompetent teachers for the poor educational results among the impoverished. Children are not empty receptacles into which we can insert knowledge. If they live in homes filled with noise, chaos, violence, and contempt, it doesn’t matter what race they are, they are going to be very lucky to make it.”

Back to Teresa.

I absolutely believe that every boss in the world really wants golems as employees. Golems work 24/7, they don’t have families, they don’t have illnesses, and because they don’t eat, breathe, or have any other body functions, they really can work 24/7. Golems don’t need so much as a bathroom break or a sip of water.

I absolutely believe that every boss in the world really wants golems as employees.

I absolutely believe that every boss in the world really wants golems as employees.

Barring this, bosses settle for slaves. Slaves have to be fed, clothed, housed, and allowed time once in a while to pee. You also have to allow time for slaves to reproduce themselves so you can get more which leads to the whole family/children problem but since they’re slaves, you can put those otherwise worthless kids to work in the fields or at the looms at age 4.

When they couldn’t have slaves anymore, bosses would settle for serfs and peasants. Serfs and peasants have a few more rights than slaves do, but not very many.

We are now at the delightful stage in the world where bosses have to settle for employees. That is, people who have rights and have to be paid and have reasonably safe working conditions. Employees come with inconvenient families, both young children and elderly parents. Sometimes these elderly parents are located many states away, making it harder for the employee to manage their care.

Do employers care? Only in so much as it affects the bottom line. Employers like to talk a good game about caring for their people because it is fashionable that they do so. They really don’t and our current economic condition means that, less and less, they don’t have to pretend to. The CEO of Carl’s Jr. certainly doesn’t. Andy Puzder straight-up says he wants to create a fully automated restaurant.

“They’re always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case,” Puzder says.

domestic economy andy puzder

Carl’s Jr. CEO Andy Puzder feels sorry for his poor workers and wishes they would go away.

By fashionable, I mean what is expected. It is fashionable these days for countries to be democratically elected and so you see ruthless dictators the world over running elections that they then win with 99% of the vote. What is the difference between the ruler of some despotic banana republic and the Russian tsars? Other than what they say in public about how they live to serve the people, not very much.

So many people are desperate for any kind of income-generating work that they will put up with the worst treatment from bosses. All that silly chatter about work being a joy is written by people who are at the top of the corporate structure, not down at the bottom, processing chicken carcasses for eight hours a day.

Because Bill did the awful job of working outside the home for a boss, I tried hard to make sure he didn’t do much of anything inside the home. He spent his 40 hours a week plus commuting time doing things to earn money. I spent my 40 hours a week (minus commuting time) keeping things going.

Larger projects or ones that required skills I didn’t have got arranged differently. He still built the stone walls and the raised beds and laid all the sidewalks. I painted the whole house (we’re at the 90% mark now) and sewed all the draperies.

We deliberately lived on as little money as we could manage and did as much as we could ourselves. That saved us money and gave us more control over our lives.

In many ways, running our domestic economy as a tight ship gave us more freedom than a second, low-wage job ever would have. It gave us the flexibility of time. I could do all those cost-saving things that eat time such as growing some of our own produce and serious scratch cooking.

I mend all of our clothes, squeezing every last bit of wear out of them. That means spending much, much less on clothing per family member. A quick Google search brought up the factoid that an ‘average’ family spends about $2,000 a year on clothing. I doubt if we spend $200 a year on clothing and we don’t go naked. I make some of our clothes, using bargain fabrics and I buy the rest at Goodwill or at yard sales. Not much gets bought new.

Second-hand shopping is a terrific way to save money on clothing and household goods, but it takes time, which I have as it is part of my job.

I didn’t pay someone to paint every room in my house with elaborate patterns. I did it myself for the cost of paint and plenty of time.

It’s an endless list of the things I do to trade time for money but none of them are hard. Anyone can learn to cook, to garden, to shop effectively, to knit socks and quilt window panels, but they take time. It takes time to teach kids to read or do household chores to some reasonable standard and it takes time to sit and listen to neighbors as you get to know them.

What is hard is dropping out of society. At Fortress Peschel, we have been on the fringes of society for many years now and we’re used to it. We aren’t doing anything special either. Everybody used to do this and there are other people like us who still do.

As an example, we have one car for our household. This doesn’t bother us. Since we both work from home now, one car is all we need. This saves us a ton of money.

