Sustainability

Self-Sufficiency and Resilience – Plans upon Returning to Australia

 

Back in January of this year I wrote a post about Self Sufficiency, Independence and Lifestyle Planning . In it, I explained how I wanted to become less reliant on the current industrial system and to take more control of my own life. I’ve achieved a lot since then, but knowing that we were moving back to Australia in less than a year meant that I put off some changes. Now that we are only about 10 weeks away from returning home, I thought it would be worthwhile revisiting that post; to envisage what I want our new lifestyle to look like and to outline some goals for the next few years.

1. Getting off the Economic Grid

In 2010 I finally paid off the last of my mortgages. Now that I’m no longer paying any interest, my cashflow is healthy and I’m saving a large percentage of my after-tax income. Knowing that we have to buy a car and appliances when we get back, my priority now is to save for those big-ticket items. The last thing I want to do is go into debt to buy depreciating assets.

Upon return to Australia, my income drops but Brendan will be back at work so it should even out. We don’t relish the thought of both being back to full-time work, but at least in the short-term we see that it is necessary. We both have secure jobs for the moment, so we plan to use this opportunity to save like crazy. Comparative to the rest of the world, the Australian economy looks reasonably healthy at present. But in this globally connected world I can see that a number of potential crises could impact Australia quite heavily within the decade. I still think the biggest risks come from the Australian Housing Bubble and the reliance of the Australian economy on China. I anticipate that any crisis in the European and American economies (looking more and more likely) will result in rapidly rising interest rates in Australia. Australian homeowners are already struggling with their mortgages while the cash rate is 4.5%. How will they cope if it increases to 9%? 

Holding cash in an economic environment like this just makes so much sense to me. We are using the current ‘recovery’ to prepare for the hard times we predict will come as the global debt bubble unravels.

2. Reducing Energy Dependence

Cheap energy will not last forever and my family and friends in Australia are already seeing rising prices, especially on the electricity bill. There are a few lifestyle decisions we’ve made which should help us to reduce our energy dependence once we are back in Australia.

Firstly, we are renting a detached townhouse just a 15 minute walk to the city centre. It has any excellent walk score which was really important to me. My daily commute to work will be about 4km each way, so I’ll easily be able to do that by bicycle and Brendan will be able to do the same to his work. By carefully choosing where we wanted to live we can reduce our dependence on a car. We will still buy one car, but I anticipate that it will remain in the garage for much of the time. Removing the requirement to buy a second car also saves us a lot of money.

In selecting what car to buy, we have been referring to the Green Vehicle Guide. It’s an excellent website which rates Australian vehicles based on greenhouse and air pollution emissions. It also provides statistics on how much fuel each vehicle consumes. We are very keen to find a fuel efficient, second-hand car.

We’ll also be using the Government’s energy rating guide when shopping for energy-efficient appliances. Our new home is centrally heated with natural gas and we are hoping that the smaller size will reduce our heating expenses. Otherwise, we plan to rug up in order to avoid using too much energy to heat our living space.

3. Improving Food and Water Security

My first priority once we’ve settled into our new home it to begin stockpiling some food and water for emergencies. Knowing that we can sit out a short distruption to services is very comforting. I would never want to put myself in the position where I had to rush off to the shops in a time of emergency to stock up on food and water. It also makes good economic sense to stock up on more than you need. Food is increasing in cost faster than just about any investment right now and certainly faster than the rate of inflation. When things are on sale, we’ll simply stock up and we’ll buy in bulk every six months or so.

I’ve already identified a food co-op not too far from my house where we can buy bulk-goods without all the packaging you get in the supermarket. It also looks like they stock fresh fruit and vegetables.

We don’t have a lot of room for it, but we intend growing some of our own food. The courtyard we have is not very big, but we’ve been surprised how much we’ve been able to grow in our small courtyard in California. Of course, the climate in California is much more condusive to growing food all year round than Canberra, but I’m sure we’ll learn as we go along.

