EMBRACING "GENTEEL POVERTY" IN THE 21ST CENTURY

What does "genteel poverty" look like in the 21st Century? I think it's about consciously choosing a simple way of life, detaching yourself from consumerism, and living a life of contentment. #midllife #genteelpoverty

GENTEEL POVERTY IN THE 19TH CENTURY

I wrote about the quiet life of Thoreau's Walden at the end of August and I think it's still lingering in the back of my mind. The gentleness of life lived simply and pleasantly, the idea that you can live well on a small income if you set your heart and mind to doing so. Choosing to embrace a life of less isn't fashionable today like it was back in the 1800s, but nevertheless, it still holds an appeal for those of us who want to step back a little from the consumerism of today.

Do you remember reading or watching Pride and Prejudice?
I loved Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, but I also enjoyed the images of Elizabeth's family living a life of pleasant genteel poverty - they weren't the poor working class who had nothing, but they certainly weren't the idle rich either. There was an air of managing on what they had, that it would be nice to have more, but also being quietly content with things as they were. They were a family who had sufficient, and all that was missing was the guarantee of ongoing financial stability.



I've been thinking about genteel poverty lately because it's a wonderful term for living a simple life that's motivated by contentment rather than striving, knowing that you have sufficient, without excess. It reflects a little the life that I'm living now - there's less ready cash available than in the "good old days", but there's still more than enough to keep the wolf from the door and to maintain a comfortable life. No need to scrounge or live on welfare, but at the same time, there's the understanding that we're finding a gentler way of life that doesn't aspire to keeping up with the Joneses.

SIMPLE LIVING

When you pare life back a little and stop listening to the incessant barrage of "buy, buy, buy!" that we're bombarded with daily, you find a lovely little sweet spot that is Simple Living. You don't live a life of less, rather you're choosing to live a life of sufficiency - you have enough and you're not looking to keep adding more. When you realize you have enough and you're content with that, the need to consume seems to die away, and with it dies the need to spend money constantly.

There is no dignity quite so impressive, and no one independence quite so important, as living within your means #simpleliving

When I stopped work, my biggest concern was how we were going to manage without my income. How would we pay the bills, keep food on the table, clothes on our backs, and live a comfortable life? I needn't have worried - all these essentials continue to be met and life moves on much as it did before. We didn't make any major changes, we just looked at what was essential and what was superfluous and focused in on maintaining what we needed to live a life that made us happy and content.

CLEARING THE DROSS

Keeping up with the Joneses has been the driving force behind credit card debt, mortgage debt, personal loans, and general dissatisfaction. What I've found is that when you aren't looking over your fence (or through your Facebook feed) at the neighbour's new car, new swimming pool, new handbag, latest holiday, or restaurant booking, all that desire to compete falls away. When you have all that you need and it works fine and allows you to live a satisfying life, why would you chase after what your neighbour has?

Don't confuse having less with being less, having more with being more, or what you have with who you are.

Curating my Facebook feed was the smartest thing for me - I have several friends who are far more financially well off than I am, they live wonderful lives full of fabulous holidays, theatre attendances, restaurant visiting, and so much more. I don't envy them, I'm not wanting what they have, but I also don't need to see it all every day either. I'm secure enough in my "genteel poverty" to not be jealous of what they have, but I'm also aware that I don't need it in my face. My solution is to un-follow some of them, I pop over to their page every so often to catch up on their news, but in the interim, I'm oblivious to any difference in our lifestyles.

GENTEEL POVERTY IN THE 21ST CENTURY

There are a lot of very poor people in the world today and I'm very aware that I'm rich in comparison. I certainly don't live a life of "poverty" at all, but I do live a life based on choosing to live with less. In the 19th Century we'd have what was referred to as a "modest income" which means I'm not out there buying from the gourmet section of the supermarket, I'm not shopping at clothing boutiques, I'm happily making do with what I already have, and only adding to it when there's a need for something to be replaced. I've found that not buying for the sake of buying frees up a lot of cash!

