Living the High Life on a Budget: Contented Frugalness

January 6, 2012 | Posted By: Karen Ho Fatt | Categorized in: Family, Entertainment
For most of us, exotic trips, luxury items, and even weekend getaways are a thing of the past. But this doesn’t mean you can’t live a rich, full life. All it takes is some creativity and a shift in attitude.

I have a good friend who was laid off for 18 months. During this time, his family had two choices: shut down and be miserable, or embrace an attitude of contented frugalness. My friends opted to focus on family activities and lifelong learning opportunities, maintaining a positive outlook in spite of their financial challenges.

Five years later, they’ve maintained this approach to life, even though their financial situation has dramatically improved. They’ve found that they are more contented and closer as a family than before. Their lives are less cluttered with material possessions and “stuff,” which frees them to focus on what’s really important. They’ve learned that thriftiness is a satisfying way of life. As S.W. Strauss said, “Thrift is not an affair of the pocket, but of character.”

Here are a few of the ideas they’ve incorporated into their family routines:


  • Take day trips to explore your area instead of an expensive vacation. Visit the mountains or beach, go for a hike, or watch the leaves change. An outing like this will cost you nothing more than the cost of gas and maybe a picnic lunch. One of my family’s favorite outings is a sunrise hot air balloon launch at a local state park. We arrive early on Saturday mornings, with donuts and a mug of hot cocoa, to watch the balloons take off as the sun emerges from behind the mountains. Beautiful!

  • Invest in a membership to your family’s favorite museum or zoo, or alternate memberships, trying something different each year. Memberships are typically under $100, and are a great value for a family looking for fun activities on a budget.

  • Buy inexpensive kits or make games and toys. Christmas was very tight for my friends during their period of unemployment, but they refused to be discouraged. Instead, they found instructions online for marshmallow guns made from PVC pipe. They made the marshmallow guns for under $5, and had a great time having a marshmallow fight Christmas morning.

  • Learn something new. I’ve always believed that if you can read, you can learn anything. Take an inexpensive class, or borrow books from the library. In my neighborhood, a group of women started offering classes to teach each other various subjects. I’ve learned to knit, bake bread and can produce, while socializing with good friends.

  • Splurge on something that offers real value to your family. For our anniversary, I bought my husband a fire pit table and chairs set. We’ve spent hours around that table, laughing and talking as a family. The investment was worth every penny! Another year, I found used bikes at an auction. We love riding those bikes together as a family.

  • Work as a family to meet goals. Another friend of mine wanted to take her family to Disney Land. Disney was offering free passes in exchange for service. My friend thought this was a great opportunity to teach her children the value of service, while enjoying a family vacation. The family scheduled several service projects to meet the criteria for the free passes. They also put a jar in the kitchen for loose change as a way to save money for the trip. It took them a whole year to save enough money, but the trip meant so much more because they had all worked hard to make it happen.

Karen Ho Fatt is an interior designer and web publisher of popular outdoor décor products such as propane fire pit tables. You can find her spending her evenings by the fire with her husband and friends in a tiny country hamlet in the Canadian Rockies.
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