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Catharine, a widowed friend of mine, saves everything: string, paper bags, ribbons, the elastics that bundle asparagus. When she roasts meat, the fat gets turned into suet for the bird feeder. Tin cans become containers for screws, twist ties, buttons. Growing up in rural Ontario in the 1930s, she learned about frugality; the family’s well-being depended on it. She has always lived simply, unencumbered by debt, and I suspect her children will be surprised at the size of their inheritance.
Other friends, a married couple of 40-something dentists, make tons of money and spend even more. Each year they lease new SUVs and buy the latest iteration of every gadget, from cellphones to flat screens. Their closets are full of designer clothes. They holiday often, all over the world-or rather, they used to. The global meltdown has hit them hard, as it has so many. They spent the Christmas holidays at their capacious, replete, mortgaged home-a staycation, as they consoled themselves.
As people revise their retirement plans and spending habits, we consider how the new austerity is playing out in our city. This issue includes articles about two people who, in very different ways, seem prescient in their approach to hard times. The first, William Rees, the UBC economist, is famous for having developed the notion of the ecological footprint, the tool for calculating one’s impact on the planet. He has long argued that we must alter our consumption to protect our children’s future. Catharine, I know, will appreciate James Glave’s profile (Rees’s Thesis).
My dentist friends may be more interested in Mary Ann King, a developmental psychologist who, last summer, decided to stop spending money for 12 months unless absolutely necessary. As Jim Sutherland points out (The Year of Living Frugally), King was prompted not by inklings of market collapse but by a gnawing sense that the thoughtless materialism she saw at every turn was unsustainable.
Our austerity package includes ideas for getting more out of the city while watching your pocketbook. If the best things in life are free, we couldn’t live in a better place. Vancouver is a cornucopia of free entertainment, bargain dining, cultural opportunity, and places to enjoy a glass or two of whatever helps to remind you that life is about more than the Dow Jones Industrial Index and 10-percent annual returns.