Nine months ago we discovered The Minimalists and fell headfirst into intentional living. The philosophy appealed to our habit of binge cleaning our apartment every few weeks. Clutter stresses us out, especially when it takes over our tiny apartment. We knew decluttering would help us confront our weak spots (like the black hole that is our closet), as well as get rid of useless junk that doesn’t bring value to our life. What we didn’t expect was the impact minimalism would have in another area: our finances.
We consider ourselves frugal minimalists. Our buying habits have shifted from wasteful over-consumption to deliberate, cost-effective choices. We take price, quality, and value into account for all our purchases. Everything from grocery shopping, to eating out, to everyday spending centers around one question: Will this purchase add value to our life?
Frugality has made us confront our bad spending habits so we can pursue our financial goals. We paid off our debts, reduced our spending, and re-evaluated our lifestyle choices. We now focus on long-term goals over short-term satisfaction.
Frugality has made our life meaningful by improving our relationship with money. Minimalism inspired us to reduce our consumption and spend our money deliberately. For us, their relationship to our lifestyle is intertwined.
We’ve noticed a tension between minimalism and frugality. There’s this belief that minimalism and frugality are incompatible. We disagree. Though they use different methods, minimalism and frugality have the same end goal: living intentionally.
To understand the similarities, it’s important to acknowledge misconceptions about both philosophies. Minimalism and frugality are buzzwords that get thrown around, but their definition gets skewed in the process. There are nuances to each movement that don’t get as much attention.
Minimalism: Being Intentional With Your Lifestyle
Minimalism is not all stoicism and deprivation, but it’s easy to see where the perception comes from. The philosophy has its roots in letting go of physical attachments to live a more meaningful life. Minimalism values experience and fulfillment rather than social status and monetary success. The idea is to bring things into your life that add value and get rid of the things that do not.
This does not mean that every minimalist throws away all their possessions and lives like a monk. For the people in the back – minimalism does not mean getting rid of all your things. The decluttering message sticks out because it’s an approachable first step. But the work isn’t finished once the basement is cleaned out. The most rewarding aspect of minimalism is deciding what truly matters. Getting rid of the clutter just gets rid of the distractions. It forces you to confront hard truths about what is important and what is a priority.
It’s true that minimalism looks different for many people. Some minimalists travel the world and live out of their backpack. Others live in a 300 sq-ft studio with a few bare necessities. Some even live in suburban neighborhoods with the typical luxuries of a middle-class lifestyle. None of these scenarios is the “right way” to be a minimalist. Each person has identified their priorities: travel, sustainability, family. No one can define minimalism as it relates to your life. As long as your lifestyle truly gives you meaning, you are a full-fledged minimalist.
Frugality: Being Intentional With Your Money
Frugality is also not all stoicism and deprivation, but it’s easy to see where the perception comes from. The average person sees someone foregoing hair salons, takeout meals, and brand new clothes, and they think it’s crazy. When they find out this individual also saves 50% or more of their income, they find it unbelievable!
Frugality is bigger than generic brands and thrift store finds. Frugality is about spending money on the things that matter and not spending money on the things that do not. It’s about allocating your resources in a way that reflects your values.
A frugal person may value having a top-of-the-line computer. They will research and shop around until they find the best deal for their money. Yet the same frugal person may not value a $30,000 brand new car and is perfectly happy with their 10 year-old sedan that works just fine. The key is knowing what is a priority and what is just superfluous.
Frugal isn’t buying cheap for cheap’s sake – it’s using money wisely to support your lifestyle.
Two Extremes, Same Values
So we broke down the tenants of each movement. Are there some commonalities between minimalism and frugality? Is there an overarching theme here? Are we being a little too obvious? 😉
We happen to see major intersections between minimalism and frugality. Both encourage living according to your values, taking responsibility for your decisions, and living deliberately. Both tend to result in spending less money, which allows the freedom to pursue whatever goals and dreams you want. Minimalism and frugality are tools for leading a fulfilling life. We see no reason why the two can’t go hand-in-hand.
As with any movement, the extreme followers do not define the community as a whole. Extreme frugality and ultra-minimalism are outliers in a vast spectrum of lifestyle choices. If you can save 80% of your income, go for it! If you want to own only 20 possessions, we won’t stop you! But you can adjust each philosophy to your situation. Decluttering and tracking spending are important tools from which anyone can benefit. Avoiding lifestyle inflation allows you to live within your means without accumulating useless junk. There’s no all-or-nothing prescription to follow. Take the bits and pieces that inspire you and improve your lifestyle, no matter how big or small the change.
Minimalism and frugality both offer important lessons. Everyone should feel welcome to adopt them how they see fit.