Breaking the work-earn-spend-waste-repeat cycle

In my quest to live a slower and more thoughtful lifestyle, I find myself thinking and talking a lot about the work-earn-spend-waste-repeat cycle. It’s all too easy to get caught in this cycle. Ok, I’ll come right out and say it. I think that many of us are way too focused on earning money. Some of us aspire to live the sort of consumption-focused lifestyle that we believe will bring happiness. Others are already living it, and need to work to maintain it. This comes at a considerable cost to the individual’s wellbeing. But the other impact is an environmental one. This impact can be seen everywhere. Discarded coffee cups from the morning’s drive-through fix. Toys and gadgets that entertain briefly then in no time at all become landfill. Larger ticket items that are manufactured with in-built obsolescence and are cheaper to replace than fix. One only has to look at the number of blogs with posts about decluttering to see that ‘stuff’ is dominating the lives of many.

My wish for us all is that we can start to define quality of life in other ways. Not by the amount of money earned and the material goods that money has bought. This lifestyle is simply not sustainable for us or for the earth on which we all live. Living a consumption-focused lifestyle supports an extractive economy. Shifting the focus away from this and toward more sustainable and meaningful activities has at least 2 benefits. It has the capacity to improve quality of life and it will most certainly help the environment.

Over a decade ago I walked away from a permanent full-time job. You can read more about why, what I did next, and my rationale for choosing to be part of the casualised workforce on this guest post over on the Lifestyle Fifty blog. What I have noticed in this time is that the less I work the less I spend. Now I’m not so deluded to think that the money saved by not working is greater than what could have been earned. But by endeavouring to be a thoughtful consumer and by doing things to reduce my spending, I have given myself more options regarding where and how much I work. This gives me more time to do some of these things:








Now I don’t want everyone thinking that I do nothing else in my spare time but sit around with my feet up and a book or craft on my lap! Reducing expenditure means spending time growing things and cooking from the garden, and making things myself rather than buying them. This contributes to reducing my grocery bill. Click on the link to find my 5 tips for spending less at the checkout. I hope that you will be influenced to implement as many of these as is possible for you.

Do you feel caught in the work-earn-spend-waste-repeat cycle? Would you like to get off this treadmill, and spend less time in paid work? Or are you contemplating stepping out of the paid workforce altogether but fear not having enough money? Shifting your mindset away from a consumption-focused lifestyle and reducing spending where you can is as good a place as any to start.


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  • With a possible redundancy happening for me later this year this post is very timely and thought provoking!


  • sizzlesue15 says:

    I am so with you on this Jo and actually in one of my posts this week about creating memories I used a quote ‘Collect memories not things’. We get so caught up with earning more money which means working longer and harder that we don’t enjoy life. My word for the year is ‘Simplify’ and so your post was right ‘en pointe’ with me. Have a fabulous day and thanks for the reminder Jo.
    Sue from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond.

    • Jo says:

      Thank you Sue, and that was a terrific post you did on creating memories. It’s liberating to shift the focus away from money isn’t it, and to work on simplifying.

  • Kathy Marris says:

    Hi Jo, yes I hear you. I watched a documentary a few weeks ago called The Minimalists and it really got me thinking about living with less. Like you I worked full-time in a stressful job just to earn good money to spend on “things”. Now that I am semi-retired I find I need less and less and do get a lot of pleasure from living simply, cooking meals from scratch, shopping around for good quality foods and saving money for holidays rather than material objects. I will look forward to your tips for saving money. 🙂 #TeamLovinLife

    • Jo says:

      Thanks Kathy, I must look for that documentary. Some minimalists take it too far for my personal liking, but the principle of living with less and defining quality of life in non-material ways is still a good one.

  • Vanessa says:

    I don’t want to work full time but I support a sick husband as well so I don’t have a choice. We’re at a much earlier stage in life and if we want to purchase property (or even think we have a chance to) then I do need to earn more money. We are not big spenders though and enjoy doing our own cooking etc.

    • Jo says:

      Sometimes Vanessa we find ourselves without so many options. Being a carer, studying, being at an earlier stage of life, buying your first home, & raising kids etc will all impact decisions about working less. I read a fabulous book recently called ‘Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture.’ It profiles singles, couples and families with a range of different life circumstances, and tracks their individual rationale for and approach to working less. I’m sure you would enjoy it.

  • Hubster and I have reached the stage where we seriously do.not.need.another.thing. to decorate our home no matter how many cute and cheap items we see at Ikea or Kmart etc! We are going against the flow though I think!

  • Rebecca Bowyer says:

    I think it’s true that above a certain income you do just expand your ‘needs’ to fit your bank account. When we need to save money we talk about ‘living like we’re students again’, because that was the most broke time of our lives! And we got by just fine…

    • Jo says:

      What a good strategy Rebecca! I work with tertiary students and am just amazed at how some of them not only get by but can manage to save for quite major things like travel. If they can do it surely we can too!

  • writeofthemiddle says:

    Oh you speaka my language Jo! I too walked away from a full-time permanent corporate job. I am poorer in wealth but richer in wellbeing and lifestyle. I agree that we need to reassess what we determine is quality of life. For me – over 2 hours commuting each day, leaving home in the dark and getting home in the dark, having my house & home in chaos, working long hours, being too exhausted to be present when at home (and so many more things) was not quality of life. #TeamLovinLife

    • Jo says:

      Oh Min I’m so glad you altered the lifestyle you describe. The cost to wellbeing certainly outweighed the money earned in your instance didn’t it?!

  • leannelc says:

    I am the queen of frugiality – I love the local library – and I LOVE Diana Gabaldon btw! I have always watched our money – bought coffee is a treat, magazines are for holidays (or the doctor’s surgery), clothes are bought on sale etc etc. You really don’t need a big income if you know your way around saving money.

    • Jo says:

      They are all great habits to have Leanne. I love a bargain at an op-shop too. I’m waiting my turn at the library to get ‘Drums of Autumn’. Diana’s novels are such epic adventures. I can’t help but wonder firstly if she sleeps, and secondly if she does whether she dreams of new adventures for Jamie and Claire!

  • Johanna says:

    I so agree Jo. We used to spend so much less when the kids were small and we were being more frugal because we had to. No coffees out, meals out were a rare event, lots of picnics with marmite sandwiches and apples and sporting games. The work-earn-spend-waste-repeat cycle is a habit we don’t need to be caught up in.

    • Jo says:

      It’s amazing isn’t it Jo how the more we earn the more we spend, simply because we can. It creeps up without us even really noticing.

  • I’d love to be more minimalist. I try, but the family have yet to get on board.

  • Timely message for me Jo and I’ve slowly made the shift in my mind to less being more. I’ve been focusing on just spending time with my son over the last few weeks. Doing things that cost close to nothing – going for walks, pottering around at home and listening to the radio etc. It’s actually made our time together more special without the white noise of stuff and wanting more of it.

    SSG xxx

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