Income Sharing: Overcoming Stage Fright

by  Susan Teshu

from Communities magazine, Summer, 1998 (Issue #99)

Thinking about the similarities between income sharing at Common Threads and romantic relationships has been helpful for me. When we were discussing the possibilities of living together I saw us in the “courting” stage.  When we bought a house together and began sharing transportation expenses we were “going steady.” Now that we have begun income sharing we’re “engaged.” The possibility exists that we will wed: total resource and asset sharing. For now, I believe in long engagements.

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The cover of the issue

My worst fears about income sharing a year ago were that I would lose control of my money.  I thought that I’d have to attend a meeting to get permission to buy a pair of socks. I thought people might be judging me for what I wanted to buy and that I would judge them as well. “How could you want to buy that ridiculous thing?,” I imagined us saying to each other.

How did I come to be happy that we are sharing incomes?  The journey has been slow and frightening at times. When Robert and Johnn and I started talking about living together and buying a house, they stated their need for the original members to be willing to continue to discuss income sharing and have it as an eventual goal. They were wise not to ask us to commit to income sharing at outset, because I, for one, wouldn’t have been able to agree.

Some members of our group have been thinking about income sharing for much longer, or have even had previous experiences with this form of communal economy. Yet I had never even heard of the term until three years ago.

To smooth the transition, we each wrote a paper about our fears around the subject. I got to see that I wasn’t the only one who had serious concerns–that was actually reassuring to me.

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Page one of the article

After living together for nearly two years, we decided it was time to focus more on income sharing.  Robert and Johnn created a sample budget, suggesting how we could allocate our combined incomes for household expenses and personal allowances. I don’t like budgets, but realize they are necessary. The provisional budget also gave me something to respond to and helped me think about what was realistic in terms of money income and expenses.

Yikes! This was getting serious.

I started reading about income sharing at Twin Oaks, a community of 90 adult members. That was scary. I knew our situation would be quite different because we are such a small group.  We see each other every day, our lives are closely intertwined. We wouldn’t have the luxury of being somewhat removed from any of the decision processes–we were it. Each one of us would have more input into how we would spend and save our money, compared to a community member at a larger income-sharing community.

Gradually, through the course of our discussions, I came to see how income sharing would benefit me. It had little to do with financial benefit, but rather with the emotional and spiritual benefit of knowing that I would not have to figure out all aspects of how to support myself and my two children by myself.  I knew that Robert and Johnn and I had worked well together in all our decision making up to that point. And I trusted them. “OK,” I said. “Let’s give it a try.”

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Page two of the article

We chose to begin on October 1, 1997, which was also the eve of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah.

Now the three of us have been sharing our incomes for over six months, and so far we all agree that the experiment is going well. Robert, who keeps track of all matters financial, has informed us that we are doing well in almost all areas of our budget. We have spent little time discussing actual expenditures. I have bought several pairs of socks and even a skirt, all with no discussion.

Although I was concerned that I might be losing control over an important aspect of my life, the opposite has occurred. I enjoy the fact that I am spending money in accordance with a budget, rather than haphazardly, as I did before. Each of the three of us now receives a weekly allowance. Although we don’t need to tell each other how we spend our allowance, I now pay more attention to what I buy.  I want to get the most out of this treasured stipend.

I feel I am reaping the benefits of not having to figure things out on my own. Together we figured out how my children could take music lessons (with a bit of help from Grampa). That was something I had been struggling with for a while by myself.

Paying more attention to money helps me remember that money and material goods, while important and sometimes necessary, are not the be-all and end-all of life. I try to find ways to enjoy and nurture myself and others that don’t require much money, or at least more money than I had previously. These are, for me, the emotional and spiritual benefits of income sharing.

My community mates and I trust each other and have grown even closer. As we share our money, we also have a greater sense of sharing our lives.


(Raven’s notes:  Common Threads was an income-sharing community that Susan, Robert, and I helped create in 1995–actually in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  At the time, I was known as Johnn. It lasted until the year 2000.  I am still close with Susan and Robert–and Amos, who later joined us.  I still miss the community.)

