Everywhere I look in the media, the story is the same – articles about families eating more Spam potted meat product to combat the higher grocery prices, stories about the flailing real estate market, blurbs about Washington’s tax rebate, discussions of higher gas prices, advice on how to make your credit rating better. It endlessly goes on and on. And I have to be honest – these stories piss me off. My question to you all out there is – are we being duped? I mean, just a little bit?

Yes, food and fuel prices are rising. Yes, the housing market is in a slump. But this article discusses how the federal stimulus checks to the American people aren’t really helping much due to increases in the cost of living and quotes a Chattanooga woman, “You don’t get a windfall like this very often.” Are you kidding me? Since when is 600 lousy bucks a windfall?

I’ll admit, I don’t have children or a house payment, so that frees up my time and money for other things, like traveling. But, dammit, I’ve worked really hard for this lifestyle. Here are some clues for those struggling with a lack of dollars.

* Spend less than you make.

* Say NO to that new gadget, unless you can throw down cold hard cash for it. When you start laying down hundred dollar bills and you don’t get any of them back, that action registers emotionally in a way that a plastic credit card never will.

* Bike and walk wherever you can. It’s good exercise, it’s good for the environment and it’s especially good for your wallet.

* Be debt free. And don’t let anyone tell you that it’s impossible.

I made a radical decision nearly a decade ago that a 100% debt free lifestyle was my new paradigm and have happily lived in this manner ever since, without the weight and pressure and worries of owing anyone anything. It has set me free. It’s allowed me to do whatever I want whenever I want. It didn’t come easy as I was up to my eyeballs and beyond in heinous debt. I worked my ass off. And many people told me that it was impossible to become debt free. But I’ve never really listened to nay-sayers. It is possible. And life-altering.

Listen up people and don’t kid yourselves. When the subject of money comes up and I start spewing my debt-free philosophy, lots of people say things like, “Oh yeah, I’m debt-free . . . I only have a car payment.” Or “Yeah, I only have one credit card.”

This is not debt free.

I get lots of comments, like “What about a house payment?” Well, often I don’t know where I will be from one month to the next and right now I don’t want to be a slave to a house payment. This is my personal choice, but if I were to dive into the real estate market, I’d make damn sure I had a 20% down payment and that my house payment did not exceed 25% of my weekly income. A couple of years ago, when the real estate market was sky-rocketing out of control and an entire contingency of whiny Los Angelinos were knowingly offering much more than what their prospective properties were actually worth, I just shook my head in amazement. Now, a lot of people who simply “wanted” into the market no matter the cost are f-u-c-k-e-d and I don’t feel sorry for them.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell ourselves no. But, I’ve learned that a solid, “no, thank you” in the long run is the best choice and quite honestly – I don’t mind not having all the “stuff” that most people think are necessities. Keeping it simple is actually quite satisfying. I remember once many years ago not having enough money for food and the creditors’ calls were coming non-stop. The stress was incredible. I told myself that I would never again feel that way. And I never looked back.

I encourage any and everyone to have the fortitude to think for themselves just a little bit and not society’s mixed messages about money and how you choose to spend or not spend it. Commercials, newspapers, radio ads and magazines will all give messages from subtle to strong about how you absolutely need this or that thing in order to be successful. I say turn off that crap and go inside yourself to look for an answer. I bet you’ve got more inside yourself than you might think.

The federal stimulus of spending money at $600.00 is no “windfall” for me, nor is it eaten up by the grocery store and gas tank. Yes, I feel the squeeze too, but it’s not making me sweat. I’ve got a few savings accounts and I’m not in the red by a long shot. I’m not what most would consider ‘rich’ in dollars, but I’m doing OK in that arena, so well in fact, that I am rich in happiness and contentment with no money stresses.

At least that’s one less thing.