Let me start by saying it would never have happened while on unemployment payments. About two hundred bucks was the extent of my savings in those days, and that took a LONG time to accrue.
Once I came to terms with the fact that I had a disability that was not responding to treatment and had no sign of letting me resume paid work, and I applied for the disability pension, a heap of stress fell off my shoulders. No longer did I have to account for every dollar in my weekly budget. I could afford a few small treats AND save. That was a major turning point in my life. I’d always said that the tiny unemployment payments were a poverty trap and a punishment, but having surplus funds for the first time in years underlined those statements in red ink.
Now I could think beyond daily survival and toward an actual future. What did I want? What did I want to save for?
What did I really, really want? Top surgery. I’d wanted it for decades, and had only recently learned that it was possible to access privately. When I saw the cost I knew it would take years, and it did. It took several years, a lot of patience, stubbornness, anger and hoop jumping. I managed it with the help of all the frugality and mental health management skills I’d accumulated.
Here’s another disclaimer: I’m aware that not everyone is privileged enough to have affordable housing, access to friendly social networks that allow informal trades of goods and services, or even the personal space to work through all the emotions involved. I’m not saying that my methods will be possible or even attractive to everyone, only that this was how I did it myself.
So how did I do it? First, I opened a high interest savings account, so my money could grow even as I slept. Until then I’d considered interest unethical, because I’d known the stress of paying interest on borrowed money. So there was that, and I was desperate enough to squash those qualms.
Next I reviewed my weekly budget, averaging my regular bills and deciding on an achievable dietary plan and entertainment budget. I didn’t need a clothing budget; I had plenty. My life is pretty simple by both choice and necessity. I hand-wrote a spreadsheet of sorts, making sure all weekly, monthly and annual bills and membership fees were accounted for.
I’m pretty happy to eat the same things day in and day out, with the exception of fresh fruit and vegetables, which are of course seasonal, especially if home grown or locally sourced. So that part was pretty easy to work out. Peanut butter, tinned sardines, baked beans and tomatoes featured often, as did plain crackers, soba noodles and cheaper cuts of meat. And being a home gardener with foraging tendencies, I included nutritious weeds such as dandelions and milk thistle. Free! Bonus!
My entertainment needs were also simple. My friends aren’t status-seekers who demand that I keep up with the latest blah blah blah. Nor are they, on the whole, overly outgoing themselves. So my baseline costs were for regular coffee dates. Other entertainment needs were met by my hobbies, by the local library, and by friends with gardens who wanted my help. I may not be able to hold down a job, but my IRL social networks are peppered with informal trades and gifts. In the past I’ve joined LETS (Local Exchange Trading Systems) which were wonderful too, but I couldn’t find one here.
The hardest part for me was managing my mental health throughout. Once I’d learned that surgery was actually possible, I was in a rush. Patience is something that is perhaps strengthened with practice. I don’t know, but it was anger and resentment of all the hoop jumping and delays that I most needed to manage. At times I considered giving up. Then my stubbornness would kick in and I’d take out my aggravation on plants that I knew could handle it. Every shrub was repeatedly pruned, every inedible weed removed. Lawns were mown more frequently than usual. When all else failed I hit pillows and my mattress and shifted all my furniture around to loud music. Regular gym visits helped wear me out. I had to be careful not to overdo it, as I’d injure myself or my mood would plummet further. It was a fine balance of endorphins and exhaustion.
Oxytocin from hugs became an essential mood balancing input, and one friend started to feel harassed by my increased need for those. Another friend was delighted. Luckily my cat enjoyed plenty of pats and brushing. I patted every dog that crossed my path, with their human’s permission. I hugged a lot of trees.
Any time someone gave me cash, it went into the high interest savings account. Occasionally I sold something I’d created, and those fund were added to the account. Any time I managed to trim my budget, the surplus was added to the account. A glutton for self-denial, I trimmed my electricity, gas and phone budget and added those funds. Any time I’ve played something that rewarded me for achieving a goal, it was obviously a strong incentive to continue… to improve. Bank interest gained in those days was much higher than current rates, and the buzz from each month’s interest strongly reinforced my efforts. When I wasn’t angry I enjoyed the game of it all.
Previous interactions with insurance companies had left me emotionally and financially bruised, so I omitted all contact with health insurers. This simplified things further. With a quote from the surgeon, I added a couple of thousand for contingencies, given my age. I’m pretty healthy, but without insurance it made sense to factor in some surplus for the unexpected, which turned out to be wise.
I’m now saving for a house, which seems as achievable as 3D printing a unicorn. A person needs a dream, right?
Thanks to the photographer of the fab image above, obtained free from Pexels.