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Income Sharing: Overcoming Stage Fright

What’s scary about income-sharing?

by Raven Cotyledon

As I wrote in my post on Trust, when I was part of starting the Common Threads community in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1995, we didn’t begin by doing income-sharing. We always had the intention of doing it, but Robert and I had learned the hard way not to try to do everything at once right from the start.  Robert and Susan and I spent at least a year (my memory of the time is a bit foggy now) getting to know each other and learning what we would need from each other (trust, naturally, was a big part of it) and what got in the way of us wanting to do this. What got in the way was mostly fear.

Susan wrote a lovely article about our process for Communities magazine (Summer, 1998, issue #99) entitled “Income Sharing: Overcoming Stage Fright”.  A quote from the article, “My worst fears about income sharing a year ago were that I would lose control of my money.  I thought that I’d have to attend a meeting to get permission to buy a pair of socks. I thought people might be judging me for what I wanted to buy and that I would judge them as well.”   She also pointed out that Robert and I “were wise not to ask us to commit to income sharing at outset, because I, for one, wouldn’t have been able to agree.”

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The issue

My memory is that we had at least one meeting where we discussed our greatest fears about income-sharing.  Susan was worried that she wouldn’t be able to buy a pair of socks. I was worried that we would never actually begin income-sharing.  We did begin income-sharing and Susan was able to buy socks. Again, from her article, “We have spent little time discussing actual expenditures. I have bought several pairs of socks and even a skirt, all with no discussion.”

I had done income-sharing a few times before this, so it wasn’t so scary for me.  As I sometimes say to people who wonder how we could do something that seems so scary, there are lots of people around who do income-sharing–especially married couples (and even non-married couples). But the idea of taking it beyond two people seems to fill some people with fear. Part of this is, as I said in my previous piece, concerns about trust. Some of it, perhaps a lot of it, as Susan pointed out, is about losing control.

Susan also wrote that this isn’t what happened when we actually started income-sharing. “Although I was concerned that I might be losing control over an important aspect of my life, the opposite has occurred. I enjoy the fact that I am spending money in accordance with a budget, rather than haphazardly, as I did before.”

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The article

It is interesting to be doing this again with DNA and gil and seeing how much this frees up each of us. I have heard each of them talk directly about the benefits of what we are doing.  It makes me wonder why more people aren’t willing to do it.

I will end this with a few more quotes from Susan’s article. “I feel I am reaping the benefits of not having to figure things out on my own.  … Paying more attention to money helps me remember that money and material goods, while important and sometimes necessary, are not the be-all and end-all of life. I try to find ways to enjoy and nurture myself and others that don’t require much money, or at least more money than I had previously. These are, for me, the emotional and spiritual benefits of income sharing.”

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us!

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

  • Acorn Community
  • Compersia Community
  • Cotyledon Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

Communards

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman
  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish

Thanks!

 

 

 

 

What’s scary about income-sharing?

Trust

by Raven Cotyledon

Here’s an issue that’s a little closer to home. This blog is about income-sharing and income-sharing requires trust.

I think that trust is the main reason most people don’t do income-sharing. It’s hard to share your hard earned money with someone who you don’t trust, and many people don’t see how they could trust a bunch of people with their money. Although it isn’t that difficult for some folks when they join one of the larger and older and well managed communes, if you are offered the opportunity to join a new and small community, it can be scary to think about sharing your cash with folks that you barely know.

So the question is, how is trust built?

My stock answer is time. I don’t think that there is an instant way to build trust. There are ways to speed up the process (and I will talk about them shortly), but it will never happen overnight.

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DNA and gil and I spent two and a half years talking and getting to know each other before we started living together at Cotyledon and sharing income. At the community I helped create in Cambridge in the 1990s, Susan and Robert and I moved in together after a year of discussion but it was at least another year of discussion before we began income-sharing.

My understanding is that Transparency Tools were devised as a way for people to get to know each other quicker and on a deeper level, and thus speed up the trust building process. It can work, but it isn’t a substitute for working together, talking together, and just spending time together. That’s what really builds trust.

Unfortunately, if trust is betrayed, it becomes a hundred times harder to rebuild it. Often, the simplest solution when a community member betrays trust is to ask them to leave. For those who choose to stay and work it out, the process can take years and be fragile even then.

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While I was writing this, I received the newest issue of Communities magazine, which was focused on Sexual Politics. I saw this quote, which was about sexual misconduct but, unfortunately, I think also applies to financial misconduct: “…those who violate people most often build a base level of trust, and then violate that trust with intention. That’s a difficult reality for many people to grasp, especially those who want to only see the good in people.” (Amanda Rain, “Community Accountability”, Issue #183) Unfortunately, I know of communities that trusted one person with all the finances until the person was caught. Trust is very important, but I think any community needs to have at least two, uninvolved people watching the books.

