In each year of my experiment with tax resistance I have, for one month,
carried around a pen and a little notebook and have made note of every time I
have spent money. I’ve then combined this with a record of my bill-paying from
home and of any yearly expenses that didn’t come directly to my attention
during the month in order to create an estimate of my budget.
In the Picket Line archives, you can see my results
What I found this year, based on my spending in
, is that my lifestyle costs me about
$40 a day:
Food (eating out)
Here’s how this compares to years past (I’ve had to rejuggle the numbers a bit
so that the categories remain the same from year to year):
Total (minus untaxed)
Yearly (minus untaxed)
* tax-deductible now that I’m self-employed
Food (eating out)
My rent, utilities and grocery bill have all gone up
as I’ve moved from the less-expensive
Oakland to very-expensive San Francisco. I’ve started getting some Spanish
tutoring again, which is a new hunk of spending (but in addition to a
one-on-one Spanish tutor who charges me a per-lesson rate, I also exchange
English for Spanish instruction with a fellow from Panama who wants help with
his pronunciation). I’ve lost the habit of getting lazy and going out to eat,
so that expense has gone way down (which also explains in part my increased
grocery bill). The best news is that I’ve got a new health insurance plan that
is much more reasonably-priced.
To cut to the chase: if is a
typical month for me this year then I’m still living within my means at a
federal income tax-free income level (to do that with
my current method I need to keep my taxed
expenses under $15,000).
Being able to live sustainably without dipping into savings isn’t just
something I’m doing for the sake of argument. Because I have a high-deductible
health insurance, I need to keep a few thousand dollars in reserve in case
something goes bad. And there’s always the possibility of some huge unexpected
expense like, oh, a natural disaster or something. And I’d like to be prepared
in case some year it is harder to find contract work than it has been in the
past. Also: I hope to spend some money on travel, and I’d have a hard time
justifying that if I had to dip into my savings just for day-to-day expenses.
Is there still room for more economizing? Plenty, I think. I do a lot of my
grocery shopping at a nearby corner market because of the convenience, but if
I hopped on my bike and went across the park I could find better prices up in
the Clement Street area. Alas, bus fares rise in San Francisco by 42% (for
token users like me) , so I’ll have a
hard time keeping my transportation expenses down even if I do rely on the
bike more. About a quarter of my caffeine/alcohol budget last month went to
buying a round of beers at a baseball game my sweetie took me and her mom to
($8 a cup!), but even so, I could take a chop at the remaining 75% by dropping
my caffeine habit or cutting down on my beer consumption (harder to do now
that I’m brewing myself and I want to show off my creations to every visitor).
I could cut out the Spanish lessons and try to find more exchange-based
tutoring. And that’s all without considering something like moving to a
But right now I’m pretty comfortable where I am and this looks to be another
of MANAS that I ran across in
, I noticed that
the pacifist tax resister
Ammon Hennacy trod a
similarly-annotated though much more frugal path:
Ammon Hennacy, militant pacifist, one-time Tolstoyan, and now, as he says, a
“Catholic” anarchist, is a man who likes to make things simple. He is also a
vegetarian, which contributes to simplicity of diet. Here is his budget for
(with his comments):
Whole wheat flour, 25 lbs.
(could grow own wheat)
Vegetable shortening, 3 lbs.
Cornmeal, 5 lbs. (could grow own
Oleomargerine, 2 lbs.
Rice, 4 lbs. (price is too
Raisins, 2 lbs.
Syrup, 5 lbs.
Yeast, salt, sugar, etc.
Electric light bill
Bundle of CO and
Postage stamps, haircuts, etc.
