We live in a depressed economy. President Obama may be saying we are no longer in a depressed state, but the very real low funds in most of our bank accounts tell another story.
Is there a silver lining to having limited funds? In my mind, the answer is yes. At another point in my life, money was more abundant.
Fast forward to 2012 and that life is over. I got divorced, the house was sold and vacations have been non-existent for me. Granted, I have a better job now (finally) where I get paid holidays, company paid health insurance, sick time and at least a week’s vacation. However, the economy is such that even those perks do not afford our household the means we’d prefer. With one of us not working, every month is a balancing act to make sure the rent and the utilities are paid. Then we figure in the cost of food and gas, which often doesn’t leave much.
This has led to a surprising understanding of simplicity. Our grandparents probably know what living simply (and within limited means) is like, but kids from my generation (30-40) have less experience with it. We were raised with more money than our parents had growing up, and some kids got the benefits of fully paid college educations and traveling abroad. (That was not me on either account.)
Living with less can bring families together in a way that luxury sorely lacks. There is nothing as memorable as simple family dinners at someone’s house or hamburgers on the grill on a sunny day. Game nights with good company make a Saturday night enjoyable. Cuddling on the couch and watching a movie from home is economical and forges good bonding for families and couples.
This move to simplicity begs the question: would people still choose to live the simpler life even if they had ample means again? Some would say no and immediately start adding all those luxury things they had to sacrifice. And that’s within our mindset. When there is extra money to spend, most people will spend it.
I am not sure that I would add it all back if suddenly our means became less limited. From a financial perspective, unemployment and less than minimum income over time has repercussions even after one gets a job. In that time, debts are often neglected to pay other necessary bills. Money used to pay other debt has to be reallocated to housing, car payments, utilities, gas and food. Some households even cut cable and Internet when times get tough.
So what wouldn’t we do differently?
I can’t stand the price of a matinee movie ticket and the cost for snacks. At $8.50, we could buy a frozen pizza and watch a movie at home for less than two tickets and popcorn. In fact, the Netflix subscription we use to watch films is $8 per month, which is a minuscule amount per flick over a month’s time. We see fewer movies in the theatre now, and if possible, try to see them at Edmond Town Hall in Newtown. At $2 per ticket, that is a bargain in this economy!
Enroll in Groupon (www.groupon.com) for free. This site is fantastic for finding BOGO deals on restaurants, sporting events and retail items. They also offer discounted travel deals, outdoor activities (like rafting, yoga, rock climbing and golf), and personals services (such as spa days, massages, haircuts, and gym memberships).
Go out to lunch instead of dinner! Inexpensive food chains like Chili’s, TGI Friday’s and Ruby Tuesday have lunch menus with popular items discounted, often with perks like unlimited French fries or salad bar. Bertucci’s has an incredible deal on lunch every day where you get unlimited bread and salad with anything you order. They have a whole menu of lunch size items (half-size dinner portions) to go with the bread and salad. Olive Garden also runs great lunch specials and you can get in without a wait (the evening wait is enough to try anyone’s patience.)
Get cheap gas where you see it. I work in two offices, one of which is located off Wood Street in West Haven. I try to work the gas trips around the three days I work in that location because it’s usually $.10 cheaper per gallon and I get more for the same amount of money anywhere else. If I happen to be in Milford, cheap gas is easy to find anywhere.
Lastly, find delivery meal deals for the one day of the week you aren’t cooking. Our favorite is from Pizza Heaven and it’s fondly called the “Heaven Special.” For about $20, you get a large one topping pizza (their large is actually bigger than most places), eighteen chicken wings (spicy or mild), an order of garlic cheese bread (about 8 pieces) and a 2 liter bottle of soda. We can eat the pizza over one or two meals (sometimes for lunch), serve up the wings another night, and heat up the bread as a snack. It amply serves a family of four on a Friday night.
In all this, remember that money is not the ruler of all things. Luxury and means doesn’t always translate to quality time with your family and friends. Staying home and having a meal at the family table or watching a movie in the living room with your kids (and popcorn) is far more memorable than sitting in a crowded restaurant or fighting for seats in a theatre. A local baseball or hockey game (like the Bluefish or Sound Tigers) is closer to home and gives you the sport experience without the high cost associated with big venues. A walk in the park or a jaunt to the playground is just as fun as a day at Lake Compounce or a two hour movie.
What would you change about your lifestyle if you had more means?