As a new co-editor of Sightline Daily, I’ve been pouring my coffee these last few weeks at 5 a.m. and scouring news sites big and small. After more than a decade in daily journalism, I’m thrilled to be using that experience to bring you the day’s best stories about our region’s environment, economy and communities. Garage Sale

Both my co-editor Lisa Stiffler and I came to Sightline from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which published its final print edition last month and laid off nearly all its staff. Many of my friends—hardworking and wildly talented professionals—still aren’t sure how they’ll pay rent or mortgages. Maybe that’s why the stories that have resonated with me lately are the ones about an alternative economy—one in which spending money is precisely not the point.

Out of necessity or pride, people everywhere are creatively adapting to reduced economic circumstances. We’re refinancing our lifestyles. The twist is that in many cases it’s empowering. It’s a way of taking control of a bad situation. And sometimes it’s even fun.

Thrift stores and garage sales are doing a booming business. The New York Times writes about “Frugalistas“—penny-pinching fashionistas who feel all the more smug wearing clothes that came from a swap meet. Piano teachers, hair stylists and other small business owners are trading free services in an online bartering system. And many are liking it, according to the Times article:

The gleefully frugal happily seek new ways to economize and take pride in outsaving the Joneses. The mantra is cut, cut, cut—magazine and cable subscriptions, credit cards, fancy coffee drinks and your own hair.

In San Francisco, Cooper Marcus, 36, has started choosing recipes based on the ingredients on sale at the market. Mr. Marcus canceled the family’s subscription to Netflix, his premium cable package and a wine club membership. He uses a program on his iPhone to find the cheapest gas and drives out of his way to save 50 cents per gallon.

“It seems a little crazy,” he laughs, then adds: “I’m frugal and loving it.”

Of course, thousands of Northwesterners are learning lessons in thrift the hard way. The news also includes heartbreaking stories of newly unemployed parents who can no longer afford their kids’ birthday presents or soccer fees. But in the same way that people are rushing to refinance their homes, many of us are also recalibrating our lifestyles, voluntarily or not. Saving money—by driving or buying less—is often good for the planet. But living within or below one’s means has other benefits—it can actually make life less stressful.

Several years ago, I was assigned to write a story on how seniors were weathering the economic downturn. My editors assumed we’d find that those on fixed incomes were being hit hardest of all. What I found was both surprising and delightful: to a person, the seniors I talked to said they felt utterly prepared to handle the future. Adept at saving and adapting, they worried far more about their children who grew up with easy credit and grandkids who turned up their noses at used sneakers.

It’ll be interesting to see how long these experiments in thrift last. From personal experience, I can imagine that lessons in cutting your family’s budget—especially if it allows you to spend more quality time together—may last longer than the recession. 

Photo courtesy of Flickr user magnus digity under a Creative Commons license.