The Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) community is all about cutting all expenses, maximize income, and retiring ASAP. While that in theory sounds great, I don’t want to live in a RV for my last 50 years. I’m here to show that you can still have a minimalist living approach without living a minimal life!
So, what even is minimalist living? It’s all about living with less than what you think that you actually need. I remember back when I was in grade school that we were always taught that a person needs only five things to actually survive.
Do you remember those five things?
That’s it. That’s the entire list. Air? Free. Water? Not necessarily free but pretty dang close. Shelter? Definitely not free. Sleep? Yup, it’s free. Food? Also is definitely not free, and likely to be the second or third highest expense on your budget behind shelter and then transportation.
Personally, I have a major beef with a lot of people that are minimalists and/or members of the FIRE community. Many people will do things that I think are crazy, like live in a super small house or a crappy neighborhood, or maybe even rent out 2/3 rooms in their house that they own with their spouse! Or, maybe they will only eat rice and beans for essentially their entire budget to spend $100/month on groceries, or less!
I think that these things are crazy. Of course, I want to become financially autonomous at some point in my life, but I also want to enjoy my life until that point, too. Life tomorrow is never promised to you, so years of rice and beans or living with two messy roommates while you and your spouse are stressed about it is simply not worth it…to me.
You see, that’s the thing about personal finance – all of this is completely personal! I don’t think that the true “minimalist living” is something that I ever will do, or even have the desire to consider doing, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think it’s a total waste. In fact, I think the exact opposite!
Do you know what’s crazier than renting out 2/3 rooms in your house? Owning a 5-bedroom house when only you and your spouse live there.
Do you know what’s crazier than eating rice and beans every day for years on end? Eating out every single day!
Yes, I think that the minimalist living community generally takes it too far, but they’re wayyy better off than the flip side of the coin!
Fortunately for us all, there is a happy medium between the two lifestyles, and I’m here to show you the way!
Minimalist Living Tips: Housing
Under buy your home – Under buying on your home is one of the best pieces of advice that I can give to any person looking to get ahead in life. If you overbuy your house, all that you’re going to do is become house poor – plain and simple. Instead, why not buy a house that is exactly what you need, or maybe even a bit smaller. Let me give an example:
You’re a married couple moving into a new house. You want to have 2-3 kids, but your thoughts are that is a couple years down the road, at least. You have two options – either buy the house you will need when you have 2-3 kids, or you can buy the house you need now and then upgrade later.
Let’s pretend the house you need now is 3 BR and costs $200K while the house you’ll need later is 5BR (you and your spouse, three kids, bonus/guest room/office) and costs $400K. If you bought the first house, and put 20% down (which you don’t need to) than your average payment is $763.86 while the payment of the second house would be $1,527.73 at a 4% APR, and that doesn’t include the extra insurance, property tax and the furniture that you would need to furnish the house.
So, instead of buying that house that you will need, in 5 years, you could buy the house that you need now and essentially “save” $763.86 every single month. If you would take that money and invest it, assuming an 8% return (CAGR since 1950 is 11%) then you would have $4,839.76 after 5 years that you could then use for anything, including a down payment on the new house.
Or, better yet, let it ride!
If you let that $4,839.76 ride for another 25 years without investing a single penny, you would then have $33,145. So, you made over $33K just by buying the house you need instead of what you think you will need (and you might not even need it if you decide not to have kids or have less than what you initially planned on!)
Refinance Your Mortgage – Rates are very low right now (I’ve seen 2.5%!) and by simply calling your mortgage lender, you can check out the new rate that they might be willing to offer you. If you have a high interest rate or potentially one that is variable, this could be a good time to lock in the lower rate depending on the closing costs that they’re going to charge you.
Don’t hesitate to call other lenders, too! It’s totally free and will keep your current lender accountable. This is totally free and could be a big deal. You know that $400K house that I talked about above? The difference between 4% and 3% is $178.60 each month, or $64,296 over 30 years…yeah, it’s worth the call.
Consider A Roommate – I know, I know. I just called this ridiculous, but, if you have a spouse that’s ok with it or are single, why not? When I was single, I LOVED having roommates! If you buy a 3BR house, I bet you can get two friends to rent your rooms that will cover your mortgage easily. Not only will that give you a free place to stay but they’re also paying off an asset for you!
Minimalist Living Tips: Food
Challenge yourself to a cheap week – This might be my favorite one because truly anyone can do this and it’s 100% about mindset!
My wife and I do this once a month. One week of the month we challenge each other to eat as cheaply as we can. Not only does it save us some money but it’s actually really fun! We’re very into eating healthy, all-natural food, so our weekly grocery bill can be $150 at times. When we challenge ourselves to do this, sometimes we can get it down around $75! Might not seem like much, but $75 every month is $900 in a year.
And not going to lie – it’s actually fun to challenge each other to see how little we can cost ourselves!
Eat out 1/week – Another thing that we do is we eat out only once/week on Saturday nights. We won’t eat out any other meal for the most part, so we have 20 meals at home. Of course, that will make the grocery bill go up, but most likely a homecooked meal is much less than a meal out on the town. And of course, you’re avoiding that tip or delivery fee!
