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When Less is More

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I was recently reading an article about happiness. Does our drive for more stuff, more money, more everything make us happy? 

The American pursuit of happiness is even written into Declaration of Independence with the phrase, "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." 

Is it an American right?When Less is More

I will leave that debate for another time, but part of modern-day thinking is the more stuff you have the happier you are. Commercials are great at reinforcing this thinking. How can we be happy on Christmas unless we have a new Lexus in our driveway? 

A new Toyota commercial I hate shows a boy embarrassed to get in his dad's car, which happens to be an old wood-paneled station wagon, and a "cooler" looking kid enjoying the ride in his mom's new Highlander. It does not mention that the vehicle costs more than $30,000, not including interest. 

I was the kid going home in the beat up car every day after school. Fortunately, most of my friends' families had old cars, too. But we did not have any debt.  

The bigger the house, car, TV, the happier we will be, right? I don't agree. It certainly is not worth it if you go into debt and end up losing everything. 

Many Americans have lost their homes because they took on too much debt, some being told they could afford a larger home than was a reality.  

Debt also causes stress, and I don't know many stressed individuals who are really happy.  In fact, some of the least happy people I know are some of the wealthiest.

So, can you be happy with less?  Yes! 

Here are some ideas for how to get by with less, and how having less can lead to more happiness.

  • Fun can be cheap. The cruise companies want us to believe that in order for a family to be happy you must go on a cruise. As the song lyric goes, the commercials show us all of the "shiny happy people." I have no doubt that cruises can be a ton of fun, but you can have fun and not spend much money doing it! Mostly, it is a matter of focus and attitude. Being together with friends or family, doing things to create memories, focusing on each other and not your cell phone, playing games, going on a hike, or exploring a new place that is nearby are all things that can generate fun without costing you much money.
  • Food planning. Money for groceries and other food purchases (take-out and restaurant eating) is a huge budget item for many families. I have found the best way to cut my grocery bill is to plan well. I now have a weekly meal list planned; I put anything I need to purchase on my shopping list, but I really try to use what I have in the house that I bought on sale and with coupons. I participate in a meal swap once a month with friends, which is also a great way to force my family to try new things. I stock up on often used staples when they go on sale so I don't need to pay full price later. The better I plan, the less take-out and restaurant eating we do, so those occasions can be saved for a very special reason. One of my favorite magazines, Real Simple, has some good planners to use for grocery shopping, plus tips for saving money at the store and storing food at home. Here is a link to an article about how to save money without giving up too much.
  • When You Need to Shop, Shop Gently Used. I love finding a bargain, and some of the best bargains around are items that have been used by someone else but still have some life left in them! Goodwill Superstores can have great bargains, along with consignment shops, especially when their items go on sale. Craigslist and eBay provide access to a much larger market, thanks to the internet. Have something to sell? These are great ways to make a few dollars for something you no longer need. Yard sales are some of my best bargain-hunting destinations, especially for kid items. But no matter how cheap something is, make sure you need it before you bring it home!
  • Shop Less. Sounds simple, I know, but if you go shopping you are likely to spend money. If shopping has become entertainment for you, find another hobby you like to do that does not cost much money (i.e., don't take up hang gliding!) The same applies to shopping on the internet. Opt out of store emails so you don't know when they are having their best sale ever. For some stores it seems like it happens a few times a month! If you do go shopping leave the credit cards at home and just take the amount of cash you can afford to spend, that way you won't come home in debt.
  • Get Everyone Involved. If you live with other people, get them involved in the long term financial goals of the family. Spouses must be part of any saving plan. Kids can have a role, too, although I would use caution with how much personal financial information is shared, as some children can worry more than their parents do. But if your children see you living with less stuff, see you happy, and you talk about it, they are more likely to mimic this same behavior when they are older. At least we hope!
  • Attitude, Attitude, Attitude. My dad was able to make anything fun. I remember one time I had to sort through used clothes passed down from my sisters. Really not fun for a 10-year-old. But he made it fun for my younger sister and me! I try to remember this as I go through life, how often is it simply the attitude you bring to a situation that will determine just how much fun you have.

I would love to hear about how you are doing more with less!

Related Posts:

 Money Mom's Top New Years Resolutions

Small Ways to Save Every Day 

 Modern Day Treasure Hunting - Craigs List

 Lori O'DonnellLori O'Donnell

Lori is a contributing writer for the A Straight Talk on Debt blog. Lori is a passionate, married mother of three children, one with special needs. She shares her family's life experiences as she writes about saving money, budgeting, and other timely topics for those living in a one income family. Compensated CareOne Blogger. To read more posts from Lori's Balancing Family blog click here.

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  • Lori, great sentiments but where are specifics...your dad could make anything fun?  Well share some specifics please.  Get everyone involved? Again, take it from concept to conception and give us some specifics...make it real.

  • I agree with Mo, I would like to see some specific ideas.  I love saving money and already plan my meals around weekly sales.  I know you said shop less, but I respectfully disagree.  I utilize the internet to find some great deals.  My family still eats out now and then and we have found some amazing dining deals on Groupon.   We have also found movie deals, arts & craft deals and family entertainment(museums, zoos) deals on similar websites.   I shop on line and NEVER pay shipping fees.  I find tremendous savings on kids school supplies and back to school clothes.  If something comes and it does not fit properly I just return it to the box store, so I never have to pay return shipping. It is true that since I am not aimlessly walking store aisles I almost never make silly impulse purchases.  Another hobby I took up was selling my girls better clothing and dresses on Ebay.  The money I make is used to fund new clothing purchases for the girls.  Believe it or not, there have been times when some of my girls drsses sold for more than I originally paid for them!  So they got to wear some nice dresses for free! Finally, we are a big book family.  When I discovered that my local library had everything from current bestsellers to dvd for children as well as the whole family, I stopped buying books.   In addition our local library has regular crafts days for kids as well as story hours and movie nights.  I encourage any family to discover or re-discover their local library!

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