4. Building Community

It’s important to me to get involved in the community when we get home. We feel like we’ve been in limbo for the last three years, but once we are back in Australia I hope we feel a bit more settled. We already have a lot of friends in Canberra, but I’m very keen to meet more like-minded people as well.

I’m especially excited about checking out SEE-change, the local Canberra community for creating a sustainable future.

I finally feel like things are falling into place. I’m now at the point where I can visualise our new life back in Australia and I’m even starting to get a little excited about the move.

Photo by : jef safi

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Eating Locally this Spring

Photo by: Down to Earth

Spring has sprung in our garden. The tomato plants are taking over their world (they seem to be much bigger this year), the apples and oranges are maturing, the beets are ready to harvest and the squash are poking up from the earth. I love this time of year. New life in the garden makes me feel alive.

I’ve also been inspired to try some new recipes to eat up the bounty of our harvest. As I type, I have a ‘Whole Orange Cake’ in the oven. It’s called a whole orange cake because, you guessed it, it’s made from a whole orange! Just put the whole thing in the food processor and add a few more ingredients, transfer to a baking tin and bake for 40 minutes. This is my type of cake. If the batter is anything to go by, this is going to be one tasty treat. A big thanks to Rhonda at Down to Earth for the inspiration.

This week, I’ve also discovered a new edible in the garden. Garlic Scapes. They are the stalk that my garlic have sent up in preparation for flowering. I’ve left a few scapes on to flower, but the rest have been removed for a far more satisfying (to me) purpose.

Photo from: The Hungry Mouse

Last night I made this Garlic Scape Pesto from The Hungry Mouse. The finished product is delish (as long as you like garlic of course). It’s quite a strong flavour and sits somewhere between raw garlic and spring onions. We spread it over Brendan’s homemade pizza last night and it was fantastic. We only got one jar of pesto from our small garlic crop, but I imagine it’s going to make its way into a lot of recipes in the next month.

Photo from: The Hungry Mouse

My next challenge is working out what to do with the six punnets of strawberries I bought at this weeks farmers market. They are so very tasty, but there is only so many strawberries one can eat in any given week. I don’t have any pectin left for Strawberry Jam, so I’m thinking Strawberry Frozen Yoghurt and frozen Strawberry puree might be the best way to preserve the remainder. Any other ideas?

This afternoon I’m going down to the local library where our town is holding its first ‘Home Harvest‘. It’s a monthly homegrown fruit, vegetable, and flower exchange that’s been founded recently by a group of dedicated backyard gardeners and local foodies.

A homegrown food exchange is a way of sharing what we have and reducing waste when we grow more than we need. In these times of economic challenge, a homegrown fruit and vegetable exchange is good for the pocketbook and good for the soul.

I’m excited to see how it turns out. It’s really great to see initiatives like this popping up in the local community.

What’s your Walk Score?

I’ve lived in quite a few different places in my life. Some places I’ve loved living, and some I couldn’t wait to get away from. The same goes when visiting cities here in the US. I’ve been to a lot of them, but only a few are memorable and enjoyable to visit. What I found interesting was that the places I really connected with all had one thing in common. They were all walkable neighborhoods.

What makes a neighborhood walkable?

  • A center: Walkable neighborhoods have a center, whether it’s a main street or a public space.
  • People: Enough people for businesses to flourish and for public transit to run frequently.
  • Mixed income, mixed use: Affordable housing located near businesses.
  • Parks and public space: Plenty of public places to gather and play.
  • Pedestrian design: Buildings are close to the street, parking lots are relegated to the back.
  • Schools and workplaces: Close enough that most residents can walk from their homes.
  • Complete streets: Streets designed for bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit.

© Urban Advantage and Roma Design

Walk Score is a fantastic website where you can check how walkable your location is. Walk Score is officially supported in the United States, Canada, the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand. At the moment however it seems most accurate in the US, because it doesn’t seem to pick up on transit options in Australia.

I’ve determined the walk scores of some of the places I’ve lived over the years. Not surprisingly, the places I hated living were ‘Car Dependent’ (Walk-score between 0-49). The places I’ve loved to live have been classed as ‘Very Walkable’ (Walk-score between 70-89).

