The Non-Consumer Advocate Book Club — Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle — Week Four

by Katy on March 8, 2009 · 11 comments


Simple Prosperity

Welcome to week four of The Non-Consumer Advocate Book Club. We are discussing David Wann’s Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle.

The first week we discussed the preface, introduction and first chapter.

The second week we discussed the second chapter.

The third week we discussed the third chapter.

This week we’re discussing the fourth chapter: 

Mindful Money: More Value from Better Stuff.

Wann starts this chapter writing that:

“No one wants to spend money for products or experiences that don’t deliver value, even if one has money to burn. Whether it’s kitchenware, a car or a musician for your daughter’s wedding, good quality satisfies, but poor quality usually does not. One of the most pleasant changes we are making is learning the difference. We’re moving towards a renewed appreciation of durable, crafted, non-toxic, repairable fair trade objects and services that provide a sense of trust and pride.”

This is something that is hopefully coming into the mainstream. It is so easy to buy the cheapest low quality products that are doomed to break and become non-repairable in a short period of time. Who among us has not experienced having to choose between repairing an item or buying a brand new one for almost the same amount of money? 

Wann finishes up the first paragraph writing that:

“The new lifestyle will contain fewer things, but better things, and the typical household will be less cluttered with junk.”

A fine goal that I am certainly working towards, yet am far from accomplishing.

In describing the everyday objects that hold value to him, Wann writes of the perfectly designed reading lamp, his 1967 Gibson guitar, high quality European chocolate and his 1986 Volvo station wagon, writing that, “I love things that last.”  

I derive such personal pleasure from the objects in my life that have served generations before me, and are likely to continue to have use and beauty even after I’m gone.  What comes to mind are my cast iron pans, my original Maxfield Parrish print in the original frame, my antique writing desk and the antique bed in our spare bedroom. I love knowing everything has a past, but I especially enjoy knowing they have a future. If I were to have bought all my household goods at Ikea, there would be no past or future, only the present.

Ever feel like the best part of going on vacation is getting away from all your stuff? Wann recalls a vacation to New Zealand taken with his son, and how they were conscious about bringing only a small amount of high quality stuff. 

When you have fewer possessions, you can enjoy the luxury of better quality belongings.

In the section titles, Rethinking Priorities in an Average-Income Household,” Wann explores what goes into a typical home:

“An overlooked but sizeable chunk of the household income typically goes straight down the drain for wasted food; poorly designed, wily objects with their own agenda; appliances that crunch kilowatts like Cracker Jack; and prescription drugs that mask one set of symptoms with another.”

I love the idea of “wily objects with their own agenda,” as I believe myself to be the possessor of many wily objects. (curtain rods that are forever lengthening themselves come to mind!)

Wann asks the question:

“What if an average household’s annual expenditures of roughly $43,000 went to different priorities? What if a family purchases (and decisions not to purchase) brought more durability, greater vitality, more satisfying entertainment, greater intellectual growth and more laughter into their house?”

For me, these issues are removed from money. Because we pretty much only spend money on the necessaries of life, so our vitality, entertainment and laughter have nothing to do with how we spend money. (That would be the pouring of endless amounts of cash into our money-pit of a house.)

How we eat and buy food is also addressed.

“As recently as the 1970’s, the average U.S. family allocated almost three-fourths of food expenditures for food eaten at home and one-fourth for food eaten away from home. In the twenty-first century, however, the average U.S. household allocates almost half its food budget for food eaten away from home.” 

I know so many people who live paycheck-to-paycheck yet can tell you about all the best restaurants in town.

I would also add that the even when we do eat at home, it’s often overpriced, unhealthy convenience food. But there’s nothing convenient having enormous grocery store bills and eating the non-deliciousness of prepackaged meals. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “roughly 63 percent is spent for housing, transportation, and food. Each of these categories represents huge opportunities for reducing waste, stress, and the dark threat of bankruptcy.” 

This is something that I have written about a number of times. Every way in which you spend your money, (insurance, food, clothes, gifts, etc.) is an opportunity for savings, often tremendously.

One of Amy Dacyczyn’s (author of The Tightwad Gazette) main points throughout her years of writing about frugality, was that there are only a few opportunities to save large amounts of money throughout your life, but there are endless opportunities to save small amounts. And it is these small amounts that can make the difference between financial instability and real wealth. 