Use Coupon Apps AND Buy Grocery items online – These are easy ones! I do both of these to save money and believe it or not, they can add up pretty quickly to hundreds in savings! During COVID, it’s harder to save money with online items because so many people are solely buying stuff online but keep it in mind for when the virus gets under control and things start to return to normal.
Admittedly, the coupon apps don’t save a ton of money but they make up for it with how easy they are! My wife buys one kind of almond butter about twice/month where we save $2 every time on the app. I downloaded it once and just select it before I buy it on the app, and I save about $50 year…not too shabby!
Minimalist Living Tips: Cable/TV
Evaluate Your Needs – Do you actually use it? Cable, Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, the list goes on and on. How many of these do you pay for but not actually use? I bet a bunch. Evaluate what you watch and what you use and cut the rest. A lot of cable providers you can cancel for a month and then just see how that month goes. If you desperately need it, add it back. If not, keep from paying for it!
Threaten to Cancel – Call your provider and threaten to cancel. I guarantee you’ll get a discount. I’ve done this in the past and usually get something like $10/month and sometimes some more promotions, like maybe free NFL Sunday Ticket with DirecTV. You will get a discount – I guarantee it because I have done it before…multiple times.
Minimalist Living Tips: Clothing
Marie Kondo Your Closet – declutter the heck out of your closet. Get rid of all of the things that you don’t wear and make your clothing options much less complex. By getting rid of clothes, you can sell them for a little extra cash or even just donate them. Either way, you’re creating more room in your closet and getting one step closer to that minimalist life.
1 In, 1 Out – Once you’ve gotten rid of the excess clothing in your life, create a 1 in, 1 out rule. Every time you get a new piece of clothing, you have to get rid of another. It likely seems ridiculous because you might want a new pair of tennis shoes before your old ones need to be thrown away, but just don’t throw them away then!
Again, you can sell or donate them, or maybe turn the shoes into a new pair of yardwork shoes, and then get rid of your current yardwork shoes. If this really seems insane, it’s just because you haven’t fully transitioned to the minimalist mindset yet but give it a shot!
Minimalist Living Tips: Cell Phone
Evaluate Your Needs – Do you have to have the newest phone? Do You have to have all of the fancy data and upgrades? Can you team up with family for a family plan? Do you have to have Verizon, or can you get away with a cheaper provider? Understand exactly what you need and then go from there. Not everyone needs the newest iPhone. Maybe you can buy a used on or even just keep your current phone until it actually dies instead of just upgrading as soon as it’s paid off. You don’t HAVE to have a phone payment. In fact, you probably shouldn’t have one…
Do You Have a Work Phone – If you have a phone for work, can you simply use that for personal use too? Ask your employer! Chances are, if they say yes, you’re going to be saving $100/month or more! That is so much to simply just ask the question.
Minimalist Living Tips: Eating Out and Going Out
Do You Actually Need to Eat Out – This is 100% mindset. If you’re craving a burger, are you better off paying $12 for a burger for yourself and your spouse, plus another $10 for an appetizer, $6 each for a beer, and then a 20% tip. So, before you know it, you’re sitting over $55 for a meal….of burgers. Or, you could likely make that same meal and buy a 6 pack for under $20. Sure, if you absolutely need to get out of the house, then go! Spend the money. I am not discouraging you from spending money. I am discouraging you from spending $55 if you’re equally as happy with the $20 option.
Be Creative – Find cheaper ways to eat out and go out! Look for specials, happy hours, and use different apps like Seated or Yelp. When we lived in Chicago, I would combine Yelp and Seated and get nearly 40% off at our favorite restaurants. It was a great way to go out on the town and still not break the bank.
Having the minimalist mindset made me think creative because I knew the alternative was to cook at home and have drinks at my house. I wanted to go out and have fun, and to do so, I had to make a choice – not live a minimalistic way or not have fun, but guess what, this helped me do both!
Take Advantage of Gift Card Deals – If you have a restaurant that you go to all of the time, like I do with Buffalo Wild Wings or my wife does with Chipotle, and they’re running a promotion such as “Buy $50 in gift cards, get $10 free” then why would you not take advantage?
I know, I know – cash is better now than in the future, but is it better than this deal? Think – you’re getting a 20% ROI right off the bat on this one ($10/$50 = 20%). The stock market average since 1950 is over 10%, so, for you to breakeven, you’d essentially have to hold onto this extra $10 for 2 full years. I don’t know about you, but I can go through $50 a bdubs in a couple visits, especially if it’s during football season and I’m having drinks with friends!
Take advantage of this deal, buy the gift cards, and then take the $10 that you got for free and put $10 more into your investing account. Sure, it doesn’t seem like much, but if you eat out a lot, at least this way you can try to do some good with your bad money, and health, habit!
Minimalist Living Tips: Entertainment
Use Groupon – This is a big one. Yes, Groupon is actually still a thing, and there are a lot of options to buy discounted tickets on it. Download the app and check it out. Worst thing is you don’t find anything and you’re in the same boat you are now.
Find Local Specials – This can mean finding a free thing to do, like going to a festival or even on a hike. When we lived in Chicago, we were walking distance to the Lincoln Park Zoo which was 100% free, so we went there all the time! I don’t love zoos enough to go biweekly, but if I have an option to go on a walk and not look at tigers or go on a walk and look at tigers…I mean, that’s an easy choice, right?