I feel a little like Elizabeth Bennet where I serenely live a life of cosy comfort - not necessarily affluent, but quietly and simply comfortable. I've been known to mend a tear in a pair of pants, or darn a sock, to re-use or recycle wherever possible, I've coloured my own hair, cooked my own food, used a blanket rather than a heater, opened a window instead of turning on the air-con, and so much more. It gives me pleasure to know that I'm not wasting resources - and I'm helping the planet while I'm helping my wallet. To quote Charles Bukowski: 'The less I needed, the better I felt.'

MAKING A LIFE

I also love this quote from Lawrence Lipton:
"It is important to make a living. It is even more important to make a life."


What does "genteel poverty" look like in the 21st Century? I think it's about consciously choosing a simple way of life, detaching yourself from consumerism, and living a life of contentment. #midllife #genteelpoverty

My focus these days is on making a life. I don't know how long I have, I might live into my 90's or I might die tomorrow, there's no guarantees on the length of life I have, but I can certainly make choices that lead to creating quality in my life. I may not have an abundance of wealth, but I have more than enough to make a life that's satisfying and rewarding. There's even some left over to share with others - and that makes me even happier. To live well and to leave a legacy is what really appeals to me these days. 

The Joneses can keep their new giant 4WD car, or their swimming pool, or massive TV. I don't aspire to a life of affluence or to become one of the idle rich, I'm content with what I have, and that I have the means to maintain a life that is all I need and more. Owing nothing and appreciating everything is definitely the secret to a happy and content life - if that's 21st Century Genteel Poverty, then I'd like to advocate it for everyone.

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

Are you one of the Joneses? If not, are you trying to keep up with them? Or are you making a life that you're content with - maybe not as affluent as society tells you it should be, but more than enough for what you need?

RELATED POSTS


What does "genteel poverty" look like in the 21st Century? I think it's about consciously choosing a simple way of life, detaching yourself from consumerism, and living a life of contentment. #midllife #genteelpoverty
What does "genteel poverty" look like in the 21st Century? I think it's about consciously choosing a simple way of life, detaching yourself from consumerism, and living a life of contentment. #midllife #genteelpoverty

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48 comments

  1. I love this Leanne and especially the term 'genteel poverty'. I've definitely cut back on possessions and moving earlier this year was a good start to paring back and living a simpler life. We do travel each year but that is our main extravagance. We are happy living and enjoying our life because at the end of the day you can't take your posessions with you, can you? Have a beautiful week,my friend and lovely to chat earlier today. xx

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    1. Hi Sue - I think that's why the term "genteel" poverty is such a lovely one - we don't have to live on the breadline, we can live well, but within our means. For some that means we can travel regularly, for others it means they can still afford to eat out when they like to, it's different for each of us, but we're no longer chasing the elusive dollar - and that's such a lovely, gentle way to live isn't it?

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  2. HI, Leanne - I love the quotes that you have posted here. Living within (or even below) one's means with grace and confidence is a very admirable quality.

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    1. Hi Donna - yes, I think living within (or under) your means these days is become more rare - it's so easy to put it on credit and to have it all and try to pay for it later. The stress involved with that type of lifestyle is so NOT how I want to live, so the idea of living well, but not living large really appeals to me these days.

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  3. I love Jane Austen & P&P & S&S were all about genteel poverty and making do on a "living". We've definitely stepped back since moving here - not just because our income is about 60% less, but also because we simply don't need as much. Having enough really is a thing. At dinner with friends the other night who always seemed to have "more" than us when in Sydney they also said that they'd fallen into the keeping up with trap & are now much happier on less. For us these days it's about experiences.

