If it seems like the world is getting more expensive, that's because it is. The median household income fell in 2014, the most recent year studied by the U.S. Census Bureau. At the same time, the cost of consumer goods is rising, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That doesn't mean you have to give up on fun times just yet; there are still ways to live well in a higher-priced world. The first thing to do is to set a budget, according to Jon Lal, founder and CEO of BeFrugal.com.
Although setting a budget might seem counter to living well, it doesn't have to be. “Setting limits can help you to adjust your spending," he said. "If one item is more expensive than you expected, then you may decide you want it enough to sacrifice something else you don’t need."
That’s the essence of living well in a more expensive world. So if you thought living better was priced out of your reach, check out these 50 ways to bring good times back into your budget.
1. Buy Off-Season
Just because something is really expensive right now that doesn’t mean it will be in three months. “Timing is everything when it comes to shopping,” said Lal. “Time your purchases with the seasonality and popularity of items, and get it in the off-season or when stores have too much inventory."
2. Listen to More Music
Listening to music can actually make you happier, according to research from the University of Missouri. Fortunately, you don't need to buy a bunch of new tunes. Instead, check out affordable music services like Spotify. You can listen for free, or if you don’t want ads interrupting your happiness, a premium membership is just $9.99 a month.
3. Maintain Your Stuff
A bike with rusted gears and a flat tire is not a bike — it’s a space-waster. And a car that never gets its oil changed is a major credit card expense waiting to happen. Remember, a little prevention saves a lot of headache — and potentially a lot of interest.
4. Learn to Say No
Your time is valuable, so learn to say no to time-wasters. That’s advice from the top, aka Bill Gates. He learned that lesson from Warren Buffett, he said, who has the great habit of not letting his calendar fill up with useless meetings.
5. Find a Hobby
Whether it’s collecting stamps, taking photos or flying model planes, a hobby could make you happier. Although the science is out on that, there are studies that show hobbies can improve cognitive ability.
6. Get Enough Sleep
Studies show that regularly sleeping less than seven hours per night can result in higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can lead to weight gain and depression. Neither of those are synonymous with living well.
7. Buy Refurbished Electronics
The price cut on refurbished items can be as much as 50 percent, according to Consumer Reports. It also cites an Accenture study that found that only 5 percent of returned electronics were actually defective, so you have a pretty good shot at scoring a virtually new laptop, TV or smartphone for a great price.
8. Play Social Director
Instead of letting your (sometimes richer, maybe sometimes less responsible) friends choose the spots for Friday night, be proactive and choose them first. Find inexpensive places to grab that beer — it’ll taste the same whether you pay $4 or $12.
9. Wait 24 Hours
For purchases over $50, or a limit you determine based on your budget, wait 24 hours to make sure you really want it and you’re getting a good deal. “You should also use that time to sleep on the decision,” said Lal. “If it’s something you’re still thinking about after 24 hours, and you did your research, then it’s a decision you’re less likely to regret.”
10. Walk More
A daily brisk walk can do everything from lift your mood and improve your coordination to help prevent heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic. To get the most out of your walk, invest in an inexpensive pedometer — there are plenty under $10.
11. Travel More
No one really hates vacations, but they can be pricey, so check out discount travel sites for good deals. One site, Skiplagged, was so good at finding cheap, hidden fares that Orbitz and United Airlines actually sued the 23-year-old who started the company.
12. Brown Bag It to Work
Ask yourself if you’d rather have those lunches out with coworkers during the week, or dinner out with your significant other on the weekend. Then, buy some lunch bags.
13. Eat More Veggies
Protein is generally more expensive than plant-based foods, according to the USDA, so going without it for a few dinners a week can help you save money for something more fun than pork. Veggies are also healthy, so you might just feel better, too. There’s even a diet that advocates this: the Flexitarian diet. Check it out, save on food costs and live well.
14. Stretch Every Morning
Don't just simply reaching for the sky as you yawn. Dr. Mehmet C. Oz, cardiothoracic surgeon and host of TV's “Dr. Oz Show,” suggested doing seven minutes of yoga every morning.
15. Live Below Your Means
Spending less than what you make every month is tough, but usually doable. It also means less stress and more chances to take advantage of opportunities when they come up. Take it from billionaire Warren Buffett, who is legendarily frugal and perennially happy.
