Pick a path: frugality or minimalism?
An interesting question was asked on the personal finance blog ‘1500 Days to Freedom’: can frugality and minimalism co-exist? If not, which side do you choose?
Assuming that you’re reading this column because of a genuine interest in saving your money, what are your thoughts on the subject?
At first glance, many might assume that frugality IS minimalism, in a sense. After all, isn’t frugality buying what is needed when it is on sale, not being wasteful, saving for wants, and saving for a rainy day?
The short answer, it turns out, is frugality and minimalism do not necessarily go hand in hand…but they should.
How many times have you found yourself buying something because it was on sale? Did you know you wanted or needed the item before the reduced price caught your eye? Is it actually frugal to give in to that spendy urge and purchase things that are unnecessary?
By definition, frugality is being careful about spending money or using resources when you don’t need to. In other words, it’s frugal to turn out the light when you leave the room, keep the furnace turned lower overnight, and put your satellite on a seasonal break for the summer when you are mostly outdoors. Frugal people try not to pay interest, they might carpool, or drive vehicles that have better fuel economy.
A frugal person isn’t easily tempted to overspend, just to have what others have. Being frugal often means being efficient with money—shopping sales, doing some DIY, or buying bulk. People come by their frugality for different reasons. Some have experienced hard times or were raised with a prudent outlook. Others are saving to travel, retire, or be prepared for emergencies. There are any number of reasons to be frugal. Are you?
If you see a reduced price on something that you will need and use, it’s frugal to pick it up when it’s on sale. But let’s be honest, how many of us have corners of the garage and closets that are dedicated to these impulsive purchases that didn’t end up being necessary? And have you ever donated unused sale items that proved to be more clutter and less useful than you anticipated?
This is where minimalism comes in. Based on the idea of less being more, minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it.
At first glance, the idea of ridding oneself of waste, distractions, clutter and consumerism seems like a very frugal thing to do. The website mnmlist.com defines minimalism as a lifestyle that is sustainable, frugal, debt-free and natural. I would go one step further and describe it as a mindset that rejects material consumption, without the sense of deprivation.
But, as pointed out in the post by 1500 Days to Freedom (Ask the Reader: Frugality vs Minimalism), there are ways in which having a minimum of possessions can lead to unnecessary spending. Have you ever purged your home of unwanted and unused clutter only to later look for something you need and realize you’ve given it away? We’ve probably all had to rebuy something we once owned. In fact, the fear of that happening is what prevents many people from letting go of the clutter in their lives.
Being a staunch minimalist might also mean only buying things when they’re needed, rather than when they’re on sale. If a person doesn’t have room to store bulk items, tools, and the like, they might have to pay higher prices because they aren’t necessarily buying things on sale ahead of time.
The perfect example is paper towel. A frugal person might buy the Costco bale of hand towel and store it for a year before it’s all used up, but at a savings of several dollars. The minimalist might only buy one roll at a time, spending much more per roll, but avoiding the clutter of such large quantities.
The frugal minimalist, though, realizes that when there’s a year’s supply of paper towel in the basement it gets used wastefully because everyone knows there’s plenty more where that came from. The frugal minimalist (or the person that just can’t afford disposable cleaning products) tears up old towels and t-shirts for cleaning rags and saves that money altogether.
While many frugal people might consider themselves minimalists by definition, and minimalists might pride themselves on their frugality, there are instances when neither is true. It pays to re-examine our assumptions about how and why we spend our money.
Getting a good deal doesn’t mean it’s a wise purchase. Refusing to spend until it’s an absolute must can be a costly mindset. Somewhere in the middle is the prudent saver, on the path to financial security.