My feeling is that income-sharing is an amazing tool that can liberate people to live the way that they want and directly challenges the corporate capitalist system. There are a lot of wonderful things about it, but it does require trust, and trust takes time.

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us!

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

  • Acorn Community
  • Compersia Community
  • Cotyledon Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

Communards

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman
  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish

Thanks!

 

 

 

Trust

The Economics of Cooperation

The Economics of Cooperation

by Boone

At East Wind we reap the benefits of cooperation. Because we work together, we are able to achieve a lifestyle of leisure and comfort while spending far less money than the national average. Let’s get right into the numbers (the following numbers are based on our fiscal year 2016-17, specifically July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017. As far as expenditures go, this year is representative of East Wind’s operating costs.)

Population:

It is probably impossible to come up with an accurate average population count at East Wind. Members leave East Wind and drop membership to pursue other opportunities, and new members are constantly joining. Members often leave the farm, sometimes for extended periods. At the same time, there are pretty much always non-members – visitors, and guests of members – on the farm whom we are feeding and clothing and who may or may not be contributing labor. To avoid even attempting to address this problem I will be using our population cap, which we were at for the year in question, of 73 members as our population count. This is slightly misleading as we do not have 73 full members and there are benefits such as full health coverage that only full members receive, but fairly accurate as most of the benefits of living at East Wind are shared by everyone living here.

Labor:

Click here for a full description of East Wind’s labor system. Something not mentioned there is the many vacations we East Winders enjoy. While our weekly labor quota is 35 hours per week, once a month we have a holiday, and quota is reduced by 8 hours for the week the holiday falls in. Members also get the same 8 hour quota reduction for their birthdays. Every year members get three weeks worth of hours (105) on their anniversary as a ‘paid vacation.’

As a community we worked 101,798.9 hours for this year. Bear in mind that the following does not truly reflect our average working week but instead is a rough approximation based on the idealized population of 73 members. As mentioned above, East Winders will leave the farm for sometimes significant amounts of time. Furthermore, outside of the winter months we always have visitors and guests here who contribute labor to our community. These caveats noted, our total hours divided by 73 members and 52 weeks works out to 26.8 hours per member per week.

Food:

I cannot even begin to describe how well we eat here at East Wind. Every night at 6 our cooks put out dinner for community. The deliciousness and variety is continually amazing. Our cooks serve all different styles of meals: Thai, Southern, Mexican, Indian, Italian, barbeque, or just good ol’ meat and potatoes. Lunch is often put out at noon, usually consisting of leftovers and maybe a fresh dish or two. We are also free to cook whatever we want for ourselves at any time. During the summer there’s fresh produce from the garden, and there’s always cold raw milk on tap and freshly baked bread to eat. We buy things to eat that we don’t produce ourselves such as avocados, pasta, fruits year round, and chocolate chips. Desserts often just appear on the serving counter at night. You have to eat here to really understand, but I’d say we eat better than just about anybody. And we do it while spending way less on food per person than just about anybody. Our successful ranch, dairy, garden, and food processing programs contribute greatly to this low cost, high quality food.

Food Costs for a year:

Buying food: $81,138

Kitchen Supplies: $3,770

Food Processing (meat and veggie): $2,362

Garden: $5,639

Ranch & Dairy: $25,005

Water: $207

Total: $118,121

Total food cost per person per month comes to $134.84

We are able to keep our food costs so low because we provide a good chunk of our food for ourselves, outside of the money economy. And we of course do all our own preparation. The following breaks down how much time we spend growing, preserving, and preparing our own food.

Kitchen = 12,826.3 hours

Food processing = 4,381.2 hours

Garden = 5,677.2 hours

Ranch & Dairy = 11,178.8 hours

Meal Preparation:

One of my favorite things about East Wind is that every single night I get to enjoy a delicious, fresh, home-cooked meal. Before living at East Wind I would cook for myself, but with hardly any variety because I am a lazy cook. Cooking for one or two just always seemed so inefficient. Here that’s obviously not the situation. If we say that East Wind prepares about eleven community meals a week (seven dinners and four lunches) then we only spend .3 hours per person per meal. That level of efficiency is only possible in cooperative living. I guess you could pop something in the microwave and have it be ready in less than 18 minutes, but there is absolutely no comparison between our freshly made, many-dished meals and frozen microwave dinners. This .3 hours per person per meal also includes cleaning and all the ancillary chores associated with maintaining a kitchen like stocking and ordering food (which would be shopping for those in the mainstream).