16. Floss Every Day
There’s good evidence that good oral health can help your overall health. Bacteria and inflammation due to gum disease can even lead to other diseases, according to the Mayo Clinic. Not to mention that dentist visits are expensive, so grab some floss.
17. Dress Up With Craigslist
You don't have to spend top dollar to look like a million bucks; there are many ways to get designer clothes for a discount. “If you love designer brands, but can’t afford the price tag, search that designer’s name in Craigslist,” said Lal. “You’ll be surprised at what you can find in new or very good condition.”
18. Get a Massage
Sure, a massage might sound like an indulgence, but many massage schools offer massages at drastically reduced prices. By offering up your tired and knotted flesh for students to practice, you can score an hour-long massage for as little as $25. Start by finding a school near you through the American Massage Therapy Association.
19. Laugh More
Studies have shown that laughing has a wide range of health benefits. For instance, a Vanderbilt University study estimated that 10 minutes to 15 minutes of laughter a day can burn up to 40 calories, and a University of Maryland study found that a sense of humor might help protect against heart disease.
20. Meditate Every Day
Just a few minutes a day of meditation could improve your life. Meditation reduces anxiety and depression levels, according to a Johns Hopkins study. It also improves overall psychological well-being, according to a Harvard study.
21. Eat More Slowly
It takes about 20 minutes from the time you start eating for the brain to signal fullness. When you eat too fast, you often eat too much, according to research presented at a meeting of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity. Eat more slowly and you might lose weight, feel better and spend less money on food. That’s a win-win-win.
22. Wake Up Earlier
Early risers feel healthier and happier than night owls, according to a study published by the American Psychological Association. Time to buy that alarm, and set it nice and early.
23. Gossip More
You read it right. A little gossip can be a healthy thing, playing a critical role in maintaining social order, according to a 2012 study by a University of California, Berkeley social psychologist. So go ahead — you can gossip a little without being mean about it.
24. Watch Less TV
TV can be a time-waster, or worse. Some studies have suggested that watching a lot of TV — for example three hours or more a day — can lead to premature death. It’s even been suggested that for those over age 25, each hour of watching TV equals 22 minutes less of life.
25. Use Your Credit Card Less
Credit cards are notoriously high in interest, while being difficult to pay down. Billionaires from Warren Buffett to Mark Cuban say to cut the plastic. So if one of your goals is to build wealth, avoid going into debt with them.
26. Drive Less Car
Ask yourself if you really need that 6,000-pound SUV. A Prius with racks will get your surfboard, mountain bike or 6-year-olds to the fun just as well, and will get up to triple the gas mileage doing it. That’s money you can spend on living better — or a new bike.
27. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
Writing on how to live a better life, psychologist Thomas A. Richards pointed out that when you compare yourself to others, “you always tend to see yourself on the ‘short end’ and everyone else seems better.” That’s never going to end well.
“Subscription boxes are a great way to try out name brand items for less money,” said Lal. “If you have room in your budget for a fixed cost each month, you can try tons of different wine, cosmetics, cheeses, coffee or clothing without paying the full price of each item.” If you want to try new wines, for instance, Wine Club Reviews can be a great place to start.
29. Think Positive
Positive thinking, rather than negative, builds your skill set, enhances your health and improves your work, according to positive psychology researcher Barbara L. Fredrickson. That can lead to living better. Also: Positive thinking is free.
30. Plant a Garden
Gardens provide bigger benefits than just fresh veggies. Studies have found that gardening can reduce stress, improve mental health, including reducing the risk of dementia, and provide low-impact exercise. Plus, those veggies are really cheap and fresh.
31. Be a Good Samaritan
If and when you get the chance, practice compassion. Practicing compassion helps you “enjoy better mental and physical health and speeds up recovery from disease,” and might even lengthen life spans, according to research from Stanford University.
32. Cherish Friendships
Friendship doesn’t cost a penny, but it has many benefits that can enrich your life. Friendship boosts happiness while reducing stress and increases your sense of belonging, self-confidence and self-worth, according to the Mayo Clinic.
33. Spend on Experiences
You’ll get more happiness from going on vacation than buying a new couch, according to The New York Times. Research has found that, in general, spending money on experiences can bring more happiness than spending on more stuff. So take a vacation ... from that new couch.
