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The “Downshift” Challenge

Irish News of the World

Sunday April 5th, 2009

Diarmuid MacShane

The “Downshift” Challenge

In a hard hitting speech last week, the Taoiseach Brian Cowen prepared us for the worst by warning the country to expect a 10% drop in our standard of living in the coming years.

Many of us are already experiencing a drop in our incomes thanks to our employers cost cutting efforts, so what will all this mean for our day to day lives?

Will our lives be worse off, or could it actually be possible that less is might very well be more? There are some who believe that is very easy to achieve – let me introduce you to “downshifting”.

What’s it all about?

“Downshifting” was developed in 1995 by British writer and broadcaster Tracey Smith. Published in her “Downshifting Manifesto”, Tracey described downshifting as “slowing down your pace, finding a better work/life balance, consequently embracing living with less and leading a simpler, greener and happier life!”

Since 1995, the concept of downshifting has extended from being a lifestyle choice to covering all aspects of our consumer behaviour and activity. And while downshifting was originally designed to provide us a better way of life, it can now also help us save money as well.

International Downshifting Week is coming up from April 18th to 24th and I think it’s time that we all try this downshifting.

So what can you do?

Take a few minutes and review all areas of your life and where you spend the most time, and money. Then, for each activity, plan a “downshift” and see if it makes your life better, while saving you money at the same time.

As a simple example, the average person spends more than 3 hours per day watching television. How about “downshifting” that by 50% to only spend 10 hours in the week watching television (and not forgetting to switch off at the wall)?

Now you’ve more time to spend with the family, the pets, or catching up on those chores you’ve been putting on the long finger. That can only be good for the soul – but you’ll also save on your electricity costs – potentially up to €100 per year.

How about going a step further now? You’re not watching as much tv, so do you need all those channels? Maybe “downshift” from the channel package you’re on now to the next lowest available? Or even get rid of the sports and movies? Doing all this could save you up to €500 in a year.

According to Martin Lewis, the UK MoneySavingExpert, you could save up to 15% on your bills by following a “downshift” challenge on your grocery shopping.

The grocery downshift challenge means you check out cheaper alternatives on everything from milk and bread to meat and potatoes while trying to not lose taste and quality.

Do you always by an expensive brand of tea or coffee? For one weeks shopping, buy the next cheapest brand and see if anyone notices the difference. Experience in the UK says that only half the time are the changes noticed. If the family don’t like the new alternative, then go back to the original brand, or try a different one. If no one notices, move on to the rest of your basket of groceries and try downshifting them as well.

The average Irish household spend groceries is €135 so you could save nearly €1000 per year without anyone noticing.

If you’re feeling really adventurous, you could follow the “double downshift” challenge by changing from your normal brand to a stores own brand. This could save you up to 44% in a year, or €3000 on your grocery shopping.

Reduce non-essential purchases

A key feature of “downshifting” is to reduce non-essential spending on “stuff”. Do you really need those new clothes, or new furniture around the house?

Look for alternatives to splashing the cash unnecessarily. A new resource that I found recently is the SwopShop in Temple Bar in Dublin. This shop, at a small charge, allows you swap “reasonably fashionable and wearable item of clothing or costume jewellery, providing it is in immaculate condition”. So, the clothes you no longer for no real reason at all can now be swapped for something more to your taste. Check out www.swopshop.ie.

Sites like www.jumbletown.ie and www.dublinwaste.ie will allow you pick up almost anything for free, and you can get rid of your unwanted items as well instead of dumping them. Check out either site to save youself some money if you’re looking for furniture mainly, books, CDs, DVDs, and things for around the home.

Save money and save the world

You’ll notice that “downshifting” can be good for you, your spare time, good for your wallet and in most cases, good for the environment as well.

You could even downshift your journey to work by taking public transport on one day a week instead of taking the car. Or even cycling to work once a week instead of taking the bus or train.

With downshifting, you try something at least once to see how you like it. If you don’t like the change, go back to how things were before and maybe downshift somewhere else.

So, have a look at what you’re doing and where you’re spending your time and money and see what can be downshifted. I’ve just shown you a couple of things here that can save you hours of time per week and thousands of euros per year. And you could downshift almost anything in your life. Try at least something out today.

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