Yesterday I ran out of money. It was to be expected...the only surprise was that it came so soon. I'd given up my well-paid research job at RMIT to pursue a fruitful career of freelance writing, busking and dishwashing in Credo. Crazy, I know, what with the GFC and all. Most people are scrambling to keep whatever work they have. And now, I've heard, the newspapers are no longer paying freelance contributers, not that I've really submitted anything of late anyway. My recent published works remain limited to this blog. Busking has proven more lucrative. I am now planning on supporting myself on my busking earnings. This will be an interesting challenge, but not impossible given I don't pay rent, my bills are limited to my mobile phone, and I dine most regularly at Credo Cafe, which is free. Once the panic of having no money subsided a little, I sat down at my computer and drew up a table of all the things I spend money on, and ways to eliminate or reduce them. It sort of looked like this:
public transport - ride a bike
food for eating at home - learn to dumpster dive
eating out - eat out less
alcohol - drink less
mobile phone - don't call people
The thing that scares me the most about this little experiment in voluntary poverty is not that I won't survive it - I'll always have a bed and I'll always have a meal - but that I'll be cut off from a certain part of the world. At present I straddle two worlds - I spend a lot of time hanging out with people who are poor, and I also have a lot of friends from my well-to-do life e.g. uni, church. Rich people tend to connect in ways that involve money, and that is what I'm used to and comfortable with. We go out for coffee, we see a movie, we go shopping at the market. We go see a band and drink expensive drinks. The thing is, I don't want to leave these people behind, in some self-righteous bid to be poor. I need to find ways of doing middle-class things that cost less. Actually, my friend Clare is great at that - while I was stressing about wanting to see a movie and have dinner with Nick, but suddenly being confronted with $20 in my bank account, I got a message from Clare inviting me to see a free screening of a movie at Fed Square. So Nick and I went along, and it was great. The thing is, there's probably loads of free things to do in the city. I'm just not real aware of them because I've always had money!
Possession of money lulls me into the illusion of independence. I don't need to rely on people so much because I can pay my own way, thankyou very much. When you don't have money, you have to learn to humbly accept from others. I brought it up with Nick last night - I didn't want him paying for everything, and feeling constantly indebted to him. I told him it was important for me to pay when I could - our relationship is modern, but comes encumbered with a history of women being economically dependent on men, which can be a source of great powerlessness. I wanted to have an equal say in the kind of things we did (which restaurant to go to, what movie to see), even though I couldn't contribute financially. Nick was great and understood what I was saying, which was a great relief. Actually I paid for the meal last night with my busking earnings because Nick had forgotten his wallet. He felt bad but for me, it felt great.
What I really want - and what I told Nick - was for us to consider our work different but of equal value. His work is financially rewarded; mine is not. I sometimes won't pay for the movie not because I'm lazy and don't work, or stingey, but because mine is a different sort of labour. If we both recognise and respect that, it should be no big deal if Nick pays. I recognise that this kind of arrangement requires a degree of enlightenment and a full valuing of unpaid work, which many women don't experience in their economically dependent relationships. It also requires the unpaid partner to be empowered in every other way. The couple is a sort of economic unit and for it to work, each role must be fully respected and valued.
So anyway, I've probably written enough now, but I'll keep you all posted on my experiences of life outside of the cash economy!