Giving your time to a cause can help more than the cause. Studies have shown that volunteering not only fends off loneliness and depression, it can also offer better health, including lower blood pressure and a longer life span. So give a little time, and you could get a lot back.
35. Spend Less on Haircuts
Just as with massages, barber and beauty schools often give great rates on haircuts and styling so their students can gain experience. For example, Tribeca Barber School in New York City offers male and female haircuts for just $5.99.
36. Make it Yourself
From toys and gifts to cosmetics and cleaning products, there are many costly items we could all make ourselves. It’s often not only less expensive, it can even provide a great family project. It’s all just a Google search away.
37. Make a Life Goals List
Some research suggests that we humans get more done and are happier if we have goals, according to WebMD. So one way to enrich your life might be to have a list of life to-dos: Anything from climbing Mount Everest to writing a book to getting a dog is fair game. Experts suggest making them specific and attainable, or failing might do more harm than good.
38. Read a Good Novel
First of all, hour for hour, reading a book can be about the least expensive entertainment you can get. Second, research from Emory University has shown that reading a gripping novel actually creates new connections in the brain. That can only make your life richer.
39. Don’t Pay Full Price
There is a way to avoid paying full price for just about anything. For serious discounts, check out services like Groupon and Living Social, as well as sites like RetailMeNot.com, Offers.com, CouponSherpa.com, Coupons.com, SlickDeals.com and others.
40. Budget Your Happiness
Make a prioritized list of things you buy with discretionary spending each month, then cut the bottom three. You’ll have more to spend on the goodies and experiences you really love — or save for retirement, according to Lule Demmissie, managing director of TD Ameritrade, in the Huffinton Post.
41. Quit the Gym
Face it: You don’t use your gym as much as you should. With the average monthly cost of a gym membership above $50, according to Statistic Brain Research Institute, switching the treadmill for the sidewalk and buying a few free weights could be just as good for your wallet as it is for your heart rate.
42. Quit Smoking
With a pack of cigarettes costing between $5.25 (Virginia) and $12.85 (New York), going cold turkey can be as beneficial to your lifestyle as your life expectancy. In fact, smoking costs an individual between $1 million and $2 million during their lifetime, depending on where they live, according to a recent WalletHub study.
43. Use a Discount Cell Service
Major cell providers have discount carriers that charge less for using the same towers. As long as you have a phone that works with them, you could cut your bill. Some subbrands are Cricket (using AT&T), Boost Mobile (Sprint), Total Wireless (Verizon) and GoSmartMobile (T-Mobile).
44. Entertain More
Going out can cost you serious money. Often, an entire bottle of wine from Trader Joe’s is the same price as your first drink at a swanky club. Dinner and a movie, on the other hand, is much less expensive on your big screen at home. Entertaining rather than going out just twice a month could save you hundreds by the end of the year.
45. Spend Time With Your Kids
We’ve all heard it: Kids want your time more than the stuff you can buy them. Children who talk to their parents regularly are happier than those who don’t, according to a study by the British Office for National Statistics.
46. Trade Your Books
Most books are a one-time read; then, they’re just bookcase dust collectors. So trade them for other used books, either at a local bookstore or online at sites like PaperBack Swap.
47. Use Your Library
Libraries are a great resource not only for books, but for digital books, audible books, magazines, DVDs and CDs as well. It’s one of the few places where can get some of these items for free, so take advantage.
48. Buy Generic
Most informed consumers buy generic, according to a study by economists from Tilburg University in the Netherlands and the University of Chicago. For example, nine out of 10 pharmacists and doctors buy the generic version of aspirin, which can be as much as 80 percent less expensive. And, professional chefs prefer store-brand sugar, salt and baking powder.
“If it is food or a beauty product, take a look beforehand at the reviews and ingredients to make sure you’re not compromising on quality,” said Lal.
49. Ask About Company Benefits
You might think you’re taking advantage of all your work benefits, but people are often surprised to find they aren’t. Some examples of work benefits you might be missing out on are pre-paid legal, long-term care or tuition-reimbursement benefits. Ask your human resources manager to find out what else your employer offers.
50. Go for Free Entertainment
From parades and music festivals in the park, to lectures at the library and fireworks shows after dark, chances are your city offers a lot of free entertainment. And some of it is actually good. Many museums also have “free-to-the-public” days or discounted days. It can be a low-cost way to get some high culture.