Living within your means as a choice

Joe Bevilacqua


Bob Moon: Tough times are forcing many of us make changes in our lifestyle -- eating out less, shopping less, just generally cutting back. A few years back, commentator Joe Bevilacqua lost his job and made some drastic changes to his lifestyle. Now, he says, it's second nature.

Joe Bevilacqua: A good life is one that evolves slowly. Patience is the difficult part.

I grew up in New York and until seven years ago lived only in cities. Food came from the grocery store. Heat, water, electricity came from utility companies. I never thought about the true cost of such convenience. The word "sustainability" was something environmental nuts talked about.

Things changed when I met my wife. She was a vegetarian and I became one too, just to please her. But as we learned more about the health and environmental benefits, sustainability began to make sense to me.

When I lost my high-tech job and cashed out with six figures, we bought a small 60-year-old house in the Catskills. We started gardening, composting and doing about 50 other things.

The learning curve was high. A garden doesn't grow overnight. But within two years, we were dicing up a 2-foot long zucchinis from our garden. Large, south-facing windows greatly reduced our heating costs. We spent a lot less money and felt more connected to nature.

Over the years, we've lost other jobs, and the six figures have dwindled to a near zero bank balance. Today, we both work but can't go on vacation and have no health insurance, yet are surviving pretty well.

Our patience has paid off. We know how to live well with only what we need. Not as a panicked reaction to the current economic crisis, but as a personal choice. Some day, we may again have six figures in the bank, but as for our lifestyle, we wouldn't change a thing.

Joe Bevilacqua's 50 ways of living more sustainably

1. Drive a Honda Insight hybrid, which gets 60 to 70 mpg.

2. Live in a small, 1,100-square foot house.

3. Cook most meals fresh at home, no microwave.

4. Eat vegetarian at home and compost food scraps and uneaten leftovers.

5. Produce very little garbage and take it to the dump ourselves.

6. Rake our leaves into the compost.

7. Have a small but prolific organic garden that feeds us all summer.

8. Process and store the rest of the garden's bounty in a large freezer in our basement.

9. Grow nearly every kind of vegetable.

10. Grow many kinds of herbs in the garden and around our 3-acre property, and hang and dry the herbs inside our house.

11. Buy very little packaged or processed foods.

12. Buy dry foods such as beans and grains in bulk.

13. Hand grind coffee beans.

14. Designed the inside of the house for maximum exercise, including a hatch with weights and pulley to go to the basement, and pipes bolted to the ceiling for a chin-up bar.

15. Hike and run with our dogs in the woods.

16. Heat with a wood stove, which we can cook on, too.

17. Turn down the water heater.

18. Have a small, efficient refrigerator.

19. Air dry (hang our clothes) outside in the summer, inside in the winter, and have no dryer.

20. Hand wash dishes. Have no dishwasher.

21. Have no fully working stove, cook mostly in a small convection oven.

22. Have our dogs eat a vegan food mix.

23. Use recycled wood for cat litter.

24. Cook outdoors in a solar oven all summer.

25. Have fruit trees -- peaches, cherries.

26. Pick wild raspberries, blueberries, scallions on our property, and acres of woods behind.

27. Only mow a small part of our yard, let the rest go natural.

28. Have a lot of plants in the house, creates oxygen, natural air cleaner.

29. Ride bikes into town in the summer, about 4 miles one way.

30. Ride a stationary bike indoors in the winter.

31. Buy clothes at thrift stores.

32. Organize errands to save trips.

33. Use compact fluorescent bulbs and LED lights.

34. Turn off lights when we are not in a room.

35. Keep electronics (TV, etc.) on a power strip and turn it off when not in use.

36. Have a small TV that uses less power.

37. Use a bidet instead of toilet paper.

38. My wife uses reusable, washable cotton pads and a rubber cup instead of tampons.

39. I shave with an old-fashioned, double-edged safety razor. No better shave, very inexpensive, no plastic disposables, no four and five blade razors.

