Frugal Living From a Minimalist’s Perspective

Frugal Living From a Minimalist's Perspective

I’ve never considered myself to be frugal. I was always one to indulge impulsively and lacked the discipline to think long-term about money and time. But since becoming a minimalist, the idea of frugal living has fascinated me.

On the surface frugality and minimalism appear to be close relatives. Spending less and buying less go hand in hand. At least so I thought.

It wasn’t until I started researching topics on frugal living that I realised that these two ideas could be at odds. Especially when you layer veganism over the top.

In this post, I’m going to share why frugal living poses problems for those looking to live with less. At the same time, there are some areas where frugal living amplifies minimalism.

Before we look at the challenges and benefits, it’s important to define the frugal mindset and the minimalist mindset.

What does frugal living mean?

 

Frugality is the process of being sparing, thrifty, prudent or economical in the consumption of consumable resources such as food, time or money, and avoiding waste, lavishness or extravagance.

What does minimalism mean?

 

Minimalism is the process of eliminating the non-essentials in your life, so you can focus on the things that add value.

A minimalist is not necessarily concerned about the cost of something, as long as it adds value, while frugality is more concerned about reducing and avoiding costs to focus on the long-term.

Let’s have a closer look at the challenges of frugal living as a minimalist.

Holding onto things that no longer add value.

 

Someone who is frugal is motivated to retain the things they currently own instead of buying new things. This is an excellent mindset to have, especially when it comes to reducing waste.

However, the retention of things risks promoting clutter which is a minimalists nightmare.

There are two thoughts here. And trust me, this is something Maša, and I discuss all the time.

One thought is a frugal person will merely hang onto everything they have, even if certain items add no short-term value. For example, you might hang on to a tool you haven’t used for five years to avoid rebuying the same thing in the future, just in case you need it, while a minimalist would likely get rid of that tool and not look back.

Another thought, which I like about frugal living, is the motivation to repair things you own instead of buying new ones. For example, repairing your shoes instead of buying a new pair thus creating less waste. A minimalist may discard the worn shoes and invest in a new pair.

The challenge with this approach, however, is that you either need to acquire skills to repair things or you risk paying someone else to do it which might not be worth doing in the end.

Our friend Clare Mann was telling us that she got quoted $80 to repair her boots! In this instance, the cost to repair the shoes were more than the cost to buy a new pair of boots. It makes me wonder why there aren’t more services that fix products. This also shows customers that brands are confident in the durability of their products as they encourage you to repair them.

Hunting for bargains.

 

Being economical and frugal often means being motivated by bargains. Those who are frugal are thinking about the long-term and may be tempted to buy things just because it’s a good deal and is likely to use the item in the future.

At the same time, I understand that there’s a difference between being frugal and cheap. Cheap is more bottom-line focused while frugal is more about avoiding unnecessary costs. In this context, frugal living draws similarities to minimalism.

Promoting an unethical supply chain.

 

While frugal living is great for reducing waste, shopping frugally can pose problems for ethical demand.

Again, frugal consumption is mainly concerned with reducing costs. This generally means buying things which are very low in price.

Not always, but mostly, low-cost items are made cheaply. And the only way to achieve a low price at scale is to engage in unethical practices, whether it’s avoidance of fair trade practices, unnatural ingredients and materials, and of course exploitation of animals.

As minimalist, vegan shoppers we’re mostly happy to spend money on higher cost items as long as it’s considered essential to us and the product is ethically made.

Forgoing spontaneous and impulsive spending.

 

As a minimalist, your spending is driven by value. This includes spontaneous activities.

With frugal living being so focused on the discipline of short-term consumption, it limits opportunities to splurge sparingly.

Conversely, avoiding impulsive spending could be a positive as there are many activities and experiences we can do that don’t involve money. So in that regard, I think the constraint of frugality is beneficial to challenge ourselves to get creative with how we spend our time.

Do you consider yourself a frugal minimalist?

 

In the end, if you see frugal living as a means for being cheap, you’ll find that it’s in contradiction to minimalism.

But if you see frugal living as a necessary constraint to be mindful of how you spend your time and money, then it’s an incredible amplifier of minimalism.

How do you combine frugality and minimalism? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

14 comments… add one
  • Rianna 12/08/2018

    I consider myself to be a frugal minimalist – in fact, being frugal (from necessity) greatly improved my journey to minimalism (by choice). Frugality can really help you to think creativly to meet a need, rather than following the impulse to just go buy a new thing.
    Now that money is not so tight, I’ve managed to invest in some quality items that I needed; while not cheap, this is still frugal as replacing cheaper items more often actually ends up being more expensive in the long run. Using the shoe example, now that I own some good quality shoes I own fewer pairs, as the ones I have meet more of my needs.
    In regards to food, I exercise frugality in only buying what I need for the next week or two, rather than stockpiling bulk items to get a cheaper price. I still spend less than most people by shopping from bulk bins for exactly what I need, rather than have package size determine how much I buy. The space I gain and the option to choose different ingredients each time I shop is worth more to me than the cost saving of buying a 25kg sack of one thing.
    Being frugal and being a minimalist can be adapted in many ways to suit your own needs. They can work well together if that’s what you want, but you’re also free to adopt one or the other according to your priorities.

    • Riana, thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your experience. You make an interesting point regarding frugality out of necessity. I think this perspective shapes your relationship with accumulating things even as you make more money.