Wann continues on, writing that:

The family could win back time, money and vitality by living in a smaller, better-designed house with efficient appliances and good natural daylight, buying well-built furniture that doesn’t need constant replacing, and having a different attitude about house a house is for. If they consider it a trophy or ‘display unit,’ they’ll spend hours a week decorating or redecorating it, and cleaning or paying someone else to clean it. But if their house becomes more of a healthy verb, rather than a passive noun, there may be a vegetable garden out back, a workshop in the garage, and an accessible place to store well-used bicycles and a scooter. The house will be comfortable, and so will its residents.”

My husband and I often feel that we are slaves to our house. We bought a fixer-upper in 1996, which was the stupidest decision we could ever have made. All my husband’s spare time goes into house projects, and all our spare money, (hah!) goes into the endless maintenance/upkeep on our house. Instead of being able to put our energies into our lives, it gets sucked into our house. Yes, we have a big lovely home in a great neighborhood, but there are still projects that need to get done. 

The frugal living that I have honed throughout the years should have meant we had thousands tucked away in savings, but it has simply kept us on top of things, when we should be so much higher than that. 

Am I trying to have a trophy house?

My first reaction is to say no, but there is a part of me that wants to have a home that people ooh and aah over. Ironically though, the parts that look most impressive, (classic antique furniture and nicely decorated rooms) were put together on a thin dime. It’s the decommissioned oil tank, new sewer line, new electric, plumbing, furnace, entirely rebuilt front porch, etc. that invade our bank account.

Wann then writes that:

“By slowing down to the speed of life, the average American family can become more than just an “average” family — they can be an exceptional family. Instead of disposing of their income, they can save it, eat it and live it.”

Live it. I love that.

Wann’s children are adults now, and he writes about the choices they are making with their lives. Rather than trying to take the road to live in a wealthy manner, they are choosing to explore more meaningful lives. Wann’s daughter Libby had gone on a volunteer mission to Nepal to work in an orphanage, which of course was a life altering experience. He writes that:

“I was glad that she . . . was learning that many of the world’s people are not obsessed with stuff, spotlessness, and convenience as we are.”

Wann’s son Colin lives in a van that he parks in a friend’s driveway. He co-teaches a college class on outdoor education  as well as, “hikes, bikes, climbs, runs, hangs out with friends, and cooks food from the health food stores, on a two-burner stove in his van,”  Some parents would be unhappy that their child was living in this manner, but Wann knows his son is living the life he wants.

In the section titled, “Unconsuming — A New Olympic Sport?” Wann describes how Jim Merkel, the author of Radical Simplicity had written about his Global Living Project.

Participants spent:

“Six weeks tracking what a three-acre-footprint would look and feel like. . . The project demonstrated that with three acres as a base of support, a person can consumer enough food to remain healthy, but items like wine, beer, cheese, butter, and meat aren’t feasible, and only appeared in the more consumptive six-acre lifestyle . . . . Telephone use, medicine, medical insurance, small appliances, and computer use are available to the three-acre community, but only in small shared proportions.”

“Merkel observed that participants adapted quickly to a three-acre footprint, with little discomfort. ‘Just like going overseas or moving to a new town, once the culture shock is over, the new life is just the new life.”

Could I adapt to a three-acre lifestyle? I’m sure I could, but it would certainly be a huge change. (As I write this, my older son is playing video games with a couple of friends, my husband and younger son are watching a movie upstairs, and of course I’m on the computer.)

The sport of unconsuming is also lived by members by The Compact, (buy nothing new) and Wann writes about one of the founding members, Sandy Clark.

” ‘My wife and I decided we values time with each other and with our daughter more than things, and peace of mind more than things.’ Not mincing words, he says, ‘It helped that I hated advertising. We eliminated it from our family as far as we could in a society where you are forced to see and hear advertising against your will.’ ”

“Here are a few of the actions that the Clarks have taken with encouragement from their Compact colleagues: ‘Watching PBS, DVD’s, and using TiVo helped with the TV ads, and CD’s or the iPod cure the radio jabber,’ says Clark. ‘We started looking for activities that involved spending little money — and no money for things. Recreational shopping was out, camping was in. Walks and parks were hip, movies at the multiplex became uncool. . . . We also got rid of a car. My wife started taking public transit. It’s only 15 minutes longer and she doesn’t have to drive. Instead, she reads an extra book a week. Believe it or not, we went from 38,000 miles per year to 3,800 — a tenfold reduction.”

