Live within your means

Frugality is the key ingredient of a peaceful and more liberated life, says Penelope Wilcock

People who live without money fascinate me. There’s a man in America who left his last 30 dollars in a phone box at the opening of this century and has been living in a cave ever since. A woman in Germany mostly stays with friends. One Englishman lives in a caravan on a friend’s land, another travels widely, following suggestions fans post online. They eat what they can forage in the woods and hedgerows, or scavenge from out-of-date produce shops have to throw away. They hold possessions only lightly, and these are scavenged or gifts.

Back in the 13th century, St Francis of Assisi adopted a similar life, relying on begging and the charity of Christian friends, or going hungry – which he accepted in all humility and grace. And even before that, St Benedict of Nursia shaped the first monastic rule of life, in which monks and nuns vowed to own no personal property.

I study these extreme lives because they keep me focused on frugality, simplicity and humility ­– the three guiding stars shining over my own life. I don’t live without money, but keep my income very low (I’d tell you the amount, but it varies so much it’s hard to say). I do have personal property: a chest of drawers with my clothes, a small bookcase with my books, a bed, armchair and nightstand, a candlestick, two candle lanterns, stationery, a clock, a statue of St Joseph and one of St Francis, a few pictures painted by my daughters and one by a dear friend, some earrings, a beautiful Tibetan bell, my cell-phone and a laptop – that’s about it. I live in a shared house with a good-sized garden where we compost everything, and have planted lots of trees, herbs and roses. It’s a space welcoming to bees and butterflies, joyful to the human soul. A young fox likes to sunbathe there in peace.

Most of our electricity comes from solar panels, most of our heat from the woodstove and open fire. We send the national grid more electricity than we use.

The freedom and peace of simplicity is life and breath to me. The way of Jesus was humble and lowly because he came to connect with all people, in whatever sense they are in poverty. And I think everyone breathes easier when their house and their day are uncluttered, and they live within their means.

Simple ways for September

Watch your money

It’s easy to forget where our money goes! Keep track of everything you spend for two months. Then sort your list into three categories: essential, helpful, and pointless waste of money. Think back to why you spent unwisely, and consider how you might do things differently to avoid poor choices in future.

Take time to walk and talk

It’s absolutely true that the best things in life are free. You might like to set aside some time every day to walk in nature, breathing the fresh air, chat with a friend or neighbour, read a good book, spend time quietly in the presence of God, lifting into his love any friends in trouble.

Spend wisely

Some things with cheap price tags literally ‘cost the earth’. By living thoughtfully and frugally, we can make our money stretch far enough to buy organic, locally made, fair-traded products, as faithful stewards of the earth and good neighbours. Maybe join a veggie box scheme and enjoy organic, seasonal fresh produce brought to your door!