40. Make fresh soy milk and tofu, with a soy milk machine, from bulk soy beans.

41. Cook rice and other grains in a rice cooker, saves time, keeps food ready anytime.

42. Bake bread from scratch.

43. Only use orange oil, vinegar to clean the house.

44. Winterized the house.

45. High ceilings, ceiling fans, open floor plan.

46. Use passive solar techniques -- skylights with shades, large windows on southern exposure.

47. Added reflective film to south facing windows.

48. Sewed mylar to back of curtains on south side, which keeps cold out, heat in in the winter, and the opposite in the summer.

49. Be multi-talented; have many diverse skills--just like our garden, we do not "mono-crop" how we can make a living. If one job ends, it is easier to find work in another area. I currently make a living writing and editing books; writing articles for newspapers and magazines; writing, directing and acting in stage plays; drawing cartoons; illustrating books; writing technical manuals; writing, producing, directing and acting in radio dramas; reading/recording audio books; reporting for public radio magazines; teaching broadcasting and public speaking on the college level; doing publicity and PR for a variety of clients and more.

50. We shop locally and support local businesses over big corporations, which saves fuel and helps the community.

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This is Joe Bev. (again). A friend just asked about about the solar oven, and I thought I should add these details:

We bought the solar oven for $250: https://www.sunoven.com/

It really works. Gets up to 450 degrees. But it only works in direct sun, spring, summer, fall. And you have to keep pointing it towards the sun as you are cooking. I've never cooked meat in it but you can. I make rice, sauces, soups, roasted veggies, etc. The food tastes great, very full flavored.. sun roasted.

I originally submitted this as a Facebook message to Joe Bevilacqua himself... am reposting it here.

"I loved your Marketplace piece on sustainable living. It seemed appropriate to tell you so on Facebook, seeing as I found out by seeing the link you posted on Bob Edwards' wall.

Anyway, great work! Keep spreading the word; Facebook is a powerful medium."

Full disclosure first: I'm probably one of Joe's oldest friends, having known him since the 1st grade (many, MANY years!). Joe is positively insane. I've been to his house, and he and his fabulous wife live a lifestyle that I never could. But, that doesn't mean that absolutely everyone can't garner some incredible lessons from his wisdom. He's been to my home, and several others I've owned before this one, and I think he'd admit, I'm getting better. Joe's gone all the way and, from his commentary, you know he's still evolving. Because of his circumstances, he chose to completely change his lifestyle. While I haven't gone to his extremes, I, too am evolving. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that it is an evolution, not necessarily a revolution. One doesn't have to do everything Joe does, any more than one emulates 100% of what others whom we look up to do. I just know he's made me a better person by teaching these things (by example! he's no hypocrite!), and if people listen to him, the world could be a much better, safer, healthier place for all of us. Keep it up Joe, and NPR for airing his commentary.

What a helpful piece! Mr. Bevilacqua not only made me think about the way I am living, but also included a list on ways I can improve! Though I now do some of the things he suggests, (no dishwasher, wood stove for heating and cooking, big vegetable garden, buying local) I feel I really need to implement more of these actions into my lifestyle. Thank you for a very inspiring article Mr. Bevilacqua - now if we can all just come together and do this as a TEAM!

Great work Joe keep it up. Radio needs a man like this.

Thanks Joe! I appreciate the list of ideas on living sustainably. So many of these are within our means to do, yet I only live up to a few of them, like eating vegetarian, hand washing dishes and buying from thrift stores. One day I'll hopefully become a homeowner and then I can aim to accomplish more of these goals.

Bravo Joe. It's always good to hear from like minded individuals. Aside from the validation it allows, I always feel less crazy when others feel likewise. Thank you NPR, I also live in Napanoch and have NPR tuned to 3 different channels so I don't miss anything.

I listened to it several times and each time fixated on what was said in the first few seconds, " a good life is one that evolves slowly, patience is the difficult part". Really resonated, I even wrote it down. Thanks!


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