A Radical Idea

"Here's one way to ease money worries: Buy fewer things.

"I discovered what this means in a very personal way. When I first launched myself as a self-employed writer, I wasn't at all sure I would succeed. As the sole support of a household that included three children and a dog, I knew I had to be frugal.

"So I began asking a simple question before I purchased anything: Is this necessary for life or death?

"Try it next time you go to the store — even to the grocery store where impulse items like candy and magazines lie in wait at checkout.

"Here's the wondrous thing I learned: Although my buying habits changed, and I did, indeed, became more frugal, my family's standard of living didn't really change.

"We had enough to eat.

"Household bills got paid.

"There was gas in my car.

"I merely gave up impulse buys like shoes I didn't need.

"I rediscovered the library. And thrift stores. And home cooking instead of eating out. It became almost like a game to see how little I 'needed' once I asked that question.

"Maybe the belt-tightening in the wake of the 2008 financial turmoil will be an ultimate good for our nation. We've had a lot of fun giving into our desires for instant gratification: paying with plastic and using lines of credit on our homes.

"But there's something even more gratifying when you learn that you can live a perfectly happy life and be less extravagant. 'Freedom from want' takes on a whole new meaning."