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    1. I think when you step back and breathe you discover how little you really need for a good/great life Jo. When we're working our butts off to bring in all that money, we tend to spend more to compensate for having to work so hard. Once the pressure comes off and once we realize we have all that we really need, there's a real sense of peace and contentment - and I love how much more relaxed I am these days because of it - and I bet you are too :)

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  4. This is a fabulous post, Leanne! Not many people think like we do. My husband and I have been living in "genteel Poverty" since we retired and started this perpetual travel lifestyle, back in 2011. I think this post will be appreciated by many, and am sharing to FB.

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    1. Thanks so much Christina - it's always great when someone else "gets" the lifestyle you've chosen. I so admire your travel lifestyle and how you do it on a budget but have had so many interesting experiences that you'd never have if you'd stayed home. We won't be living that dream, but we're doing our best to live the dream that works for us and it seems to fit well with our ethos and budget.

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  5. You have captured a very genteel way of life Leanne, and one that is still possible today, as you describe so well. I really enjoyed your quotes and descriptions and think we can all take a leaf out of your book. I'm definitely not . a Jones person and am learning to be happy with a lot less than when I was working. Pinned this!

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    1. Hi Deb - I don't think I ever envied the Joneses to the point of feeling I needed to copy them, but the whole SM thing of people's highlight reels can be a bit daunting if you're not content with what you have. Finding that peace and satisfaction with the life you have is key and I love that it doesn't have to involve living like royalty.

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    2. I have enjoyed reading this again for #mlstl Leanne and have shared on SM. I too am finding peace and a satisfaction with my life, we are lucky! :)

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  6. Leanne, poverty and riches are relative terms and have many facets. I love Donna's word 'confidence' and think it applies to anyone living gracefully regardless of their means. When we stop comparing and accept our lives as 'good' we experience freedom beyond what money can buy. Lovely post and great reminder to find contentment from within.

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    1. I completely agree Suzanne - if we can step back from comparisons and competition and just appreciate how good our life really is, then things settle into a really peaceful place. There will always be people who have more than us and trying to catch up might work for others, but I'm finding that letting all that go is such a pleasant way to live. Also remembering how much I have in comparison to the majority of the world's poor is humbling too.

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  7. Leanne, A very thought provoking post. For me, I've lived "well below our means" for years. Not sure why, but we always lived as if we had a single income, and put the other into savings. We've driven 10-15 year old cars and never bought the fashion/latest trends in anything. My cell phone model is 4 years old and that's only because my new car (first in 12 years, but still a mid-size SUV, mid-range price ) wouldn't connect to my old phone... and I needed that feature to run the GPS. We eat in more than eat out and travel much less compared to most of our friends. Yet right now... we are in the process of buying a new beach house that is the absolutely most expensive crazy thing we have ever done. And I'm thinking... we saved and saved and saved... maybe it is time to loosen up a bit and spend. This house has things we've talked about wanting for years. We can afford it. Why not? I don't think it's about "keeping up with the Joneses" but I'm sure many folks would look at what we are doing and say that it is. I guess you can never know by what you see what is in people's minds & hearts.

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    1. Pat I think where you're at is just perfect and I feel the same way about stopping work. I'm sure some people think it's a luxury and indulgence to not be out working and adding more to our retirement fund, but I know that this is the right choice for me and it feels like I've earned it - much like your potential beach house. I'm sure whatever you choose will bring value and joy (and won't be a ridiculous waste of money that never gets used - that's when it's a waste of money!) I find that beach living often brings families and friends together - because there's somewhere different and special to gather and that's worth even more isn't it? Also, if we don't spend a little bit now and then I think we fall into a different trap (one I've been guilty of living in!) where we become so miserly that we miss out on the joy of reaping some of the rewards of our hard work. It's all about balance and appreciation and enjoying the fruits of our labours. I'm looking forward to seeing the new house when you buy it xx

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    2. Leanne, Thanks for your perspective. you've got some great points in here.... enjoying the fruits of our labours! [kept the Aussie spelling :-)] It will bring me joy! I am reaping the rewards of years of delayed gratification. We are finalizing the contract next week, but it will need some work before we move in. I'm starting to ponder how to introduce it on my blog....it's a huge shift in the retirement plan!
      visiting from #MLSTL - thanks for continuing it!

