Minimalism vs. Frugality

Most of us need to control our spending.

Many people at some point realize that their finances are, well, not where they should be. Many of them respond with a focus on frugality, and look for cheaper cell phone plans, coupons, combined internet and cable plans, and streaming services.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with reining in your spending, and psychologically you may need to start with simple changes like this, it focuses on reducing your spending. It’s a bit like putting a bandage on a chest wound; while an important first step, it won’t solve the underlying problem.

Minimalism, in contrast, undercuts the need for frugality. A minimalist doesn’t need a cheaper cable service, because he eliminates cable (which you only need for one show which you can legally stream anyway). He doesn’t have to buy the cheapest possible laptop to replace his spare “travel” laptop, because he only has one laptop, which he take with him everywhere. Which means he doesn’t have to manage all the software subscriptions on that spare laptop, or figure out how to synchronize his files, by the way.

Now, there’s absolutely a tension between minimalism and frugality. Every so often, a minimalist will end up buying something that she might otherwise have kept in the back of a closet.

However, I believe that the cost of those moments are far outweighed by the ongoing costs of buying and maintaining a collection of possessions. Realistically, we’re not going to only buy things that we end up using later. Some of it will sit in a drawer until we die. And while we all run the probabilities in our heads, let’s face it: we’re all notoriously bad at predicting how much use we’ll get out of our stuff in the future. Otherwise, our garages and attics wouldn’t be full of stuff we don’t use.

So, minimalism says: cut out that spending at its root. Don’t buy things in the first place.

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