How to Live Happily on Less
Meryl Davids Landau
As creative economizers are discovering, cutting back doesn't have to mean giving up the good life
Nearly four years after the start of a recession that feels suspiciously like it's still dragging on, and faced with an uncertain economic future, Americans are increasingly looking for ways to slash their expenses. Incomes are stagnant: Median weekly earnings for full-time U.S. employees in the second quarter of this year rose only 2 percent from a year earlier, while prices of everyday goods jumped 3.4 percent. And, of course, millions of Americans are still collecting no wages at all. A new
As creative economizers are discovering, though, cutting back needn't mean giving up the good life. "You don't have to deny your pleasures. In fact, you can lower spending while raising your quality of life," asserts
In some areas, a few small changes yield big savings. In others, low-budget experiences offer outsize pleasure. And always, experts say, contemplating the true value of an acquisition is likely to prevent wasteful impulse buys. The shift to more thoughtful consumerism itself can be surprisingly enjoyable. "The pleasure in being frugal comes from no longer feeling like I'm wasting my money. Frankly, it's become a boost to my ego," says
Psychology research supports the notion that having and spending money isn't closely related to life satisfaction. "Unless you're near the poverty line, the effect of money on happiness is very weak," says British psychologist
Become a smarter shopper.
Do you know where your dollars go? When Ingram noticed that she was making all her business and personal calls from her cellphone, she dropped her land line and started saving
In some cases, getting a price reduction only requires asking. Belonging to a group like AAA or
Seeking out cheaper or store brands -- 64 percent of grocery shoppers have begun doing so, according to a recent study by the accounting and consulting firm Deloitte -- is another painless way to save. "It became clear to me that consumerism is a marketing game of always making you want more. I realized I had the power to break the cycle, deciding for myself what I do and don't need," says
In September, Ginn, who works for a company with an online tool that helps consumers get a handle on their medical expenses, made the biggest change yet, moving from a downtown high-rise apartment to a bedroom in a suburban tract house shared with friends. Not only did he slash his monthly rent from
While a handful of extremists are finding satisfaction in newly built "micro homes" of just a few hundred square feet, most people are scaling back more modestly. The average newly built U.S. home has shrunk slightly in the past three years, falling from a 2007 high of 2,521 square feet to 2,392 in 2010. That's a significant saving, Johnson says, given that construction costs run from
Rediscover lost pleasures.
It's no coincidence that what's become known as the "slow" movement -- Slow Food, Slow Craft, Slow Design, and the like -- has taken off since the recession. From growing and cooking your own food to decorating more sparsely, these shifts to a slower, more old-fashioned lifestyle not coincidentally usually save money, says
With Americans expected to spend
Families are also rediscovering the lost slow art of free play and doing nothing, observes
Embrace what money can't buy.
"There are so many things you can't put a price on," says Holden. When you expend your time and energy on things like family, friendships, creativity, spirituality, and laughter, he says, you enhance your life while saving money. Last year, rather than exchange presents when her extended family gathered in her mother's hometown of
Similarly, a "wabi-sabi" philosophy of home improvement would emphasize finding joy in silence and serenity rather than in a renovated kitchen,
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Personal Finance - How to Live Happily on Less
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