Wednesday, 22 June 2016

8 months on 55% salary and no car.

In early 2015 we were expecting our second daughter. As I had started to work full-time rather early (6 months) after Little Miss No 1 had been born (complicated story...), we had decided that we wanted to take "a year off" with and for the children this time. Little Miss No 1. was 3 years old at the time Little Miss No 2. arrived. 

The laws in Germany being the way they are, I went into the time of "legal protection of working mothers" 1 month before the birth and for 2 months after the birth. That time is covered by the health insurance. 
After those 2 months I took 8 months "parental time". Which means I could stay at home with the children and my husband without having to worry about being laid off. The social system continued to pay 55% of my salary (you have to apply for that and organize a lot in advance, of course).

We had done some calculations before and had come to the conclusion, that we actually could make do on 55% of my wages. Of course we were used to 100%. Of course we had to make adjustments. But it was one of the best decisions we ever made. For our children, for our family and for our lives. 

I would like to tell you a little about this time.

For me, Minimalism is a state of mind in the first place. This state of mind and consequently way of life has impact on every aspect of life: Inner tranquility, time and way spent with family. And - money spent. Never was this more obvious to us than during our parental time.

Of course "living on 55% salary" is a relative term. How comfortable or uncomfortable it is, depends on the starting point. More coincidentally than anything else I happened to find out, that we ended up living underneath the European Union's threshold for relative poverty. That means that our income was well less than 60% of the median household income. I found that very remarkable, because I would have never considered ourselves poor (or "endangered of poverty", which would be the technical term). But then again, I had never really thought about the concepts of  absolute poverty and relative poverty

Absolute poverty refers to a set standard which is consistent over time and between countries. (quote wikipedia)

Relative poverty views poverty as socially defined and dependent on social context, hence relative poverty is a measure of income inequality. (quote from wikipedia)

[There is an awful lot about this topic available on the internet. I don't want to get into the details of it now, but if you are interested, I would encourage you to read on (e.g. start on the wikipedia pages and look at their sources). It's incredibly interesting!]

For our every day life it basically meant, that although we felt we had everything we needed, we could see an awful lot of people around us being able to afford a lot more. In our case this meant that 85% of the people around us had more money to spend. [source]

But what do we spend our money on? And what possibilities did we have to save money during those 8 months (and onwards)?

One big thing is: We didn't have a car (and not had one for 5 or 6 years before). Instead of taking a car we either walk, use our bicycles, take public transport (busses and trains) or hire a car (there are a lot of car-sharing options available in our region, and there are also always the big car rental companies). We had 1 monthly ticket for the regional public transport. With this ticket we could also use public transport on sundays and public holidays as a family (2 adults instead one, children under 6 are free anyway). So those days became "family trip" days if we wanted to go somewhere further away. We mainly stayed locally, though.

We set a tighter budget for monthly food expenses and with the help of the internet and a cookbook for "healthy and cheap" food we cut down costs of food without reducing the quality of the food. Our diet changed towards more veggie dishes and as a side effect became more healthy. We focussed on eating food that was locally grown and in season. Only very little sweets. We also learnt to plan ahead with meals - cook double portions, use up leftovers.

We didn't go out in the evenings at all. Having small children and nobody to look after them wouldn't have been much fun anyway. And hiring a babysitter was out of question (budget and trust issues). We did go for a cup of coffee every now and again, though. When the children are asleep in the evening, we enjoy the silence at home, read a bit, talk a bit or just enjoy a bit of "me" time.

We don't have a cable TV connection. Or Satellite. We watch DVDs sometimes, but we choose them carefully. All in all we don't watch much TV anyway.

We have an internet flatrate (have had for ages, nothing fancy, just normal speed internet) with a telephone flatrate (happened to be included...). Both of us have prepaid mobile phones and we spend about 5-7 Euros/month on SMS/mobile. We have one smartphone (I have the smartphone, I use it for work, too, it's a Samsung S3, about 4 years old, with a cracked screen because I was dozy and dropped it several times... but it still works fine so I don't really see a reason to get a new one) and one small "just a phone"-mobile. We don't use the internet on the mobile (unless at home connected to the wireless). For telephone calls we use the landline about 99% of the time.

We concentrate on spending the time together "inexpensively". No trips to cinemas, fun parks, zoos etc. but walks in the region, bathing in a nearby river, going to the park/playground, reading and drawing together, Cycling. Dancing, singing. Cutting papers into weird shapes. Loading the washing machine together (the children love it...), ...

One big issue were presents, especially for Christmas. We announced to the family, that we were only going to give presents to the "under 18" year olds. And of course we didn't expect any presents for ourselves. I actually think that it was a big relief for people, not having to shop for us. For some special occasions (like the birth of a new baby) I made presents myself. Because that's my way of showing people that I care. I personally love self-made presents. Somebody sits down and spends time on making something for you. I think that is so precious! Of course there are people who are completely oblivious to what hand-made presents actually mean. But that's a different story.

Instead of going to a fitness club for sports, we are jogging and I do my Yoga with a DVD at home (which also has the advantage of not being tied to fixed training hours). On the downside I completely paused my climbing because going to outside climbing places (free) is impossible - you can't belay someone and look after an agile 4-year-old. And going to the indoor climbing place was just too expensive on a regular basis.

We are living in a block of flats. It's an old building and we are living on the 4th floor (If you count the ground floor as 1st floor it's the 5th floor... anyway it's a lot of stairs up...). We are living on 73m2 with 4 people, which is below the average which is 90m2 for Germany and 95m2 for the county we are living in [source].  In fact if you look at the amout of m2-per-head in Germany (which was 45m2 in 2013), you would expect us to live on 180m2. Well we aren't, I seriously doubt it is necessary and doubt even more that we ever will. But it's interesting. And sizes of gardens are also interesting. :) Apparently 50% of all households have a garden, which on average is about 400m2 big. (We don't have a garden or access to a garden or a balcony, but there is lots of nature around). Consecutively, our rent is reasonably low.

The parentar time has changed us in way that none of us had expected. We didn't just "make do". If you learn to live with less and find that it is as fulfilling as (or even more fulfilling than) your life before, then you start forming a habit. You withdraw yourself from the world of consum that is built around us and start seeing how hollow and unfulfilling "stuff" is. And you have more time for activities that are worthwhile.

There are a lot of ways to save money in every day life, I found this article really interesting:

This article is interesting, because it is about habit-forming

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