I’ll certainly be checking the walk score of any potential rental properties when we start looking in Canberra next year.

Photo by: Daniel*1977

Peak Oil, Sustainability and Economic Collapse – Oil Zenith resources

I’ve just been made aware of this new website which offers a collection of some of the best resources on the web about peak oil, sustainability and economic collapse. I’ve already included some of these links in my resources list, but this website is something else altogether. I think I could get lost in there for days. Check it out –>

Oil Zenith

Links – Week 9, 2010

Photo by: Papalars

Blogs

This week I thought I’d feature a couple of blogs which are actually cooperatives. i.e. they are written by a community of different writers. Each writer brings their own point of view to the conversation and I’ve found some great new blogs in the process.

The Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op

A writers cooperative: Simple Living, Self Reliance, Organic Gardening, Sustainability and so much more.

The Green Phone Booth

Where ordinary women become eco-heroes

Economy

This article by Richard Heinberg is well worth reading. In fact, everything Richard writes is worth reading but this article is a turning point in his discourse. No longer is he just about warning the world of the Limits to Growth and the likely outcomes of Peak Oil. He now says we’ve already turned the corner and society as we know it is collapsing. It’s now time to focus on how we transition.

Life After Growth

In 2008 the U.S. economy tripped down a steep, rocky slope. Employment levels plummeted; so did purchases of autos and other consumer goods. Property values crashed; foreclosure and bankruptcy rates bled. For states, counties, cities, and towns; for manufacturers, retailers, and middle- and low-income families, the consequences were—and continue to be—catastrophic. Other nations were soon caught up in the undertow.The world has entered a new era. The project of awakening and warning policy makers and the general public was worthy of the investment of all the effort we could muster. In fact, it would have been negligent of the Limits to Growth authors, Colin Campbell, Jean Laherrère, and thousands of climate and environmental scientists and activists (myself included) not to give it our best shot. But it is now too late to avert a collapse of the existing system. The collapse has begun.

It is time for a different strategy.

By saying this, I am not suggesting that we should all simply give up and accept an inevitable, awful fate. Even though the collapse of the world’s financial and industrial systems has started, effort now at minimizing further dire consequences is essential. Collapse does not mean extinction. A new way of life will almost certainly emerge from the wreckage of the fossil-fueled growth era. It is up to those of us who have some understanding of what is happening, and why, to help design that new way of life so that it will be sustainable, equitable, and fulfilling for all concerned. We all need practical strategies and tools to weather the collapse and to build the foundation of whatever is to come after.

In late 2009 and early 2010, the economy showed some signs of renewed vigor. Understandably, everyone wants it to get “back to normal.” But here’s a disturbing thought: What if that is not possible? What if the goalposts have been moved, the rules rewritten, the game changed? What if the decades-long era of economic growth based on ever-increasing rates of resource extraction, manufacturing, and consumption is over, finished, and done? What if the economic conditions that all of us grew up expecting to continue practically forever were merely a blip on history’s timeline?

It’s an uncomfortable idea, but one that cannot be ignored: The “normal” late-20th century economy of seemingly endless growth actually emerged from an aberrant set of conditions that cannot be perpetuated.

That “normal” is gone. One way or another, a “new normal” will emerge to replace it. Can we build a different, more sustainable economy to replace the one now in tatters?-

Getting Out of Debt – And the Debt System

Indebtedness pushes us into a form of servitude, and in extreme cases, can leave us imprisoned. Consider, for example, current rates of interest, usurious compared to what savers earn on their savings in the same banks that charge that interest.

How do we convince people they definitely cannot afford to take out loans to buy things? More impact will be realized by targeting luxuries such as houses, cars, and appliances than small “goods.” The Obama administration recognizes this, and has therefore rewarded people for purchasing houses, cars, and — most recently – appliances, by giving them huge financial incentives (i.e., taxes on other Americans who might not even be tempted to play the “consumer” game).  All of this has operated to keep us indebted – and to serve the stock market at the expense of the people.