“Seeing the enthusiasm and passion of the Compact members, my own children, and so many others who are happy just above and below the poverty line, I’m continually reminded that creating one’s life can be far more of an adventure than just buying it.”

I am also a member of The Compact, and have been so since January of 2007. I do wonder how old the Clark’s daughter is, as walks and trips to the park are a harder sell to teens and pre-teens. We do go to the movies, but keep it to second-run showings. I try and talk to my kids about advertising, and I do allow commercial television. I believe that complete withholding of popular culture will turn it into forbidden fruit. I can’t think of any time that I have been enticed into buying something from watching a commercial. Ever.

I do love the line about “creating one’s life instead of buying it.” 

Wann ends this chapter writing about, “How High-Income Households Can Help Save The World.” He quotes from  Forbes magazine article about how much income is required to live “well” in various cities throughout the U.S. “Well” includes a 4,000 square foot house, fancy cars, weekly dinners at swanky restaurants, a second home, three annual vacations, prep school and college for the kiddos. The bare minimum required to live “well” comes to $200,000. 

I’m guessing that the work commitment needed to make this amount would negate any of the enjoyment of any of the above luxuries. That is not living well.

Wann writes that:

“The basic point I want to make, as diplomatically as possible, is that living large takes a larger bite out the the environment (and often one’s sanity,) because of large houses and yards (or ‘grounds’), limitless consumer goods, frequent flying and so on. The ecological footprint of a high-income lifestyle can amount to 50 acres or more  per person — certainly, far more than anyone needs, and several times the impact of, let’s say a Manhattan apartment dweller who buys green products and takes the subway or a bus to work.”

Wann then asks these questions:

“What if those in the top 10 percent of our economy focus their intelligence on social equality, civil rights, and the design of green products? What if they lead the way in the installation of solar energy on their homes; drive only the most technically advanced, fuel efficient cars; and invest in the stocks of wind energy, heat pumps and alternative fuels? . . . The wealthy, along with the rest of us, can change the direction of our culture, and of history.”

This passage makes me wonder why I haven’t seen expensive green products marketed this way? The you are wealthy and need to lead the way ad campaign. 

The fourth chapter ends with Wann writing about the Zanowick family, who have a combined income of $250,000, yet don’t live in an affluent manner. They don’t have a TV, support charities and have invested in land rather than the stock market.

Discussion questions:

  1. Do you feel you’re,”moving towards a renewed appreciation of durable, crafted, non-toxic, repairable fair trade objects and services that provide a sense of trust and pride?” And if so, is this a recent change?
  2. What are the object in your home that you hold dear? Are they things with history or something terrific picked up at the mall?
  3. Do you eat as many meals at home as you’d like? Have you been eat out less, and is this due to the  recession or a conscious decision to prepare meals at home?
  4. Are you willing to put in the work to save frequent small amounts of money, or is it too much bother?
  5. Could you live the “three-acre lifestyle?”
  6. Do you see yourself ever making a one-year commitment to joining The Compact? Why or why not?
  7. If you had a high income, what changes would you make in your life?

Please share your responses and thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Jinger March 8, 2009 at 6:43 am

Thoughtful questions!

I have a savings account at ING with small automatic bi weekly deposits. It’s my security blanket for emergencies.

We eat restaurant quality from scratch meals at home with simple fresh ingredients. I try new recipes all the time…mostly vegetarian and have learned to be a creative cook in my older years.

I had to replace everything I owned in 2005 and finally have a collection of beloved possessions again…mostly from resale or thrift stores, but each reflects my personal style. One of my favorites is an iron shelf/stand I found for $2.00 to house the baby quilts I make I make by hand.


sandy March 8, 2009 at 8:16 am

I’ve always preferred durable, older objects. My husband recently dropped the old answering machine on the floor and my first thought was, I hope it doesn’t break because I doubt if we could find a replacement that would last longer than a year (it’s about 15 years old). I look for solid wood when I buy used furniture or pick it up free off the sidewalk (even free particle board furniture is not worth bothering with).

