Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How to Live (Well) Within Your Means

The Topic: Living Simply (but Well) with VegNews Associate Publisher Colleen Holland

The Dish: I've often said that the recent economic recession has a silver lining. Of course, I feel for those who can't find work, who have lost their health insurance, or are struggling in any way. It's a sad situation. But, America, we live way beyond our means, and maybe we need a kick in the pants to stop buying stuff that we don't need and we can't pay for. In many other countries, the idea of credit cards is completely foreign. Why would you buy something if you don't have the money right now to pay for it? Here in the US, we're a credit culture. We want to feel like we can buy anything we want, and since we can borrow money at a moment's notice, why not drop $15 on lunch, down a soy latte every morning, or sport a wardrobe that we really can't afford.

Years ago, right after college, I backpacked through Asia. I started my journey with a 25-pound backpack and thought I needed absolutely everything in that pack. But week after week, I realized how little I really needed. I shed articles of clothing (I could wash what I had every few days and be fine), my CD player (I gifted it to a guy in China who would enjoy it far more than me), and my collection of books (I could swap reads with other travelers and just carry one book at a time). After liberating myself from all of my stuff, I was able to travel the world with a four-pound backpack. It was amazing, and although living this simply certainly doesn't translate to real life, that feeling of freedom has stayed with me for the last 18 years.

So here's five ways I try to simplify my life so that I live within my means, joyfully.

Love Your Bottle
It makes me crazy to see people still buying plastic water bottles. This is 2011! Not only is plastic detrimental to the environment, in many places, tap water is just fine (thank you, Hetch Hetchy). If it's not, invest in a water filter/distiller/purifier so you can make your own pristine water. And buy an adorable (BPA-free) bottle that never leaves your side!

Love Your Leftovers
There was a time in my life that I shunned restaurant leftovers. Ugh, the hassle, and I felt it made me look desperate or something. But as an adult, I have embraced leftovers and never miss an opportunity to take home a doggy bag. Leftovers make a delicious brown-bag lunch the next day, and it cuts your meal cost in half (paid $10 for a Mexican platter? Get two meals out of it, and you've just cut your cost to $5).

Lose the Lattes
I have never been a coffee drinker, so maybe this is something I can't understand. But I don't understand! Have you done the math on these babies? It's crazy how much a latte habit adds up to. And the more we drink coffee/caffeine, the more we need it. Starbucks has made us a country of addicts, and they're making a killing. Full disclosure: I love a good soy chai latte, but I look at it as a treat and only indulge once a month or so. 

Brown Bag It
This is a great way to save moola so you can splurge on something meaningful (but still within your means). A few months back, I penned an entire post on brown-bag lunch ideas, including my favorites: kale salad with baked tofu, baked potatoes with toppings, bagel sandwiches, homemade soup, and, yes, leftovers. With a little planning, you can enjoy healthful, delicious meals at the fraction of a cost of take-out. And is that really how you want to spend your money?

Know When to Splurge
So all of this being said, I am the first to admit that I love a good splurge (that I can afford, of course). A leisurely Friday night dinner with friends over good food, wine, and dessert at a great restaurant? I relish that. A weekend away at my favorite inn? When do we leave? That vintage 1920s table I have been eyeing at a local antique store (and I'll have forever)? Sold. But when you cut out all the extras that really don't enhance life that much, yet keep you perpetually in poverty, we miss the opportunities to do something meaningful that matters.

The Final Word: I know people who make $150k a year and cry poverty and those who make $25k and live like rockstars. Hopefully, the current economic crisis is providing a valuable lesson on cutting out some of the fat and learning to live rich with any income. It can be done.


  1. I'm finding as I get older, the less I have the less I need. It's easier to give things away and live simply. Grocery shopping is a breeze: a bag of brown rice, a bag of dried beans, a bag of nuts and any produce that's in season. Sure I splurge. I can. My basic life is so basic. That's what makes me happy.

  2. I loved this article. Thank you so much! Living simply is much better!

  3. One way to save money if you need (or want) an extensive wardrobe is to shop at one of the many stores that sell top-quality recycled (vegan) clothing at rock-bottom prices. My favorites are Buffalo Exchange and Urban Cheapskate. I just bought a beautiful faux leather Matt and Nat-styled handbag for only $17.00. It was in perfect condition, so I can use it for a long time. I have to dress up for work, so this is how I keep my closet tuned, help the environment, and save money all at the same time.

  4. Hello :) I just wanted to say- I've been vegan for 3 years, and for about a year I was drinking Starbucks soy chai lattes regularly - and then I learned that their chai mix contains honey :( Don't know how strict you are about honey, but though I'd let you know just in case :) peace and love (ps, love the blog )

  5. I think our standard of living is more than financial stability. Happiness really doesn't only depend on how much money we are able to save. This doesn't mean I'm suggesting not to be careful with spending. But giving up a lifestyle that makes you happy might not lead to contentment when you retire.