  • Zhuoni 12/08/2018

    I consider myself align with frugal minimalist as well. But maybe frugal in the sense that I see myself as a small part of the whole eco-system. I donate, money or other things, because that does not create more junk and unnecessary things into the world, it is to distribute value or things one doesn’t need, hopefully to someone who actually need them to survive. I don’t reach out for anything impulsively, especially involving plastics or other diminishing resources, unsustainable product. Because I know the impact of wasting to the whole world. It’s the cost to us all, that I really am frugal about. At least that is what I try to remind myself of, with each purchase, or decision making.

    I have enjoyed all the blogs on the website so far!

    • Hi Zhuoni, thank you for your kind words and for sharing your experience. Waste, I’m finding out, is a huge motivator for frugality.

  • Nadine Toscano 12/08/2018

    Great article with plenty of food for thought. I don’t consider myself frugal per se, but I am a minimalist. What this means to me, is that I make deliberate and well considered choices about my purchases, and will focus on quality, purpose, functionality and alignment with my values and beliefs. I will by-pass items that are cheap if they do not align with the above, but if I intend on making a purchase AND I can get it at a discount then all the better!
    Frugality for me is more about stopping the waste, and only buying what is necessary. I live simply and intentionally, and that for me is more appropriate and meaningful than just cutting back on spend, or trying to be more efficient. I do admire people who can make their frugality work for them though. But I personally find more value in paying the cost for quality.

    • Nadine, couldn’t agree more. I think you landed on an interesting point about frugality representing cutting costs or living more efficiently. While minimalism is not concerned with cutting costs, it’s more about value. Thanks for sharing.

  • Ruth 12/08/2018

    Thanks for this blog post, Michael.

    This is a topic I’ve thought about a lot as well.

    All my life, I’ve moved around a lot and have therefore become excellent at decluttering, or rather never actually owning anything. And this is where I often run into problems even with smaller things (ie., not furniture): Rather than buying something of good quality (shoes, jeans), I try to think ahead of whether or not l’ll want to pack them when I move or if buying a cheap pair will do for now as this means I save time and room when I do move again by giving them away. But then I find myself packing the most random things like sticky tape and a hole punch, stuff I could buy anywhere for very little. I am often confused where I stand on this “scale”; I try to be practical, economical, environmentally conscious.

    Money has never been a huge issue, luckily, but I always feel like it is. Maybe the pressures from outside, hearing about investing in the future, having enough money saved up for when I can no longer work, or saving money for some emergency that may happen, always makes me feel as though I mustn’t spend money. It’s gone so far that I don’t even spend any on experiences anymore (concerts, comedy shows) or feel good about having a nice meal out. Is that being mindful of money or does it have other roots, feeling like I can’t allow myself to “treat myself” sometimes? Like I don’t deserve a good quality pair of shoes that might cost 80€ but also improves my walking experience immensely?

    This isn’t necessarily on topic of your wonderful blog post. But it triggered these and many other thoughts in me and I hope they somehow enrich your life maybe just a little. 🙂

    • Hi Ruth! I think what you’ve written is totally on topic. This outside pressure of how you “should” spend your money definitely changes our relationship with it in the short-term. That’s why to me, frugality promotes a scarcity mindset, which is sometimes at odds with minimalist values.

      Thank you for taking the time to stop by. Hope you’re well!!

  • Dominic 14/08/2018

    Thank you for your post Michael.

    This is an excellent follow up to your previous post about buying items just because they are on sale.
    I believe you can be frugal and minimalist, and in most ways the two lifestyles are complementary.

    Whether a person decides to be minimalist or frugal depends on their values. Although they are complimentary, I can see some differences. Both frugal living and minimalism question the cost versus the value of an object before acquiring it, but minimalism asks the deeper question of” Why am I buying something?”, or “How does this align with my values?”, beyond it being a good deal. I always try to save money wherever I can, but not just for the sake of saving money, it is for the sake of spending money where and when it really matters.
    For example, I never buy coffee at coffee shops. Instead, I make my own from fair trade whole bean coffee I grind myself and brew in a French Press. Doing this saves money, and I get coffee that is ethically sourced, and much better tasting than any coffee you would get at a coffee shop. With the money I save I can focus on more important things like travel, health, and wellness.

    • Hi Dominic, thanks for piecing the links between posts. Very observant of you! Your example regarding coffee is the perfect illustration of how minimalism and frugal living can work together. Both lifestyles come down to living with intentionality.

  • I have felt that minimalism can feel pretty classist to me, especially as a person who grew up without the choice to be minimalist. When you have so little, the idea of getting rid of things that, a la Kon Mari’s method, don’t “spark joy” sounds like a luxury the privileged ones can afford.

    I do, however, believe that now that I have more income and more ability to make choices, I should make ethical choices where possible. It isn’t cheaper for me to take a cloth napkin in my packed lunch, because I can get free paper napkins at work, but I try to take one anyway, for example. Similarly, I don’t have to take my own utensils because there are plastic utensils available for free, but I do take them because I don’t want to waste things needlessly.

    I understand the appeal of owning just a few things and buying things when you need them. But I can’t shake the feeling that doing that is something privileged people do, and even though my income allows some of this, I live with the memory of never really having enough. So I suppose I tend more toward frugality, minimizing waste, and being conscious of what I buy, but I doubt I will ever be minimalist.

    • You make some really valid points, and this idea of minimalism for people of privilege is something we’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

      For me though, minimalism is not solely about the things you own and use. It’s about intentionality. Intentionality in the sense of how you spend your time, who you let into your life, what commitments you say yes too. And that’s where I think it draws many similarities to frugal living.

      Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  • luzz 21/08/2018

    Thenk you for the post.
    I think being frugal means living with less and not living with better. Than, in my opinion, less is also better….

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