At , Hennacy was making about
seventy-five cents an hour as a farm laborer in Arizona. His theory, then,
and ever since, was that if he worked by the day, no withholding tax would be
taken from his pay by his employer. In this way Hennacy frustrates the
government’s plan to use some of his earnings for the preparation for war,
for the design and manufacture of H-bombs and similar devices. Hennacy is
bound and determined that none of his labor will contribute to the military
program of the United States, and he is probably the most successful man in
the country in carrying out this resolve. He calls himself a “one-man
revolution,” and if someone asks him if he thinks he can change the world, he
admits to some uncertainty, but replies that he is making sure that the world
won’t change him!
…Incidentally, while working as a day laborer in Arizona, he put his
daughters through college, living on ten dollars a month, himself.…
The exact cost of my house, paying the usual price for such materials as I
used, but not counting the work, all of which was done by myself, was as
follows; and I give the details because very few are able to tell exactly
what their houses cost, and fewer still, if any, the separate cost of the
various materials which compose them: —
mostly shanty boards
Refuse shingles for roof and sides
Two second-hand windows with glass
One thousand old brick
Two casks of lime
That was high
More than I needed
Hinges and screws
I carried a good part on my back
These are all the materials, excepting the timber, stones, and sand, which I
claimed by squatter’s right. I have also a small woodshed adjoining, made
chiefly of the stuff which was left after building the house.
I intend to build me a house which will surpass any on the main street in
Concord in grandeur and luxury, as soon as it pleases me as much and will
cost me no more than my present one.
I thus found that the student who wishes for a shelter can obtain one for a
lifetime at an expense not greater than the rent which he now pays annually.
If I seem to boast more than is becoming, my excuse is that I brag for
humanity rather than for myself; and my shortcomings and inconsistencies do
not affect the truth of my statement.
I became curious about this need to fill in a ledger that Hennacy &
Thoreau & I had. Although this is the third year that I have published an
accounting of my budget, I still have to overcome an inhibition that
discourages me from doing so.
In part, I think this inhibition comes from a taboo about discussing detailed
money matters with others — it would be easier for many people to blog about
the follies of their sex lives than about the line items in their budgets. In
part also, I worry that it is a particularly boring form of exhibitionism
(people would probably rather read about your sex life than your checkbook,
But there is also a sort of lingering feeling that matters of money and
economics are themselves shameful. In the same way that everyone has bowel
movements but it isn’t polite to bring it up in conversation, everyone has a
budget but nobody is supposed to really talk about it. If you pay too much
attention to money it must be because you’re poor, or stingy, or greedy, or
obsessed with money in a vulgar way, or something shameful like that.
This is too bad, because the part of our lives that we hide in this way is a
big part of the lives we live. Somehow in the course of history, while we were
acquiring tools like money and credit and capital and commerce to supplement
and amplify our ways of living, we were also shoving a lot of how we live
behind a veil.
The irony is that these same tools give us a convenient notation for
quantifying and reconciling much of our incomes and outgoes, the heartbeats of
our economic health — it’s as if someone has handed us binoculars and we
responded by putting on a blindfold.
This taboo has some big disadvantages — it means that we don’t compare notes
and learn from each other’s experiences, and also it means that we often do
not look at our own economic behavior very closely, even by ourselves from
behind the veil. We wander around, spending money with our eyes closed,
stumbling into debt, wondering why things don’t quite work out according to
plan but ignoring that we’re blinding ourselves.
And because we hide our true economic health from each other, we evaluate each
other very superficially — we judge someone’s well-being by sizing up their
bling because we know no better and aren’t supposed to ask. We envy people
whose sparkling debts are crushing them and pity people who would rightly
fight tooth and nail not to trade places with them.
It’s hard not to entertain conspiracy theories when confronting this. After
all, it’s easier to make a profit off of customers who can’t tell whether or
not they’re being ripped off, and it’s easier for a government to tax people
who won’t bother to translate that lost money into lost time and energy
because they don’t know any better. There are powerful people who benefit from
this money taboo.
But whether the wool was pulled over our eyes or whether we put the blinders
on ourselves, we can’t expect someone else to come along and restore our
sight. We have to, and we ought to, do that ourselves.