Cait Flanders was in a situation many people dream of.
She’d worked hard to pay off more than $30,000 of debt and was finally free to spend her money the way she wished.
But when she published her budget on her personal finance blog each month, something felt off.
“Deep down, I knew I could do better,” she says. “I’m not going into debt, but why do I think it’s OK to be spending all my money? Am I actually happy with where it’s going? I wasn’t checking in with myself.”
That was the start of her journey toward minimalism. Below, she explains what minimalism is, how it intersects with personal finance, and how it could save you money.
According to The Minimalists, “Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important — so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.”
For Flanders, that doesn’t mean owning only black, gray, or white clothes and throwing away anything that’s sentimental.
Instead, she explains it as “getting rid of anything that doesn’t add value … so that everything you have in your life does.” In other words, every single possession has a purpose — and actually gets used.
Flanders applies this philosophy to all areas of her life, from clothing to coffee.
“It’s removing anything that’s toxic and that has a negative impact on my life and instead putting time and energy into things that do add value,” she explains.
How Flanders put minimalism into practice
After she paid off her debt, Flanders started spending money without a second thought.
“Back when I was paying debt, I was putting up to 55 percent of my money toward debt repayment,” she says. “In the first year of being debt-free, I was lucky if I could save 5 to 10 percent.”
After that year, she became determined to stop spending money without knowing where it was going. She instituted a yearlong shopping ban, during which she bought only staples such as groceries, gas, and toiletries.
At the same time, she went through her house and got rid of anything she didn’t need or wasn’t using. She estimates she parted ways with 70 percent of her belongings.
“By the end of the first year, I had lived on 51 percent of my income, had saved 31 percent, and had traveled with the other 18 percent,” she says.
And that was just for starters, as Flanders extended her shopping ban to a second year. In the end, she saved $28,000 — and gained a whole new outlook on life.
Since the minimalist lifestyle espouses bringing in or keeping only things that add value, it’s a great way to save money.
“Before, I was someone who would spend very freely,” Flanders explains. “Anytime someone asked if I wanted to go to dinner or breakfast, I would always say yes. I didn’t think about if I wanted to do those things.”
Now she knows which (few) things add value to her life. As for everything else? At this point, it’s easy to say no.
How to apply minimalism to your life
If you want to make better financial decisions, minimalism might be able to help you. And it doesn’t mean you need to move into a tiny house or throw away your niece’s art projects.
As with most personal finance strategies, you can take what works for you and leave the rest.
First, read up on the theories and practices behind this lifestyle. Some of Flanders’ favorites are the blogs Becoming Minimalist and Be More With Less as well as the book You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap) by Tammy Strobel.
The next step? Surprisingly, it’s not making an enormous Goodwill pile. Flanders acknowledges that option comes with “a lot of privilege” and might not be realistic for some people.
Instead, she suggests tracking your spending for 30 or 60 days and then asking yourself if you’re happy with what you’re spending money on. If a certain category doesn’t feel good, determine how you can decrease your spending in that area.
Flanders also recommends doing a walk-through of your home to take inventory of what you have the most of. Her vice, for example, is books, and it shocked her to count how many she owned that she hadn’t even read. Having that number in her head curbed her desire to purchase more.
In the end, Flanders says, “It comes back to that question: Is what you’re spending on adding value to your life — or not?”
Thanks to Cait Flanders for chatting with me about minimalism and money! If you’d like to learn more, you can pre-order her book The Year of Less, which hits shelves in January 2018.
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