On being Frugal, Thrifty or Minimalist

I have written about saving money  before, but my minimalism journey didn’t start with the urge to save money, rather with realizing that I have much more than I need, decluttering and becoming more conscious about my shopping habits (besides other habits). Along the way I saw that my debts are gradually melting and I am able to save lots of money. Saving money is a plus but it wasn’t what I initially set out for.

Lately I’ve been seeing lots of posts on social media that go around the topics of being frugal, thrifty and minimalist. Some are trying to live a so-called minimalist lifestyle by just being frugal, some others are just on a no-spend challenge, and so on.  I fully support these attempts – but sometimes without understanding the idea behind minimalism, these challenges can do more harm than good, and may even affect your health.

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What I feel about minimalism is that it’s all about accepting yourself and the micro\macrocosm that you live in. If you are just beginning on the path of self-acceptance, limiting yourself and not buying what you really need may end up in frustration and self-guilt. That’s why I think it’s time to make a distinction between the three terms.

Minimalism is not frugality.

The fact that most minimalists can’t find stuff to spend their money on doesn’t mean they are frugal. The famous Minimalists, Josh and Ryan, like spending money on good coffee wherever they go and they mention going to lots of gigs too. Lots of others forego material goods and enjoy spending money on experiences. So not all minimalists are crazy about saving every last penny.

Minimalism is the art of spending money wisely. There are even discussions on reddit suggesting you need to be rich to be a minimalist. So if you think an item is going to add value to your life, why not spend good money on it? For me, for example, this could be going to places I want to see, theater or concert tickets, a high-quality pair of trousers or a really good chocolate. 🙂 You may also need to spend a lot of money (not all at once but eventually) on a capsule wardrobe that you will use for years. My suggestion is, spend money on things you LOVE. Other than that, just be very cautious about where your money goes to.

When you live more frugally, you also start to question the things you love and need. This may eventually affect your social life or your health even. So while one-week or one-month experiments or challenges are fine (I did one no-buy month back in November 2016 as well), making frugality a life style has nothing to do with minimalism in my opinion. It also can get very boring, you need to go out and spend money sometimes to do things you love (like arts, travel or sports).

Minimalism is not being thrifty.

I’m sorry but it isn’t. What is dangerous about being thrifty is that it can cause a hoarding problem. Imagine you see a big discount on toilet paper, let’s say, 70%. If you are a minimalist, you say, meh, I don’t need it right now, I’ve got plenty to last for six months. If you’re thrifty, though, you can go and buy years’ supply of toilet paper. You save more money than a minimalist too. That is the biggest difference here. While minimalists care more about living in the moment, thrifty people usually think more about the future. I can sometimes be thrifty of course, but at the end of the day what matters is what you choose to spend your money on, not how much you spend.

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At the end of the day what matters is what you choose to spend your money on, not how much you spend.

Money turns into a purpose rather than means if you obsess about how much you spend.

So which one is better?

The answer to this question is another: Which one do I need in my right now? At this stage of your life, what you need may be saving money for a purpose, or just clearing your debts. Then you can be thrifty and even frugal. But if you are financially in a good state, then you can decide which path you would like to take: finding discounts and good deals or living a more simple and minimalist lifestyle. At this stage of my life I’ve been trying to live a lifestyle that is based more on production than consumption, with minimum environmental impact as possible. And I have everything that I need, too. Need is a concept that can have various meanings depending on culture, gender, and individual preferences. So only you can decide on what kind of a lifestyle you need right now.

 

5 Minimalist Tips for Saving Money

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Over the years as I started to live a simpler life, I’ve seen that my debts are melting and I can save money much more easily than before. My initial purpose was not to save money, but seeing that I can do stuff I love with the money that I’ve saved (travelling, creative writing workshops and fountain pens), or just knowing that I have some money aside for future troubles is really freeing.

You can actually save quite a lot of money by making some small changes to your lifestyle, even if you earn small amounts of money. You can save a few hundred bucks if you follow just one or two tips that I’m sharing with you today. And the most important outcome of this is not just saving money, but reclaiming your freedom from money and spending mindset.

Now let’s have a look at how to easily save money by having a minimalist approach to life.

1) Cook and eat at home, and bring lunch as much as possible.

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If you already try to live a healthier lifestyle then you know how eating outside can ruin your diet. You can of course spend a couple of nights outside with friends or eat out when you’re on vacation, but in normal circumstances eating at home is a lot cheaper and healthier.

