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Five Ways to Save Money and Simplify Your Life.

Updated on November 6, 2009

Modern Life

There is a dilemma we face as citizens in modern society: we spend up to a third of our life trying to make enough money to buy the things that are supposed to make life great. The iPod, the car, the house, the nice clothes, the newest handbag. The irony is that we spend anywhere from 40 to 80 hours out of every week working to buy stuff we only get to enjoy for a couple hours on the weekend, if we get the time at all. Does that seem absurd to anyone else?

Worse, we've learned how to overspend. Not only do we get to spend the money we made during the week, but we can also spend someone elses' money!  Sweet! Of course we're going to have to save some of our hard earned money to pay back what we used, but that's a problem for tomorrow, not today, right? Tomorrow we'll get a raise. Tomorrow we get out bonus. Tomorrow I'll get a couple extra hours.

So we get caught in this cycle: we want to live well, but we need money so we work, then we can borrow to buy more things, but now we have to work to pay the money we borrowed plus the money we need to live on. And you still have neither a well-lived life or money. There's got to be a way to break it. We're like hamsters on the wheel, but the hamster's know to get off when they get tired. We keep going.

I want to offer a couple of thoughts on ways that we can both save money, and save a little sanity and stress. There are few people who can live without possessions. There are just somethings that you're going to have to have. But it turns out that if you decrease the things your chasing after, you might just find something to replace it with, like happiness, or time, or peace. Here, then, are five thought's I have on ways to save money and simplify your life.

Yes, the good life.
Yes, the good life.

Redefining the good life.

I think that the first, most important thing we have to do is to define what the "good life" is. And I can't do that for you. For me, the good life is about having tome to do the things I want, like read, or learn, or write Hubs about reading and learning. My girlfriend has three young children. To her the good life is being able to care for them, enjoy their youth, know that they are safe and well, and enjoy a good beer. Others it's about living spiritually or having a high income.

For each of us it's different and you need to sit down and decide what is really important, and trim away everything that doesn' t contribute to that. Sound selfish? It is. Happiness is personal and you have to mold it to you. Only then can you help others find their own happiness. Looking at the things that are most important in your life will help you to decide what stays and what goes. And the benefit is that when you've trimmed away all the things that are unimportant, you can focus your time, energy and money into the things that really matter, and really enjoy them.

Cancel the Cable

Did you know that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spend between 3-4 hours a day watching TV, compared to 15 minutes just relaxing? Now, I know what you're going to say "But Gabriel, watching TV is relaxing!" Actually it's not. While you may think you body and mind are idle, they actually spend a great deal of time reacting and responding to the visual and auditory stimulus. Your heart rate increases and decreases depending on the action. Your brain is constantly striving to process the images so you understand what wry comment House has uttered. That's not actually relaxing.

So, kill the cable. And then sell the TV. Quit spending $50 to a $100 bucks a month on cable or satellite. You'll also see a drop in your electric bill. TV's are huge energy wasters. Especially the newer LCD displays, which draw power constantly to keep your settings in memory. Yes, they say they're "Energy Star Compliant", but the amount of power they draw is still enough to save you significant money over the course of a year. Spend the time reading, or out walking, or playing with your kids, and you'll save money and find more time for quality activities.

Find your belly button, metaphorically.

My dad was a product of the 60's and used to joke whenever he would find me staring off into space, asking if I was contemplating my navel. I know it's not an original joke by any measure, but there's a lot to be said for taking some time to meditate.

Meditation can be as simple as sitting in a quiet place for a bit and clearing your mind, to the most elaborate mantras in yoga poses. It's up to you how interested you are in it. I find that taking 15 to 30 minutes at the end of my day, to sit quietly, let the thoughts in my head settle, really does me a world of good. I sleep better, which means when I wake up I'm prepared to jump right into the world.

I'm not going to go so far as to say that meditation can cure all that ails you, though others have tried to say that. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine completed a meta-analysis of studies done on the effects of meditation, and they found that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that meditation can help with fixing everything. But what has been found is that even novice practitioners benefit by lower stress, lower blood pressure, lower heart rate and increase control over pain.

Hubber Raguett has a great introduction to how to meditate at Meditation to find inner peace. It's a great place to start you practice, and learn to calm your mind.

Eleanor was a wise woman.
Eleanor was a wise woman.

Ask do I really NEED that?

Everyday, we are surrounded and bombarded with messages that scream "BUY THIS" or "YOU CAN"T BE COOL WITHOUT THIS!" Whether it's on the radio, TV, a magazine or billboard (don't even get me started on the internet), the message of our culture is buy, buy, buy. Even our government gets concerned when we save our money rather than spend it. Obviously our economy depends on us buying. And then we have to have a place to put it, a place for our stuff. (I do miss George Carlin). But do you really need that?

Need vs. want. I need food, shelter, clothes (usually). A car? I live in Denver, where the bus system is pretty good, they're expanding the light rail system. I have a Jeep, but I only drive it to work or to go hiking. Do I need it? Of course not, but it's convenient. I have a couple thousand books in my apartment. I go to a school with a library, I live within a couple miles of a library, my friends have books. Do I need them? No. How much money could I save if I stopped buying the things I want, and just bought the things I need? Probably thousands of dollars each year.

And what about quality? Is it better to buy a cheap version now, knowing that it won't last as long as a high quality, or should I wait and save my money?

Wait and save your money.

This is another cultural trait we tend to display in the US. I want it, and I want it now. Or I want it, but I don't have the money to buy the best, so I'll buy the cheap one, and wait til it breaks to buy the better one. In one of my favorite books, Terry Pratchett refers to the effect as the Samuel Vimes Theory of Economic Unfairness, when pondering the nature of boots. Others refer to it as the paradox of the middle class, that there's always just enough money to get by as long as nothing goes wrong.But what are the odds of nothing going wrong? So instead of "saving for a rainy day" we spend and buy the best we can afford, rather than buying what would suit us best.

And there are going to be things you can't pay cash for. A house, for instance, is almost always going to be a credit purchase. But the thing with a house is that you have an asset that offset's the debt. As opposed to a car, which is a money losing proposition right from the start. An education is something that if might make sense to finance, but saving the money now to pay for learning tomorrow is a much better plan.

And that's really the key: planning. Having some sense of the things that you want from life and an idea of when you might want them, so you can develop a plan and save you money, and really get what you want, rather than just what you can afford. And having a plan makes things much simpler. Having an idea of where your headed, and trying to anticipate the pitfalls along the way, gives life direction and meaning. Sure, there are times you'll go out of your way, and the diversions can be fun and fulfilling, certainly you want to be adaptable, but you want to have goals, something that you're really working towards in life.

Thanks For Stopping.

Yes, thank you for stopping and taking a look. I know that in today's world, it's difficult to separate needs from desires, but I also think that true happiness only comes from making that analysis. And, really, it isn't just about living simply or frugally. The same principles apply to the most successful of us: they have mastered the art of deciding what's most important to them and focusing their efforts to achieve that. The first step, if you want to save money and live simply is to separate the chaff from the wheat and then focus your energy on living that way.

I hope you found this interesting, and if you have any thoughts or suggestions, I'd love to hear them. Please take a moment to share your ideas with me, I look forward to it.


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