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Voluntary simplicity
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Growing your bottom line

4 steps to a simpler (and more frugal) life

Frugality is not a quaint pastime from the pre-credit card era, but it is something of a lost art for some people.

Though frugal living can conjure an image of a Dickensian miser grimly squeezing every penny for all itís worth, it doesn't have to be like that.

"Being frugal to me is about valuing your life energy," says Mark Zaifman, owner of Spiritus Financial Planning in Windsor, Calif., and a contributor to an updated version of "Your Money or Your Life."

A central tenet of the book is that most people must expend their energy to make money during their finite time on earth. Frivolous purchases waste that time and energy.

That concept is a lynchpin in the voluntary simplicity movement.

What is voluntary simplicity?
"Voluntary simplicity is about coming into alignment with what's more important -- more material possessions or more time. It is about having more time and more choice, because the essence of it is financial independence," Zaifman says.

The simplicity philosophy is a template for doing more with less -- something that financial planners heartily endorse.

"I believe the definition of being 'rich' is no longer a large dollar (figure). I define it as an excess of both time and money. For frugal individuals, this can happen long before retirement and is not dependent on your income level," says Trent Lickteig, a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Wealth is a relative concept, after all. If your income is over six figures and so is your spending, then that equals broke.

"The two most important assets you can have in the current economy -- and it's not gold, and God knows it's not stock and it's not your house -- but in my opinion, the two greatest assets you can have are no debt and, maybe most important, the ability to live very happily on very little," says Jeffrey Yeager, author of "The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches."

4 steps to simply doing more with less
Clean house
Getting rid of clutter, both mentally and physically, will help in the process of paring down.

Yeager recommends a "weeklong fiscal fast" to get in touch with your spending.

"Go a week without spending any money. It's a chance to use up the food in your cupboard and the bottles of shampoo from hotels we've all been saving for 20 years," he says.

The spending detox will reveal how most people spend and waste money in a normal week.

"You're really trying to find and pick apart the routines you have that involve spending money. Whether you're prone to going out and buying clothes when you're under pressure at the job or whether you find yourself going out to lunch every day, you can work to break yourself of those habits," Yeager says.

Once you've cleared your mind of bad spending habits, it's time to clean house.

"It is a matter of appreciating all of the stuff you've probably amassed, and it's kind of horrifying when most Americans see all the stuff that we have," Yeager says.

Jessica Dolan, owner of Room to Breathe Home and Office Organizing, works with people who want to simplify their lives by simplifying their stuff, whether it's by moving into a smaller home or cutting up all their credit cards, and getting back to basics.

If you don't know what you have and you keep buying and buying because you've lost what you bought the week before, it's a huge waste of money and your time because you keep going to the store or you keep looking for it, she says.

"You're also wasting space in your house or office because you're storing all of these things that you can't find. It's just a vicious cycle," Dolan says.

If you use what you have and spend money only on things you really need, your life, your home and your pocketbook will benefit.

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-- Posted: Oct. 27, 2008
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