Each month Gabel and Notermann pay $170 for utilities, $250 to $275 for food and $780 in rent—half the cost of two-bedroom apartments in the area. The couple’s health insurance, which has a $1,500 deductible, runs $1,350 per quarter.
“Underwear and socks are the only new clothes we’ve bought in years,” says Gabel, who hosts regular clothes-swapping parties with friends. “We bring armloads of stuff and leave with half an armload—the rest goes to Goodwill,” she says. For entertainment, she and Notermann enjoy dance workshops and car camping in the mountains.
Early adopters of voluntary simplicity, the couple attended a Vicki Robin workshop in the 1980s and started economizing and investing, including the purchase of a small apartment building. “Financial independence was a major goal,” says Notermann, who quit his job as a social worker in 1997 and now volunteers for a nonprofit dance organization.
Over the years, they’ve learned that shared housing is most harmonious when there’s a common vision and a desire for true community, rather than just for financial convenience. “There are a million decisions to work out when you live together—one person thinks the kitchen is clean, the other doesn’t,” says Gabel. “You have to be willing to talk it out and set up systems to handle the differences.”
The rewards, she adds, are there: “For Phil’s birthday, we had eight people at the table without any planning. It was great.”
Thrifty in Vermont
Sky Yardley, 58, and Jane Dwinell, 55, live with their son and daughter in a 1,400-square-foot, mortgage-free, energy-efficient house within walking distance of downtown Montpelier. A wood-burning cookstove provides heat. Modern conveniences include a refrigerator, freezer, washing machine and high-speed Internet connection for three laptop computers, but the family does without a TV, dishwasher, microwave or clothes dryer. “I’d rather hang my laundry on a rack by the stove and spend a couple of months in France every year,” says Dwinell. “Financial downturns don’t affect us at all. It’s a great feeling.”
So, how did they do it? First, they tracked their income and expenses to learn how and why they spent money. Then they devised ways to economize and invested their savings in tax-free Vermont bonds. “We’ve always paid cash and never carried debt,” says Dwinell. “I still track every penny spent on a piece of scrap paper.”
The couple’s annual income is less than $25,000, mainly dividends from state municipal bonds purchased over the years. Household expenses (about $150 per person a month) and food costs ($200 each) are divided equally with their daughter, Dana, 22, a graphic designer, and son, Sayer, 18, a carpenter. They also split the costs of gasoline and car repairs for a 2002 Toyota Prius and a 2003 Toyota RAV4, which they use for long trips. The public library, a movie theater and shops are a short walk away.
“We don’t eat out, but do all our cooking from scratch, including baking bread and pastries,” says Dwinell. “We buy our dry goods in bulk, have a garden, and supplement the garden with a CSA share, which provides a weekly box of produce in the summer.” Want more details? Check out the Yardley-Dwinell blog at www.vtcommons.org/blog/common-sense.