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Buying Happiness Isn't Cheap
Living cheaply in The Sims 3 is easy enough. It is entirely possible to have a Sim live out their life in a one-room house with no amenities to speak of. The challenge is living cheaply and keeping a Sim happy. Sims are notoriously materialistic. Putting in an HDTV is almost guaranteed to result in some good reactions. But material goods cost money, and not all Sims have the dough. This is particularly true when just starting out. Buying a house usually leaves a brand new Sim-family with only one or two thousand to spare.
There are a few work-arounds, however. The following hobbies and skills will allow a Sim to stay happy for a relatively small cost.
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Keep in Shape
One easy way to keep a Sim happy and healthy without spending a dime is to exercise. While exercising will result in some negative moodlets after an extremely long workout, their effect is limited and generally far out-weighed by positive moodlets like Pumped. Exercising also makes a Sim healthier, which can be an advantage in a number of situations. Granted, a good workout is not always effective - a stressed out Sim would be better off hitting the couch - but effective exercise never requires a dime and will keep most Sims pleasantly occupied most of the time.
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Buy a Guitar
A Guitar may, at first, seem like quite an investment. It can eat up a major part of a new Sim's initial budget. But a guitar lasts forever, and it provides an endless stream of nearly expense-free entertainment. Many Sims - particularly those with traits that lead towards music or towards socializing - will greatly enjoy playing the guitar. Playing it alone keeps the Sim occupied and gives them a stream of guitar-oriented achievements to fulfill and playing it in a crowd is a great way to socialize or entertain a friend who comes over. Best of all, those Sims who become highly talented in the use of the guitar can earn tips playing the park. This is one low-cost hobby which can literally pay for itself.
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Be a Chessmaster
Chess is essentially the game's stand-in for all two-player boardgames, as it is the only such game available in The Sims 3. The demand chess has on a Sim's brain is a great way to raise logic skills, and as such it is well suited for those who prefer entertainment which challenges the mind. Chess at its best when played with a friend, as it allows a Sim to both socialize with a buddy and gain logic skill at the same time. Don't be surprised if the "Having a Blast!" moodlet shows up during a particularly rousing match.
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Grow Great Food, Cook a Great Meal
Sims who can't cook often waste a lot of time trying to make a batch of gruel which, despite the effort, tastes horrible. Sims have a sensitive pallet, and they will protest such horrid foodstuffs with negative moodlets. They may even become sick. It can be tempting to simply order out for pizza instead, but cooking is usually a much cheaper alternative (unless you hide inside until the pizza guy gives up and leaves the pizza behind but that is cheating). Recipes are not that expensive, and groceries don't cost much, or can even be free, and of higher quality, if you take up gardening, so gardening in combination with cooking is a great way for a Sim to get the most out of the cheap life. Best of all, a well cooked meal will leave a Sim very happy and result in some tasty leftovers for the next few days.
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Be a Social Butterfly
The act of socializing is by itself considered to be a good thing by all but the most reclusive Sims. Getting out and about to see friends has two major benefits. First, it allows the Sim to socialize, growing closer to their friend and gaining positive moodlets as a result. Second, it allows a Sim to gain entertainment from their stuff. An HDTV is expensive, so why waste the money? Becoming friends with a Sim who has nice stuff is almost as good.
Romance is also a great way to stay happy without spending much money. Sims gain all kinds of positive moodlets from being around, or even expecting to see, a romantic interest. First kiss, marriage, and other romantic lifetime goals also result in tremendous bonuses to a Sim's mood. Unless your special someone has the Snob trait, Sims tend to be more tolerant of being invited to cheaply furnished hovels than people you might have subjected this to in real life, as long as you keep the place clean.