I prefer the stuff in my house that has history, especially the antiques I’ve collected (or owned long enough to now be antiques) and the things I’ve made by hand. My husband and I love to make things out of broken stuff or materials we’ve picked up for free. I made a clock out of an old circuit board from a printer–it has wires hanging from it and springs sticking out. I also love the items I collect from nature like plants, rocks, feathers, seed pods–they make me feel connected to the earth.

I do enjoy cooking, but not everyday. I have a wide range of recipes that I constantly improve on, including foods from different cuisines like Asian Indian (curries and red lentil soup), Thai (peanut sauce and coconut milk dishes), Mexican (nopalitos from my cactus), and Middle Eastern (hummus, couscous, and tabouli). We try to eat out only once or twice a week and only go to local restaurants that are inexpensive but good. These are mostly local ethnic restaurants–never the fast food places you find everywhere (I can’t stand McDonald’s food).

We’ve been working on saving money for many years. We bought our first house in 1990 and paid it off as fast as we could. Since then we have moved, but we never bought a bigger, more expensive house. Instead we paid for what we could afford, in cash, and kept saving. Our savings have been piling up in the bank and with the shaky economy lately, we decided we should remove it and use it on something that is more tangible than a number on the bank account–so we bought 10 acres of land in the country. It’s mostly wooded, but has enough cleared area to live off of if we needed to (I joke with my husband that we could always eat the gophers if we were starving).

I could probably live the 3 acre lifestyle if I had to, but it would be harder to wean my husband from the computer and TV.

I’ve been saving so much over so many years by being frugal that the one year commitment doesn’t really interest me.

Our income has increased and we still live about as frugally as ever, so I don’t think we would change much if it increased even more. I would like to have property somewhere a bit cooler (we’re in Texas), and I would like to travel more, but I can’t see us buying stuff–we prefer experiencing new things and having cheap fun with friends.


Angela March 8, 2009 at 11:40 am

There is so much food for thought in this post. I recently joined The Compact, and since we already live relatively frugally, it hasn’t been that difficult so far. In fact, I would say it’s been a fun challenge. My motivation was something like the idea of creating my own life and having more time for the things I love to do, and not letting the STUFF take over. I hope Wann is right about all of this search for quality over quantity, etc. reaching the mainstream.
Also- I can SO relate to you and your husband feeling like slaves to your home. We’re in the exact same situation. We should have more money saved, but it all goes to the 1920s bungalow, and I hate to see my husband spending a saturday on heavy labor when he’d rather be painting, writing, or recording music. But still I’m glad we didn’t fall for the huge mortgage and the 4000 square foot house.


Magdalena March 8, 2009 at 6:37 pm

My husband and I took one of those footprint quizzes, and we came out to just over an acre. With recent changes I believe we are now under an acre. I wish we had three actual acres to live on, because we could raise our own vegetables, eggs, some meat and dairy! (Goats are economical.) Maybe this year the squirrels will not get the garden. All our possessions, except one box of family photos, are practical. I suppose our icons (pictures of the saints) are cherished, but they are practical to us in that they remind us of what we strive for. The saints, after all, lived lives of devotion and holy poverty. A worthy goal.


Meg from FruWiki March 8, 2009 at 7:35 pm

“The new lifestyle will contain fewer things, but better things, and the typical household will be less cluttered with junk.”

That really speaks to me and is definitely something that I’m working towards. While I’ve always been a bargain hunter, I’ve never been more *value* minded — and I realize now how huge a difference that is. And my house has definitely gotten less cluttered. In fact, my husband and I went through the house last night and finally called our house “decluttered” after months of decluttering and organizing what was left (though there are still a few piles in the back room waiting to go out).

Having spent so much time decluttering our home, we are more and more careful about what we bring in. Even though we are trying to save money, we are very willing to pay more for items that are better made and better fit our needs because we are buying fewer items overall and want them to be perfect. We don’t want to replace things constantly or buy something because it was just the best we could find at the time.

Unfortunately, we’re finding it hard to find quality items that match our tastes and needs — which has only helped fuel a growing disgust with the big box stores that promise you everything but deliver nothing but crap.

As far as things that I really cherish, there are fewer and fewer of those. It’s not that I don’t like the stuff I have left. I do. But I’m done being overly sentimental about stuff and I can see letting go of this or that if I really had to. However, I must say, our two couches (two pieces of a sectional, to be specific) are pretty comfy and look nice. I also have a great appreciation for my laptop, even if I find myself cursing at it every now and then.

