Debt-free life and peace of mind

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An important part of simple, peaceful life is discharging your debts; not always easy, as circumstances can be different, but it is an essential. And when I say debt, I include mortgage in the definition as well; I’m not saying a mortgage is always wrong, and never acceptable, but today people tend to forget that mortgage really is a state of debt; that a mortgage means one is not really an owner of one’s home, or at least, an owner only conditionally – because if something happens and the payment cannot be made (in a case, say, of an illness and/or unemployment), the owners face a very real danger of losing their home.

Owning the roof above one’s head, free and clear, is therefore an important part of one’s peace of mind. If your home is your own (as much as any earthly possession can truly be our own), a reduction or loss of income is, of course, a blow – but at least you have your safe haven, which is yours, and you don’t owe anyone anything for being under that roof.

Having said that, I will allow myself a little vent and say that, at least in Israel, paying for a home without a mortgage is a near-impossibility, as the prices of land, and consequently housing, are very, very high. Most young families – unless they are fortunate enough to inherit property, or to have parents who can assist them in a very material way – face being bogged down by very considerable, suffocating debt.

Is there no cheap land or housing to be found here? To be sure there is; and we did find it when we were first married, even though it wasn’t exactly the home of our dreams, and we have moved since. We rented for a couple of years, and these days we once more live in a home we have bought outright, no mortgage. It was hard, hard to find and involved many compromises, but we did it. When people here are rioting for “affordable housing”, I think they ought to amend and say they actually mean, “affordable housing in the tiny over-crowded piece of land that comprises most of the country’s population” – which, in all fairness, I don’t think possible. Yes, there are sparsely populated areas with affordable housing – but the problem is, to live in such an area means fewer opportunities of employment.

Obviously, each situation is unique, but there may be several options. Working from home, or mainly from home, is one; re-considering the possible length of commute is another – some people park their cars at the nearest train station, and make the chief of their daily journey by train. Or a family may move to a less expensive area as a temporary measure, to obtain low rent, and scrimp and save for a few years to be able to buy a home in a better area with no or lower mortgage.

Another thing I wish for is that we weren’t so bogged down with the difficulty of building regulations. Say “Israel” and “building” in one phrase, and you’re up to political flare-up. These difficulties, along with government avarice, have caused housing prices to soar in recent years. For illustration, the little house we had bought back when we first married (and since sold at twice the price), now costs five times more than it had a decade ago. Did the salaries rise five times over, on average? No, of course not. They stayed more or less the same. Thus the housing issue continues to be really, really tough, and people keep looking for creative solutions.

I believe there is no real solution but a government decision to take the plunge and make use of the abundant land in politically controversial area. In the meantime, people will have to keep searching high and low for individual housing, financial and employment solutions, and pave their own way towards freedom and debt reduction.
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Turning 3

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My dear little boy is leaving toddlerhood behind and turning 3 tomorrow. Where does the time go?! This year his birthday falls on Friday, the very day on which he was born, just a few minutes before Shabbat, in fact. We barely had time to call my mom and say congratulations.

We have felt your absence so much, dear sweetheart, before you arrived to make our world brighter, and we’ve been thankful ever since that G-d chose to give you to us, and not to anybody else.

So happy birthday, Israel. I love you more than the whole world ten times over.

A winter day in Israel

Winter in Israel is the pleasant rainy season with lush grass and flowers that are at their most prolific sometime mid-February. Here in the hills we have the occasional frost and snow, and a great deal of wind, but many winter days are very inviting, tempting us to focus on outdoor chores and spend most of the daylight hours outside.

As you can see, the hills are gradually turning from brown to green, and our bedding is hanging out in the light breeze after a big rain.

Our chickens are enjoying a run outside, reveling in the abundance of fresh grass and bugs. The weather has been so pleasant that they have gone on laying, though daylight is now at its lowest ebb, and we are relatively well supplied with eggs, compared to previous winters.

Those of you who are now shoveling snow and melting ice for their chickens to drink probably think we have a really cushy life, but wait until the summer with its dust storms and heat! In the meantime, I wish you all nice weather and an enjoyable festive season.

The emotional side of financial pitfalls

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I talk a lot on this blog about frugal strategies, saving money and financial independence, but there is another aspect, no less important, of financial difficulties – the emotional side of the matter. It isn’t enough to say, “OK, so we’ll tighten the belts and get over it”. Often financial challenges come with a heavy emotional baggage that needs to be dealt with.

Insecurity. The feeling of walking on rotten ice. Will things ever stabilize? What will happen tomorrow, in a year, or two, or ten?

Fears, some of them totally irrational and/or with little base in current reality. What if the washing machine breaks down tomorrow? What if the house needs repairs we can’t afford? How are we going to contribute towards our children’s future education/weddings?