Food Production:

I asked our incredible Food Processing manager if she had any numbers on our food production for the past year, and boy did she.

Veggies:

The following list is what we put up from our garden production in 2016. We certainly consumed much more than this, but there’s no way to know how much. A key thing to keep in mind is that the following was produced by our gardens and food processing kitchen. Our veggies are of the highest quality. We use completely natural methods here at East Wind, and you cannot get any more local. We use nothing artificial; no fossil fuel fertilizers, no pesticide, no GMO seeds, etc.

  • 100 gal. Tomato Sauce
  • 25 gal. Pickled Peppers
  • 10 gal. Roasted and Tomatillo Salsas
  • A small chest freezer’s worth of Strawberries
  • Two large chest freezers’ worth of Corn, Okra, Pesto, Sweet Peppers, Eggplant, Summer Squash, and more
  • 100’s of lbs. of Beets and Carrots
  • 3,000+ lbs. of Squash and Sweet Potato
  • ~2,000 lbs. of Potatoes

Dairy:

We have a fantastic dairy program here and milk 3-6 cows twice a day, every day. Our cows are treated extremely well, and like our garden, are natural. They are grass fed and we don’t use hormones. This year, they produced ~34,000 lbs. of raw milk (~4000 gals.). We drink a good portion of this. What we can’t drink we turn into butter, cheese, and yogurt. In 2016, we made ~150 lbs. of the most delicious butter I have ever had. Our butter is a rich yellow, so different from what you can find in stores. We also produced ~1,500 lbs. of all different varieties of raw cheese. In our processing we use no pasteurization, which maintains all the healthy probiotics native to raw milk.

Meat:

Like everything else at East Wind, our meat animals are all natural and raised with love. We use no hormones or antibiotics, nor herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers on our pastures. Something that truly sets East Wind apart is our meat processing. We do everything ourselves. Our animals are raised, cared for, slaughtered, butchered, preserved (naturally, not artificially), and eaten all within a quarter mile radius. You cannot get more local.

We didn’t keep the most detailed records of our meat production for 2016, so the numbers that follow are averages.

6-12 Pigs @ 100lb. yield        900lbs. pork

2 Hogs @ 400lb. yield            800lbs. pork

3 cows @ 300lb. yield            900lbs. Beef

Eggs:

We have numerous egg layers in two mobile chicken tractors, and get an ample supply of farm eggs every day. The difference between our farm eggs and those we purchase is stark, the yolks of our farm eggs are a rich, dark, orange color, while those of our purchased eggs are a pale yellow. It goes to show that malnourished chickens produce malnourished eggs.

Medical Care:

East Wind provides medical coverage to the best of our ability for full members, including vision and dental. Our total medical expenditure came to $50,138. This works out to $686.82 per member per year. Compare this with the national average: “A 2015 Employer Health Benefits Survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that employer-sponsored family healthcare insurance premiums cost $17,545 annually, and the average worker contributed $1,071 for single coverage and $4,955 for family coverage per year.”

We also create a ton of our own medicine from herbs we grow in our herb gardens. These include salves, tinctures, tea blends, and more. Our healthy, active lifestyle further contributes to lower medical costs. Because we pay cash out-of-pocket for medical expenses we often get huge reductions in charges, as much as 40% off.

Energy:

Despite owning and running a nut butter business and factory, our per capita energy consumption cost is quite low. We heat a lot of our buildings with firewood which we harvest from dead standing trees. Only our business offices, factory, and certain member rooms (as well as hallways) have air conditioning.

Energy Costs for 2016-17:

Electricity: $35,571

Propane: $7,648

Forestry: $1,815 (2312.1 labor hours went into Forestry this year)

Total: $45,034

Total per person per month comes to $51.41.

