Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Living the life

Bad-tempered blasts against stupidity at the top are easy and fun. The hard thing is to grind out a new way of doing things that's right for now. What am I doing?

A number of things which are interlinked but which in themselves seem like platitudes.

First we are out of debt. We sold our house and paid everyone we owed money to. We bought a block of land thinking we'll build again, but we didn't go for broke, getting something reasonably cheap. We've stalled on starting a new house though until we get the earning side of the picture right.

We have a retail plant nursery in town which we've been building up over five years. It seems to have reached a limit at the moment, due partly to the restricted size of our market and partly because people are nervous about spending. We've added a florist business to the nursery because there was a demand for it and that is growing rapidly, but it's all fairly insecure as no-one has to buy plants or flowers. But we're thinking about how to keep it all working.

We also have a factory which we rent at the bottom of the town. There we have a workshop and storage for nursery stock. One of our sons and I are setting up some fish-breeding tanks in it. Our son has a friend in the aquarium business in Melbourne who is advising him on how we can run it profitably and it's a fairly low-risk business because we already had a lot of the gear we needed plus the premises.

My wife and I live in a very modest rented house which we've been sharing with one of our other sons and his partner. Renting is much cheaper than buying. This has kept our living costs low. We have two four wheeled vehicles but we don't drive much because all our commutes are less than a kilometre. Also I have a Cargo Cycle, for which I'm an agent and which I use a lot instead of driving. I've got an ex-postie Honda motorbike too but haven't used it much.

This is the toughest time of the year financially with the nursery and we've got to get through to August when the Spring break kicks in and sales double overnight.

I had a business for years designing and building educational exhibits but that has been quiet, so I'm thinking about other opportunities for my workshop which might come along. Unfortunately a lot of the imported cheap stuff is currently impossible to compete against, but I'm convinced that will change over the next few years.

The big thing is to avoid entanglements and obligations which may become impossible to service. No debt! Or at least the shortest term debt we can manage when we need it. We don't have an overdraft or line of credit. We are in the black even with the trade accounts for the nursery, although only just at the moment.

How we'll go longer term is difficult to say. At an individual level I used to be quite confident in my abilities but I know now how much we depend on people and events beyond our control. That's why it's important to live the right way in the right place! Also we are becoming a bit more vulnerable health-wise, being in our late fifties. There are limits to how much you can take on. But I think we are not too badly off in an overall sense, although below the radar financially.

I'm spending a fair bit of time trying to get things right at a community level. There are lots of reasons why that can work here. We're not dominated by powerful outside interests, we have good relationships within our local area, there are plenty of talented people living here, we have a diverse local economy. It's not perfect but it could be a lot worse. And it suits me too.

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