If you have a group of friends that you always go out with, you should honestly tell them you’re trying to save money and you’ll meet them for a drink afterwards. You can even suggest everyone eat at home and meet just for a drink or coffee. This saves you a lot of money really.

Of course what I mean by eat at home is not frozen, ready made dinners like pizza or chips. I’m talking about real cooked food. If you’re not experienced with cooking, start small and slow: buy just the equipment and the ingredients you need for the recipe you want to make. At the end your body and your wallet will thank you. 🙂

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Bringing lunch to school or workplace also saves a ton of money. And if you have a fridge and microwave at your workplace, voila! If you don’t, that’s okay, too, there are lots of options you can bring. Salad and sandwiches are the easiest. You can bring leftovers, tuna, or my favorite, overnight oatmeals. Just toss in your favorite yogurt or milk, and whatever fruit and nuts you have at hand. Experiment with peanut butter, chocolate or honey. Even a big bowl of oatmeal doesn’t cost more than a couple of bucks, and you get a filling meal.

To save a ton of money on beverages, invest in a good water bottle and a durable mug. The first reason I bought a mug was because the coffee in the workplace tasted terrible and I wanted to bring my own, but then it turned into a money-saving habit. And when you’re going outside always bring your water bottle with you to save the environment and to save money.

2. Don’t buy if you can make it yourself.

I love pickling and yogurt making as much as I love cooking and baking. As I’m involved in the making process first-hand, I can adjust ingredients to my taste, change them for more healthy options and so on. This is the first advantage. The second advantage of this is that it helps you save money. You can make a year worth’s of pickles (and the healthy, fermented kind) with the same money you buy a jar of pickles. Yogurt making also saves you nearly half the prize of store-bought, paper-tasting yogurt. I even try cheese making but you don’t have to go this far. 😀

And there are far easier things to try out. Whenever you want to buy packaged food, see if you can make it yourself. Pudding mixes, for example. You can buy starch and cocoa and easily make it yourself for a fraction of the price. Slowly, you’ll see that you don’t need packaged food at all. Google before buy!

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I can almost hear you asking, how come I can find so much time to make this stuff rather than buy. Once you’ve made your research and experiment with a few recipes, it’s really easy and doesn’t take a lot of time. But since mall and online shopping is out of my life now, I have a lot of time for productivity, which brings us to the third point.

3. Run from malls like hell (at least for a while).

I’ve never been a shopaholic, but even now, when I go to a mall, I find myself buying at least one item. It feels like a crime, walking into a mall and not buying anything. If nothing, then at least you go to a Starbucks and leave a few dollars there (by the way, the cheapest and the healthiest option at Starbucks, or any coffee shop really, is filter coffee).

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When we talk about avoiding shopping, out of sight out of mind is the best thing to do. And it’s a good idea to stay away from shopping friends as well. Shopping is like cigarettes or alcohol. The addicts need some new victims all the time, they don’t want to go alone so you need to watch out.

4. Declutter

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It might be counter-intuitive but you need to declutter to avoid spending money. When we fill our homes with stuff, it feels like you need more stuff. When you start purging, you see that you already have what you need.

If you’re serious about saving money, promise yourself not to buy any piece of clothing for a certain amount of time (3 months or a year maybe). And then go into your wardrobe and lay all your clothes on your bed. You have so many clothes, right? And most of them have been loved and worn and torn, some never worn with a price tag on. Don’t mind. Firstly, feel grateful that you were able to buy these clothes. Then start purging.

You can donate or sell the ones still in good condition, and recycle or upcycle the ones that are beyond repair. At the end of the process, you’ll see there are still lots and lots that you can wear with love. No need for shopping at all. (You can look at my previous posts about decluttering and capsule wardrobe here).

Apply the same procedure to the kitchen as well. Years ago I read about an extreme approach, where you buy nothing until you run things out in your fridge, freezer and pantry. I think it makes sense, considering the things I had to toss in my last decluttering marathon. This is a good way to save money in the short run.

5. Take a chance on second hand shopping.

When you need something, first check the online websites and apps if you can find it second-hand. You can find second-hand books, bags, watches, clothes. Buying and selling second hand, as well as free cycle,  is good for both the hands and the Earth.

As a final word, I don’t think you should starve and tire yourself just to save money. Sometimes you just want to spend carelessly. And that’s okay because you’re saving for a purpose after all. Don’t think a lot about money, don’t make your life circle around it (or the absence of it). When you are free of the money hegemony, it can give you joy to spend it sometimes. What is important is balance.