Saturday, August 15, 2009

On being frugal

My house is a short distance from a public school where I like to take my dog Kelty for walks as there are some wonderful trails on the butte just behind the school. I've stopped going there this summer, since the school district is doing a huge, multi-million dollar renovation. I went over today to check it out, as it's Saturday and the crew is off for the weekend. Looking around, I got the sense that they had too much money and had to spend it all at once.
I spent many years in public education before leaving several years ago to start up and eventually work full time at Mug Revolution. Seeing all the school projects under construction (some desperately needed, like the new building for the alternative education students, some questionable, like a state of the art baseball field, seemingly built to host the little league world series, complete with heated sidewalks) made me think about the way I've changed my attitudes and practices of spending money from the time I was a public school employee, to now, when I am self employed.

Fixing the kiln
I've noticed over the past six months or so that my gas kiln had a few bricks that needed replacing. My first thought (which is what I would have done if I had taxpayer money at my disposal) was to buy all new bricks and re-build significant areas of the kiln. I was prepared to drive to Portland, spend $500 on bricks, and take a few days out of my schedule (read: my summer vacation) to do the repairs. I pondered this for a few days. I looked at the kiln. I read my kiln building books and stewed on it. One morning, I woke up and thought, "Wait a second. Why don't I try to replace and repair just the dozen or so bricks? I've got replacements here, leftover from building the kiln 10 years ago. If it doesn't work, what's the harm? If it does, I'll save driving over 300 miles, $500, and two-three days that would come out of my vacation." I followed that course of action, finished up all the repairs yesterday and fired the empty kiln to red hot to set up the mortar. I opened the kiln this morning and am thrilled to say that it looks good as new.
Fortunately, I was able to do the repair inexpensively. As a small business owner, I had to. You have to work as frugally as possible to make a living from pottery.
And you know what? I'd much rather be in a situation where I use my creativity to solve problems. Not having the luxury of a big budget helps you to think in new, innovative ways. In some cases, like my kiln-repair situation, not having a big budget helped me to see the most obvious solution was also the cheapest solution. Problem solved. Now, back to the mugs!