The American Dream costs money. You have get married (average wedding cost: $28,000), have a few kids (average cost to raise a child to 18: $222,360), buy a nice house (average sale price in 2010: $272,900), work a full time job (average hours worked a week 35) until you are too old to be useful, when you die alone in a nursing home (average cost per year: $70,008). Yuck.
Fortunately, there are lifestyles beyond the American Dream model. These lifestyles are more suited to your own reality, fantasy or desire. They may require money, or they may not, or they may require less than the average family. You can work as little as you want, or for as little money as you want. You can take seasons off, or work from home. It all comes down to what you want out of your life.
Self Sufficiency. The self sufficient lifestyle is when you produce everything you need, from food to clothing to transportation. You do not need a job to survive. Potentially, your only expense would be property tax. The money needed to pay the taxes can be quite low depending on house and location, and could be paid with interest income, or odd jobs.
Self Reliance. Short of complete self sufficiency, is a lifestyle of ever increasing self reliance. You produce some of your needs, while still holding some form of job (or while living off other forms of income, such as investment earnings, or retirement payments) to pay for others. Perhaps you could produce all of your energy needs through solar panels, all of your food through gardening. This is easier than complete self sufficiency and very rewarding as you can simply look for ways to eliminate those expenses you despise.
Anti-consumerism/Freeganism. Anti-consumerism entails bucking the current consumer model of constant need. You realize that you don't need stuff and eliminate mindless consumerism from your life. You pay only for needs and instead of shopping, turn to the free pleasures of life: family, friends, community, self enrichment. You capitalize on the wanton waste of our society by diving dumpsters, shopping curbs, or scraping plates.
Frugal Living. Cutting expenses is a tried-and-true method of living on less income. You find ways to save money and reduce expenses. You cut the expenses as far as you can before you start to lose quality of life. For example, if you used to have full cable, frugal living would call for cutting back on the channels, then eliminating cable opting for renting movies, then checking movies out from the library, then throwing away the TV. Other options in frugal living are extreme couponing, thrift shopping, cooking at home, and single car living.
Nomadic living. You eschew the traditions of house and home and find yourself on the road. You may live in your car, or a hotel, or in a park. You can try out new cities and small towns. If you feel happiest when traveling, this lifestyle can be the way to live every day like it's the first day of vacation. You can work odd jobs when you need money or work freelance.
Independently wealthy. This requires money, and a lot of it, but may free you from needing a job. You combine extreme frugality with working many hours at a high paying job. You aim to live on as little money as possible and bank every penny. After a relatively short period of time, your investments will build to a substantial amount. Once the interest you earn is enough to live on, you quit your job. As long as your investments hold out, you'll never have to work again a day in your life.
Simple Living. Living can be simple. You need air, good food, good water, shelter, personal enrichment and love. Everything else can be done without. You look for ways to simplify every area of your life. You have no clutter and little stress. You set up automatic payments for all bills and avoid unnecessary business. You spend time relaxing or spending time with family. This is a great way to live if you are retired, or have children you want to watch grow up.
There are other niche lifestyles that I will touch on in other posts. You can live car free preferring to transport by foot, bike or public transportation. Environmental responsibility calls for ethical and safe products, and an elimination of waste. You could eliminate all use of plastics, or implement a religious adherence to the three R's. Vegetarianism/Veganism puts your ethics to work while potentially saving you big bucks. Locavores eat only locally produced food and keep all (or at least most) of their money in the community. Self employment gives you control of your earnings, your hours worked and your moral integrity.Volunteer poverty allows you to live in solidarity with those who do not have the opportunities to climb the economic ladder. Holistic living means living outside the 21st century concept of medicine and health, opting instead for herbal remedies, nutrition, exercise and natural products.
You can incorporate bits and pieces of all of these concepts to make your life what you want it to be. I produce some of my own food, and wildcraft for even more. I own a car, but walk or bike as often as I can. I cut expenses in many areas of my life, and dumpster dive often. I eat little meat and hate to shop. What all of this means practically, is that my life is mine. Trucker (my significant other) was able to spend the last two years getting his business off the ground, while I work four days a week in a lower income job that I love. I have time to spend with him, and have all of the things I want, most of which are intangible. I wouldn't have it any other way.