Loans are required for most people to purchase these “durable goods” (which are often no longer durable or good). Loans traditionally are seen as safety nets, but it has become clear as our incomes decline  and as we can no longer count on the myth of endless economic growth, that they really represent traps.  Never mind the psychological or ecological implications of consumerism — there exists no evidence suggests anybody has minded them so far — the focus here is on the trap into which each potential consumer falls by taking out a loan that require us to pay many times the value of what we receive. Most loans are a bad deal for the borrower, although credit cards represent the largest trap (even with the new rules).

The system needs you to keep borrowing. If you stop borrowing, then who knows what could happen.  What can you do to get out of debt, and to help others get out?

Environment

You CAN Shop For Happiness…But The Purchases Aren’t “Stuff”

You can’t buy happiness. Or can you? One new study shows that you actually can – but it doesn’t come in the form of things. It comes in the form of buying experiences. It’s not necessarily news – we already know that happier societies than the US exist, and they’re societies that put far less emphasis on owning stuff. The latest study by Thomas Gilovich, Cornell University professor of psychology and Travis J. Carter, Cornell Ph.D.  points a shining light on how dematerialization can, and does, make us happier people. We just need to shift where we spend our money (if we need to spend it at all…).

What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism

For those concerned with the fate of the earth, the time has come to face facts: not simply the dire reality of climate change but also the pressing need for social-system change. The failure to arrive at a world climate agreement in Copenhagen in December 2009 was not simply an abdication of world leadership, as is often suggested, but had deeper roots in the inability of the capitalist system to address the accelerating threat to life on the planet. Knowledge of the nature and limits of capitalism, and the means of transcending it, has therefore become a matter of survival. In the words of Fidel Castro in December 2009: “Until very recently, the discussion [on the future of world society] revolved around the kind of society we would have. Today, the discussion centers on whether human society will survive.”

Changing the Culture of Consumerism

Throughout the Global Financial Crisis and the Great Recession we’ve all heard it: Governments and economists telling us to get out and shop to save the economy. I’ve even seen Facebook friends ponder on their status update, “Should I go shopping to save the economy?”

Our Culture of Consumerism

Consumerism is about more than just the proliferation of advertising and spending countless hours at the mall, it’s a culture. Culture can be defined as the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another. That means that our culture comes from all the social interactions that take place in our lives; discussions with family, friends and work colleagues, the TV shows we watch, the magazines we read, Facebook updates we are exposed to. All these social processes add up to become our reality. They define what feels natural to us, what clothes we wear, what foods we eat. We take all this as a given, but it’s really our culture which is shaping our reality.

Unfortunately, consumerism is now the guiding force in our culture. It is so pervasive that literally our well-being, our self-worth and our social status are all intricately tied to our consumption patterns. Obviously this is not a sustainable or viable system to base a culture on.

Why do we Consume so Much?

An interesting (but disturbing) statistic I came across recently, states that the average American lifestyle requires the extraction of 88kg (194lbs) of materials every day. Because we live in a culture that reinforces high consumption patterns, we consume far too many materials. How can we possibly need to use up more than our own body-weight in materials every day? It’s because we associate our well-being with how large our homes are, how big our TV screen is or the size of the car we drive. Consumerism is undermining the ecological systems that allows us to thrive as a species. If we don’t start shifting our culture away from consumerism, this current recession is going to be a stroll in the park compared to the world we’ll walk into.

Attics, basements and garages are loaded with the plunder of our shopping. I see people leave their cars on the street because their garages are so full that there is no room left for a vehicle. Some people even rent storage space to hold their extra stuff. Dumps are filling up with items that have never been used, just tossed out. More and more people are making a living off the perfectly good trash that’s thrown away every day. There is even a TV show called Hoarders which documents the lives of people at the extreme end of what has become a national preoccupation. Does all this stuff even make us happier? Research would suggest that the answer is No.

