By Victoria Rolfe
As a family budget adviser, I have been blogging, giving presentations and meeting with people one-on-one for a number of years now to promote the joys and peaceful serenity that come from stepping down from the frenzied spending that is the American way of life in order to live a simpler, more frugal existence and save money.
It’s sometimes a struggle to get this message across and accepted. Many Americans are entrenched in the spending/debt cycle and honestly believe it is just normal.
And then came COVID-19.
My husband, John Rolfe (who writes The Insider’s Aggravation is a Full-Time Job column) and I have weathered the emergency effortlessly. We had already been living a modest lifestyle and had plenty of money put aside after 34 years of doing so together. Nothing really changed for us. But COVID-19 stopped a lot of people in their tracks and made them take notice of their finances, lifestyles and, unfortunately, their lack of savings.
What seems to be a hardship, and indeed is for many, also holds a silver lining for them and for me as a teacher. Maybe now they will be ready to accept that there is an alternative to the frantic American way of spending, and it is actually a better way of life.
America began this quarantine journey during the raw March winds when we too were raw and reeling from the shock of what was happening. Many of us experienced a job loss or a reduction in pay. We could barely wrap our brains around what was happening. All we could do was retreat to our homes, as we were told to do, and try to make sense of it all.
We remained hunkered down through the rains of April, for the most part unable to even get outside much in the soggy world. As temperatures plummeted, so did our investments, and often our spirits. Things looked pretty bleak. All we could do was keep abreast of where we were financially and in every other way. For those of us who still had jobs it was just a matter of staying afloat and ignoring the stock market plunge (as we are always told to do), and stay the course. For those struggling with income loss, it was a matter of prioritizing and taking care of their most pressing needs (shelter and food). The rest would have to be figured out eventually.
“But Victoria,” I can hear you saying now, “I thought this was going to be a silver linings message.”
Okay, we are still home, but the initial shock has worn off a little. Those who have lost all income have hopefully figured out a way to get their most important needs met. Maybe they are getting unemployment, SNAP benefits, food from a food bank, a stimulus check, or help from other sources. The rest of us are learning to live at home, creating new routines, keeping ourselves busy and occupied.
But the real, lasting positive effects are going to be what we take away from having gone through all this. For many, this time has given them somewhat of a wake-up call. They were hurrying along through life without even thinking about where all their money and time were going. This has given us all time to pause, and reflect, and live a different way, whether we wanted to or not.
Many are surprised to see how little they are spending now that they are forced to stay home, unable to go to restaurants, coffee shops, stores, bars, movies or concerts. Some never paid attention to how much all of that was really costing them. And some are finding that they actually can lead a pretty good life without all that spending. Perhaps they will continue when life returns to normal. So that’s a silver lining. Forced savings help you discover a different way.
The silver linings go beyond all that, though. As usual, when we go through tough times it brings out the goodness in people. Acts of kindness and generosity abound. It is heartwarming to hear the stories of people going above and beyond for their neighbors, friends and people they don’t even know.
And staying at home has given us a chance to live at a different pace, to stop all the rushing about and really spend time with each other in ways we rarely do when life is going full tilt. We have been playing board games, making meals and baking together, even just talking and going for long walks together. Some people have reconnected with old hobbies that they never had time for when life was in full swing: knitting, gardening, painting, playing an instrument. All of that is the best silver lining of all as far as I am concerned. If you know me at all, in person or from my writing, you know that I have long championed the slower, simpler, frugal lifestyle that has now become a forced reality for many.
As for John and me, we are spending this quiet summer happily tending to our capacious vegetable garden, for once having the time to keep on top of the weeds, critters and bugs, and enjoying cooking up some delectably fresh healthy meals with our garden’s bounty.
I hope, you too, have discovered some silver linings in this anomalous time we find ourselves in. Perhaps some good will come of this adversity after all. A rainbow created by the storm.
Wishing you all good health, happiness and peace. ☮️
Victoria Rolfe is a family budget coach who has had a lifetime of experience in the art and joy of frugal living and its resulting financial freedom. She spent many years as a stay-at-home mom and home economist and rose successfully to the challenge of raising a family of four kids on a modest income without incurring debt. She did crazy things like paying for all their cars with cash, paying off their mortgage in ten years, buying their next house for cash, and sending all her kids to college with no student loans, while building a comfortable retirement nest egg for their own bright future.
She is now passionate about helping others to enter this beautiful world of peaceful and simple frugality and to achieve their own financial goals with the knowledge and personal finance skills that she has acquired. She writes a monthly blog, teaches via a series of light-hearted group presentations that she created, and sees clients in one-on-one personal meetings.
Visit her website and blog at brightfuture2budget4.weebly.com, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.