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Want less, spend less – wealth is relative to desire

It's when we are satisfied with what we have, that we become rich.

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We are concerned about the economy. We worry about the stock market, investments, and retirement. We hesitate to open bank statements. We are told: It will get better. It will get worse. It will rebound.

How do we cope? We have to make do with less. Lots of articles offer advice: Eat at home. Take the bus. Rearrange, don't redecorate.

At the heart are these questions: What can you live without? Can we be happy with less? Can we do it when the American way seems to be distilled lately to all about believing that we need and deserve more?

What I keep thinking about is what it was like when I really did have less.

In my 20s I lived in Washington, D.C., and made $13,000. I had an apartment and a car. I packed my lunch and saved up to go out for dinner. Was I really as happy as I remember? Yes. Most of us probably were. The reason isn't complicated.

We wanted less.

I was proud to be paying rent. I wanted to drive instead of take the bus so making the car payment for my used 1971 VW Beetle was great. I bought clothes on sale or at consignment stores, and when friends moved they passed along furniture they didn't want.

But over time, through reading and traveling and meeting people, I learned about nicer cars and better clothes. I bought into the status symbol they stood for. I began to want a real couch and a newer car and I began to fantasize about someday buying a house. Later my hopes included owning a Subaru and – I laugh to remember this – I thought I'd have the perfect wardrobe when I could buy one (yeah, one) really good purse.

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