Preparing for Retrenchment

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Retrenchment is a fact of modern life, and the odds are that you will be retrenched at some time during your work career. It has happened to me twice, thankfully once when I was still living at home but the second time was about 18 months ago. Fortunately I could see it coming and had some time to prepare, and the more time you have to prepare the less traumatic it is going to be for you.

When you get retrenched you will hopefully be getting a payout and you can use this money for capital improvements on your house or whatever to reduce outgo, we upgraded out solar hot water (which was 25 years old and ready to give up the ghost anyway) in favour of an evacuated tube solar hot water system which has saved us lots on our reduced electricity bill.

What has all this got to do with sustainable living? Well the good news is that a lot of things you will be doing to live a more simple and sustainable life will also make you more resilient, less vulnerable in the event of a job loss. Following are some of the things that my wife and I did (or were already doing) to make post retrenchment life less stressful and more fun –


Start a veggie garden, do it now, do it today!

Even if you don’t expect to be retrenched in the next 6 months. You never know what could happen and the ability to produce your own low impact, delicious and nutritious food will considerably reduce your exposure in the event of a job loss. Back in the days when we were a young family struggling on one wage and getting paid monthly, that last week of the month before getting paid we were often eating out of the veggie patch because there wasn’t much else. Have a read through the veggie section of this site and it will give you information you need to start your own veggie garden which can provide something to eat most days of the year. Make a start today and you will never regret it.

Get some chooks

This is the next step up on the food production ladder and it works well in combination with the veggie patch, they complement each other, but like growing veggies you have to know how to raise, and get the best out of, your chooks. All you need is 2 or 3 chooks for more than enough eggs for your standard family of 4, unless you are really into eggs and expect half a dozen each day for breakfast. Consider putting together a chook tractor so that your work in running the veggie garden will be reduced, because the chooks will do some of it for you.

Make a herb spiral/garden

Adding extra flavour to your food with home grown fresh or dried herbs is a wonderful thing and it expands the number and types of dishes you can serve without needing a trip to the shops. A herb spiral, a few potted herbs or anywhere in between and you can have all the fresh herbs you need plus enough to dry for later use.

Buy your meat (preferably free range/grass fed) in bulk

Before I was retrenched we approached our butcher and was able to get hold of grass fed side of beef and lamb, we also bought a side of pork but I was not able to secure definite free range unfortunately. We bought a medium size chest freezer, vacuum packed all of the meat fresh (it took a full day to do it!) then froze it. It reduced the cost per piece of meat considerably and meant that we had a good supply so we didn’t need to hit the shops.

Buy flour other grains and staples in bulk and stock up

A friend of mine runs a health food co-op and through her I was able to source organic wholemeal and white flour as well as whole wheat for us to grind ourselves and rolled oats. We stored them in 20 litre recycled curd buckets bought from a local hardware, they have lids that seal absolutely and a few bay leaves (from our tree) thrown in keep the pantry moths’ heads down.  The grains came from Demeter farm and if you don’t want to go through a co-op or whatever you could approach them directly.

Learn to cook from scratch

If you and/or your partner have been used to cooking stuff from basic ingredients rather than buying frozen/canned ready meals or subsisting on take-aways then you don’t need this advice, but if Macca’s is your friend you need to learn a better way. Get hold of some nice basic cookbooks that cover the sort of food you like to eat and then, as you stockpile your ingredients, start using them to get experience in cooking from scratch. Our diet is completely changed from what we used to eat ten years ago, not that our diet was seriously bad, but nowadays we make the majority of our food from scratch, based on what we grow and produce ourselves. If you make the change slowly before you need to, not only will the environment thank you, but your kids won’t burn you at the stake for cutting off their access to junk food. You also run the risk of saving serious cash by doing a bit of C.I.Y (cooking it yourself).

Make a solar oven

Unless you live in a commune out bush it is quite likely that you will have to make use of what our energy companies are prepared to sell you, but there are some alternatives. Our solar oven has been copping a workout over the last ten or so years since I build it and it will cook stews, casseroles, roasts and bread all year round, all with just the power of the sun. It took a weekend to make and has been well used ever since although the shocking weather we have had this summer (rain, rain and more rain) has made things a bit difficult. We also can make use of bottled gas or stored heat cooking to stretch the dollar when it comes to power.   Speaking of power, something that has saved us many dollars and inconvenience is the stand alone solar system we implemented quite a few years ago and has  run our lights since that time and now also runs the fridge, charges our mobile phones and runs our mower and other sundry power tools.    And just as an added piece of information cast your mind through your daily life and start thinking of all the non-powered  things you can use to work through your day.  The more things you have to plug in the more the money goes out the door.


Minimise debt

I realise that this is easy to say, but hard to do particularly when talking about big stuff like the house or the car, but if you can manage it pay off any credit cards and then cut them up.

We use the credit card to pay all our bills and pay it off in full every month to avoid interest payment, so minimise our outgo we read through the statement to identify what bills we had then asked the questions, do we need it? And, can we reduce it? Each necessary bill was then examined in detail to find out how we could reduce it.

The quality guru Edwards Deming said “What you don’t measure, you don’t control” and after this in-depth analysis of our outgo, a sizeable proportion seemed to be insurance – car, house and contents, pet, life – you name it, we have it. We found the two most important things to do when rationalising this form of outgo is to shop around and don’t over insure. Check out what details are out there for phone, internet etc as well. Certainly Linda spent many hours on the net and on the phone but in the end we were able to shave a healthy margin off our bills and back into our pocket.

During this process we found that some companies will bend over backwards to keep you as a customer and will offer one off, or continuing financial incentives to keep you as a customer. Just recently we cancelled a credit card and they offered 12 months fee free which would have saved us $160 over the year. Chipping away at costs such as these can mean more in the bank at the end of the month.

Reduce spending

Remember that if you are in tough times, for every extra dollar you earn you get to keep half, the other half going to the government, for every dollar you save (or just don’t spend by reducing your outgo) you get to keep the lot. We have found the following rules helped us to reduce spending –

  1. Keep away from the shops – simple and stupid as it seems, if you keep away from the shops, unless you are going there for a reason, spur of the moment unnecessary buying is kept to a minimum. Window shopping may seem like fun but there are much better things you can be doing at home that will help you save money like gardening, cooking, making things etc.
  2. Make a list and shop like a man – if you do have to go to the shops make a list and stick to it, we both shop differently and Linda will go to the shops and come home with all sorts of stuff whereas I tend to (mostly) only come back with what is on the list.
  3. Keep and eye out for special deals particularly if you know a medium to large purchase is coming up, buying earlier and having the item on hand when you need it can mean you pay less.
  4. Make it yourself – you can make clothing, foods such as preserves, bread etc, cleaning products and the raw materials are inevitably cheaper than buying the product itself. It takes some knowledge and occasionally specialised equipment but means you know what goes into the products you consume and is cheaper in the long run. The saving and environmental benefits increase if you can produce some of the raw materials.
  5. A mate of mine in Austria has also contributed a suggestion that he finds works, and that is to go shopping on a full stomach. He finds it works anywhere not just food even works in hardware stores!

Pay the bills for a year

When the payout comes through, paying off your bills for the year (where you can) will reduce the worry and stress about where that money will come from when you need it. This may save some cash but will also give you time to look for a new job as well as digging the garden.

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