The day after my birthday was my afternoon off. Mary and I were together, enjoying each other’s company and trying to make responsible spending decisions. We drove to the recycling center and paid $5 to drop off several weeks worth of garbage. I spent $5 for a new used wallet, and another $6.95 for a replacement strap for my wristwatch. I looked at some cheap DVDs, but didn’t buy any.
I also made one purchase above my usual level. I bought a used Alpine Design jacket at the consignment store, and negotiated the price down from $30 to $25. It’s still raining most days and my other raincoat’s wearing out. I beat myself up about the purchase for a few sentences until Mary offered a polite version of “Shut up. Happy Birthday!” Aside from scrubs needed for work, I spend about $100/year on clothes and shoes.
I’ve changed my attitude about spending a lot. When I worked behind the scenes in showbiz I thought nothing about dropping $100 for dinner, buying all kinds of new software, coming home with a handful of DVDs, or buying new shoes if I saw a pair that looked good in a store window. I wasn’t living above my means, but a great deal of it was impulse buying of items I didn’t need. I often came across clothes in our closet with the tags still on them a year after purchase.
You might be forced to change your spending habits because of losing a job or facing unexpected calamities like disease, accidents or being the victim of a crime. That can be brutal, painful and frightening. My change was gradual, over an eight-year period. I decided I wanted to do work that helped people directly, and I expected (correctly) that it would pay a lot less than the entertainment industry. I had enough time while I was transitioning careers and getting an education in health care to think carefully about how to live on less. My wife and I planned, and we now have a life that is more spiritually nourishing in no small part because we chose to spend less and own fewer things.
I get the feeling our government hasn’t gone through any similar sort of soul searching. This sequester thing is such a dumb way to reduce spending. Suppose I had used a method like this. Instead of considering my purchases case-by-case, I would just spend 6% less. I would buy 6% less food, drive 6% less, heat the house 6% less, only take part of my asthma meds etc. Instead, I chose targeted spending reductions like moving to a smaller house much closer to work, which reduced my driving 80% and our mortgage more than 50%. I therefore didn’t have to do “dumb cutting” like EVERYTHING OFF 6%, because WE MUST REDUCE SPENDING.
Regarding the national agenda, I think there are things we shouldn’t cut at all, and other things we could cut more than the sequester levels demand (weapons). We even ought to spend more on some things, like repairing bridges, and expanding preventative care for all citizens. But they aren’t asking my opinion about it. No one is. National government isn’t my area of expertise. I’ll concentrate on self-government.
The sequester approach is a result of viewing the problem of what to do about spending from an overly superficial perspective. Taking an intransigent position like “we need more” or “we need less” government doesn’t solve anything when what we need is BETTER government. Wise choices require careful examination. Surgery is far more challenging than butchery.
It’s possible that if the sequester hurts enough people one of the consequences of the dumb budget cutting will be the election of fewer ideologues to Congress next time. Voters might blame “those guys who did it to us”. I don’t really know. I’m glad I’ve been practicing my own austerity measures for a decade, though. I’m better prepared to weather any coming economic difficulties than others with modest means. Perhaps the failure of dumber approaches will lead to trying smarter ones!