A frugal minimalist--also called an expense or financial minimalist--is a person who consumes less with the ultimate goal of saving money. We will discuss this type of minimalist in more detail in this post, as well as ways to incorporate this type of minimalism into your life.
This post is the fifth in a series about the different types of minimalism. Here are the others:
Before we get started, I want to say that you don’t have to be one type of minimalist, nor do you have to follow all the tenets of a minimalist lifestyle to consider yourself minimalist. Heck, don’t even use the word “minimalist” if you don’t want to. This is a guide to help you pick and choose ideas that work for you. Don’t worry about whether you’re “doing it right” or not. We are humans, not archetypes.
Features of an expense minimalist
First, let me say first that there is a difference between being frugal and being cheap. Frugality is about having as much value as possible in your life without spending unnecessarily while being cheap is simply paying the least amount of money possible on any purchase.
Therefore, a frugal or expense minimalist wants to get the most cost-effective value for any purchase while limiting their possessions to those that are most important. Some reasons why a minimalist might also choose to be frugal include:
- Trying to reduce debt
- Wanting to build up savings or retirement account
- Wanting the freedom to live a simpler life that costs less money so they can work less
There is a movement called FIRE: Financial Independence / Retire Early. These are people mostly in their 20s and 30s who are working toward a goal of retiring as soon as possible. They save as much of their income as they can and put it toward investments with the plan to live off the interest. For a period of time, they work as much as they can, whether it’s grabbing overtime, working multiple jobs, or starting a side gig. Of course, it helps to increase your income, but that is not necessarily a feasible goal for everyone. A more obvious choice is to reduce expenses as much as possible and live a frugal lifestyle. Many of these people may (accidentally or on purpose) end up also being minimalist.
Another example is someone who is temporarily living this lifestyle as a way to achieve other goals. What comes to mind is someone who rents out a room or moves into a tiny house or RV so they can reduce debt or save money to buy a conventional home. We did something similar when we combined our existing minimalism with more frugality. We left the expensive San Francisco Bay Area in our RV and traveled to cheaper places in our old motorhome. It was actually cheaper for us to travel full-time than to live in an RV park near San Francisco. So much cheaper, in fact, that we paid off over $30k in student loans within just a few years, plus saved up money to buy a newer, smaller RV.
Behind the scenes of a financial minimalist
Financial minimalists have a plan for their lives. They're more likely to have a strict budget which they refer to often. They are willing to take the time to find the best value for any purchase they make, including doing lots of research, clipping coupons, or waiting for sales.
They're likely also fans of things given to them for free. They are willing to accept hand-me-down clothing, furniture, and other household items in order to avoid the expense of buying something themselves. They may be experts at updating existing pieces or learning how to repair things themselves. Or, they may also be willing to accept things as they are, concerned only with their function rather than how they look.
Financial minimalists will hold on to quality pieces as long as possible. The potential conflict between frugality and minimalism occurs when a frugal person wants to hold on to things that they aren't using, just in case they're needed in the future. The minimalist side of the equation is to of course rid themselves of anything unnecessary. A financial minimalist must find the balance between these potentially opposing ideas.
As with all lifestyles, just be careful to not push yourself so far that you feel deprived. This will not lead to sustainable habits. Leave room in your budget to spend money on things that you really cherish and add value to your life.
Ways to incorporate expense minimalism into your life
As with an eco-minimalist who is new to both, I think it's easier to start off with either being more frugal or being more minimalist at first, but not trying to take on both at the same time. You can pick from the suggestions below to see which interests you most.
- If you don't have one already, create a budget. Examine ways that you can reduce any excess expenses. For ideas about this, see my post: 13 Things to Stop Buying to Save Money.
- Try using a purchase pause, especially when you are thinking about making a big or expensive purchase. A purchase pause simply means waiting to buy an item for a certain amount of time to make sure that you really want it or need it. You can pause for 24 hours, a week, 30 days, or longer. I like to wait at least a month, and I find that usually by the end of that month I no longer have an urge to buy what I thought was so important before. While you are pausing, consider how the purchase will affect your finances in the long term. Think about how many hours you will have to work to pay for this item. Think about how much interest you will have to pay to buy it (if you are using credit). Ask yourself how making this purchase will affect your goals in other areas of your life, such as taking a vacation, buying food, or retiring.
- Look at items that you have not used in at least six to twelve months. Is it realistic that you will need them anytime in the future? How easy and cost-effective would it be to replace this item should you need it? Is it likely that someone else out there could put your possession to use immediately, instead of it collecting dust at your house?
- When deciding on things to buy, weigh the current cost against their future value. Sometimes, it is more frugal to spend some extra money now than to save money now but pay again later. The cost of living is only likely to go up. Therefore, your dollars go further today than tomorrow.
- When grocery shopping, look to buy items in bulk. Most grocery store tags show the cost of an item by weight. Most of the time, buying a 20 lb bag of rice will be cheaper than buying 10 two-pound bags of rice. This will save you money, but only if you eat a lot of rice. We go through rice like crazy in our house, so this makes a lot of sense for us. If you don’t eat a lot of any particular food, then it’s best to focus only on buying quantities of what you will consume within the next week.
- Try various apps and websites to save money on everything that you buy. some examples are Ibotta, Ebates, coupons.com, and RetailMeNot. Just don't fall into the trap of buying something just because it comes with a discount. Often times, these products still cost more than other brands or generic/store brands.
- Buy now only what you need right now. Things change, and you aren’t likely to recover the cost of something you buy but never use.
- For some people, being either frugal or minimalist is not a choice, but a necessity. If your financial situation prevents you from over-owning or overspending, consider this a blessing. You are gaining valuable skills in how to live with less and appreciate everything that you have. If you were previously in this situation and now find yourself with more income and buying freedom, it may be tempting to spend more freely and fill up your house with the things that you didn't have before. Try to measure your choices against impulse. Use reason and logic to decide where your money goes and how your space is used rather than making emotional buying choices that may harm you in the future or leave you with buyer's remorse.
- Consider the sunk cost fallacy. This is where a person continues to hold on to something because they fear that by letting go of it, they're losing money. The fallacy behind this idea lies in that you can recover the cost you paid by continuing to own something. Generally, everyday items have an unrecoverable cost. You have spent the money, it is gone, and keeping something that you already paid for does not change that fact.
Instead of seeing frugality and minimalism as in opposition to each other, see them as two concepts, each of which can empower the other. Someone who is mindful of their expenses is less likely to purchase items that they don't need. And someone who wants to live with only the things that add more value to their life can easily save money.