Anger and resentment, towards all those people who can just walk into a store and buy whatever they need, without thinking about money.

You might end up in an emotional state that really warrants therapy, but the trouble is, if you’re really in the financial trenches, you probably won’t be able to afford it, and you might hold back from talking about your troubles with friends so that you won’t be taken for someone negative, or worse, someone who is indirectly asking for financial support.

Self-care is imperative. Eat as well as you can, keep up your personal hygiene, exercise (walking and running don’t cost anything), keep up hobbies and activities that make you feel good and don’t cost money. For me, this is usually writing, or finding a creative recycling project I can do at no cost, such as making candles out of old wax or soap out of old oil.

Keep a lookout towards the future. When things are at their low, it’s sometimes easy to forget all the many ways the situation can improve over time: a new job, a business opportunity, inheritance you can reasonably look forward to, ways to reduce one’s dependence on the money economy altogether. It really is tough to look ahead and think you are always going to be stuck when the cold season comes and you don’t have enough money to buy shoes, that you will never be able to afford good-quality, varied food in abundance (true, sardines and bone broth go a long way, but sometimes you really crave an expensive steak). Don’t think this way, because there’s no rational basis to it. Sometimes one really has to live day to day.

And, as a believer, I always keep my eyes on G-d and His divine guidance, which has never forsaken us so far. Indeed, we have experienced many small miracles, from unexpected gifts of furniture to finding a bag of almost-new children’s clothes just when we needed them most.

If you become depressed, you might miss out on opportunities to improve your situation as you wallow in misery and don’t dare to look up from the ground. So keep an eye on that. Whenever getting out of bed or tackling daily routines seems difficult, do all you can to get help and support, because this isn’t normal.

It’s tougher when you have children depending on you. I’ve sometimes found it hard to strike a balance between being open and honest, and not overburdening little children with circumstances beyond their control. I know my children are aware of the value of money, because we aren’t ashamed to say, “We won’t buy this because we can’t afford it.” They don’t seem traumatized or worried. But avoid making it seem as though the family is on the brink of disaster, because children can be extremely sensitive and become prone to anxiety.

Financial difficulties aren’t a picnic, but with wise strategy and cautious optimism, you can pull through towards a better future.

Top Money Saving Posts of 2017

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2017 has been what one might call a year of successful thrift. We came up with even more ingenious ways of how to get on reasonably well with very limited means; we found treasures in thrift stores, we bartered, we entertained people and tightened community ties, all with little cash but a whole lot of creativity and optimism.

So here’s a recap of this year’s top frugal strategies:

Thrifty Green Cleaning – Clean your house with cheap, environmentally friendly substances such as vinegar, baking soda, and citric acid crystals.

Buying Second Hand – These simple tips will help you make the most of your thrift store finds.

Stockpiling – A good stockpile can be a lifesaver in hard times, significantly reducing your weekly grocery store expenses.

Cheap Entertainment – Living simply and frugally doesn’t have to mean living the life of a hermit. Here are some ideas for vacations and entertainment on the cheap.

Top Cheap and Healthy Foods – Eating well means being healthy, but what foods should you choose if you need to scrimp?

Surviving Hard Times – Some general strategies on pulling through financial difficulties.

And, of course, there is more information in my books, The Practical Homemaker’s Companion and Your Own Hands. Available also on Payhip.

More on Herb Gardening

Luckily for me, I live in an area where the earth never freezes, and thus, every season is a good season for digging! Now contemplating options of enlarging my herb patch (in ways that won’t encourage the chickens to dust bathe and upturn every single one of my young plants).

Read more on herb gardening in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“My herb garden is my favorite, most useful, most versatile and easiest to maintain green patch. Once herbs get going, they’re extremely easy to grow and only require minimal care. They don’t need a lot of space or water, and can be tucked into nooks where you can’t grow much else. Many herbs boast of wonderful medicinal properties and a whole array of culinary uses. In fact, for someone just establishing a garden, I’d recommend to get started with herbs.”

Propagating lavender

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I’ve wanted some lavender for my herb garden for a while now. Lavender has many wonderful medicinal properties, and besides, I love the way it smells. Satchels of dried lavender are lovely to place in a closet or other confined space for a gentle perfume.

You can grow lavender from seed or from cuttings. When choosing cuttings, make sure they are green and fresh, and have no blossoms, as those will divert the plant’s energy from developing roots.

I have tried to propagate lavender in the past by taking cuttings, placing them in a container of water and waiting for them to put out roots, but it never worked (unlike it did with mint and rosemary), but recently I have stumbled upon a much simpler and more effective method: just stick your cuttings in a flower pot with potting soil, place it on a sunny windowsill, keep the soil moist, and the cuttings will take root before long. Once the weather is warm enough, you can transfer your plant outside – around here, this is year round, and my herbs all grow perennially.