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  8. You sound so much like me, Leanne! I am not the type who would want more and more. I am happy with what I have. One example, our car is now 17 years old. Never felt the need to buy a new one!

    It's a misconception that people who don't have a lot (money and material possessions) are unhappy and those who have a lot are happy. There are so many anecdotal examples to show the comfort of the poor and hardship or the rich.

    "I may not have an abundance of wealth, but I have more than enough to make a life that's satisfying and rewarding." This sentence reflects my feelings too.

    Another sentence I will agree fully with is: "Owing nothing and appreciating everything is definitely the secret to a happy and content life." Such a lovely thought, that is so true!

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    1. You're so right about all of this Pradeep - I think we've all been caught up in the consumer myth and the idea that you have to have everything new and all the latest gadgets to be seen as succeeding in life. I'm finding that when you step away from that and focus on what you actually need (and that's not a new car every 5 years!) you can live on quite a small income and have all that you need. I'm loving the sense of peace I have now that I've finally seen that we have all we need - it's so freeing to step off the hamster wheel and just enjoy the rewards of decades of hard work. "A little with contentment is great gain."

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  9. I love the term 'genteel poverty' and it would also apply to me. I lost a very good income when I ceased work and so have had to pare back my spending. I too have many friends who travel frequently to exotic OS destinations and my FB feed and Insta feed is full of it. I've accepted I'll never have that lifestyle and try and enjoy the *virtual travel*. I love the quotes you find Leanne - always so spot on and though provoking. Enjoy your week! xo

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    1. Hi Min - welcome to the genteel poverty society - where we have all we need and more, but not the opulence that some people enjoy. I can't say I miss any of those extra luxuries particularly and I love that we have more than enough - the FB/IG highlight reel will always be there, but I'm not overly phased by it these days.

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  10. Hi Leanne this post does resonate with me as I decided to live a simpler life about 15 years ago. Most of my possessions were given away and I uncomplicated my life. As a result I love the simple and more sustainable life that I live now.

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    1. I enjoyed your earlier posts on living sustainably off grid Jennifer and the lifestyle you're creating with your partner. I think it's a fascinating way to live and I hope you'll be sharing more of it over time.

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  11. Hi Leanne - I love the quotes you have posted here, especially the one from L. Lipton. Simple living is freeing and it allows space for what matters to the person. #MLSTL

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it Natalie - I'm finding that simple, minimal, and slow are all working really well for me at this stage of life. It certainly beats jumping back on the hamster wheel of working for money to spend on things we don't really need.

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  12. I really enjoyed your post Leanne, especially the coined term 'Genteel Poverty'. I also believe in living within our means, and it's such an important life strategy to pass on. Although I think more and more young people today are foregoing the excesses we had thrust on us in the 80's when it was all about 'big' everything and keeping up with the Jones's. I think many people today are paring back to living simply, caring for the environment and being gentle on themselves and others. My grandmother lived in genteel poverty in an old Victorian house in England - she had a lovely old house, but practically no money to live on or maintain it, but our holidays spent with her were just blissful, running round the garden, constructing imaginary worlds, fairies in the oak tree and eating simple home cooked food, while nothing pleased her more than spending all day fossicking, weeding and planting in the garden with a nap at lunchtime. #MLSTL and Pinned

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    1. English country homes just fit that whole Jane Austen theme so well Jo - and you were so lucky to experience it with your grandmother's home. I think there'll be more and more people turning their back on the excesses of the last few decades and embracing a gentler type of lifestyle - and I'm so glad I'm discovering it now - and not after another 10 years of working to help other people grow their bank balances.

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  13. Call it genteel poverty or call it living minimally. Either way gets you the same result. Less stuff, less wants, less debt.

