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By Laura T. Coffey
TODAY contributor
updated 4/6/2009 2:55:27 PM ET 2009-04-06T18:55:27

Yes, the state of our economy is depressing. Yes, job losses are stressful and painful. Yes, it’s much harder to survive when money is exceptionally tight.

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Despite all of that, though, TODAYshow.com readers are finding plenty of ways to cope. Scores of you wrote in to answer the question, “What are your tips for coping in tough times?” Your answers were creative, practical and consistently encouraging — and I’ve gotta tell you, they cheered me up!

I’ve compiled as many of your responses as space would allow into 10 overarching “coping themes.” I hope you’ll find these tips to be as helpful and as fun to read as I did.

1. Remain optimistic. Tough times call for stamina and endurance. Several of you wrote in with tips for staying upbeat and confident:

  • “Here is the secret for staying optimistic and hopeful when you are unemployed. Every day, accomplish five things: one thing for your job search, one thing for your community, one thing for your family, one thing to improve your home and one thing for your own spirit. You are needed and important, and by setting this goal daily, you will keep moving forward.” -Joan, Rochester, Minn.

  • “Stay positive. I know this can be difficult when nothing seems to be going right, but the alternative is to fall into the trap of negativity. Negative thinking increases stress, which increases the risk for getting sick, which may lead to unpaid days off work and costly doctor visits. One way to get started with positive thinking is to focus on what you do have (good health, a supportive family or something else that is working for you) and view the tough times you’re facing not as a threat, but as a challenge and an opportunity.” -Sherrie, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

2. See the big picture. A number of readers wrote about the importance of maintaining perspective and a positive attitude:

  • “I have always lived frugally so when I lost my job last year, I didn’t sweat it so much. It has taught me how much money I really need to live. I have less stress, more exercise. (I no longer drive; I buy a bus pass that takes me everywhere.) Because I take a bus, I shop less. I can only buy what I can carry. ... I am fortunate. I can live on my unemployment (mortgage, etc.). Being unemployed has helped me to stop and take stock of my life.” -Milore, Providence, R.I.

  • “If you can’t find a job in your own field, take this chance to do something you have always wanted to do. Whether you are short on money or not, cut back to what you need, do less of what you want. Maybe your excess could bless someone who needs some help. Remember what is really important and choose to be happy.” -D.G., Pickerington, Ohio

3. Unwind with cheap or free entertainment. Several readers talked about the importance of enjoying low-cost forms of recreation and entertainment, no matter how bad things get. Here are some ideas:

  • “Bring back game night for grown-ups. Movies are so expensive [that] we couldn’t do it every weekend like we used to, so we invite a few friends over, make some incredible dessert and we play games. Now it’s been a challenge who brings the best desserts. (My mom with her tiramisu.) We have a blast and spend maybe $10 on the dessert ingredients.” -Linda, Keyser, W.V.

  • “During these difficult times you still can eat out if you just look for specials at restaurants during lunch and have water with lemon instead of a drink. I also rent Redbox movies instead of higher-priced ones. ... I try to go out to a movie at least once a month and use my AMC MovieWatcher card for additional savings on snacks. I now have a ticket for a free movie also to enjoy.” -Yve, Dallas

4. Cook — and even grow — your own food . Food bills certainly concern people during times like these, but many of you are finding ways to beat the system:

  • “I go back to everything my grandmother knew. ... In the summer we plant a garden to cut back on the cost of fresh veggies and I’ve even learned to can and make my own applesauce, breads and much more. Slowing down and cooking our own food has made a huge change in our family and our finances.” -Stacy, Minnesota

  • “Our family sat down together and planned out a vegetable garden. After I bought the seeds my 2.5-year-old and I planted them together. Now the veggie garden is a fun family activity — and it will save us money at the grocery store!” -Laura, Indianapolis

  • “A big pot of bean soup on a cold, dark day is comforting as well as economical.” -From a reader in Sparks, Nev.

5. Make food for the ones you love. If you love to cook, why not cheer yourself up and help people you care about at the same time? Check out these ideas:

  • “To help in the hard times, I offer my cooking experience to my family by preparing meals for them and all they need is to pick it up after work. We also prepare different potluck meals and eat together on the weekends as a family. It brings us closer together and each one tries to help the other with their problems.” -Barbara, Littleton, Colo.

