Six of my friends from Oak Park and I drove up to Milwaukee last Thursday to watch the Cubs play the Brewers.  We are all near retirement age.

We got to talking about the economy, and all of us agreed that we would probably have to simplify our lifestyles in the coming years.  The equity in our homes has gone way down, and with more people choosing to rent than buy these days, it looks like it will be a long time before we’re above water.  Some of us who thought we could continue working part time in our professions after retirement are disabled so that’s no longer possible. Globalization is affecting everyone’s purchasing power. Although a deal was finally reached on the debt limit, congress is not making anyone hopeful. And, of course, the Cubs lost.

We managed to have a good time anyway.  Miller Park is a wonderfully fan friendly stadium, the Cheeseheads were welcoming and those Wisconsin sausages were delicious.

When I got home, I totaled up the damages: $15 for gas, $15 for parking, $25 for a game ticket, $7 for one MGD and $4 for a hot dog. In total, I spent $66.

Not too bad, I figured. It’s about what I pay when I go to Wrigley. But I was recently assessing my finances, and based on my calculations, my monthly income will decrease by $600 when I retire in a year. As a result, I will have to cut back on these little outings so I can make ends meet.

Last Friday, I went for a quick swim at the park district’s pool and chatted with two longtime Forest Parkers while relaxing on a chaise lounge. I then wandered over to the food tents, where I bought a hot dog and a beer, and sat down at a table by the ball fields to watch a No Glove Nationals game. Every time I turned around someone I’ve known for a long time said hello to me.

Since I wasn’t pulling for anyone, my favorite team didn’t lose. There were a few major league plays and a lot of human errors, including one by the ump. I had a great time.

When I got home, I totaled up the damages: 75 cents for pool admission, 20 cents for gas, $0 for parking, $3 for one MGD and $4 for a hot dog. The grand total was $7.95.

I had as much fun here, at the Park, for $7.95 as I did at Miller Park for $66, and I spent much less time in the car.  The contrast was startling.  I saved money, shopped local, saved the environment and was home in time to watch Albert Pujols get his 2000th major league hit against the. . . you know who.

My friends in Oak Park all have nicer homes than mine – much nicer. They go out to eat more often than I do. And the 12-packs of beer they buy costs as much as what I pay for a 30-pack.

I might be guilty of the sin of envy when I compare my lifestyle to my friends’, but I’m confident I’ll have a leg up on them if they’re forced to become more frugal later in life in order to make ends meet.

They’re used to drinking Sam Adams, but I’m content with Stroh’s. After retirement, they might have to drink what I’ve been drinking all along – it could become the new normal for them, but it might feel like a loss. What’s more, I suspect they might think hanging out at the Park is less exciting than going to a Major League baseball game.

Come to think of it, my day at the Park was less exciting – but I was content. Perhaps we need to learn to live with fewer frills in order to adjust to the new normal. Learn to leave the cell phone at home for a while. Learn to live without cable TV – read books from the library, instead. No need to go on a cruise when you can lounge on the deck of park district’s pool.

The Madison Street merchants have been doing “more with less” for years now, and it’s worked for many of them, perhaps some of us should adhere to this same philosophy and make it the new normal.

– Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.