Consumption Does Not Make us Happier

One of the biggest side effects of the consumer lifestyle, is having less time to enjoy life. We are too busy working more hours, to make more money, to buy more stuff. We spend more hours commuting to work because we want larger houses, which are usually found out in the suburbs. We live in one community, but work in another so we spend so much time rushing around in our cars that we are exhausted by the time we get home. We are so tired that instead of going out to engage with our community and enjoy time with friends we end up watching on average 4 hours of TV per day. The TV shows us lavish lifestyles to which we should aspire and the advertisements tell us that without X or Y we are just not good enough. So, on the weekend we spend too much time at the shops trying to buy our happiness. We become obese and socially isolated. Consumption is undermining our future and our long-term ability to be happy.

How Can our Culture Shift From Consumerism to Sustainability?

So what can we do to combat the culture of consumerism? For a start, we have to work intentionally to shift cultural patterns away from valuing ‘things’ and instead valuing living sustainably or even better, living as a restorative force for the environment.

There are a number of institutions that can be used to move our culture towards sustainability: Business, Media, Education, Government, Traditions and Social Movements. Our culture currently says that the only mission of business is to maximise profits, but there are many great initiatives where small businesses, non-profits and co-ops are operating for the greater good of the community. Many schools are now adding school gardens to act as outdoor classrooms and to give children some much-needed exposure to nature. In recent years we’ve also started to see how the media can shift our culture. The movie Avatar is a good example because it reinforces the idea that we are dependent on and connected to a broader planetary system. In the movie Wall-E, Earth was governed by the Buy n Large corporation which caused mass consumerism and covered the planet in trash. The only life that was left were some obese humans living in space. We need more stories like these to reinforce that consumerism is not a good choice. The more exposure to this cultural story, the more it will start infecting people and begin to spread virally.

Social movements (Grassroots movements) are where I see we need to spend much of our effort to change our culture. Social Movements are often driven by a ‘tipping point’ which unites the majority of the populace in an effort to create change. A tipping point is a moment of ‘critical mass,’ when a trend, idea, or concept becomes a juggernaut. A small event can create a ripple effect, but in order to create one contagious movement, many smaller movements need to be created first.

What Can We Do to Create Social Change?

In the book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, the first key concept is that there are exceptional people out there who are capable of starting epidemics. All you have to do is find them. With an epidemic, a tiny majority of the people do the work. If you are reading this blog, that probably means you! The movement has started, we just need to keep the momentum going until it reaches critical mass.

The second key point is that there is a simple way to package information that can make it irresistible/sticky and will compel a person into action. In order to be capable of sparking epidemics, ideas have to be memorable and move us into action. Personally I’ve found my approach to be different with different individuals. If you can find an issue that someone feels passionate about, it is much easier to tailor the message for that person. If someone is worried about their finances, I show them the fantastic outfits I’ve put together from the thrift store (op shop). If someone is concerned about toxins that their kids are exposed to, I explain how most cleaning products can be made with simple, non-toxic household ingredients like vinegar and baking soda. If someone is worried about health issues, I talk about my organic vegetable garden and the delicious foods I can buy in season at the farmers market. If someone has a new baby, I crochet cute baby hats as gifts and explain how enjoyable the process was to make it.

Finally, what really underlies successful epidemics, is a strong belief that change is possible; that people can radically transform their behavior or beliefs in the face of the right kind of impetus. Tipping Points are an affirmation of the potential for change and the power of intelligent action. The world as we currently know it may seem like an immovable place, but it is not. With the slightest push; just in the right place; it can be tipped.

So in the process of changing our culture away from rampant consumerism, who will you be?

An Innovator? The adventurous one? A visionary? Will you be the translator? Can you take ideas and information and translate them into a language the rest of the population can understand?

An Early Adopter? A part of the slightly larger group that is infected by the innovators?

A member of the Majority? A part of the deliberate and the skeptical mass, who would never try anything until the most respected try it first?

Or, a Laggard? A member of the most traditional group that sees no urgent reason to change?

By becoming aware of these different groups it is easy to see where best to expend our efforts. Inspiring Early Adopters and the Early Majority will create more momentum than trying to convince a Laggard. It is also a more enjoyable process than constantly bashing your head against a brick wall.