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    1. Exactly Jennifer! I love all those titles and I love that they allow me to make choices at this time of life instead of being locked into repaying loans.

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  14. Hi Leanne, I agree that a simpler life is very full of satisfaction, with no need to compare to others. Facebook, if you let it (and I have to watch myself), can start to turn our heads and make us look at what others have, or how they've succeeded, and I haven't. It's nonsense and I applaud you for making changes to your feed. My life is simple, I have what I need and am close to those I love. Works for me. #MLSTL

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    1. I think that says it all Candi - having all we need and being near our loved ones. I just can't be bothered trying to compete with my wealthier friends because it serves no purpose other than to remind me of what I don't have - and dissatisfaction is such a joy killer - just not happening in my world!

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  15. Your post made me think about where I am in this regard. I honestly haven't given it much thought. I like to have things that are comfortable and dependable. They certainly don't have to be flashy. I'm not one that needs the latest technology as soon as it comes out, and I am still wearing suits my husband bought me for Christmas more than 10 years ago. I do love to travel and to do it in comfort. We don't have any debt, and I put money away for retirement and emergencies each month. I do know there is money wasted in our household, and we've talked about trimming the things we don't really need--way too many television channels at a ridiculous monthly fee, for example. In general, my feeling is people should enjoy the lifestyle they choose without feeling guilty. If you are working yourself to the bone to keep up with the Joneses, re-evaluate. If you love your work (or you have a huge inheritance), and you enjoy the finer things in life, go for it without apology. (Hopefully, you'll use some of it for good as well.) If you prefer a simple life, enjoy that and ignore the judgers out there. To each his own! #MLSTL

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    1. You're so right Christie - I think the thing with genteel poverty is that it means we have enough to not feel poor and envious, and at the same time we don't begrudge others who have more through hard work or luck. I think if we were struggling then I'd have to make different choices or be forced to work, and the same if we'd lived above our means in the lead up to this stage of life.
      I'm so happy to be able to choose whether I work or not, rather than desperately searching for a way to bring in extra money. Travel is always a big expense (especially from Australia!) and something that we've done enough of to not mind putting it off for a few more years until my husband retires and we can do it for decent stretches of time (to make up for the jet lag!)

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  16. Your post resonates with me, Leanne (again:) I am definitely at a stage in life where I want to remove “stuff” from my life instead of adding things “consumerism.” I like your words “content” “sufficient.” The other phrase that resonated with me “I don’t need it in my face.” Thank you Leanne. You have reinforced something I have been toying with......curating my social media feed. A well written, thought-provoking article with great quotes! #MLSTL and I have shared on SM

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    1. Erica I'm SO glad you understand where I'm coming from. It's not about scarcity or doing without, it's about appreciating that we already have more than enough from making good choices leading up to this stage. Now we get to step back from the rat race and the "buy buy buy" mentality and bask in a quiet life that brings a lot of contentment with it. Not seeing everyone's highlight reel on FB helps too (and so does the fact that I've never signed up for I/gram - that would be a killer!)

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  17. My natural inclination is to keep up with the Joneses. Not completely but selectively. I get envious of others' overseas holidays but am quite happy with most of my 'possessions'. I think it's the lifestyle stuff I envy but I hope that's slowly changing as I realise we can't have it all. We have to decide what's important and focus on that and less on the stuff we don't have!

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    1. I think it's a mindset thing Deb - what we have doesn't really change, but our viewpoint does and that's what affects our attitude and happiness. I think when we come from a basis of 'scarcity' where we always look at what we don't have then we are a lot more dissatisfied and bitter than if we approach things with gratitude and realizing how much we actually have in our lives. I now refuse to compare or envy - it does me no good at all and I'm a lot more at peace when I focus on what I have rather than what I haven't.

