One of my favorite video game genres is the “Real Time Strategy” game, or “RTS.” In such a game, you generate resources in order to build units that the allow you to conquer the other player. Starcraft II is, perhaps, the most recent example of such a game, and one I’ve been playing a great deal of recently, however the Age of Empires series is, perhaps, best-suited for explaining more clearly. In an RTS like Age of Empires, you start the game with a few units (Villagers) that harvests resources for you, like wood, food, stone and gold. These four resources help you to produce other Villagers, but also Military units. When you’re starting out in the Dark Ages, you primarily need food and wood for “Clubmen,” but as you advance toward “Swordsmen,” you need more diverse resources like gold.
These games are generally part of a larger game mechanic called “resource management.” Basically, you begin a given game with a finite amount of resources and you choose how to spend those resources. Some of them should go to more resource-generating (e.g. investments), while other resources should go toward the ultimate goal of the game. It’s up to the player to decide to what degree they go in either direction. If you want to win quickly, then you pour more resources into building military units so you can take out the other player. If you want to “tech up” to a more stable position, but take longer doing it, you pour those resources into investments.
As I said, I’ve always liked this kind of game. But I’ve never been terribly good at it in real life.
Brooke and I have never made huge amount of money, but the move to Iowa cost us a great deal. Brooke was unemployed for the first 3 months of living here, and she’s still only been able to get work part-time (but that’s going to steadily increase). That combined with the fact that we have a baby now means that our collective (limited) resources have been directed in other avenues than what we are used to. Child care alone is a ridiculous, but necessary, cost. Therefore, we’ve been doing our best to maximize our available resources as best as possible. With various payments that one has to car loans, student loans, life/auto insurance, etc., that only leaves a relatively small percentage of cash that you can adjust for whatever purpose is required.
A few summers ago, we started with helping limit our energy costs by getting a single-room A/C unit for our bedroom. That helped save us $100 in a single summer, paying for the A/C unit itself. We’ve been using it in our house in Iowa now, helping to limit the excess cost of cooling a much larger space than we were dealing with in St. Louis by only cooling our bedroom(s) at night, as opposed to having our central A/C running too heavily. Thankfully, Iowa summers are substantially cooler than St. Louis summers, and the house is in the shade enough that it rarely heats up to a significant degree. We’re already talking about ways to limit the amount of propane we’ll use in the relatively harsh Iowa winters, trying to defend against the northwest wind by insulating specific windows. We’ll probably spend more time upstairs, as the heat will collect there. We’ll probably try keeping the house cooler than we had it in St. Louis, as well.
We’re also trying to limit travel to some extent. When we can take Brooke’s Scion xA on longer trips, we’ll take it (37 mpg), but when we need a larger vehicle, we’ll have to use the Sportage (27 mpg). I’m driving the Sportage to and from work every day and, on those trips, I’m doing my best to stay around 65 mph, as an engine runs most efficiently within that range. Doing so, I’ve been able to help limit my gas costs to a reasonable degree. I’ve also started getting up earlier, getting to work around 7:00 am and leaving around 4:00 pm, thereby allowing me to miss the traffic that frequently causes me to speed around people.
Brooke has done an excellent job over the summer growing vegetables and canning them for later months. We’ve been able to save a pretty decent amount of money on food already, but those savings will continue on into the winter months. So far, Brooke hasn’t had to buy much solid food for Meg, either, as the carrots and squash she’s been eating were grown in our garden. Brooke froze down more of it so she can make more in the next few weeks. As Brooke already posted about the cloth diapers, we’ve already saved a pretty large amount of money over disposables. Otherwise, we still shop at Aldi, as always, but are making a more concerted effort to limit the “extras” (although, Brooke has already demanded that her ice cream allotment not be limited).
Our entertainment costs have dropped dramatically, as we don’t have cable anymore and our internet connection is fast enough that we can Netflix or stream everything we want. I’ve seen one movie in theaters this summer and have decreased the number of games I’ve purchased, as well. We also aren’t going out to eat as often, partially because we have to hold Meg and would rather have her in a high chair or something (which she isn’t…quite…ready…for…).
We’re still looking for improvements, but I think this is a helpful, albeit stressful, experience. As in RTS games, if you build up your resource-generating units early on, you get a strong economy that can then provide you with better military units later in the game, allowing you to conquer and win. It takes keen resource management to do this, as you have to be very, very efficient with the military units you do build early in the game, while instead putting those resources into things that can help you later on.
Let’s hope we learn something now, so that we’re prepared for later stages of the game.