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How an urban expatriate realized her slower-paced dream
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Also evaluate what portions you use and whether you can find lower-cost alternatives. For example, I use less shampoo than the label recommends (hey, I have short hair!) and I have friends who use rags instead of paper towels.

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Make sure you buy what you need rather than indulge in impulse purchases. Although Costco, our local warehouse store, offers lots of bargains, my husband and I sometimes fall into the trap of buying something just because "It's such a great deal," not because we really need it. One way to avoid this snare: Bring a shopping list with you and stick to it.

Location, location, location
When evaluating whether and how to downsize your lifestyle, you also must consider geography. It's much easier to live low on the hog in Bozeman than in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn was more expensive and offered more temptation. We were both working long hours in New York City, so we were spending a small fortune dining out. Here in Bozeman, it costs a lot less to go out, plus there are fewer choices. We've got four or five good restaurants. After you've had every entrée on the menu, dinner at home is far more fun.

And since we've left the career track, we work sensible hours. That makes it easy to find time to cook and shop.

Our more rural lifestyle also fits in with my love of nature and opens up savings doors for other things. For example, I go on low-budget vacations, the latest of which was a backcountry ski trip. A drive up to Canada with friends for six days of skiing cost me a total of $200 (U.S. dollars), plus gas split between the four of us. A comparable excursion that involved flying from NYC to a destination resort, buying lift tickets and renting equipment could easily run $200 a day.

Or, I could have chosen to not take a vacation, and instead stepped out on my back porch to enjoy the great outdoors that now surround us. It costs nothing for me to take a hike on National Forest Service land that's less than a half-mile from my house and believe me, it's a nice short getaway.

Stay vigilant
Even after you've made the move and put away your spending diary, you still need to constantly re-evaluate your purchase priorities. What can you live without? What can't you? Your shopping options may have changed, but human nature hasn't.

Since I'm an avid outdoorswomen, I spend where it counts for me. That means I've shelled out a lot of money on sports gear: five pairs of skis (all for different snow and types of skiing) and three bicycles (two mountain bikes and one road bike).

But I recycle my Ziploc bags. I can't see throwing them out after one use and I don't mind spending the time washing them. I also shop for clothes off-season and at second-hand shops. In the end, it gives me a bit more for my recreational pursuits.

Of course, I've also discovered that regardless of where you live, it's easy to slip back into big-spending ways. Recently, my husband lost his job at a local gym. Fortunately, he has some other income coming in, but we sat down to find new ways to save. We discovered that our spending had crept up, not to our pre-rural move, but still it had gone up. So now we're trimming once again.

Can anyone chuck it all and start over in a totally different setting? Certainly. It's just a matter of taking the time to realize what's important to you and then getting your life -- and your spending -- to match your goals.

Jenny C. McCune is a contributing editor based in Montana.'s corrections policy -- Posted: April 5, 2002
More stories by Jenny C. McCune
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