Nearly all of the talk these days about economizing focuses on how to get what we want but pay less for it. It’s all about how to get more for less.
For those of us who are longtime advocates of the “simple living” movement, it seems as if most Americans are missing what could be the golden opportunity of these tough times — coming to appreciate that less can often be more. In other words, we shouldn’t be worrying so much about “How can we afford it?” Instead, we should be asking ourselves, “Do we really need it?”
Here are five lifestyle changes to consider. They may seem fairly radical to you when you first think about them — but if you adopt even one or two, you’ll not only save some serious money, you just might be happier in the end.
1. Cancel your cell phone.
Yearly savings: $1,000 per phone.
The idea is surprising, I know, but just consider it for a moment. Only 20 or so years ago, cell phones were virtually nonexistent, and the world seemed to work okay. Now cell phones are considered a necessity, even though surveys show that we dislike our cell phones more than any other device that we own (including the alarm clock). So if that’s truly how we feel, how can giving them up be a bad thing? The average cell-phone plan costs about $80 a month, and a study recently released by Utility Consumers’ Action Network found that the actual average cost of using a cell phone is more than $3 a minute if you don’t use up most of your minutes and about $1 per minute even if you do use all of your minutes. As a fairly successful author and national media personality, I am the poster child for this cause — I have never owned a cell phone, and I get by just fine.
If you can’t imagine not having a cell phone, consider a prepaid phone plan. Watch for sales at such stores as Target, Wal-Mart and Radio Shack.
2. Get rid of your second or third car.
Yearly savings: $9,000.
The average American household now owns two or three vehicles. That compares to about one per household in 1960. AAA estimates that it costs $9,369 per year to own and operate a medium-sized sedan that is driven 15,000 miles annually. The national average cost per mile is 61 cents by the time you factor in depreciation, insurance, repairs, gas, taxes, etc. If your family owns more than one car, what’s the worst thing that could happen if you give up one? You could easily save thousands of dollars a year by sharing a single car, coordinating trips, taking public transportation and so on. And Mother Earth will thank you.
3. Prepare more meals at home.
Yearly savings: $2,000.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average US family spends $2,668 each year eating out. I would estimate that you could prepare the same meals at home for about 80% less, or an annual savings of roughly $2,134. The other upside is that old-fashioned family time around the dinner table may make a comeback. An article in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine reported that frequent family meals are associated with a lower risk for smoking, drinking and using marijuana among adolescents, as well as a lower incidence of depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts. And the kids were more likely to have better grades.
4. Wear out your clothing.
Yearly savings: $1,800 per family.
A small fraction of the clothing we throw away in the US is truly “worn out,” meaning that it’s threadbare, torn or badly stained. Many of us donate unwanted clothing to charity, but even charities have more donations than they can handle, and much of the clothing eventually ends up being thrown away. The problem is that we rarely wear out our clothing — or much of anything else — these days. According to some government reports, the average American family spends roughly $1,800 on shoes and clothing per year. Clearly most of us have more than enough in our closets to go for six months to a year, or even longer, without needing to buy anything new.
5. Give up college room and board.
Yearly savings: $9,000 per student.
The average cost of student room and board at colleges and universities is about $9,000 per year. A generational shift has occurred here in the US over the past few decades when it comes to kids living with their parents while they attend college. Back in my college days (the 1970s), lots of us — myself included — lived with our parents and attended a local university or community college. Today that arrangement is fairly rare — it’s just not “cool” to live with your folks. Of course, in my day, student loans were uncommon, in part because we didn’t need to borrow money to pay for room and board. The irony is that these days, many kids graduate with so much debt — tens of thousands of dollars in student loans — that they have no choice but to move back home with their parents after college. Now, back in my day, living with your parents after you graduated really was uncool.