We don't need all that stuff anyway

The upside of the  global recession--and yes, there is one

As a quasi-American, this may be a risky and genetically surprising statement, but I am starting to think the recession has a bright side. Like everyone else, I have been skimming the headlines with a heavy heart and sense of doom—we haven’t even put up this year's Christmas tree and already 2009 is looking like a fizzer. Yes, John Key has turned up in his old-man jeans to save the day with his much-ballyhooed financial expertise, but even with that level of enthusiasm, I can’t see how he will maintain the necessary momentum to get us out of this mess before a bunch of us have lost our homes, our life savings, and our optimism. Oh, wait. That’s already happened.

Surveying the damage, I feel really lucky. I am not a senior who has had to postpone retirement to fend off creditors or a low-wage worker adding a second or third job to my day to survive. Our household consists of two 30-something working adults, albeit neither with a fulltime job. We are feeling the pinch, but in no way could we compare ourselves with families such as those in December’s North and South cover story, or the Blue Chip investors, or homeowners forced into mortgagee sales. That is true misery.

Still, there are signs that all is not tickety boo at our house. We have pulled our rental property off the market after six weeks of minimal interest and one frankly insulting offer; we’re feeding the puppy Home Brand food, which he likes well enough; I am dyeing my own hair and to hell with the split ends and slight purple hue. We rarely go to the movies, or out for a drink. Videos are a treat. Sometimes we harrumph at another night in reading books and playing with the pup (as entertaining as he is), but the discipline of not spending money unless absolutely necessary has been freeing in some ways. I don't feel obliged to look at those Briscoes inserts that fall out of the Herald, or spend time considering whether I "need" a kicky little playsuit, which Sunday magazine suggests could be just the thing this summer.

For the first time since high school I went shopping with a wad of bills in hand instead of using my eftpos card. When I got to the last $10 note, I was finished. Time to go home. It was a relief. I am spending less time on crap gossip mags and crap TV (we don’t have Sky). My personal maintenance routine—never particularly rigorous—has diminished. No more special occasion manicures, no more buying experimental makeup I will never wear. Good riddance. We are sharing a car, as we have for the past two years, and although that can be frustrating it is also much cheaper and better for the environment.

That’s another bright side to this recession—it’s good for the planet. We cannot afford to continue to consume at the rate at which we do, I don’t care what anyone says about GDP. The quicker we learn to curb our automobile use, re-purpose our old stuff, grow our own vege gardens, and share what we don’t need with friends and family rather than throw it away, the better. It's called living within our means, and it's a lesson that's long overdue.

Those of us who came of age in the late 80s and early 90s had a taste of all this after the ’87 stock market crash and its aftermath, although the current economic downturn is already a lot more serious. I did my bit at university by wearing my grandfather’s work shirts to class and buying used textbooks. (It felt important at the time.) The millennials, with their indulgent upbringings, have not experienced anything like the deprivation that could be visited upon us in the next 12 months. At the risk of sounding like my dear, late father—a Depression era kid—it’s about time they learned the value of a dollar.