Friday, February 29, 2008

Dumpster diving anyone?

So the other night I was watching an episode of Oprah I DVR'd as I often do late at night after the kids have gone to sleep and before Craig returns home from hell eerrrrr work.

The episode was Entitled How far would you go and showcased a group of people who call themselves FREEGANS. Being a little crunchy, I was surprised at having never heard this term or knowing that these people existed in modern society.

The basic premise of Freeganism is the old waste not, want not adage. It encomasses a lot of ideas, "green" living, frugality, etc.

On the show they interviewed people who left very good jobs with above average incomes in order to simplify their lives and not be a slave to commercialism. Lisa Ling, the reporter who covered the story mentioned many times about how the more we make the more we want to spend. The people were shown dumpster diving for food. I was really surprised at all the good food you could find in a dumpster that people just throw away!

I know that is true for my family. 11 years ago we were young, with 2 kids and a baby on the way. Our COMBINED income the first year we were together was $7,000 and some change. Craig, at the time was a struggling sous chef working 2 jobs and I, a waitress at an upscale resort during the summer months. Our rent was I think about $350 a month. We shared a horrid little car, a Dodge Omni with almost no brakes. Our house was a 3 bedroom dilapitated structure that leaked air so badly in the winter you could feel the breeze from anywhere in the house. Craig and I slept on a waterbed frame with futon mattresses stuffed into it. We were poor to say the least. We received food stamps and heating assistance from the county. We didn't have a telephone, computer, or cable tv, rather a pair of rabbit ears on our 13 inch tv that provided us with 3 scratchy channels if the weather was right.

When Christian was about 6 months old Craig got a new job. It was a 45 minute commute but paid significantly better than the restaurant next door where he had worked for about 6 years. With the pay raise we were able to purchase a 1989 Dodge Caravan. The heater didn't work at first(ended up being a head gasket) and the sliding door fell off occasionally (no, i'm not joking it FELL the FRICK OFF) but it served us well. While we didn't dumpster dive for dinner, we had no problems picking up a dresser someone threw away, fixing it up, and using it.

After a few months the commute got to be a bit harsh and we moved into a beautiful 4 bedroom house in the town we live in now. We furnished it with furniture our family and friends gave away. Grandma's dining table, Craig's brothers recliner and sofa. Craig's parents bought us a 27 inch tv. Our rent here was $550 per month. Soon after we were able to purchase our first "nice" vehicle. A 1998 Chevy Venture EXT with all the bells and whistles. It was our first time financing anything and we felt "normal". We were getting closer to keeping up with the Jones'.

Over the course of the next few years we forged "ahead". With every pay raise came new opportunity. We finally were able to buy our very own home the summer of 2003. We signed on the dotted line and moved our stuff 5 blocks down the road to OUR house. Now that our credit was cleared up the trouble really began. Cell phone plans, first just one phone, then two...... then four (the 2 oldest kids had to keep up with the pee-wee Jones' after all). Every video game console that came out, we had it. We financed our truck, then a new car. We financed a computer, then a camcorder. We furnished our home with everything new. New furniture, new dining table (with granite inlays even), new everything. My kids wore nothing but brand name clothes, expensive shoes. We didn't just buy things, we bought the BEST.

Then the restaurant sold. The pay raises stopped coming. We realized that certain times of the year there wasn't enough work to pay for everything we had financed. Our way of life had exceeded our means. Trouble was coming and it was coming fast.

We made some hard decisions. We gave up our cell phones turning instead to one prepaid phone for emergency purposes. We paid off our computer and camcorder early to finish that up. We are working hard on paying off our vehicles to be done with that. Our next family vehicle will be a gently used 10 passenger van, our next car likely an older model compact. As much as it feels nice to have nice things, it will feel even nicer to have what we can afford. Not affording the "luxuries" in life doesn't mean we need to make more money, it means that we need to learn to be able to enjoy what we have.

We still like to have quality things when we can afford them but we NEVER finance anything. If we can't pay cash for it then it's not ours to have.

Some might say that if all that stuff made us happy we should just work more and make more money so we CAN afford them. The truth is, the stuff didn't make us happy, it made us miserable. Always having something better than someone else has, always having something to proove to somebody. That didn't make me happy. Being with my family made me happy. I was no less happy in that crappy rundown 3 bedroom house than I am now, in my 5 bedroom house, the difference is I just have more junk now. When we didn't have anything we were content with every little thing we had and when we did have more money we always felt the need for more, more, more. I want to be happy again like I was when we were poor-er.

We were lucky. Lucky we didn't get in debt further than we did. We are lucky we weren't one of the unfortunate souls who have recently lost their homes.

So, back to Freeganism. While I won't anytime soon be going dumpster diving for groceries, I will be happy with what I have, what I can afford and consume less. I won't get sucked back into the lie that says we have to have more more more in order to be worth something in this world. These people are definitely onto something and it's about time we all took a step back and listened to them.

Sorry if this post is a bit all over the place, the drugs made me do it (cold medicine! don't go sending me hate mail!)

Some more vacation pics

Our gorgeous room!


3 tired kiddos

A tired mama!

Walking to the waterpark

Craig speeding hehe

Hot tub fun!

Nekkid mayan dude

One tired dude...... time to go home

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