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The Cheapskates’ Guide to Happiness

How to spend less and get more out of life

Jill and Mark Savage talk about finding happiness by spending less

MARK: My wife, Jill, and I couldn’t be more different, but by far our biggest differences—okay, disagreements—are about money. Things I see as needs, like cable TV, Jill thinks are wants. To her, needs are things like clothes—bought on sale. Jill’s a saver, the practical one. I’m impulsive. Buy now. Regret later.

JILL: But we’ve always agreed faith and family come first. When we decided I’d stay home with our two kids, we had to learn to live on Mark’s income as a minister. Finding ways to save money became my job. It wasn’t easy, especially after three more kids came along. But we’ve learned a lot these last 27 years. Enough to write a book. We’ve found living with less means much more—more family time, stronger relationships, a deeper connection to God. Looking to be thriftier and invest in your family? Here are some tips for getting started.

Ask Before You Buy
Before you make any purchase, ask yourself two important questions: “Do we really need this?” and “Is there another option?” Think about your answers. Talk it over with your spouse. Pray for guidance. You’ll be surprised how much just answering these questions can save you. A few years ago, our dishwasher died. We needed a new one. Except that meant going into debt, something we couldn’t afford. Then it occurred to us. We already had three dishwashers: our kids Anne, Evan and Erica (our other two were yet to come along). We made a schedule. Mark and I put ourselves on it too. After each meal, one of us would wash or dry with one of the kids.

They grumbled at first, but then something unexpected happened. We were talking and laughing so much that we barely noticed we were working. More important, we were spending one-on-one time with our kids—minutes that never seemed to fit into our schedule before the dishwasher broke.

Nine months later, when we finally saved enough to buy a used dishwasher, we were all much more appreciative of the wonders of modern appliances—and we still had the “extra” 15 minutes of daily family time we’d discovered.

Time Has Value Too
Time is one of our most valuable resources and one we waste most. It makes sense to use time wisely on what’s important. We spend so many hours working, trying to make more money only to spend it on things that require more time and money. One of the biggest benefits of spending less and creating a simpler life is the time you get back for your family.

I love to play golf. But the money for equipment and greens fees, plus the half day on the course, far exceeded our time and expense budgets. So I’ve taken up Frisbee golf. It’s free at our public park once you’ve bought the Frisbees (way cheaper than golf clubs!), and a round takes less than two hours. Plus, the kids can play too.

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Take stock of the activities your family is involved in. Music lessons, hobbies, sports and church events are great. But if you’re rushing from place to place, put on the brakes. Take a look at what you do at home. Turn off the computer and TV. Play a game or go for a walk together. Make sure you’re spending quiet time with God. It’s far easier to feel his presence when you stop to appreciate the world around you.

Barter, Swap, Give Away
Our culture has a tradition of bartering, and for good reason. We all have resources far richer than the balance of our bank accounts. Why not use them? It’s good stewardship. And it’s a great way to become better acquainted with the people in our lives.

For years we traded child care with another family. Each couple got a regular date night. On the nights when we were babysitting, our kids played so well with our friends’ kids that it was a break from a typical evening on the sibling battlefront.

When our son needed tutoring we couldn’t afford the monthly price of two hundred and fifty dollars. I learned that the tutoring center director was writing a book. I offered editing services in exchange for a lower fee. She gladly accepted and we both came out ahead. Today, with so many home businesses, possibilities are endless. You just have to ask. Join the freecycle.org community. You’ll find hundreds of people in your area with gently used items they’ll give away. You might even find someone who needs the desk that’s been in your garage for years.

It Takes a Family
Living with less is as much about setting priorities as it is about money. It’s about making time for relationships you never get around to when you’re overscheduled. It requires team effort, tough decisions and compromise. You’re talking about a major lifestyle change. Respect each others’ differences. Start small and celebrate successes. For each step along the way we advise families to PLAN: prepare, listen to each other, adjust, navigate. Make sure you’re staying on track. It won’t happen automatically. There are too many other forces telling us we need more of everything, when, in fact, less is more.

Ultimately it’s about trusting God to provide. Remember how he fed thousands with a few loaves and fishes? God fills our lives with abundance. It’s only through making time to appreciate those blessings that we realize how rich we already are.

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