Cybernaut 

Cut everything but the web

I'm not so naïve that I still believe that the best things in life are free anymore. Almost everything has a cost, even your spare time and every day you're alive it costs money for housing, utilities, groceries, and other necessities.

Myself, I figure that it personally costs me roughly $65 per day just to live when I add up everything from mortgage to groceries to car insurance to the money my wife and I set aside each month to eat out, buy clothes and gear, and so on. There is always fat we can trim, but we already live a pretty frugal existence, and an austerity budget where we did nothing, bought nothing and got rid of luxuries like our car, cable and any discretionary spending would still cost over $40 per day each.

The reason I bring this up is that times are tough (at least in the private sector, as the public sector appears to be going on as usual in Whistler and elsewhere). People are losing their jobs and having wages and benefits scaled back, while also watching their own cost of living increase with higher taxes and fees, rising fuel prices (they're going up again for the summer) and a hundred other costs both big and small.

Once upon a time the experts said you should always have enough in the bank to cover a minimum of three months of living expenses, but now the same experts are recommending that people save enough to cover six months or more as it could take years for the economy to recover and for people to find regular employment again. Even then there's no question that some impacts of the economic crisis will be more or less permanent - it could take decades for millions of homes across Canada to return to their pre-bubble value and average wages (which have been lagging behind the economy for three decades now) will likely never recover.

The best advice is not to sweat the new reality because eventually the price of the things we need will drop down to what the market will bear. We haven't seen that yet because a lot of companies and consumers are under the illusion that the downturn is temporary and that a recovery is around the corner somewhere, ignoring the millions of unemployed and all the people who lost huge amounts of money in the market that are going to be very hesitant to return to their free spending ways of the past. Add in the imminent retirement of the boomers, and we're in deep doo-doo.

But of all the luxuries you can cut in your life, I would probably cut Internet last. If you cut your cable, you can still watch television shows and even live sporting events on your computer. You can even get full-length movies now at YouTube.com, as well as free music, books, games, documentaries and other entertainment at a variety of venues (e.g. LastFM.com, Archive.org, ArmorGames.com, Documentary24.com respectively).

You can use your computer to reserve books and movies at your local library (www.whistlerlibrary.ca), or get a Skype.com account to talk to friends and family for free, or use it like a phone for a set rate.

Your computer can help you budget (www.wasabe.com), figure out interest earned and paid using online calculators (www.moneychimp.com/calculator/), and purchase the items you need and can't get locally at a discount (www.ebay.ca, www.amazon.ca, www.tigerdirect.ca).

If you've been laid off then your computer can help you find a new job (Monster.com, Workopolis.com), or get your resume together (www.canadiancareers.com). You ca also use your computer to access government assistance programs (www.servicecanada.gc.ca).

In times like this smart people also invest in themselves. Instead of lazing around in their pajamas and wondering what happened they're going back to school and upgrading skills, or getting certificates and degrees. An Internet connection can help you there, too, with literally dozens of schools across B.C. offering distance learning programs.

Recently I've also focused on value and longevity in the things that I buy. I'm still playing Halo 3 , for example, trying to finish the game on Legendary mode while occasionally going online to get worked over by 12-year-olds. Usually I'll finish a game and move on, but I forced myself to keep playing until I enjoyed it again.

I'm also rediscovering my PS2, which believe it or not they're still making games for. Older but awesome games like Shadow of the Colossus or Katamari are still incredibly cheap, and I also purchased Final Fantasy XII - I'm up to 80 hours already and I don't think I'm even halfway through the story, much less all the side quests. Believe it or not it's also a game that has that replay factor, because you can do speed runs or play with enforced character classes that limit what items you can use.

The bottom line is to be creative. This economic crisis is not the end of the world, just a new reality to wrap our heads around.

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