Twenty-one years ago, Charles Long, a Canadian civil servant, drew his last weekly paycheck.
He wasn’t fired. He suffered from “mid-career material frustration” and was answering the call of an unfinished novel and other plans for how he and his wife wanted to spend their lives.
Today, Long has raised two children, built a home on 100 acres of land and has a life that, while not necessarily every person’s dream, is in his opinion, comfortable.
The means for this type of life did not come from having more, but making do with less--something he calls the Conserver Lifestyle.
Long, who did finally finish the novel, has written “How to Survive Without a Salary” (Warwick Publishing $14.95), a guide to using more, wasting less and not keeping up with the Joneses.
The key to this type of lifestyle is “not investing ego in conspicuous consumption,” he said by telephone from his home near the village of Rideau Ferry, about 60 miles from Ottawa.
In “taking control of our financial lives,” Long said that the conserver lifestyle means a lot of hard work. You can’t just drive to the shopping center and plop down a credit card for all your purchases. A conserver needs to change his or her entire outlook on “how much you need to survive.”
“It’s OK to take the cheap solution,” he said. But to win at this game one needs to ignore the pressures of the material world. He said that by driving a no-frills car, rather than a BMW, “you’ll have $40,000 more in the bank.”
Long said lives have to be organized so you don’t need a lot of money. This might include living close to your employment so you can walk to work, growing much of your own food (even in a city), living communally or sharing major purchases with friends, buying in bulk, and ignoring designer labels and fads.
Living on less is easier today than in years past. Now, he writes, there are more bargains in housing and land than several years ago. Smaller families in older, larger homes have opened the possibility of shared housing.
“Barter and bargaining are more socially acceptable” and retailers are more aggressive with discounts and sales gimmicks.
“There are now more retailers in do-it-yourself and secondhand markets. The environment movement has diverted re-usables and recyclables from landfill sites and into the hands of conservers,” he writes.
Long admits that “living without a salary” is a bit of a misnomer because money is always required for health care, staples and other necessities. Rather, his scheme works with a “casual income” such as freelancing or occasional work.
“Twenty years ago, stepping out of a career was seen as an eccentric folly,” he said. “Now, people are finding it easier logistically (due to computers etc.) and the economy is adjusting itself to this way of doing business.”
Long does not view the conserver lifestyle as the product of a person who can’t make it in the “real world.”
“We bought into the myth of competition for so long that being downsized can feel like personal failure rather than a deliberate grab by a few for all the goodies,” Long writes.
As a conserver, Long said he works harder than he did as a civil servant and enjoys it a lot more. “I never would have sat at my desk for 12 hours as a civil servant,” as he does now, writing a book or working on a prized project.
For Long, the scheme has worked, affording him a comfortable lifestyle. It has meant, however, that he has spent $6 on shoes over the past decade and relined and patched the same sports jacket for 30 years.
Not everyone at all times has shared his vision. When his daughter complained that other families were going to Disney World, Long told her, “we’ve just gone to Paris.” When she complained that her friends were hanging out at the mall, Long told her, “but they come here to ride your horse and swim in your pond.”