Electricity consumption:

Total kWh for the year: 544,830

Per person per year: 7,463

National Average: 12,987 in 2014

Source: “Electric power consumption measures the production of power plants and combined heat and power plants less transmission, distribution, and transformation losses and own use by heat and power plants.“

It is worth noting that East Wind’s electrical consumption includes the energy consumed by our Nut Butters factory and yet we are still significantly below the national average. It is also worth noting that some of the buildings built here are not very energy efficient.

Nut Butters:

Our main community business, East Wind Nut Butters, made $630,000 in profit for fiscal year 2016-17. This amply covered our domestic costs. We put in 18,734 labor hours into this business, which works out to $33.63 per hour. Not bad for a bunch of hippies.

Total Cost of Living:

Factoring in the varied other costs that go into providing a high quality of life, we pay a total of $533.05 per person per month to live as we do. Included in that amount is each member’s Discretionary Fund, which is $150 a month. That number encapsulates every domestic expenditure: medical care, auto maintenance and gas, housing, food, energy, shopping, discretionary funds, phone and internet, etc. In short, we have an incredible quality of life for far less than most people spend.

Per capita, we each live on $6,396.58 a year, which is well below the national poverty line of $12,060.

Cooperation pays.

 

Post researched and written by Boone, lightly edited and formatted by Sumner. Pictures by Sumner and Fran.

 

The Economics of Cooperation

Communities Conference Workshops

Here is the workshop and partial presentation schedule for the upcoming Twin Oaks Communities Conference.  The below links are to blog posts on these elements.  There is a posted full program (with short descriptions for every workshop are in the newly published program).  

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Cambia lunch

Saturday September 1st

9:30 to noon

1:30 to 3 PM

4 to 5:30 PM

Sunday September 2

9:30 to 11

There is still time to register for this amazing event.  Twin Oaks Community is hosting this event in central Virginia Aug 31st thru Sept 2.  There is also great Labor Day (Sept 3) program at Cambia Community, less than one mile from the Twin Oaks Conference site.

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Twin Oaks 50th Anniversary – Circa 2017
Communities Conference Workshops

A Diversity of Communities

by Raven

Last week, we published a piece on two income sharing systems called “Allowance Versus Box of Money” (which I’ve also heard called Dual and Unitary income sharing systems). Although I thought it was a really interesting article, I had a couple of difficulties with it.

One was that it seemed to claim that all income sharing came in “in two broad flavors”. I know of a couple of communities in dialogue in the FEC (the Possibility Alliance/Stillwater Sanctuary and Rainforest Lab) that are exploring using a gift economy exchange system, which involves neither an allowance or a box of money. The article also suggested that the box of money approach was the “more radical solution”. As someone who helped create an income sharing community, I found the allowance method an elegant solution to what we were trying to achieve. Instead of trying to figure out which is the ‘more radical’ approach, I think that it’s useful to know that there are at least three different ways to share income–probably more. (I heard someone talk about ‘punk income sharing’ where it’s not hard to share income if there isn’t any to share.)

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I think one of the main reasons for creating new communes, is (as I also heard someone say) to create ‘new flavors’ of communal living. This is why there are five different income sharing communities in Louisa County, VA.

I think it’s important that there are many options for income sharing, that some communes are high structure (say Twin Oaks) and some communes are low Diverse3structure (say Acorn), that there are communities that approach a middle class lifestyle and communities (like Living Energy Farm and the Stillwater Sanctuary) that are already preparing for life beyond fossil fuels. I’ve heard some folks talking recently about communities of people of color. I’m not threatened by this, any more than I’m threatened by women’s communities. And as much as I’m an advocate for egalitarian, income sharing communities, I’m well aware and even happy that this is only a small percentage of all the communities out there–there are co-operative houses, cohousing communities, ecovillages, hybrid communities of all kinds, and many varieties of spiritual communities, to name the most common ones in the Communities Directory.

Again, we’re creating more options for people, not less. And I’m well aware that not everyone wants to live in community. The point is that I think there should be all kinds of communities (and particularly income sharing communities) for those that are looking for them, because different people will do better in different communities, just like the ‘box of money’ approach will work better for some communities, and the ‘allowance’ approach for others, and using a ‘gift economy’ for still others.

As David from las Indias said, in an article on diversity that we published a year ago, “The kind of diversity many of you are concerned about … will come by itself, but probably not to every community, but to the network we must build together.” While diversity within communities is important, I think diversity among communities is crucial.

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A Diversity of Communities