We’ve also been eating out less, mostly to save money but also to eat healthier (and eat less, specifically). When buying groceries, we also pay more attention to quality. I don’t always buy organic because of the price, but I do focus on buying whole, fresh foods even if I could cut coupons and get processed stuff for next to nothing. And when we do eat out, we try to eat somewhere really nice and we expect great food and service. We will definitely pay more so that our rare dinner out isn’t just mediocre.

Overall, my husband and I are both doing pretty well when it comes to saving money, despite the fact that I feel like we now have more refined tastes — and we certainly aren’t feeling deprived. If we had more money, I’d like to think that we’d feel more secure financially, have more time together, and be able to buy better quality items and experiences. (I’d definitely go all organic then!)

I’m not sure that I’d be ready to live the three-acre lifestyle anytime soon, or join The Compact for a year. I believe in moderation in all things, including moderation, and don’t really take well to hard set restrictions. However, I find myself drifting that way and perhaps one day I will wake up and realize that I haven’t bought anything new in the past year, lol. It wouldn’t totally surprise me. I can’t remember the last time I drank soda, even though I only told myself that I’d cut back when I first decided it was a problem years ago.


Angela March 8, 2009 at 7:52 pm

Magdalena- That’s amazing. Where did you find the “footprint quiz?” I seem to remember taking something like it when the Al Gore movie was out, don’t know where it came from… Also don’t remember the answer being in the form of “how many acres you could live on.” Anyway, that’s very impressive and I’ve love to know where you found the quiz if you happen to come back and see my comment. It would be nice to have a sort of “objective” measure of your lifestyle and it’s impact…


Meg from FruWiki March 8, 2009 at 8:14 pm

I’d be interested in finding a good footprint quiz, too. I’ve taken a few but got very different results depending on what they asked — and so far none seem to care that we follow the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” rule, lol.

I did like the one at since it did take into account buying habits. I got a score of 39 (points, not acres). Since 100 is average, I guess that’s pretty good 🙂


Kristen March 9, 2009 at 10:04 am

To Meg from FruWiki: check out Ten Thousand Villages–they’re a non profit fair trade retailer with home decor, jewelry and personal accessories. They also sell organic, fair trade coffee, tea and chocolate!


Kristin @ klingtocash March 9, 2009 at 1:30 pm

I have always enjoyed antique furniture obtained from tag sales or clearance sales. I do buy new things but I always buy things that will last. I probably one buy a pair of shoes every two years and that’s only because they are worn beyond repair. I’m also a knitter so I knit all my own socks and many gifts I give to people.

The objects in my home I hold most dear: the dresser in my bedroom which was part of my mother’s original bedroom set (it’s 40 years old), our hardwood bed (which I bought new at a clearance sale and paid every little for) and my antique DVD cabinet which was made out of wood recovered from a barn that was torn down.

We eat at home a lot. Why go out for a steak dinner when I can make hormone free, antibiotic free steaks at home for a quarter of the price? We only eat out about once a week, if that.

I’m a huge fan of Dave Ramsey and snowballing your debt. Every little bit I save goes toward my mortgage or a student loan. People think I’m nuts because I’m a CPA and I clip coupons. If I can cut out coupons while watching a movie at home and save 40-60% every time I go to the grocery store, it’s completely worth it.

I think I could commit to one year in “The Compact”. I might have issues with clothing as I have a very difficult time finding my size in thrift and consignment stores. I’m fairly certain we could do it though.

If our income was higher, I would save more and give more to charity.


Grace March 9, 2009 at 3:31 pm

“My husband and I often feel that we are slaves to our house. We bought a fixer-upper in 1996, which was the stupidest decision we could ever have made. All my husband’s spare…” I swear I could have written this. This is my story.


Magdalena Julie Bragdon Perks March 12, 2009 at 6:30 pm

My husband found the quiz somewhere on line. That’s no help, is it? But I was surprised by how little impact we had. Most of that came from car-sharing, house-sharing (and a lot less water use because of lack of excess bathrooms), and almost no shopping except groceries. Our water use is even lower now, since most of it is rainwater and community spring water. We are heating with wood, and expect by next fall to be on solar. But if you have real jobs and can’t bike or bus to work, your footprint just shoots up.

I was joking about living on the 3 acres! But I wish…


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