Saturday, September 12, 2009
A Slow Month
This title is inspired by a blog I like called 'These Days In French Life'. It's by an American who married a French guy and moved to the countryside, only to quickly embark on a life of non-consumerism which she called 'a slow year ' (which then turned into another - I think she's on her 3rd now). Her goal was to not spend money on anything other than food and basic utilities, and even those costs have gone way down over time. She functions in part by growing her own food, but also by bartering, foraging, dumpster-diving, and a whole lot of serendipity. She has a lot of great strategies for reducing both her external and internal consumption (like energy use), and her blog has really inspired me to think about what I need and how I spend my money.
However, I've always told myself I couldn't live like her because I'm not in the countryside, and I haven't actually altered my consumption habits that much. Yet my post-vacation financial situation has forced me into 'slow' mode, like it or not. I took all of August off since I had few students anyway, but because I'm paid hourly I had no income for the month. My savings should have been enough to get me through August and September, but I had fewer hours in July than I expected so my travel fund was considerably less than I expected. I went over-budget on vacation despite my efforts to be thrifty, so when I got back to Lyon I was just barely able to cover my rent and bills. Now my account is basically at zero until October, since we are only paid once a month in France.
While Kevin kindly offered to spot me any money I needed (and he's covering most of our food expenses this month), I'm determined not to spend anything until my next paycheck. I left the US after taking over a year to pay down a huge credit card balance, and resolved to live within my means once I got France. It's easier here since a thrifty attitude is part of the general French culture (and I got rid of the credit card). But spending NO money at all is extremely hard, since the city is a constant minefield of temptation.
In fact, just before I'd resolved to live a 'slow month,' I stupidly spent some of my last few euros on low-sugar cookies in the pharmacy. I was in there to get some more tape for my broken toe, and because I was hungry I was defenseless in front of the over-priced cookies. They were tasteless, of course (never buy cookies in a French pharmacy) and I kicked myself over how much I paid (almost 5 euros!). But it was a good lesson in noticing how much money I waste on little things here and there. I've been tempted so many times this month to buy something (usually food), and it's only my empty wallet that stops me. In desperation I even took some coins out of our change jar to get a pastry the other day! (I'll be in trouble once Kevin reads this...)
It hasn't been as easy as I thought to buy nothing, even without a credit card. Yet I'm determined to make it through this month of non-consumption not just out of financial necessity, but also as an exercise in mindfulness. In fact, one of the Five Mindfulness Trainings that Thich Nhat Hahn teaches relates to mindful consumption: being fully aware of what we ingest and expose ourselves to, and striving to consume only that which is good for ourselves, our community, and the earth.
Seeing how difficult it has been to resist spending money on stupid little things has made me realize how unmindful my consumption is most of the time. I don't spend large amounts as recklessly as I did when I had a credit card, but I do spend small quantities quite thoughtlessly on things I don't need. While the overall impact on my bank account is not that dramatic, it does add up. But it's ultimately my lack of mindfulness that I want to work on, and that's why the word 'slow' feels so important. For cultivating mindfulness is all about slowing down: whether it's slowing my eating in order to appreciate my food, slowing my steps in order to be present where I am, or slowing my thoughts long enough to truly listen to someone else. And this month in particular, slowing my spending in order to be more conscious of how and why I consume.