Once upon a time, I was a mindless spender, an impulse buyer, a compulsive shopper and found myself living paycheck-to-paycheck, hand-to-mouth. However, about two years ago, I had a wake up call. After a devastating medical diagnosis and a year's worth of expensive treatment, I was not able to continue on my 20-year career path. I was, however, able to forge ahead in a new career, earn a comfortable living and learn how to downsize my life.
Minimalism goes by many names: simple living, life hacking, consumption reduction and scads of other monikers. However, no matter what you call it, the definition remains the same. Minimalists don't put a monetary value on "stuff". We eliminate stuff, and with it, the stress and the clutter of everyday life, in favor of buying only necessities.
The more I read about the minimalism movement, the more I realized that it came with varying levels of intensity. For instance, I am not the type of person who is willing to sit in a room without a stitch of furniture in it, reading by candlelight, not owning any electronics or modern conveniences. I am also not the kind of person who would be comfortable going dumpster diving for my next outfit. However, I knew I needed to do something. I was willing to give minimalism the jolly old college try, my way of course.
The obvious solution to becoming a minimalist is to have (and review) a budget. I did that. From there, I began managing and cutting mindless vices and financial drains, selecting my most obvious.
Mindless Vices Off
I was a TV junkie. I was addicted to my smart phone. I was a clotheshorse. I took my three biggest sins of excess and started minimizing them.
I went with a basic cable plan and bought a Nook. I started reading more instead of watching TV. And not surprisingly, I learned a lot more from reading books than I ever did watching the latest installment of "Jersey Shore". In fact, I think it helped me become a better, more well-rounded person.
Annual savings: $1,2000
I ditched the high dollar cell phone plan and went with an ultra-basic plan with unlimited texting. This eliminated the temptation to waste hours on the phone, prattling on about idle nonsense, freeing up my time for more productive pursuits.
Annual savings: $840
I donated half of my closet to a local charity - and yes, I did take the tax write off my $567 donation. After that, I made a rule: whenever I wanted to buy something new, I had to throw out something old. I made a "consignment/donation" basket in the corner of my closet. Each time I went shopping for new threads, I would either sell an old item to a consignment store or donate it.
At one point, I was spending about $230 a month on clothes. Now, I do not even spend a quarter of that.
Annual savings/donation: $2,780
To track my "mindless spending", I set up automated drafts into a savings account each payday, for the amounts I would have been spending. This kept what I would have been spending, and out of sight, out of mind. Then, whatever else I "saved" by walking away from a purchase that wasn't a necessity over the past year, was even more money I added to my savings account. After doing this for a year, I added up my savings. Surprisingly enough, I had about $5,000, and I was actually a happier person, even though I didn't have as much "stuff".
Today, I am continuing to downsize my life. My goal for 2012 is to save $10,000. I have changed my dining out habits, I am selling excess furniture and electronics and I have eliminated our second car. And, seven months into the year, I am well on my way to my $10,000 savings goal.
When I removed money as my mainstay for happiness, not only was it easier to make more money, but it was easier to keep more of my money. Today I can say that I have no debt, I am saving for a comfortable retirement, I can travel when I want to and I can splurge when I feel like it. And it's all thanks to minimalism.
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