Friday, January 25, 2013

Simple living can improve quality of life

By Jon Overton

Consumption has long been proclaimed as a key to economic growth and greater happiness. Purchases skyrocketed with credit cards and bank deregulation. But in the wake of surging growth came crippling debt and mass foreclosures.

Recent studies on consumption and happiness found that people are generally more satisfied by spending money on experiences like vacations instead of material objects.

Aaron Benscoter, a teacher at Marshalltown High School, lives frugally, seeing money as his life’s energy. This involves using fewer resources, which he said benefits the environment and the developing world.

“Using less means we don’t take as big of a toll on our natural resources,” said Benscoter. “People in developing countries might spend around 40 percent of their income on food. They’re much more vulnerable to rising by eating less meat, we consume less, allowing others to have more and it’s also better for our health.”

Estimates vary from 2.6 to 15 pounds of grain needed to produce one pound of beef. Similar discrepancies exist for other meats, implying that meat is generally less efficient than crops.

Benscoter wears out everything he owns until it stops working, doesn't own a snow blower, intentionally bought a car without air conditioning (which he suspects cut the price by $4,000), keeps his thermostat low in the winter and high in the summer, buys items mainly on clearance and composts his organic waste. While these measures are sometimes inconvenient, they've paid off.

“When I was 32 and I had my house paid off, my wife wasn't working and I had three kids, we were probably saving about $15-20,000 a year,” Benscoter said.

With extra money, he pays off debts as quickly as possible and plans to install geothermal heating in his house, which he said would cut his utility bill by a fourth. Benscoter's philosophy with money involves spending more now to save in the long run and in ways that reinforce his values.
In Benscoter's view, living simply allows people to spend money to match their values, increasing happiness. They could also work less, providing time to do what makes them happy. “Many people have jobs out of desperation. If you just have less, you don’t need to work as much…Maybe just work part-time if that’s all you need.”

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