So for those of you already on board; the visionaries who are changing the culture at a grass-roots level: what have been your experiences? What works? What doesn’t?

Photo by: What What

Links – Week 8, 2010

Photo by: Christolakis

Blogs

This week I want to feature the blogs of some fantastic urban homesteads. It’s inspiring to see what amazing things can be done on a smallish city or suburban block.

Little Homestead in the City

Eco-pioneers living a homegrown revolution on a sustainable, real-life original urban homestead in Pasadena, California.

Happy Earth

At Happy Earth, we’re on an adventure in urban sustainability, exploring how we can retrofit a typical house and lawn into a healthy, efficient home with an abundant food garden. For us being sustainable is really about living happier, healthier lives and feeling good about doing things that are good for us, the planet and our community. It’s about wholesome food and lower bills, meaning more time for family and friends, and less time working. Happy Earth is also about sharing stories and providing practical, independent information about sustainable living in Wollongong, Australia.

Down to Earth

I write about my ordinary day to day life of working in the home, vegetable and fruit gardening, slowing down and being mindful, cooking simple food, keeping chickens and worms, composting, green cleaning, stockpiling and preserving. I hope what I write about encourages and supports you towards your own changes.

Economy

There’s nothing quite like The Onion to add  some humour to the big issues:

U.S. Economy Grinds To Halt As Nation Realizes Money Just A Symbolic, Mutually Shared Illusion

WASHINGTON—The U.S. economy ceased to function this week after unexpected existential remarks by Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke shocked Americans into realizing that money is, in fact, just a meaningless and intangible social construct.

“You know what? It doesn’t matter. None of this—this so-called ‘money’—really matters at all.”

“It’s just an illusion,” a wide-eyed Bernanke added as he removed bills from his wallet and slowly spread them out before him. “Just look at it: Meaningless pieces of paper with numbers printed on them. Worthless.”

According to witnesses, Finance Committee members sat in thunderstruck silence for several moments until Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) finally shouted out, “Oh my God, he’s right. It’s all a mirage. All of it—the money, our whole economy—it’s all a lie!”

Ok….back to real news:

The Sovereign Debt Disaster

Wherever we look at the world economy today, we see a wall of risk…and potential financial catastrophe. We see a large number of virtually bankrupt major sovereign states (US, UK, Spain, Italy, Greece, Japan and many more) teetering atop a financial system that is bankrupt, but is temporarily kept alive with phony valuations and unlimited money printing.

Energy

The peak oil crisis: Some perils of 2010

Last week we discussed a new report outlining the outlook for global oil production and noted that the conventional wisdom in the peak oil community now says that global oil production will start its inexorable fall circa 2014. After that supplies will inevitably get shorter and oil prices higher unless the global economy has collapsed so far that the amount of oil that can be produced is no longer relevant.

This does not, however, mean that we will have smooth sailing with respect to oil prices during the next few years, as there are many geopolitical and economic events that could occur as early as this year. Most of these potential developments are likely to drive oil prices higher, but one or two could drive prices lower.

Peak Oil: Looking for the Wrong Symptoms?

If I were to ask 10 random people what they would expect would be a sign of the arrival of “peak oil”, I would expect that all 10 would say “high oil prices”. Let me tell you what I think the symptoms of the arrival of peak oil are

1. Higher default rates on loans
2. Recession

Furthermore, I expect that as the supply of oil declines over time, these symptoms will get worse and worse—even though people may call the cause of the decline in oil use “Peak Demand” rather than “Peak Supply”.

Preparing for 2014-15 “Oil Crunch” Forecast by UK Industry Group

What can cities, businesses and individuals do to prepare for such energy price volatility, buy hybrids? Actually, the report asserts, “there is real danger that the focus on technological advances in cars is making consumers and government complacent.” More urgent steps need to be taken by policymakers in particular to avert this impending crisis. 

