You don't need us to tell you times are tight. Between the rising cost of gas and groceries, a disheartening recession, and the shaky job and housing markets, you've probably spent more than a few hours worrying about your finances. But tightening your belt doesn't mean choking your spirit; you can still enjoy the things you love. "You don't have to deprive yourself, but you do have to become more conscious of how you're spending your money," says Judy Lawrence, author of The Budget Kit
. "Living well is about spending in alignment with your values, not frittering money away on things that don't matter to you." Your first step: Become clear on what you most appreciate in life, whether it's taking annual vacations or having a souped-up cell phone. "There are ways to do the things you enjoy for cheap or free," says Shel Horowitz, author of The Penny-Pinching Hedonist
. "There's a thrill to getting that beautiful thing or experience while also saving money." So you can live a rich life without being rich â€” it just takes some creativity and a chutzpah, Ã la these real-world ideas:
Plan a swap meet
"I organize clothing swaps with my friends and relatives where we exchange unused or unwanted clothes," says Kathy Ryan, 33, a recruiter in Denville, NJ. "I invite women who have a similar sense of style, so the clothes are appealing. It's free, and at the end of the day we donate unclaimed items to charity, which feels great!"
Stock up on homegrown food
"We have two plots in the community garden across the street," says Emma Melo, 35, from Louisville, KY. "It keeps us in shape, gives our kids a chance to play in the dirt, and allows us to have loads of vegetables and fruits year-round for almost nothing." If you can't plant seeds in your own backyard (or don't have time), join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) service; there are now approximately 1,000 nationwide. Members pay about $25 a week during growing season to get fresh, seasonal produce delivered to their door or to a neighborhood drop-off. Visit local harvest.org
to get a list of CSAs in your area.