Have less, live more
Many Christians are turning their backs on consumerism and finding ways to live more cheaply. Catherine Francis meets three women who’ve discovered the benefits of frugal living
‘Live simply so others can simply live’
Joan Lawson, 60, lives in Northumberland and works part-time as a volunteer coordinator
“I started living frugally 30 years ago, out of necessity. I found myself a single mother of three children, with almost no money to live on. These days, it’s about ‘living simply, so others can simply live’ – a principle that’s central to my Christian faith. It means consuming less and recycling more, in order to have less negative impact on the environment, and less involvement in the exploitation of workers abroad. It also means I can afford to work part-time.
“There are lots of ways to cut back on consumption. I’ve installed a wood-fired central heating system, which costs next to nothing to run. Eco-friendly washing-up liquid doubles up as laundry liquid, household cleaner and even shampoo. I only have a small garden, but I grow all my own herbs, garlic, rhubarb and apples. And I buy my vegetables from a local farm shop – it’s cheaper, better for the environment and supports the local economy.
“When it’s practical, I’ve been involved in car-shares with neighbours – once, there were four households sharing one car! And my church has weekly jumble sales where I buy my clothes – I use it like a library, buying an item for 30p, returning it after a few wears and buying something else.
“However, as a Christian, it’s not just about saving money. With items like tea, coffee and sugar, I always buy fairtrade, even though it costs more. And I buy my
electricity from Christian company Equipower, which costs slightly more but doesn’t discriminate against low-income customers.
“Four years ago, I joined the Berwick Exchange Trading Scheme, in which we use a local currency called ‘bridges’ to trade goods and services. When someone
joins, they’re given 250 bridges, which they can spend or earn by trading with other members.
“People sell home-grown vegetables, home-made cakes and jams, and second-hand items like books and clothes. Services include house-sitting, ironing and DIY, and it’s tax-free unless you’re trading through your main
occupation. We currently have about 200 members. People offer their services in a local directory and we have regular trading events.”
JOAN’S TOP TIP: Find your local exchange trading scheme through the LETS website. It’s a brilliant way to trade goods, skills and your time for free, without lining the pockets of big businesses.
‘We love the idea of self-sufficiency’
Janet Letchford, 37, lives in Somerset with her husband, Michael, 39, and daughter Laura, six. She works part-time for the Citizens Advice Bureau
“Michael and I have always loved the idea of ‘cottage economies’ and self-sufficiency. We don’t feel comfortable with today’s throwaway culture, and prefer
a make-do-and-mend approach to life. As Christians, we’re charged with looking after the planet, which means not using up resources or adding to landfill. And it’s especially important for us to live frugally at the moment, as I work part-time and Michael is doing a PhD.
“We’re fortunate to have a very large garden, and we grow much of our own food. Michael’s brilliant in the garden, and we grow almost every vegetable you could mention. During the summer, we never have to buy salad or vegetables, and our polytunnel means we can extend the growing season for some crops.
“We freeze vegetables for winter in a large chest freezer, and make preserves and chutneys too. We also have six chickens in a run in the garden. They’re cheap to keep and produce more than enough eggs. At some point, when we’re producing enough surplus, we’d like to have a stall at a farmers’ market.
“Our other major money-saving tool is Freecycle. It’s like eBay, but without the money! You join your local network, and people advertise things they no longer want, free to whoever can use it. You can find anything: furniture, clothes, children’s toys, kitchen gadgets… One person’s rubbish is another person’s treasure – we’ve had rubble for building our patio, fish crates for growing vegetables in, and lots of wood for the fire; and we’ve given away plant pots, Christmas trees when clearing the garden, and other items.
“I also save money by buying clothes in charity shops, making things instead of buying them, and comparing prices of services like banks and insurance companies on the Money Saving Expert website. But as Christians, the cheapest option isn’t always the most ethical one. When it comes to fairtrade items and buying from charities, we’re prepared to pay a little extra.”
JANET’S TOP TIP: Join your local Freecycle group. Not only can you get anything and everything for free, but it also reduces the amount of rubbish going into landfill. Everyone wins!
‘Frugal living is part of my plan to become a mother’
Eve Fowler*, 40, lives in Norfolk and works full-time as a TV researcher
“When I hit 38 and was still single, I realised my chances of having children were low, and decided God meant me to adopt. However, a single person working full-time isn’t a great prospect as an adoptive parent. So after much prayer, I devised a plan to improve my situation. With around £45,000 left on my mortgage, my idea was to pay it off in five years. Then I could afford to work part-time and be there for the children (fortunately, my mortgage provider doesn’t penalise borrowers for paying a loan off early).
“As well as volunteering for overtime at work, I began approaching everything with a ‘do I really need this?’ attitude. Most things, from holidays abroad to meals
out to new clothes, aren’t necessary – and I’d rather be working towards my grand aim. But I don’t feel deprived. I go away and stay with friends, cook for people at home, and clothes from charity shops are often as good as new.
“I buy all my books second-hand on Amazon. And after working out I was spending £50 a week on food and drinks at work, I now take a packed lunch and make coffee instead of buying it – that’s an extra £2000+ a year! At the end of each month, I put the money I’ve saved into my ‘mortgage fund’.
“Online auction website eBay has been fantastic. Anything you want, you can find on eBay for half the price. Plus, I’m emptying my house of all the junk I’ve accumulated over the last decade by selling it on eBay. I’ve sold over 400 items so far, including DVDs, clothes, unused cosmetics, vintage fabrics and magazine collections. Things don’t always sell for much, but it all adds up, and has contributed nearly £2,000 to my fund.
“In two years, I’ve paid an extra £16,000 off my mortgage, so I’m not doing badly. As a Christian, I feel good about not being part of the ‘must-have’ culture. But most of all, I’m looking forward to being able to offer a loving home to a needy child.”
EVE’S TOP TIP: Look after the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves. Add up how much you spend every week on little things like drinks and snacks – you’ll be shocked!
*Name changed for privacy
Take it further
* For your nearest local exchange trading scheme: www.letslinkuk.net
* Berwick Exchange Trading Scheme: 01289 303745
* Equipower: www.ebico.co.uk
* Freecycle: http://uk.freecycle.org
* eBay: www.ebay.co.uk
* The Simple Living Network: www.simpleliving.net
* Year of Living Generously (Christian project): http://generous.org.uk
* Money Saving Expert: www.moneysavingexpert.com
* Living Simply by Fiona Castle (£6.99, Kingsway)
* The New Spend Less Revolution by Rebecca Ash (£9.99, Harriman House)