What the Olympics Can Teach Us About the Price of Gas

This is the first Olympic Winter Games conducted on snow that was brought to the slopes by diesel trucks and helicopters — because not enough fell in British Columbia in the year of “Snowmageddon.” It’s also the first Winter Olympics that has featured athletes protesting the energy policies of the host nation — i.e. Canada’s increasing emphasis on the incredibly polluting process of producing crude oil from tar sands.

Environment

Avatar: The Prequel

The movie I have in mind (set in a world that Avatar hints at) would lack the blue-skinned Na’vi people, but it would still feature Jake Scully, this time in his real body, on the most intriguing planet of all: Earth. And given a global audience that can’t get enough of Cameron’s work, how many wouldn’t pay big bucks for a chance to take a Pandora-style, sensory-expanding guided tour of our own planet? It would be part of a harrowing tale of environmental degradation, resource scarcity, and perennial conflict in the twilight years of humanity’s decline. Think of it as Avatar: Earth’s Last Stand.

Green Roofs Are So Last Year; Rooftop Farms Are The Growing Thing

Green roofs are wonderful things, keeping buildings cool and reducing heat island effects. But you usually can’t eat them. Now, rooftops around the world are being put to productive use as sources of food.

What to do with the money? Spend it?

With Governments around the world so eager to shift the burden of this financial crisis onto society through bailouts and quantitative easing, there are more and more people realising that paper money (or more realistically data entered into a computer) has no intrinsic value. All money is created by the issuance of debt, so one begins to question whether money really is the same as wealth. Once we realise that it is not, the next natural question then is how to invest any surplus money we have into real, tangible assets.  

It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about now that I’m out of debt, so a recent discussion on What should you do with the money you have available? – Part 1 on the The Oil Drum was very timely.

Gail suggests four possible courses of action: Spend Money Now; Give it away; Pay down debt; Invest it using conventional approaches. Since I’ve already paid down my debt and for reasons I’ll cover another day I choose not to invest conventionally, today I want to talk about the option of spending my paper money now. Here are some of the options Gail suggested, followed by some discussion on my plans for the next couple of years.

1. See the world, while you still can.

Experiencing different places and cultures is really important to me. In fact, other than servicing debt, travelling has been my biggest expenditure over the last few years. As the financial crisis deepens and energy becomes more expensive, I imagine travelling will never be as cheap and easy as it is now.

2. Visit friends or relatives you have wanted to visit, but put off.

Last Christmas we spent a few days in London with an old friend of mine. It was really great to catch up with her now because I don’t know when I’ll get to see her again (other than on a Skype call). This summer we plan to visit our good friends in Alaska and other than that, we’ll get to see our families when we return to Australia later this year.

3. Take care of health or dental issues that need to be taken care of.

Brendan and I both had some elective surgeries prior to moving to the U.S. We had heard horror stories about the American health care system, so we wanted these things taken care of before leaving Australia. I had laser-eye surgery which has been money extremely well-spent in my opinion.

4. Take a course that might be helpful long term.

This is an important one. We’ve already seen so many jobs in certain industries (construction, manufacturing, auto) disappear or be outsourced. This trend is likely to continue in the coming decade. Investing in skills that are going to be needed long-term is a no-brainer.

5. Buy extra canned goods or other non-perishables.

The price of food keeps going up. I therefore think investing in some non-perishables is a very wise strategy. If food prices rise 15% this year (it could happen if there is another oil price shock) and you’ve locked in prices early, you’ve essentially earned a 15% return on your investment. Try doing that in the stock market! It also makes a lot of sense to store some extra food in case of emergency.

6. Buy property where you can farm (if you have the skills to do this).

Ultimately this is what we’d really like to be spending our excess cash on. Unfortunately for now, the Australian property market is still inflating into a huge bubble. We won’t be buying until prices become more realistic.

7. Buy gardening related equipment, or soil amendments.

This year we plan to buy all the garden tools we are likely to need for the next 10 years.

8. Buy books about specific skills you may need.

I have already started a library of books which contain useful information, but I will continue to add to it this year as I come across more good recommendations.

