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.
Eat out less. We usually save restaurant visits for special occasions because a restaurant meal costs much more than one prepared at home. But the benefits of eating at home aren’t just financial. When you make your own meals, you can control what ingredients go into them and prepare food in healthier ways than you’d typically find at restaurants. Our decision to eat out less often forced me to learn to cook better, and I’m glad I did, because I discovered how creative the process can be. Now our family enjoys cooking together on weekends. Even our youngest child pitches in to help wash vegetables or mix sauces.
If restaurant meals are breaking your budget, try eating all your meals at home for a certain period of time and see how much your family comes to enjoy it. A creative, healthy meal that you all cook and eat together can be a richer experience than eating out in any restaurant.
Take a “staycation.” The adventures you can have on trips help you grow in ways you couldn’t otherwise. But you don’t have to travel far to find new adventures. A new word has been coined by the media reporting on our recession lately: “staycation.” That’s a vacation you can enjoy without having to leave your local area. When you don’t buy expensive airplane tickets, stay in hotels, or incur any other expenses related to traveling to places far away, you can save a lot of money. Beyond that, though, you can discover exciting places in your region that you may have overlooked before. We live in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. For just the price of a subway ticket, we can see everything from America’s largest museum (the Smithsonian) to famous national landmarks. But we’d miss out if we viewed those attractions only as tourist sites for out-of-town visitors. No matter where you live, you’ll find a lot to explore nearby if you do a bit of research. Check out the parks, art galleries, museums, theaters, sports venues, and other places close enough to visit on day trips.
When you have an attitude of constantly seeking new adventures close to home, you’re more likely to notice what God is doing in your ordinary life. Great travel experiences can happen anywhere – not just in a glamorous, faraway place like on a safari in Kenya or in a bistro in France. Great miracles are the same way. Some of the most enriching experiences you’ll have will be close to home.
Eliminate extras. Unnecessary indulgences like manicures, fancy coffee shop drinks, and high tech gadgets that do what you can do yourself can waste a lot of your hard-earned money. When you let go of them, you learn how to separate what you truly need from what you merely want. That will do a lot to help you see your life from a more healthy perspective.
Like most families, your schedule may be full of lots of good activities. But just because they’re all good doesn’t mean that you should keep doing all of them. You can save time as well as money when you cut back your family’s ongoing activities, from weekend golf games to after-school music lessons for the kids. Letting go of activities that are good but not the best for your family right now will free you all from the stress of constant busyness and give you more downtime with each other. That can only strengthen your relationships, even as you strengthen your bank account by spending less on activity fees. We decided to have our daughter drop an expensive dance class for a season when we were facing high medical bills. But the benefits weren’t just financial. Our daughter could eat dinner with us on the evenings she would have been at class, and we all enjoyed a relaxing time together, knowing that she didn’t have the pressure of having to rush through her homework before going to class or gobbling a hurried meal late at night after returning from class.
Take a hard look at your current schedule to figure out what activities you can drop to give your family something even more valuable: downtime together. It’s often during that free, unscheduled time that the best conversations can happen between you. Downtime also gives you each a chance to rest and recharge, so you’ll be more likely to enjoy the activities you do decide to keep in your schedule. Eliminating extras leaves room in your life for more blessings.
So don’t despair if your bank account is low. Your satisfaction can be high if you’re willing to make some sacrifices and trust God to give you what money can’t buy.