Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The Good Life for Less: A Happiness Upgrade

Jim and I began our married lives in austerity. We were students with time left on our degrees and meager student jobs to augment parental support.

Our first anniversary is remembered as the Ben & Jerry's milkshake anniversary. Milkshake- not milkshakes.

Those early days of rice and potatoes left us reading a lot of budgeting (and healthy eating) books (trust me, you pay later for a cheap all-starch diet).

I met Amy Allen Clark in 2008 at a mom blogger event. In a connecting flight back to the Midwest, Amy and I talked about our families- especially about adding a second child (as I was pregnant with Scout). Amy's lively spirit and positivity are contagious. I was sorry when I had to run (neither figuratively nor gracefully) for my next flight.

Since that time, I've faithfully read Amy's blogs at Mom Advice. Amy's elegantly simple solutions to household issues, like using a backwards daybed with a newly independent sleeper, have shaped my home. Her Notebook posts offer a maven's eye-view of great recent blog recipes, patterns and projects- and are one of the highlights of my feed reader.

When her publisher (Perigee, an imprint of Penguin) offered me a chance to read her new book The Good Life for Less: Giving Your Family Great Meals, Good Times, and a Happy Home on a Budget, I was excited to see Amy's take on the seemingly-familiar world of budget living.

The matter of finances is timely for our family. As we've worked to make shrinking ends meet (growing medical expenses and a few annual payroll freezes), I've been resisting the need to rethink our financial lives. Revisiting our budget with new constraints seemed more like my personal failure than anything else.

The text radiates Amy's warm energy. As I read the stories of Amy's family's journey to frugality, I kept stumbling into great memories from my own childhood. Rather than looking toward a slightly grave new austerity, I found myself excited to launch into a life that celebrates the riches already abundant in my life.

Without using the term, Amy's book embodies many Simple Living philosophies. The Good Life for Less reminded me of sitting together with my parents and brother eating homemade fudge and popcorn as we watched a favorite movie on broadcast television. Her family's Friday pizza nights made me think fondly of similar evenings in high school were I regularly attended my buddy's weekly family's pizza night and drank copious amounts of sweet tea while we played cards afterwards. Simple, wonderful times.

Amy includes many great budget-friendly recipes that I wish we'd had back in the early days of our marriage. Her homemade chai mix is not only a great gift option, but offers one of my favorite indulgences at a great value.

It was also great to read the book while feeling swamped by the holidays. Like many parents, I struggle about how much to get my kids. Her family's current formula of "Something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read" is exactly the gift-giving framework I have been searching for. This formula allows for creativity, utility and wish-granting tailored to each member of the family.

There are so many parts of the book I could excerpt here as simple tips (because it is brimming with brilliance), but Amy's stories set mental gears spinning. With renewed creativity and joy, I'm identifying and capitalizing on those simple systems and moments that bring happiness and satisfaction to my family. A shocking number of those life upgrades come at no expense.

***Baby Toolkit is the ongoing story of two geek parents in the Midwest. I do know Amy Allen Clark, but have no financial relationship with her (other than the fiscal benefits of reading her blog and book) nor her publishers. We are Amazon affiliates, so a small portion of purchases made through our Amazon links helps support our blogging and podcasting (www.greatbigtable.com) efforts. Thanks!