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Becoming a minimalist might sound daunting, but it doesn’t mean you have to throw everything away and live in a tiny house out of a suitcase. Bloggers and entrepreneurs who practice minimalism say it’s more of a mindset than anything.
“For many people, the perception of minimalism seems to revolve around the more Instagrammable version of the concept: basically beautiful, expensive things to buy,” says author Colin Wright, who blogs at Exile Lifestyle and travels the world full-time on a fraction of the income he used to earn working a 9 to 5. He defines minimalism as “focusing on what’s most vital in your life, and spending more of your time, energy, and resources on those things.”
It’s a mindset that can save you a ton of money—mainly by being more aware of what you’re spending. Here are a few lifestyle changes you can adopt to spend less money, pay off your loans faster, and save for things like that trip to Hawaii that you’ve been dreaming of for years.
Hold a clothing swap with your friends
Sarah Moe, the minimalist founder of Flauk, which coaches young entrepreneurs, makes her clients keep money diaries to track every single thing they spend money on every day. Clothing is one of the biggest wastes of money she sees—it gives you a temporary high, but not much else. She suggests organizing a swap with your friends. Pick a date, pack a bag (or two) of things you want to get rid of, and set up a shop in someone’s living room or backyard. Set some ground rules, like allowing everyone to pick five things in the first round, then another five, and so on, and go crazy. Everyone goes home with a new wardrobe and none of the guilt.
Create seasonal capsule wardrobes
Moe has a 15-piece capsule closet for each season. “Every three months, I [unbox] a ‘new’ set of clothes, as if I’ve gone shopping,” she says. It’s a cheap trick, because you only own pieces you love and you only get to wear them for part of the year.
Opt for experiences, not things
In 2009, Wright was making the most money of his life. He thought he was working so hard so he could afford to travel, but then realized he’d just been spending it on stuff. He made a major mindset change to spend money on experiences instead, got rid of most of his belongings, and has been traveling the world pretty much non-stop ever since. Moe has led a similar lifestyle—her possessions fit into one suitcase, so she can up and go at any point. Both noticed marked increases in their happiness by having less. “The more stuff I had, the more anxious I was,” Moe said.
Examine your shopping habits
After Moe started analyzing her expenses, she realized she spent most of her spare cash on shopping and eating out. Cutting those habits can be tricky, but it has saved her tens of thousands of dollars, and she’s been able to shift that money to experiences like traveling abroad that have brought her much more happiness. Wright suggests waiting at least an hour before buying something for every $10 it costs—so 10 hours for a $100 item, 100 hours for $1,000. “Much of what we buy can seem justifiable in the moment but then, once the emotional, chemical thrill of acquiring some new doodad is gone, we’re left with stuff that doesn’t actually add anything to our lives, and which can instead become a burden,” he says. Be sure to check your subscriptions, too, and cancel anything you’re not actively using.
Constantly analyze your expenses
By keeping a physical diary of your spending, you can often shame yourself out of unnecessary expenses. It forces you to think, “I have to write down that I just spent $6 on a latte, and I don’t want to have to do that,” Moe says.
Wright suggests the same: “There’s nothing wrong with that relatively expensive daily coffee habit,” he says, “just make sure it’s worth what you’re paying, that there’s no legitimate and cheaper alternative, and that it’s worth what you’re giving up: savings and alternative uses for that money.”
Plan your meals so you don’t waste food (and money)
People waste an unbelievable amount of money on food and alcohol, Moe says. It’s eating out and all those $5 lattes, beers, and kombuchas, when you could make or buy alternatives to stock your fridge. And you likely literally throw away hundreds or thousands of dollars’ worth of food every year when you let leftovers and unused produce rot before you eat them. Instead of taking one-off shopping trips for every meal, plan out in advance what you want to cook for the week, so you can re-use ingredients. If she had to buy a bunch of five green onions, Moe said she would “find so many dishes to use green onions in,” to make sure they didn’t go to waste. (Check out our guide to eating from Trader Joe’s for a week under $50 for some help getting started.)
Know when to splurge
Instead of eating out, take the time to cook—invite friends over for a potluck so you can all save together, Moe says—and splurge at the grocery store, where money goes further. And when you travel, Wright says, consider trading a layover for a lower price. “That, to me, is a reasonable tradeoff,” he says.