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Gingersnap
08-09-2010, 12:52 PM
Side effect of the new frugality: Happiness

Researchers see links between quality of life and living more realistically
J. Flores for The New York Times

updated 8/8/2010 1:25:08 PM ET

She had so much. A two-bedroom apartment. Two cars. Enough wedding china to serve two dozen people.

Yet Tammy Strobel wasn’t happy. Working as a project manager with an investment management firm in Davis, Calif., and making about $40,000 a year, she was, as she put it, caught in the “work-spend treadmill.”

So one day she stepped off.

Inspired by books and blog entries about living simply, Ms. Strobel and her husband, Logan Smith, both 31, began donating some of their belongings to charity. As the months passed, out went stacks of sweaters, shoes, books, pots and pans, even the television after a trial separation during which it was relegated to a closet. Eventually, they got rid of their cars, too. Emboldened by a Web site that challenges consumers to live with just 100 personal items, Ms. Strobel winnowed down her wardrobe and toiletries to precisely that number.

Her mother called her crazy.

Today, three years after Ms. Strobel and Mr. Smith began downsizing, they live in Portland, Ore., in a spare, 400-square-foot studio with a nice-sized kitchen. Mr. Smith is completing a doctorate in physiology; Ms. Strobel happily works from home as a Web designer and freelance writer. She owns four plates, three pairs of shoes and two pots. With Mr. Smith in his final weeks of school, Ms. Strobel’s income of about $24,000 a year covers their bills. They are still car-free but have bikes. One other thing they no longer have: $30,000 of debt.


Ms. Strobel’s mother is impressed. Now the couple have money to travel and to contribute to the education funds of nieces and nephews. And because their debt is paid off, Ms. Strobel works fewer hours, giving her time to be outdoors, and to volunteer, which she does about four hours a week for a nonprofit outreach program called Living Yoga.

“The idea that you need to go bigger to be happy is false,” she says. “I really believe that the acquisition of material goods doesn’t bring about happiness.”

(snip)

While the current round of stinginess may simply be a response to the economic downturn, some analysts say consumers may also be permanently adjusting their spending based on what they’ve discovered about what truly makes them happy or fulfilled.

“This actually is a topic that hasn’t been researched very much until recently,” says Elizabeth W. Dunn, an associate professor in the psychology department at the University of British Columbia, who is at the forefront of research on consumption and happiness. “There’s massive literature on income and happiness. It’s amazing how little there is on how to spend your money.”

(snip)

According to retailers and analysts, consumers have gravitated more toward experiences than possessions over the last couple of years, opting to use their extra cash for nights at home with family, watching movies and playing games — or for “staycations” in the backyard. Many retailing professionals think this is not a fad, but rather “the new normal.”

“I think many of these changes are permanent changes,” says Jennifer Black, president of the retailing research company Jennifer Black & Associates and a member of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors in Oregon. “I think people are realizing they don’t need what they had. They’re more interested in creating memories.”

She largely attributes this to baby boomers’ continuing concerns about the job market and their ability to send their children to college. While they will still spend, they will spend less, she said, having reset their priorities.

While it is unlikely that most consumers will downsize as much as Ms. Strobel did, many have been, well, happily surprised by the pleasures of living a little more simply. The Boston Consulting Group said in a June report that recession anxiety had prompted a “back-to-basics movement,” with things like home and family increasing in importance over the last two years, while things like luxury and status have declined.

Very interesting! Read the whole thing.

MSNBC (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38614402/ns/business-the_new_york_times/)

RobJohnson
08-09-2010, 02:14 PM
I've found that the less checks I have to write every month the happier I become!

Gingersnap
08-10-2010, 10:00 AM
I live a thrifty life but I don't feel like I miss out on much. They are correct about the anticipation angle when it comes to buying objects. I'm a great one for spinning out the actual purchase. ;)