NORMAL -- The family with the most toys doesn't win.
In an age when many families believe more is better, here's against-the-current advice from a Bloomington-Normal couple:
Have less so you can give your family more. Specifically, have fewer things that are less important and that take away from quality family time so you can have more time for your spouse and children.
Those things may include job status, money and things it buys, from new televisions to expensive hobbies to designer clothes to unnecessary supermarket items.
Jill and Mark Savage, who live east of Normal, have written a book, "Living with Less So Your Family Has More." They try to help couples identify a long-term vision for their families and the attitudes and steps -- such as changing to a lower-paying job with shorter hours and clipping coupons -- to make the vision a reality.
The Savages' message is timely.
"Issues that endanger the stability of families are very frequently related to finances and financial priorities," said Jim Strauss, a licensed clinical professional counselor with Collaborative Solutions Institute, Bloomington.
The recession is forcing some families to do with less, while some other families are considering the value of simplifying their lives, said Cheryl Gaines, licensed clinical professional counselor and chief executive officer of Collaborative Solutions Institute.
"The premise of less is more is shifting the thinking of some couples from ‘What don't I have?' to ‘What do I have?'" Gaines said.
Mark, 50, and Jill, 46, said they usually tried to live with less throughout their marriage while raising their five children: Anne, 25; Evan, 23; Erica, 19; Kolya, 16; and Austin, 14.
Neither of them had high-paying jobs.
Jill set aside career aspirations to stay home and raise their children. In recent years, she has been chief executive officer of Hearts at Home, a Bloomington-based organization with 28 part-time, paid employees that encourages, educates and equips mothers.
Mark was senior pastor of Crosswinds Community Church.
Their daughter, Erica Gilliam, 19, recalls not being allowed to have a cell phone until she was 16.
"When I was in junior high, I felt as if I was the only one without a cell phone. At times, it was frustrating. But it was a blessing in disguise because I would not have understood the responsibility of having a cell phone."
When Erica got her first job at age 15, she was expected to buy all her "additional" clothes.
"They'd buy my clothes that I absolutely needed at a consignment shop," Erica said. "But if it wasn't something I absolutely needed, I bought it myself.
"It was frustrating when my friends would buy whatever they wanted," Erica admitted. "But now I'm thankful because I learned the responsibility of taking care of my money and my stuff."
Thirdly, Erica is covering her own college expenses. Erica - who is moving back home with her parents as her husband, Kendall, is deployed with the Army to Iraq - decided to attend Heartland Community College.
"I'm learning how to pay for things (without debt)," she said. "Sometimes, it's a bummer that my family can't afford to send me college. But I can go to college - I just need to pay for it."
In the past year, the Savages have taken their living with less adventure to a new level.
Last year, Jill was busy with the children and Hearts at Home and Mark was busy being the church pastor "and the stress was off the charts," Mark said.
"We found ourselves just showing up in each other's worlds from time to time," Jill said.
In May 2009, Mark broke out in shingles, which was a physical manifestation of his stress. Mark knew what he had to do: he resigned as senior pastor effective Jan. 1.
"It's been incredibly hard to leave a career but it was a decision I needed to make," he said. The family income was reduced by 70 percent. But the family stress level is way down and Mark has more time for Jill and their children, while doing part-time handyman work, officiating at weddings and assisting Jill at Hearts at Home.
"A father's responsibility is more than providing money for things," he said. "A father should provide leadership and mentoring to his kids."
But the Savages had to make numerous adjustments because of the reduced income.
For example, three weeks after Mark left his job, the transmission in the family minivan went out. Rather than replace the transmission, the Savages went with one vehicle for eight months, then replaced the minivan with a smaller, less expensive, used car.
When the dishwasher broke, they decided that their children could wash and dry dishes.
Jill takes clipping coupons seriously, also using coupons from websites. She buys on-sale foods in bulk and freezes them.
The Savages also garden, meaning they eat their own lettuce, radishes, beets, turnips, squash, zucchini, green beans, green peppers and tomatoes.
They stopped buying paper napkins six months ago and instead wash and reuse cloth napkins. And they make their own laundry soaps.
Last summer, instead of going to Six Flags, they did fun, less expensive things around Bloomington-Normal.
"The whole living-with-less thing is very much a state of mind," Erica said. "I think it's brought our family closer together."
Strauss and Gaines understand.
"Sometimes, parents give to kids to make up for their guilt of their time away from their kids," Gaines said. "But when they have to tell their teen ‘no,' the teen doesn't know how to accept that.
"Johnny is in sports and music and debate and accelerated tutoring and has access to designer clothes and his parents think they are buying security and acceptance that will lead to authentic relationships," Strauss said.
"Many people cross my threshold feeling detached and lonely even though they are plugged in socially, meaning they have things that money can buy: club memberships, activities, attendance at sporting events. I help them to rediscover authentic attachments where they are seeking love and validation the most."
Strauss and Gaines know people who have learned to live with less by getting rid of things they no longer need, moving into a smaller house, getting rid of cable television, playing outdoor games or board games instead of electronic games, and going on a smaller trip but paying for it in cash.
"They gain more by doing more as a family," Gaines said.
Living with less
"Living with Less So Your Family Has More" includes strategies to help families simplify their lives so they have more time for each other.
Here are some examples:
• Change your career path so you work fewer hours. You won't get a promotion and will make less money but you will have less stress and more time for your family.
• Go through your home and get rid of things you no longer need. Or, downsize to a smaller, less expensive home.
• Plant a vegetable garden.
• Clip grocery store coupons and purchase sale items in bulk.
• Buy clothes at secondhand stores.
• Forego expensive hobbies for less expensive ones.
• Consider dropping cable TV.
• Use free or inexpensive resources, including public libraries, city parks and public beaches.
• Instead of a day at an amusement park, consider an afternoon at a local park with yard games, followed by an evening of card or board games.
• Save for purchases and use cash as much as possible.
• Consider going with one fewer vehicle. Carpool, do group errands and use a bicycle when possible.
• Consider community college for two years, then a state school to finish a bachelor's degree.
For more information
• "Living with Less So Your Family Has More" (Guideposts, $12.99) can be purchased at Barnes & Noble, Harvest Bookstore and Hoerr's Berean Bookstore
• Jill and Mark Savage will be presenting Living with Less principles at 2:30 p.m. Saturday during the What Women Want NOW Expo at U.S. Cellular Coliseum, when Jill will present "Ten Stress Strategies Every Woman Needs," and from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 21 at a Heartland Community College Community Education Class. Register for the class at www.heartland.edu/communityed
SOURCES: Jill and Mark Savage