But when Bill was still working at The Patriot, we made do with one car. Technically, we had two cars but since Older Son was living at home and had a job, he used the second car, so we rarely drove it. If I needed a car when Bill was at work, I used Older Son’s.

This meant I had to plan my usage of the car in advance but so what? Jobbing all my errands into one trip saved me money, time, and depreciation on the vehicle. How is that bad?

Could we use a big panel van? If we were to do a lot of craft shows, selling our books and tote bags, a van would be needed. But since we only do local shows, we’ve been able to manage hauling everything around with our small Ford Focus sedan. It’s tight, but we can do it.

We finished the bulk of the home renovations a few years back and no longer need a van to haul home loads of pavers and gravel and board feet of lumber and sheets of plywood. If we were still doing this, we’d probably have a van or SUV. But we don’t, so we don’t have a bigger car. This reduces flexibility in some ways, but in other ways, it frees up money and the space needed for a bigger car in the driveway.

And here I am, circling back to Financial Independence. If you don’t control your money, you can’t control your life. This is not to say that having money in the bank and no debt makes problems go away. It doesn’t. But it sure is easier to manage everyday life when you KNOW that you can throw money at emergencies instead of credit cards and bank loans.

Everything works together for us. My money management let me stay home and make our lives better. The time I gained staying home, let me hone my money management skills so I could stay home. The time I spend exercising (time I couldn’t spend if I was outside of my home for 8 hours a day plus commuting plus lunch) helps my health and mental well-being, making me easier to live with. I have time to sleep which certainly makes my life better and that absolutely makes the life of my family better.

The Domestic Economy of running a household matters to the well being of the family. My staying home also does something else, besides ensuring that we have a simpler life, with a smaller footprint on the earth. It means that the job I could have been doing outside my home went to someone else, someone who needed it more.

If I can manage on the money we have, then why do we need more? Why do I need to do a job that I wouldn’t particularly like? Should I take the food from someone else’s children because society says I should be gainfully employed? I don’t think so.

This is very radical thinking these days. Our entire economy is built on the structure of living with more, rather than living with less.

I absolutely believe that we will all be living on less in the future, because we will have to. There will be less money floating around, fewer resources, less choices available, less of everything in fact, except work and hunger and cold. There will be more of that.

By dropping out early and learning to live on less when it’s easy, you learn the skills to manage when it’s harder. If you start turning your thermostats down when you can afford to pay for more heat, you save money upfront AND you learn that you don’t need to heat your house to 70 degrees in January. Every year we went a degree lower and now we heat the house to a toasty 64 degrees during the day.

If we had to, we could go lower, to 63 or to 62 degrees or even less. Every degree tick down lets us save money on heating oil but it also shows us that we can manage just fine on less.

The future ahead of us will be challenging in many ways. I believe that we’ll all have to have someone home full time to do all the heavy work that our grandmothers and great grandmothers did.

The partner at home, by the way, doesn’t have to be female. The person going out into the work world should be the one who earns the larger salary or who hates it the least.

The partner staying home to manage the Domestic Economy should be treating that job just as seriously as they would any other job. The only difference is that you don’t get paid in dollars. You do get job satisfaction, sometimes, but the money isn’t there because our culture doesn’t value taking care of family. You make your money by making what you do have go further and learning how little you really do need to be happy.

This is a very different way of thinking, one that flies in the face of what is currently fashionable. You can ease yourself into this way of thinking by going over your finances with a fine tooth comb and deciding what absolutely has to be done. Then you take the larger salary and use that. Bank the smaller one, or split that income between debt repayment and emergency funds. You need both.

As I written endlessly, doing this requires being very clear on what is a need and what is a want. A need is a roof over your head and food on the table. A want is a 5,000 square foot house with a three car garage.

A need is a car. It’s hard to manage without one, although some people do. A want is a wardrobe of vehicles, one for every licensed driver in the household plus a motorcycle and a spare vehicle ‘just in case’.

The more you perform this exercise, the clearer your vision of what do you need versus what do you want becomes. A clear vision of what you want for your family may lead you to the Domestic Economy. It did with us.

As an aside, let me point out that if your partner is the type who will run off with a younger, blonder cookie, then you may need a new partner. The partner is the problem, not staying home.

Next Week: In-Depth Goal Setting and Time Management