How to Live Happily on Less

As creative economizers are discovering, cutting back doesn’t have to mean giving up the good life.

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Families are also rediscovering the lost slow art of free play and doing nothing, observes Susan Caruso, director of Sunflower Creative Arts, a nonprofit toddler-to-teen creativity-based program in Boca Raton, Fla. "Parents increasingly tell us they're guiding their kids towards self-directed play, both because it's less expensive than electronic toys and because they realize this was something from their own childhoods that kids today are missing," Caruso says. This could mean encouraging kids to wander freely around a park, choose unstructured free time over a schedule filled with pricey lessons, recycle egg cartons and other household materials into art, and take apart old appliances to learn how they are constructed.

[See 21 Things We're Learning to Live Without.]

Embrace what money can't buy. "There are so many things you can't put a price on," says Holden. When you expend your time and energy on things like family, friendships, creativity, spirituality, and laughter, he says, you enhance your life while saving money. Last year, rather than exchange presents when her extended family gathered in her mother's hometown of Brookfield, Ohio, Sherry Richert Belul and her 11-year-old son, who had flown in from San Francisco, dreamed up a "Holiday Hoopla" carnival. The event included such offerings for the dozen attendees as a variety show, a dress-up photo booth, and—hokey but well received, she says—a "validation booth" where each visitor received personalized positive comments. It was such a success that she and her son plan to offer an experiential holiday gift again this year.

Similarly, a "wabi-sabi" philosophy of home improvement would emphasize finding joy in silence and serenity rather than in a renovated kitchen, Griggs Lawrence says. If you're interested in considering a different sort of upgrade, she suggests putting a bench in the backyard, a comfortable reading chair in a corner of your bedroom or, if possible, claiming a room of your own. Griggs Lawrence recently converted a bedroom in her townhouse to an area where she can meditate and write. The space, she says, feeds her soul at least as much as a luxury vacation would.

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