  • “With the current financial crisis, we have cut back on eating out as often. Instead, I have a small group of friends that swap dinners. We each pick a recipe that freezes well and we make four batches. That way when you come home from work and are too tired or worn out to cook a dinner, you just have to pop it in the oven. This has been a time saver as well as a money saver for all of us.” -Mariah, Hinckley, Ohio

  • “Challenge yourself to cook healthy on a shoestring budget! It definitely can be done. I happen to be a great chef and have become more inspired as times have gotten tougher. I’m thinking about starting a ‘dinner club’ and inviting one or two people a week to join me and my boys for dinner. It is my way of reaching out to people who may be dining alone.” -Theresa, Fond du Lac, Wis.

6. Go into ‘survival mode’ if necessary. A number of you wrote in about how important it is to face the reality of your situation and mastermind ways to fight back and move forward:

  • “Tough times call for rejoining the workforce. The registered nurse re-entry program I am attending has 35 students with seven on the waiting list. I guess you can teach this old dog new tricks. (I am 63.)” -From a reader in Napa, Calif.

  • “Get a second job (and) shop at the dollar stores to save money. You can save a lot of money at these stores. I personally work two jobs because here in California the economy situation is grim. Take any job, even if it does not pay enough. ... Believe me, there are still jobs out there even in this recession. You just have to look.” -Eneida, San Diego

  • “List things for sale on Craigslist or eBay. Today I am getting $300 for a leather massage chair that I love but don’t use regularly. It will go to pay bills and buy groceries, so I can provide for the others in my life.” -Jared, Columbus, Ohio

  • “Consider your per-hour cost before you buy. If an item is $20 and you earn $20 an hour, you must decide if it is worth the hour it took you to earn it. Break every purchase down by this formula. You’ll be surprised how often you don’t buy.” -Holly, Houston

7.  Stretch your legs and get some fresh air. Many readers noted that time out of a job presents a fabulous opportunity to begin exercising. Even those who are still employed and insanely busy pointed out how much exercise can help alleviate stress. Other readers talked about the value of spending quality time outside. Here are some examples:

  • “Take the stairs rather than the elevator. Walk to a co-worker’s office. ... If possible, walk or bike to work instead of driving.” -Sherrie, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

  • “As a family, we like to be outdoors but we know we won’t be taking any trips for a while so we are planning our yards to fit the times. Bonfires at night [and] at home will be a regular feature this summer. Another family member has a pool and when we want to, we can take a trip to the lake down the street for any fishing and hiking. This is how my family has made it these past few years before the government finally agreed we were in a recession.” -Christy, Carter Lake, Iowa

8. Give to others in need. Dozens of you referenced the fact that no matter how bad things get, it’s always possible to find someone else who’s in an even tougher spot. Again and again, you praised the benefits of volunteering. Consider this example:

  • “My sister and I have both been unemployed since last year. My in-laws called looking for some help with a volunteer effort that hands out groceries to people in need at different locations on weekends. Unloading truckloads, breaking down bulk items such as 40-pound bags of beans into gallon Ziploc bags, setting up goods onto fold-out tables so people can choose what they like, takes a lot of time and work through the week. My sister, my wife and I came to help out in a jam and have continued to help because it feels good to do something — anything — for those who need it in these failing times. Last week 530 families showed up for some groceries to help supplement their food bill.” -Cruze, Brownsburg, Ind.

9. Curl up with a good book. A number of you wrote in about the curative powers of reading — and many of you are snapping up books for free at your local library. Here’s one example of such advice:

  • “Read an uplifting book. Chances are good literature will transport you mentally somewhere else and for a while get your mind off your troubles and the front-page headlines. It’s also a great way to support your local library and broaden your intellect.” -Tanner, New York City

10. Remain focused on what really matters. In closing, consider these wise words from Cheryl, a nurse of 30 years from Kingwood, W.V.:

  • “You’re born into this world with nothing and when you die you have nothing. I know it sounds depressing but it is not. Actually, it can set you free. Material things are nice, but they are just things. Focus on the love for your family and friends and all the wonderful memories. If someone told you today that you only had three months to live, you would not be caught up into all this stuff. I know that not being able to pay your bills, losing your house, car, etc., can be overwhelming, but it is just stuff. I have sat by many patients’ bedsides when they were dying and they never mentioned bills or money or material things. They wanted to know if I could call their family or to tell their family and friends that they loved them. They wanted their family and friends to be with them. I enjoy nice things but if I would lose it tomorrow, I know that I would be OK as long as I had my family and friends.”

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