Soaring prices, job layoffs, government bailouts … the news lately is full of depressing information about our economy. Many Americans are responding to this recession by spending less money, however they can. A survey by HSBC Bank USA showed that two out of three Americans planned to reduce their unnecessary spending last year. And a growing number of Americans expect to be worse off financially this year than they were last year, according to data from Experian Marketing Services.

Cutting back on your spending can easily leave you feeling deprived if you view it in a negative light. But focusing on the fact that you can’t afford the lifestyle you’d like right now will only lead to a worse quality of life. Not only will you lack the money you wish you had, but you’ll lack something even more valuable: peace.

Shifting your focus away from what you wish you had, though, frees you to take a closer look at what you actually do have right now.  It’s then that you can discover hidden treasures in your situation. Could it be that living with less money could lead to more satisfaction? That’s what our family has found. Downsizing our lifestyle has led to a richer life than we ever could have experienced if we’d spent lots of money. It’s ironic, but it’s true: some of the greatest blessings come not just in spite of – but because of – sacrifice. When you’re willing to give up the lifestyle you want, you’re free to embrace the greater life God wants for you.  

Here are some ways you can downsize your lifestyle to upgrade your life:

Move to a less expensive home. During these tough economic times, my husband Russ and I are grateful that we decided years ago to buy a smaller and older house than we could afford. Freedom from the pressures of a large mortgage payment is priceless. We can use the money we don’t have to spend on housing costs to give generously to our church and charities. Since we don’t have to spend all of our available time trying to earn money to pay big housing bills, we’re free to do enjoyable volunteer work we couldn’t otherwise pursue.

Even the lack of space in our home – which we had previously seen as a burden – has helped us grow into more generous people. Each month, I clear out any stuff I can from our house and donate it to The Salvation Army or give it to friends. It has turned out to be a blessing in disguise that we don’t have a basement or garage to use for storage. The joy I get from giving others items they can use is much better than the stress I’d get from just watching clutter pile up in our house.

A small home also means less space to have to clean, lower utility bills and property taxes, and fewer repairs to handle. How many of your resources are tied up in your house? Are your housing demands preventing you from pursuing activities you sense God calling you to pursue? If your current home is costing you more than it’s worth, it may be time to move.  A small home filled with peace is better than a mansion full of stress.

Give up an extra vehicle. A family in our neighborhood sold their car so they could continue to afford having the mom stay home with their three kids. On weekdays when the father, Andras, uses their van to drive to work, Szilvia walks with their kids to and from our local elementary school. If Szilvia happens to need the van on a particular day, Andras simply rides a bus to work.

Szilvia says that the time she spends talking with her kids on their daily walks is among the best time she spends with them. The whole family has also grown closer through learning to negotiate who gets the van when and working together to meet each other’s needs. Auto expenses (car payments, insurance premiums, repair costs, inspection fees, taxes, etc.) can add up to a significant amount in your budget. If your family doesn’t absolutely need more than one vehicle, consider selling whatever other ones you own. Extra time together (and extra exercise) is worth far more than extra vehicles sitting in your driveway.