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  18. I liked your reflections. I did have "all that I thought I wanted" in some respects in my life when I was working, but in some ways still hankered for more. I know now, in our genteel poverty what I long for most, and it will happen, is a simple house to call ours. Whilst ever we continue to rent and cannot make plans for the 'rest of our life' there is some unsettled feelings for me. For my husband, none. It just goes to show how different we are. I have to be careful with comparisons too...travelling is something I have had to by-pass and for good reasons. What I can do though is be happy for those who can. Denyse #mlstl

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    1. Hi Denyse - I totally understand the desire to have a little place of your own again. I think the security of knowing that it's yours and can't be sold out from under you is a big thing. I'm sure it will happen and I really look forward to rejoicing with you when it does. I think travel is our thing for "later down the track" - we did some when we had more income, now I'd prefer to wait until we are both free and can afford to go for a chunk of time to offset all the airport stuff that I hate!

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  19. I would like to see this as Minimal Abundance, not poverty. Genteel Minimalism...

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    1. Hi Tammy - Genteel Minimalism might be the perfect 21st Century term to the 19th Century Genteel Poverty - especially when minimalism and simplicity are finally becoming more appreciated by people (I'm so glad to see some of the consumerism mindset disappearing).

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  20. Sometimes I wish we had more but 99% of the time I am perfectly happy and content with what we have. It’s easy to assume people with more are happier but appearances can be deceiving. Besides, having more means there’s more to maintain!! I don’t need to travel the world to be happy. I value the simple things in my everyday life.

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    1. I'm the same Linda - some people love travelling - I'm not a fan of airports, planes, waiting, jet lag etc, so missing out on big trips isn't a sacrifice for me at all. I love my home life, my family, friends, husband, cats, and my lovely quiet life - I think I'd have done well as someone living like the Jane Austen's Bennett family :)

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  21. Excellent post. I think it's easier to embrace "Genteel Poverty" when you're older because you already own everything...your home, cars, appliances, etc. I notice I shop less and less when I age because I already have everything i need. I think the hardest part of embracing "Genteel Poverty" is not traveling as much, because traveling, even if you budget travel like we do, is expensive. We use to go on four vacations a year when I worked full time, but since I've quit my job now we only do one.

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    1. You're spot on Amy - our travel has reduced too, but I think it's a sacrifice worth making for the peace and pleasure of not working any more. We'll probably do a little bit more down the track, but I'm happy to forego the long flights and airport hassles for a quiet life at home. And having all we need, and debts paid off definitely leads to a life that needs a lot less income to sustain it - getting older does have a few advantages!

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  22. Leanne, well said! I am neither the Joneses nor one who is trying to keep up with them. I have friends and relatives who are the Joneses, and I don't envy them at all. I'm very happy for them and glad that they can enjoy many things they have and do that I don't. Doesn't bother me in the least. Funny that you mention Pride and Prejudice -- I would much rather have been at the Bennets socioeconomic level than that of Lady Catherine!

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    1. I feel the same way Jean - I don't think I'd know what to do with buckets of money and after watching a family member blow through a million dollars just by travelling a lot, I kind of find it a little obscene.... Still, each to their own and I'm sure they enjoyed every minute of it. In the meantime, I'm happy in my own space, doing my own thing, in my own time and leaving the Joneses to do theirs :)

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  23. I've never heard this term before but it makes a lot of sense. And I, like you, have chosen to turn off a lot of what used to come up in my Facebook feed. The discontent and constant parade of "stuff" wasn't helpful in my attempts to be satisfied with my life. Once I "unfollowed", my happiness increased and I found that I really don't miss much news anyway. Thanks so much for this and for hosting the party. I've shared on social media.

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    1. Hi Shelley - it's nice to know that others press the "un-follow" button too. I love that I can still pop over to visit those whose lives are grander than mine, but on my own terms and when I feel like it, rather than being bombarded with all the "look at me! look where I am! look what I have!" type stuff that FB is notorious for.

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