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Frugal entertainment In my recent

Found at: zaibatsu.circumlunar.space:70/~solderpunk/phlog/frugal-entertainment.txt

Frugal entertainment
--------------------

In my recent post on "radical frugality", I mentioned that when thinking about
such a lifestyle it's important to keep the question of what you'll do with your
leisure time in mind.  There's no point drastically slashing your cost of living
so you have lots of free time if you're the kind of person who is easy to get
tremendously bored if they can't spend a lot of cash.  This post is going to be
thinking out loud about entertainment possibilities in my ideal hybrid timeline
simpe life world.  This might seem like putting the horse before the cart,
because entertainment is *not* the biggest part of most people's budgets, but
I'm starting my discussions here because it will lead nicely into some other
stuff I want to phlog about soon.

So, the first thing to emphasise is that the question here is not "how can I
have fun for free?", although answers to that question are of course perfectly
relevant.  And, actually, on that note as a quick aside, let me say that public
libraries are an indispensible resource for a hyper frugal existence, and this
is an argument *against* log cabin style reclusive living (although surely there
are arguments for it, too).  If you live in a largeish city with a well-stocked
library you literally have totally free access to a lifetime's worth of reading,
which is not a non-trivial thing by any means.

The question is not "how can I have fun for free?" because start up costs are
allowed here.  The idea is to reduce your total cost of living to the point that
you can do something like earn most of it up front by working hard for five
years and then have very low ongoing costs that can be met by working very
occasionally.  So a more accurate framing of the question might be "how can I
spend $1000 or so if the goal is to end up with stuff that will keep me from
getting bored for literally several decades?".

An additional constraint that I would recommend is to focus on means of
entertainment which are not too location-dependent.  I think car ownership is
fundamentally at odds with radical frugalism.  Even if petrol were free, there
are so many on-going costs associated with owning a car: renewing your driver's
license, registering your car, insuring your car, maintaining your car, and in
some jurisdictions getting your car tested for emission cleanliness or safety.
And, of course, petrol is *not* free, nor likely to get anywhere close to it.
A lifetime of car ownership represents *many years* of average income, so it's a
deal breaker.  Thus if your favourite hobby has to happen, e.g. at the beach or
up in the mountains, unless you live quite close to the beach or mountains,
you're in trouble.

I think the key to solving this problem is focusing on activities which do not
consume anything you can't supply yourself for free, and ideally which also do
not produce anything.  I enjoy, among many other things, analog photography.
Jynx has mentioned he enjoys shooting guns.  The problem with hobbies like these
are even if you buy a really well-built camera or gun and take loving care of
it, you need a steady supply of film or ammo, and those represent non-negligible
ongoing costs.  Tomasino has said he likes spinning wool.  That requires, of
course, wool, but this is perhaps not *so* bad.  Slugmax has mentioned that his
wife is pretty keen on them having a small farm when they downsize their life;
if one keeps one's own sheep, then wool is ready to hand.

(I'm not trying to shit on anybody's choice of hobby, here, in case that's not
clear, I'm just picking topical examples that have been phlogged about lately.
Nobody has said they like painting, but if they had, I'd be pointing out that
this requires paint and canvas.  A lot of hobbies involve consumables).

The bit about not producing anything is perhaps me, once again, mixing up
logically distinct things.  I move internationally a lot for work, and that's a
very painful experience if you have a lot of stuff (see some of the earliest
entries in my phlog), so I tend to always add this additional constraint on
myself, that I don't want to be producing a lot of stuff, or collecting stuff
either.  I don't really succeed at this, but I'm slowly getting better.  But I
will point out that if you produce a lot of stuff as part of your hobby, you
need to store it somewhere.  Bigger houses cost more to build, more to maintain
and more to heat/cool, so producing less stuff is still an advantage for radical
frugality.

This might sound like a super restrctive problem, but actually I don't think
it's all that bad.  The key is to focus on buying things which consume nothing
but permit an infinite variety of experiences.  This might sound like magic, but
actually the world is full of things like this.  If you buy one non-electric
musical instrument, you have a single device which consumes nothing (well, I
guess e.g. guitar strings break and need replacing, but the ongoing costs are
surely pretty meagre - I confidently proclaim having never played a guitar in my
life...) but you are capable of playing any of a literally infinite number of
possible songs, including songs which have not even been composed yet.
Genuinely mastering your musical instrument of choice will take decades of
dedicated practice.  If you can keep yourself from falling into the trap of
always wanting a better gutiar (acquiring what some musicians call "GAS", or
Gear Acquisition Syndrome), you're looking at a one time purchase which can then
easily provide you with decades of something rewarding to focus your energies
on.

