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Living large at a bargain price

Americans love their stuff. Yet as we face a rather temperamental economy that has created high unemployment rates and a debt load that could choke a camel, Americans are learning, either by choice or necessity, that their priorities need to change.

Many people are adopting an attitude that is commonplace in a variety of other countries and cultures. It's a lifestyle that encourages moderation, balance and simplicity. However, adopting an extreme approach to pairing down one's lifestyle isn't the answer. So, before you go out and buy a wheat grinder and a rain barrel, realize that if a family has spent the majority of their lives accumulating debt through excessive living, depriving all forms of luxury won't be effective long-term.

In her book, Live Happily on Less: 52 Ideas to Renovate Your Life and Lifestyle, Carolyn Henderson points out “the important thing is to recognize those little luxuries for what they are — luxuries. And when we enjoy luxuries on a regular basis, they are no longer special in our mind. We begin to think of them as necessities.”

Living large at a bargain price can be practiced effectively in the four main aspects of our lives.

Social. First, stop comparing your lifestyle with others. Certainly, don't compromise the financial security of your family to keep up appearances. Once you have committed to living a simplified life, realize that you will treat money differently than others. As a result, you may not always fit in with the crowd. Yet, knowing you are financially secure and strong will certainly be more appealing than trying to be the family with the newest computer, gaming system or car.

Do you want to be the favorite neighbor on the street? Plant a garden. In my neighborhood, each neighbor seems to specialize in growing a particular crop. Peppers and peaches seem to grow really well in my soil. My neighbor grows the juiciest tomatoes ever. My other neighbor has a pear tree and corn. During harvest, we exchange with each other to create a variety of produce to enjoy — saving money and building relationships.

Free is good. Free concerts, products, tickets, parks and libraries. Every community offers things free of charge to residents. Get in the habit of seeking out these resources. Sign up for free email newsletters published by event centers or the local college or university that offer promotional discounts on theatre, concerts, sporting events or movies. When you are living the simple life, movies released on DVD quickly become a welcome fixture in your home.

Physical. Prevention is key. You have total control over the quality of life you sustain. Your efforts in maintaining a regular exercise routine, eating a balanced diet loaded with seasonal fruit and vegetables and drinking water instead of soda can keep you healthy and save money. “Choosing foods that are inexpensive because they are widely available at a particular time is not only cheaper,” writes Henderson, “it provides variety and enables us to graze different foods for different vitamins, minerals and health benefits.”

Financial. “Learning to cook is the single most impacting way that you can reduce your grocery bill,” writes Henderson. When evaluating one's budget, oftentimes it's the grocery bill that is one of the easiest to adjust. With our busy lives, it's tempting to grab takeout to save time at home. But, before you hit speed dial for the local pizza joint, realize a little preparation in meal-planning could save you loads of cash. Many bloggers have a made a successful career out of posting pre-planned meal schedules. They have done all of the hard work for you. Take advantage of these sites and stock your kitchen with all of the things you need to fix meals at home.

Leah Ingram, author of Suddenly Frugal, provides two reasons why meal-planning is a smart economical move. “First, you will feel freer and less stressed knowing exactly which meals are coming down the pike, or at least which meals you have the supplies on hand to make. Second, with meal planning, you will be setting the stage so that your family will be able to sit down together each night to enjoy dinner.”

Spiritual. “When you feel overwhelmed, something's wrong,” writes Henderson. “It's time to step back and figure out just what it is. Overwhelmed is not the new normal.” When one is preoccupied with financial worries, you cannot focus on your spiritual self. How can you think of serving others or bettering your world when you can't think of anything beyond the financial damage you have done to yourself and family?

Sometimes, we are handed unexpected expenses that knock us off our feet. Job loss, poor health, major life changes; disasters take on a variety of forms. In those situations, we all hope help is swift and opportunity for a better life is close at hand.

Choosing to live beyond your means is selfish and disrespectful to your spirit. Stop it now. Start taking measures today to get out of debt. Make sacrifices. Go without. Pick up extra work. Ask for help from trusted family members or friends. Do what you need to do to get back on track. Then, embrace that newly-acquired spending behavior. Your goal should go beyond getting out of debt. This marks a lifestyle change in your attitude and respect towards money and your financial lifestyle.

So, what does it mean to live large at a bargain price? Henderson writes, “Adjust the way you look at things. Find pleasure and fulfillment in the small, ordinary chores that make up each of our days. It's the little things you do, or don't do, each day that add up and make a difference.”

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