By Wendy Mihm | Monday November 29, 2010
Americans love new stuff. Just look at our closets. No, you know what? Don’t look at our closets – it’s embarrassing. But what’s interesting is that all the new stuff we buy often doesn’t make us any happier – it just racks up debt and clutters our closet.
So here are some clever tips I gathered from friends and experts for living happily on less. There are all sorts of tips here and they are in no particular order, much like our lives. So have a look – you might find, like I did, that the challenge of living happily on less is actually pretty fun.
- Cancel your gym membership and create your own home gym with some weights from Craigslist. Or just rediscover pushups, jog through the local park, run a flight of stairs (a great glute and calf workout), or the hills in your neighborhood.
- Create a dinner menu for the week and go grocery shopping every Monday. Stick to the list! Make Friday leftover night and save the weekends for casual meals or restaurants. This minimizes impulse purchases, helps your family to eat healthier, and saves money on unplanned restaurant trips. And trade off cooking nights with your spouse – unless his arms are broken, he can cook. We do this every week in our house, it rocks, and our whole family has gotten into the act of coming up with creative, healthy and fun meals.
- When you eat out, consider ordering one of the adult meals from the appetizer menu, splitting an entrée, or ordering one drink for two of you.
- Familiarize yourself with the restaurants in your town that offer free kids meals on certain days of the week.
- When meeting friends socially, opt to meet for lunch instead of dinner.
- Ask about memberships to local museums, clubs or other resources that you frequent to see if you can save money as a member, rather than paying in full each time you visit.
- The AAA Auto Club has negotiated discounts with many dining, travel, shopping, entertaining and everyday services that many people are unaware of, such as the Hard Rock Café and El Torito restaurants, The Blue Man Group shows in Las Vegas, the Aquarium of the Pacific, the DoubleTree Hotels and the Courtyard by Marriott, to name a few. It never hurts to ask!
- Host a toys-and-clothes-exchange party. Gather a bunch of your kids’ outgrown clothes and toys, ask your friends to do the same, invite them over, order a pizza, ask someone to bring a bottle of wine and start trading!
- Water down your kids’ juice. It’s better for them anyway.
- Instead of heading to the mall in your spare time, head to a local park, library community center, or other free local resource. By talking to a neighbor, we just discovered a little-known community pool in our town that is absolutely free. To add to the fun factor, set up a standing play date there with a friend or two so you have someone to chat with while your kids play together.
- Consider shopping at Goodwill. You can save some serious money if you’re buying back-to-school clothes in bulk (they’re just going to get them dirty anyway), winter coats, camping gear, sporting goods and electronics. This is an especially smart way to go when you’re buying something you’re not sure you will use much anyway – like sleeping bags for a camping trip, for instance. Sure, you’ve got one camping trip planned, but maybe the jury is still out on whether your family will ever really become true campers.
- Create a “black-out-weekend” once every month. No one is allowed to shop at a store, go out to dinner or order anything online for two whole days! Create your own fun on the cheap by making blueberry pancakes for dinner, having a family popcorn and movie night at home or going on a “snipe hunt” through the local park.
So that’s the short list of our ideas. I hope it’s just the beginning of what will become a rich and interesting conversation about how to live happily on less. So fire up the comment section—let’s hear from you clever household CFOs out there!
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