Earlier this year I spent a couple of weeks in Bali. An incident that has stayed with me occurred when our taxi driver took my friend to a bottle shop to pick up some wine. They went inside together, then moments later our driver bounced back into the vehicle. “He pay [$30] for bottle of wine,” he exclaimed, his face shining with amazement. “Hooo-ey! That 10 days’ pay for me!” He laughed energetically. I could detect no jealousy or agenda in his tone – just sheer bedazzlement.
On another occasion, as we were preparing to waddle back to our rooms after a feast served up by our villa staff, I asked the head waiter, who I knew quite well by this time, what happened to all the leftovers. “Oh, it all gets used,” he said vaguely, smiled and disappeared with a tray still laden with half a large fish.
And then there were all those motor scooters, hundreds of them on a little stretch of road, careening into any vacant patch of pavement, laden with grandmothers and babies and not a helmet in sight, powering through traffic in whatever way they could. I confess that there’s something about that skin-of-the-teeth existence that touches me. The Balinese are people who appear to be happy, who make do, who take full advantage of what they have. There’s an exhilaration in the way they ride the earth.
Further south in Australia, it’s somewhat different. In our regulated and cushioned environment – helmets everywhere – we have little need to attend to the last detail. We can buy a $30 bottle of wine on our way to the restaurant, and the staff will whisk our leftover fish straight to the garbage before the health inspector gets a whiff of a conspiracy to encourage bugs that are bad for us.
And what does all this Balinese industry, enthusiasm and resourcefulness have to do with my promise to write this week about how we Shedders save money thanks to our communal existence?
Let it be admitted that we are not Balinese in our habits. But the structure of our lively household does discourage waste in many ways.
In the average one- or two-person household, there are many under-used possessions. Consider the olive pipper (for the uninitiated, it’s a small device that handily takes the pip out of an olive), or more dramatically, the backyard swimming pool. With no increased cost, a dozen people could be using that olive pipper, and it’s about the same with the swimming pool. As Shedders, we manage to avoid some of that inefficiency.
Here are some of the ways in which, in our household, we are able to cut costs and avoid waste:
– We get by with one olive pipper. It still doesn’t get used much, but at least it’s working three times as often as if we all lived in separate houses. Admittedly, this was not a major expense, but it’s a metaphor for all the little things. As the Balinese could tell us, every penny counts.
– We shared the expense of building a house. While working, I had long dreamed of a beautiful home in the country, near the ocean, with gardens and land to wander on. And now I have that, in large part because I was able to share the construction and development costs with two other families.
– We often share transportation, which is important because we live in the country, and restaurants, shops, choir and beach walks are all a drive away.
– We have one ride-on mower among us, to manage our 4-acre block. The little trailer I mentioned a few weeks ago? We bought it and my share of that purchase is barely worth mentioning.
– We bought a mulcher, discounted at Aldi’s. It’s not a purchase I would have made on my own but is easy to justify among the six of us. It placidly munches through stalks as big as your thumb and gives us vast amounts of great compost. That works for me.
– We share books, videos and movies. I’m always encountering something new in our big library with which to settle into an easy chair. We’re all avid movie buffs so any viewing we put our hands on gets good mileage.
– We buy many things in bulk. Our toilet paper comes in 50-roll packs from Costco.
– Our council rates, a fixed cost, are shared three ways.
– We save on utilities. It doesn’t cost much more to cook for six than it does for two; ditto with heating the house or watering the gardens.
– We share one washer, dryer, freezer, TV, stove top, dishwasher, oven and barbecue. Some of these things may wear out faster with the heavier use we give them, but on balance we use such items more efficiently.
– Think of what the six of us save by not having to travel to visit one another!
– There may come a time when we share the cost of a gardener, a cleaner, a carer.
– I might point out (to my housemates, really) that we could save a great deal of money if we shared a swimming pool, but as I’m the only one in the family who wants one, the five of them tend to see it as spending a great deal of money. So we don’t have one. You can’t win them all.
In summary, many things cost Rick and me one third of what they would if we lived by ourselves. Many other things offer more modest savings. Of course there are also items we wouldn’t have purchased if we lived alone, but the balance tips easily toward real economy.
As the third world jostles to achieve economic parity with us, I wish its people well. I wish them the health and comfort that comes with prosperity, but I hope that they will follow the Balinese example, and will take leadership in demonstrating how to find joy in the small things and on a small budget.
My radar tells me that, in the developed world, there is a trend away from “rampant consumerism” and toward more thoughtful efficiencies. I’m glad to be part of that, in the Shedders tradition, and to be stretching Rick and my retirement dollars.