Fewer possessions, more savings

Give up worldly goods and help save the Earth.

Oh, and save lots of money.

As the economy worsens, one group of Americans is turning to an Earth-friendly way of life as a hard-line strategy for saving. The Compact started a few years ago in San Francisco as a group of people who vowed to shun consumer culture for a year in the name of conservation. Now it has over 9,000 members, and spin-off groups are sprouting up across the country.

It seems what's good for the Earth is good for the wallet.

“You don't just go out and needlessly shop as a hobby. It's really kind of an eye-opener,” said Julia Park Tracey, a mother of five in Alameda, Calif. who swears she isn't a “crunchy granola hippie.”

Since joining in January, The Compact has turned a floodlight on her family's frivolous spending – scented lotions, flavored lattes, iPod accessories. Now they no longer dry-clean their clothes and even make their own cat food.

“All that was money out the window. We could not keep going like that and make ends meet,” said Tracey, whose budget is being stretched thin by escalating food and gas prices.

What makes The Compact compelling for average Americans is that there are no hard-and-fast rules; you won't be ostracized for buying a designer handbag. Members simply try to conserve the best they can. When necessary, they borrow, barter or buy secondhand. Food and hygienic purchases are OK, but the idea is to cut back there, too.

The goals sound a lot like those of a growing population of Americans squeezed by inflation.

Food prices in April took their biggest one-month leap in 18 years and are rising at a rate well above last year's increase. Milk costs 10.2 percent more than it did a year ago. A gallon of regular unleaded gas, meanwhile, reached an average of $4.105 on Friday.

Last week, the Labor Department said consumer prices rose 1.1 percent in June, nearly the fastest pace in a generation.

The conservation movement has moved into the mainstream too, making the principles behind The Compact an easier sell. “People are coming for all different reasons, with credit card debt or others who say ‘my kids are so materialistic and out of control,'” said John Perry, founder of The Compact.