A chess board or a deck of cards will cost you very little indeed, and while
there aren't technically an infinite number of possible chess games, it's
something you can easily spend decades of your life mastering.

Ham radio, which I know is popular on SDF, *might* fit the bill.  I don't doubt
that the equipment can last a lifetime, but I'm not sure how often you need to
get your license renewed and what the cost associated with that is.

Hobbies based around observing the natural world are great candidates for this
lifestyle, too.  A one-time purchase of a good telescope or set of binoculars
can offer decades of rewarding amateur astronomy, or birdwatching, or whatever
else takes your fancy.  Hell, you don't even need the once off cost of buying
nice optics, just listen to SDF user tob's "Dubious Goals Committee" show on
Anonradio.  With nothing other than your eyes you can easily spend years
observing and learning about the wildlife that grows in the environment around
you, even if you're not far from the city.  Honestly, if you are curious and
enjoy learning and pay attention, the world provides you with plenty of
entertainment.

Of course, if you're reading this phlog you're probably a huge computer nerd, so
how does that fit into this scheme?  Well, I don't think it's something we'd
have to give up.  Things like the Raspberry Pi and all similar boards are quite
cheap, more powerful than the machines that got most of us hooked on computers
in the first place (and most phloggers in this thread have already sung the
praises of ultra low resource window managers and other software), have no
moving parts to wear out, and are extremely power efficient.  A very cheap and
simple DIY solar installation with an old car battery could probably keep a
Raspberry Pi running for many hours a day in all but the most extreme latitudes
(and running 24/7 without a problem in many places of the world).  Internet
connecivity is a bit of a conundrum, in that it's usually not free.  If
*everybody* was trying to live this way, I imagine some kind of wifi-based mesh
network would become mainstream pretty quickly.  This would look a lot like the
early internet, with content being moved around in batches as and when
connections become available.  But this is a little fantasist - realistically,
if you are a "lone weirdo" doing this today in a world where 99% of people are
living the default lifestyle, internet is going to be a challenge, especially if
you're doing the remote cabin thing.  Of course, I found computers fascinating
before I got on the internet, but I admit giving it up entirely would be very
hard for me.

I'm basically at the point where I have convinced myself that I could live this
kind of ultra-frugal off-grid or semi-off-grid lifestyle without being bored out
of my skull.  This means, at least, that it is not a waste of time to think more
seriously about the harder questions surrounding the lifestyle.

I have also made a habit of, whenever I start thinking I might be getting
interested in something, asking myself:

* What would this hobby consume?
* What would this hobby produce?
* Would the required equipment last for decades if I took good care of it?
* Is taking good care of the equipment something I can do myself at low cost?

If I don't like the answers, I make a real effort to disengage from the subject.
This way, at least, I am not actively moving further away from my goals.

This, of course, is not the same as actively moving *toward* my goals.  Some of
my existing hobbies would fit in here very well, e.g. shortwave radio DXing.  I
use a small portable radio powered by AAs, which could easily be recharged from
a very small solar or wind solution.  Some of my other hobbies, however, would
not fit in so well.

As my handle might suggest, I like building electronic things, which is not
great in that it consumes things (solder, components, electricity) and also
produces things (whatever I decide to build).  When you design and build
something from scratch yourself, you get quite attached to it and thus it's very
hard to part with it, even if you realise that you don't actually use the thing
at all anymore after a few years.  I'm not really ready to give this hobby up,
though, because I quite enjoy it, I've invested money in tools and time in
learning that it would be a shame to see go to waste, because I think it would
actually be a useful skill in making the rest of this lifestyle work, and
because I also have unrealistic fantasies about one day turning it into a source
of income that perhaps makes me more content.  So I'm focusing on "reforming"
it, which I'll write more about in subsequent entries.  It took me longer than
expected after moving to Finland to tool back up for basic tinkering, but as of
earlier this week I've got all I need again and am keen to phlog about new toys.
:)  Which may or may not be the real reason for "putting the horse before the
cart" and jumping straight to the issue of hyper frugal entertainment...