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- I don’t worry about the recession because I feel like I’ve been practicing for years.
- The economic challenges my partner and I have faced together have helped us focus on the long term.
- My partner and I live a minimalist existence compared to many around us, but we never fail.
When I think about the impending recession, I worry about my community. About inflation making food a luxury as corporations get richer, people losing their homes and ending up in tent camps, and kids without enough winter gear freezing in the snow. .
However, I am not worried about my immediate family.
Not that my partner and I are rich, far from it. Until recently, we lived month to month for years, even though we both have master’s degrees and professional careers. My partner’s job docks us in Toronto, one of the 10 least affordable cities in North America, where the best condo price we could find when we bought last year was $1,000 a square foot. None of us have a family to depend on financially; in fact, we support my partner’s family abroad.
And almost two years ago, I became disabled by the long COVID, like millions of other Americans. I don’t know if I will ever be able to work full time again.
I’ve spent a lifetime training to make ends meet
But my partner and I have trained for this all our lives. As a pre-teen, I posted flyers around my neighborhood to get babysitting jobs and started in retail at 16. My partner spent his teenage years running small businesses, including selling homemade desserts and painting rigged bikes. We have always worked.
In our two decades together, we’ve also gone through periods when only one of us was able to work for pay: first me when my partner had to wait for a US work permit, then him after I gave birth to our child. The economic hardships we faced together helped us focus on the long term and calibrate a simple lifestyle. Sometimes, however, these lessons have been painful.
To help deal with a crisis in my violent family a few years after graduating from college, we spent and borrowed a total of $100,000. Immediately after, we moved to Canada. Our plans and dreams for the future have temporarily disappeared.
To stay afloat, we reverted to the survival skills of our early years together. I shopped on prices, buying most things from grocery stores and only certain necessities from regular supermarkets. Besides watching lots of Netflix, we splurged on $5 Tuesdays at the cinema around the corner — and snuck in our own snacks. Since dining out is much more expensive in Canada, we have booked restaurant meals for rare special occasions and invited friends over for dinner.
As we recovered very slowly financially, the Toronto real estate market exploded. In the decade between arriving in Canada and finally being able to purchase our own—extremely small—condo, prices nearly tripled. You now have to earn close to $200,000 a year to afford a house in Toronto. We have often felt bitter about this.
But we also realize that we are extremely lucky to finally have security, compared to other Torontonians. (Even though we had to use every penny of our down payment last year, and interest rate increases have increased our mortgage payments by 45% since then.) We can finally start saving for our child’s education and save more for retirement.
Over the years, frugality has become a habit
What sometimes seemed like a limitation has become a habit: always thinking about how to save money, limit our consumption and focus on what is most important to us. We live a minimalist existence compared to many around us, but we never fail.
An example: a few weeks before the birth of our child, I went shopping at Goodwill. For $40 I took bags of baby clothes, vintage jewelry, which all together would have cost several hundred dollars. Since then, I buy the vast majority of our children’s clothes second-hand, and this child never lacks style.
When my body changed after pregnancy, I had to sell to a consignment store discount designer favorites that I had marked up on flash sale sites. But then I had to replace them with used clothes in my new size. I refuse to be entirely practical: My love for savings has taught me that I prefer high-quality natural fibers. When I find used silk, cashmere and linen treats, I don’t mind hand washing.
Our family ethos is about this scrappiness: we do our best with as few resources as possible.
We scour Facebook Marketplace for older iPhone models when ours breaks down. (Toxic components saved from untimely death and less money for Apple.) Once our child outgrows the clothes, I sell them online or gift them to friends or other parents to spread abundance. Our home is filled with vintage mid-century modern finds that we’ve been scouting for prices cheaper than new Ikea furniture. When I discovered two broken bikes in the trash, my partner fixed them, sold one for $750, and turned the other into a big kid’s bike for our kid.
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to buy what we wanted without thinking about the prices. Given the impact of my disability on our finances, I do not see this possible. But then I realize that part of my enjoyment of our little luxuries is the fact that we got them by working the consumerist system.
Many of our best memories together are the fruit of this ingenuity. The night we were too broke for a hotel, we were lucky enough to find a campsite by the Big Sur River. My partner’s mastery of homemade bread and pizza. The free vacation we took thanks to home exchanges.
And my favorite, from our first New Year’s Eve in Canada: I heard a fishmonger shouting a cut price on Nova Scotia lobster, and a few hours later we were toasting sparkling vinho verde over a feast of butter lobster.
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