Expert Q&A: A guide to downshifting

By Emma Lunn

Simply put, "downshifting" means living on less -- much less. Rather than simply making a budget and shopping for deals, a downshift often involves drastic life changes such as moving into a smaller home, selling a car and giving up the luxuries you once took for granted.

Such changes aren't easy -- yet they can be a way to pay off thousands in credit card debt or to stay afloat after a job loss. Others, such as blogger and life coach Sally Lever, take the downshifting plunge willingly. We talked to her about what she gave up -- and what she gained.

UK.Creditcards.com: What made you decide to downshift?

Sally-Lever

Sally Lever is a life coach and blogger 
 who specialises in downshifting

Sally Lever: Having spent about 10 years working in high technology, international companies, the downshift really began for me when I had my first baby and I started to realise what really mattered to me. I felt drawn to spending plenty of time with my child, and I started to think about the money, the ego, the high status and credo I'd been enjoying and how little I valued that in comparison.

UK.Creditcards.com: What were the first steps you took toward downshifting?

Lever: I gave up my corporate responsibilities and started working part time from home. Although the going was tough, we managed to stay in our suburban London home by cutting out non-essential purchases.

A few years later, my husband and I decided to take it a step further. By that time we had two children, and I wanted to home-educate them. In order to do that, I realised that I'd have to sell my part-time business. At that point, our income dropped below our outgoings again, only more so. We sold our house and left for a less extravagant lifestyle in the West Country.

UK.Creditcards.com: What is your relationship with credit cards? Do you use them?

Lever: I have one for business and one for personal use, both with an ethical bank -- Smile (part of the Co-Operative Bank). However, they're used only for emergencies, for the guarantee on a few large capital purchases and car hire (I don't own a car). They are paid off each month, and so I don't pay interest. The rest I paid off and cut up about 12 years ago.

UK.Creditcards.com: Can someone downshift and still use credit cards and debt responsibly?


Lever: Well, I think I use them responsibly, so the answer would be yes. However, I think carrying thousands of pounds in debt, over and above servicing a mortgage, is probably out of alignment with the values underpinning downshifting.

UK.Creditcards.com: Did you make any downshifting mistakes that you've learned from?


Lever: Yes, too many to mention. Despite reading lots about others who'd downshifted before us, and talking with quite a few too, it's still swimming against the tide in relation to the consensus reality. So it can be challenging mentally and emotionally as well as in practical, financial terms.

UK.Creditcards.com: Have you had any relapses into your old lifestyle?


Lever:  We had an accidental relapse last Christmas. We rely mostly on public transport to travel long distances, and that was sporadic or non-existent over the Christmas holiday period, so we booked a hire car -- the smallest they had on offer to save money and carbon dioxide -- for a few days to visit relatives. When we arrived to collect the car, the man at reception apologised that he'd been unable to secure a small car as promised, and could he offer us a slightly larger one at the same hire charge? We agreed, only to find that (thinking we'd be thrilled) he'd set aside their most luxurious, top of the range, gas-guzzling Audi A4.


UK.Creditcards.com: How did you get your family on board with downsizing?


Lever: At the point where I was considering home education as an option for the children, I simply asked them what they would prefer to do -- stay at school or be educated at home. They choose the latter, no hesitation. My ex-husband had a few reservations about that, but soon saw how much happier the children were once we'd started. He was happy to move house too, as it led to a less stressful working life for him too. Our outgoings reduced considerably, so he was under less pressure to earn loads of money to keep up with the bills.

UK.Creditcards.com: What's your top tip for someone who is considering going down the same path as you?


Lever: Each person's path is different, but I would say have the courage to follow your heart, rather than succumbing to social pressures to stay on the treadmill. And, don't go alone -- find kindred spirits who think as you do and build up a mutual support network, on and offline. Of course, hiring a downshifting coach can help enormously as well.

See related: Debt payoff strategy: Selling your stuff, Blogger Q&A: The diary of a frugal family

Published: 5 July 2012