9. Buy goods to trade.

Brendan has been stocking up on spare bicycle parts. They are items he can use himself down the track, use in his bike repair business or barter if needed. I’m reluctant to spend money on items we won’t use ourselves as I don’t want a bunch of useless items in storage forever, but bike parts are usuful purchases.

10. Buy a dog that can be trained as a guard dog/helper.

Zoe is already a pretty good guard dog. Being a German Shepherd, it’s in her genes. As far as her being a helper…. does collecting socks count?

11. Insulate your house, make it tighter, and/or add some sort of passive solar heating.

Since we are currently renting, there is little we can do here. We have been encouraging our family to take advantage of Government grants to improve efficiency.

12. Buy a solar thermal hot water heater, solar voltaic panels, or wind generating capacity.

As for #11. Brendan’s parents have recently installed solar hot water and I’ve been encouraging my Mum to do the same. In Australia, with ample sun, these system work fantastically.

13. Install a water collection system. (If water is to be used for drinking, you will need to have the right kind of roof and will need to take proper precautions. It still may not be legal.)

As for #11 and #12. Brendan’s parents and my sister have water collection systems. I think Mum is also putting one in.

14. Buy tools for a new trade. (For example, wood working or making leather goods)

Brendan has been purchasing most of the tools he needs for a bicycle repair business. I’m yet to decide on a trade that is interesting to me and would be useful in the future, although I have a collection of crochet hooks now. Does that count?

15. Buy a gun and ammunition (For catching rabbits, if nothing else).

Nope. Not legal in Australia (unless on property), so we’ll be giving this one a miss.

16. Buy a more fuel efficient car.

Upon return to Australia we have plans for a very fuel-efficient diesel vehicle. We aren’t sure what yet, but efficiency is paramount in my mind.

Does anyone have any more ideas about things worth investing in now?

Photo by: alles-schlumpf

The journey of 100 posts starts with a single line!

Today marks a milestone. 100 posts! I thought I should celebrate with a little look back at my journey since last July, when I started this blog.

This blog was conceived because I had a mind full of thoughts that needed writing down. I’ve found the process cathartic and illuminating at the same time. Usually, as I go about my day I’ll have a swirl of thoughts and emotions running through my head. If I grab onto one of those thoughts and start to write it down, the process of making it legible for others forces me to work through the issue myself. For that moment in time I am focussed on the issue and can give it my undivided attention. I have enjoyed the process and I love the journey this blog has taken me on over the last seven months. 

Along the way, people have come along and read what I have to say. I wasn’t really expecting that and didn’t set out to get an audience, but I’m richer for it. The little blog community I have become part of enriches me in a way I can’t fully articulate. Every day I learn something new, see things in a different way or get inspired to take on new challenges. I thank all of you for that.

The blog started out as a place to share my thoughts on voluntary simplicity, sustainable living and my gardening efforts.

It then morphed into an exploration of the triple crises confronting us: Economy, Energy & Environment. I started my World Changing Wednesday series to help myself better understand the predicaments confronting us in this most historic of times. I will continue writing these types of articles as the mood takes me. A get a lot of visitors to my site who are obviously looking for this type of information. I hope I can help people understand how all these issues are interconnected and how together they will make the next couple of decades very challenging times for us all.

Towards the end of last year I was away a lot with my job and I lost my blogging mojo for a while. I gave myself permission to have a break which was a good thing. The last thing I want is for this blog to become a chore.

Anyway I’m back into the new year and my focus has moved more towards personal preparedness for likely changes in the coming decades. I’m focussing on Self Sufficiency, Independence and Lifestyle Planning. Less talk, more action! I got myself out of debt and we have been considering our options for where best to adapt to a world of less complexity and expensive energy. I’m learning new skills.

Who knows where this blog will go in the future. I haven’t set any boundaries around it, so it’s free to become whatever I need it to be at the time. I’m also keen to provide information that people want to read about. If you can think of any topics I should cover, please feel free to leave me a comment.

Here’s to another 100 posts sometime down the track. I wonder what I’ll be talking about in another six months times?