Friday, October 2, 2009

The Gloomy Economy--and the Lessons We've Learned

“Our life is frittered away by detail…simplify, simplify.”
--Henry David Thoreau

The past two years have been tough psychologically and financially for a lot of people, especially those who’ve lost their jobs, their homes or their retirement savings. As the recession begins to fade, it’s important for us not to forget the lessons we’ve learned from the gloomy economy. Yes, the stress of worrying about our finances has been nothing to sneer at, but if we’re truthful, we realize that cutting back on our spending has probably helped us get rid of some habits that were taking a toll on our bodies and our psyches. In fact, the financial downturn may have offered the opportunity to refocus on good health habits, such as eating right, exercising more, sleeping better and enjoying friends and family. By shopping less, we’ve been given the chance to revel in experiences, the true key to happiness.

“Most Americans already have pretty much what they need, so they don’t need to buy more,” says Judith Levine, author of Not Buying It (Free Press), an account of a year-long experiment in which she and her partner Paul bought only necessary items such as groceries. The couple found that most discretionary purchases are impulsive—and that typically, if they waited a few minutes or hours, the impulse passed. They also came to realize that we buy largely for social reasons—to stay in step with our peers and neighbors and gain status. But now that the Jones’ don’t have what they used to, the rest of us don’t have to work as hard to keep up with them!

More to Life Than Shopping
It’s hard to deny that shopping can be a pleasurable pastime, but before the downturn most Americans had spent the last few years numbing themselves into a false sense of security by buying and filling their homes with stuff. We had a gadget for everything, a toy for everyone, a fast car, a big house, the latest smartphone and the coolest video system—and pressure to have more and more. Since it’s unlikely we’ll return in the near future to our loose and fast ways with money and materialism, here are some fresh ideas on how to save money in your everyday life so you can focus on what really matters: Your family and friends.

If you:
…can’t afford to go out to eat, cook at home and make meal preparation a family affair, which will bring you closer. When you do go to restaurants, share appetizers and entrees—a good move for your wallet and your waistline.
…can’t afford expensive gifts, make a deal with family and friends to give less-expensive gifts or even regift for a while. Hold a jewelry or clothing exchange, where you and your friends trade gently used items. Alternatively, you might swap time and services—offer to babysit, for instance, or to spend time together playing board games.
…can’t afford to buy the trendiest clothes or bags, make them yourself (I'm all about the crafty!). Hobbies and crafts have many psychological benefits, from distracting you from everyday worries to helping you relax, boosting your mood and giving you a sense of achievement. Being creative may even confer anti-aging benefits, according to research conducted at George Washington University.
…can’t afford gas, walk, bike or take public transportation. You’ll save money and get more daily exercise.
…can’t afford the gym, go for a walk or bike ride instead. Or invite friends over to do yoga or Pilates—using a tape or TV show to guide you—instead of taking a class.
…can’t afford movies, shows or your cable bill, borrow movies, CDs and books from the library instead of buying or renting them, usher at shows and look for low-cost entertainment at museums, bookstores, churches and other venues. Also spend your TV-less time going back to basics: reading, listening to music, exercising, volunteering, pursuing hobbies or just talking with family and friends.

Any other suggestions, folks?!


MarthaAndMe said...

When I find new or not yet released books I want to read, I go to my library's web site and request them. I usually get them a week or so after they are released, depending how quickly I get my name on the list and it costs me only 25 cents per book to place the request.

Alexandra Grabbe said...

We have been getting recently released books through the library, too. Requesting them. Since our B&B has been so busy this summer, television ceased to be an option, since our three sets are in the three guest-rooms. I find I've been doing much more reading than before. It makes you come to realize sitting in front of the TV is really a very passive activity.

Nancy Monson said...

Great idea, Brette! Does that mean you've been able to get your hands on Dan Brown's latest yet?

Frugal Kiwi said...

As a Frugal Living blogger, I find one of the most important things to do is to find frugality as an interesting CHALLENGE, a game, not deprivation. That isn't always easy, but when you change your mindset, the world shifts a bit.

Sheryl K. said...

I go shopping a lot - in my closet. I find things I didn't realize I had, and then they're (almost) like brand new clothes. One thing I'd like to organize, one of these days, is a clothes swap w/some friends...everyone brings the stuff they no longer like/wear. What's one person's cast-offs is another's treasure.

Jennifer Margulis said...

We always re-gift for birthdays and holidays. Like Sheryl says, people find treasures in other's castaways (I know I do). We also shop at GoodWill and Earth Friendly Kids (a gently used kid clothing store). I agree with Melanie, too, that frugality can be a fun challenge. I suggest people buy in bulk (helps the environment and the bottom line), ask others for what they need (builds community, or you can try freecycle) and realize that time and love and attention are all so much more important than THINGS...

Nancy Monson said...

Right...deprivation is the key to feeling, well, deprived. Make it a challenge and it works so much better.

And Sheryl, I love your idea of shopping your own closet. A few years ago I put a lot of my stuff into a storage unit (I was getting a divorce) and lived with my sister and I'd go to the storage place every couple of months and it was just like shopping in a store. I never knew what I'd find in there!

Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart said...

Yep ... blessings abound at the local library. That's a good one.

Rather than a challenge, we actually pride ourselves in a bigger way on not spending unnecessarily ... which for us includes most gift opportunities.

Really ... few people we know actually NEED anything.

ReadyMom said...

The library is my second home too. I find that movies are so much better when you've had to wait a few weeks to see them. We also have a cheapo theater not too far from our house ($2.50 seats).

The Writer's [Inner] Journey said...

Anything that offers more time to connect to the true self is healing. Your list offers many great ideas.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad I discovered your blog, Nancy!