The Domestic Economy

Suburban Stockade Banner self-sufficiency

Suburban stockade introductionI do one of the most radical, unfashionable things there is to do these days. I have been doing it since our kids were tiny. I stay home and I work hard at not being a consumer.

I didn’t put my three kids in day care. The cost was so astronomical that it wasn’t worth it financially to work a minimum-wage job 40 hours a week and give it all to the child-care facility. What was the point? That I would work for free to earn Social Security points to be cashed in later? Since I doubt I’ll ever see any money from Social Security, that wasn’t good enough.

domestic economy social security

If you believe that Social Security puts your contributions into a trust fund that is waiting for you later, you are wrong.

(If you believe that Social Security puts your contributions into a trust fund that is waiting for you later, you are wrong. As soon as the money comes in the door, it is promptly dispensed to the recipients, such as my elderly relatives. This means that when it’s our turn to draw from it, there’s a chance it won’t be there, or the payments will be smaller, or they’ll raise the age when we can apply.)

Should I work for free so that I could stay employable in the event that my dear husband would meet some younger, blonder cookie and abandon me and the kids? He’s not that type, at all. I read advice columns and have since I was 12 and Bill never showed any of the red flags that advice columnists talk about over and over and over and over. You know, the ones that everyone knows and everyone ignores, because he’ll change and he’ll be different and I don’t want to be judgmental. This is why the dear Lord gave us judgment! So we could use it.

Should I work for free so that if my dear husband died, we wouldn’t be left penniless, me and a bunch of little kids? That’s what term life insurance is for. We each have a policy and when Younger Son (YS) turns 18, we’ll phase that out.

Should I work because I have no family or friends to turn to and may God save us from asking for help in this day and age from the people who claim to love us because that would show what candy-assed weaklings we are? I’m not a big fan of the current line of thought that says we, a species that evolved in tight family groups, should be atomized one from another as much as possible to show how independent and unneedy we are.

I’ve done my time out in the work world. I have a teaching degree in Art Education and after doing my student teaching, I realized that I should never set foot in the public school system, for the students’ benefit and my own. My hat is off to all the brave men and women who do that thankless, underpaid job.

I’ve worked retail for years, at various chain stores, all of which (other than Boscov’s) have gone bankrupt. It’s tough work, and it’s no longer rewarded the way it was before bean-counting at the big chain stores destroyed the idea of a career at a department store. You know, when you could find a 30-year veteran in the appliance department who knew everything about the washing machines and stoves that he sold.

I was in the Navy for almost ten years. I learned that I didn’t want to command a ship so when they offered me money to leave, I took it. That was one of my better decisions. I learned a lot in the US Navy, and one of the things I learned was I didn’t want to be in charge of anything larger than my own household. Which I run as a tight ship, by the way.

So I’ve done my time in the work world, and I fail to understand the concept that a “job” is supposed to be fulfilling, demonstrates your worthiness as a human being, and allows you to self-actualize. For many of us, a “job” is what you do to earn money so you can live your life with the people you love. You know, them: your spouse, your kids, your family, your friends, your neighbors, your community.

Your job does not love you. Let’s start with that. No matter how much you love your job and your co-workers, they don’t love you back. You can fall over dead of a stroke and within a few days, someone else will be doing your job. Within the year, you’ll be forgotten by most of them. Graveyards are full of people who thought they were indispensable at work. They weren’t. Everyone of those people were replaced by someone else.

Who do you think goes to your grave to mourn? It isn’t your boss or your co-workers. Once the funeral’s over, they’re back at the job grumbling about who’s going to do the work you dumped on them by inconveniently croaking. Your family and friends are the ones who take the hit, who visit your grave, who miss you desperately, whose lives are damaged, sometimes beyond repair.

Jobs are a place to earn money. Period. That wonderful career? My sibling and my best friend both have one and after decades of 60- to 70-hour weeks (they don’t get paid for all that overtime as they are salaried, so essentially they work 20 to 30 hours a week for free), they have both had it. They’re stressed out to the max, exhausted, and starting to experience physical damage relating to the excessive hours. They don’t have lives. They go to work and come home and collapse. When they go on vacation, if they aren’t putting in the time answering urgent emails, then they get pinged for it when they get back.

Is that any way to live?

Bill made more money than I did so he went to work. I stayed home and I made the house work. I pinched every penny, making the money go as far as possible. If I could do something to make our life at home easier, or his work life easier, I did so. If I could do something to avoid spending money, then that’s what I did. It’s amazing what you don’t need.

It was very soon after we got married that I discovered Amy Dacyczyn of The Tightwad Gazette. She made it possible for me to stay home with the kids and begin our path to Financial Independence. Her book is one of the very few that I recommend that you buy (other than ours, of course) for your home library. When you have your own copy, you can make notes on every page and in the index and reread it regularly. I reread mine and I am always rewarded for it with fresh ideas and inspiration.

The Tightwad Gazette was published in 1996 from newsletters published from about 1990 to 1996. Yes, some of the material is dated and the prices quoted most definitely are. It is still the single best book on thrift I have ever read and I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you want to be sure before paying for a copy, get it from the library.

This book changed our lives in many ways. It helped me to think about what is a good life. What did we, Bill and I, want to accomplish as opposed to just existing. What were our goals? Where did we want to go? That all sounds so highfalutin for a book about penny pinching, but Amy Dacyczyn wrote about a lot more than recycling aluminum foil.

This is why the book is so worth rereading on a regular basis. What works for you now may change in the future as your needs change.

Amy led me to thinking seriously about staying home and making that a conscious choice rather than the default. Staying home consciously meant that it was a career, although not one that was recognized by our economy.

It has always bugged me that a cancer patient going through a divorce is better for the economy than a stable, married, healthy couple. Divorcing cancer patients spend all kinds of money and spending money (or earning it) are the only things that matter to the bean-counters who track quality-of-life statistics.

domestic economy

It has always bugged me that a cancer patient going through a divorce is better for the economy than a stable, married, healthy couple.

Buy that second home and end up in bankruptcy court? Why it’s good for the economy! Stay in the same home all your life, pay it off, improve it, know your neighbors, have healthy kids and a loving spouse? Worthless and useless to the Gross Domestic Product.

That doesn’t make any sense to me. Why don’t we value a healthy, happy home? Why doesn’t it count? Because no money changes hands? Because doing more for yourself not only makes you more resilient, more independent, and have more money in the bank, it means you don’t buy as much cheap Chinese junk? Is that a problem?

Our entire system is set up to pull us away from our homes, away from our communities and away from the people we claim to love. If money doesn’t change hands, then what you do doesn’t count, doesn’t matter, and is meaningless.

Yes, you have to have some money since that is the way the system is set up. Yes, you have to have health care but if you’re driving yourself to an early grave because of the job you work, will you benefit from that health care? A life lower on the stress ladder may benefit your health quite a bit because it is lower stress.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that I believe the domestic economy is far more important than it is given credit for. And we’ll go into why next week.

Next Week: The Domestic Economy (part 2)