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Minimalist Living: Is Minimalism Just A Fad? Or Can It Really Help You Solve All Your Financial Problems?

Minimalism is all about living with less. This includes less financial burdens such as debt and unnecessary expenses. But is it really as easy as just getting rid of your stuff? We discuss.
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Minimalism is a word that carries a lot of weight these days. Ironic, considering it refers to a lifestyle that is all about living with less.

Documentaries, podcasts, and books have been made and written all about minimalism and how it can change your life for the better—leaving you debt free and with extra time to work on personal relationships.

For many minimalists, the philosophy is about getting rid of excess stuff and living life based on experiences rather than worldly possessions. You can probably see how having less stuff can also free up your life financially.

Although it may just seem like a millennial fad to most, minimalism, when practiced for the right reasons, can benefit your life significantly.

What are the benefits of being a minimalist?

The following benefits of minimalism come from blogs dedicated to educating people about minimalism. These blogs include The Minimalists, Becoming Minimalist, and Miss Minimalist. They all say that becoming a minimalist can help you:

  • Be free from financial worry
  • Get rid of clutter that doesn’t add value to your life
  • Spend more on experiences rather than stuff
  • Be happier and less stressed
  • Go green
  • Develop better relationships
  • And so much more…

Now, let’s talk more in-depth about why (or if) you should become a minimalist, and how to go about doing so. I’ll also talk about some very real problems with the minimalist philosophy.

Let’s be honest, you don’t need all your stuff—so get rid of some of it

Almost everyone owns something (or a bunch of things) they don’t really need. While minimalism takes getting rid of stuff to an extreme, if you pick a couple of major items to sell, you could make a little extra cash.

The Minimalists—Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus—have helped minimalism grow via their documentary, podcast, and recently their nationwide tour. They incorporate a rule in their teachings—the 90/90 rule—that makes a lot of sense.

Look at a possession. Pick something. Anything. Have you used that item in the last 90 days? If you haven’t, will you use it in the next 90? If not, then it’s okay to let go.

You would think it would be easy to get rid of something you hadn’t used in the last 90 days, but this is harder than it seems. Sittings in my apartment, I can see a handful of things I could easily live without (namely, my large book collection), but it’s hard to imagine giving those things up. At the same time, when it comes time to move, I’m certain I’ll wish I could fill up just my car with my belongings instead of renting a moving van.

If you’re more willing than most and can part with most of your possessions, chances are you could probably rake in extra cash by selling them.

You probably don’t need a huge apartment/house either

If you have less stuff you can get buy on living in a smaller place. Which can be a huge cost saving factor.

Studio apartments are cheaper than one or two-bedroom apartments. And, if you’re really into the idea of living as a minimalist, but don’t want to rent, the tiny house market is booming.

Smaller places also cost less in utilities. Heating a large apartment in the winter can run you an extra $100 or more a month. The same goes for air conditioning in the summer.

It’s easier to budget if you have fewer expenses

One of the reasons budgeting is so difficult these days is because we have so many extra bills that other generations didn’t really have to think about. Internet (and all those streaming apps like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc.) didn’t exist when our parents were our age. This also goes for factoring in expenses such as the lease cost of an iPhone.

Just think about how much you could save if you didn’t pay for internet, paid less for your phone, didn’t have to buy a car and pay car insurance, etc. That, of course, assumes you could continue with your daily life without those things—which many of us could, no matter how difficult it may seem.

If you think minimalism is just about getting rid of your stuff, that’s not entirely true. There are minimalist budget systems that rely on the “less is more” theory. Here are some key components of this kind of budget:

  • Use just one credit card (preferably one that offers rewards, if you’re credit worthy enough). If you pay your bills this way, you’ll earn rewards and not have to worry about which card links up with which bill.
  • Have a single checking account, and a savings account just for an emergency fund. This makes it easy to transfer money between the two if need be. You also won’t have to deal with pesky fees, and you’ll lessen the potential for hackers if you have just one account (but be sure to use a very strong password). In addition, you’ll be able to track your expenses much more easily. Not all savings accounts are created equal, however.

» Read about some of the options we recommend on our Best Savings Accounts page.

Of course, this type of budgeting may only work for one type of person. This leads us to the complicated discussion of the problems within minimalism.

The problems with minimalism if you live on a low income

Minimalism has been hailed as a “rich, white, single person” lifestyle. They’re the ones with the privilege of owning less. After all, if their car breaks down, they don’t need a spare one for parts, they can just go buy a new one. And they don’t have the task of entertaining kids with a variety of toys and, in today’s day, technology.

Here are a few reasons why it’s harder to be a minimalist if you aren’t well off.

Buying food in bulk does not always cut down on the food bill

It’s easy to get wrapped up into the idea that buying in bulk saves money. But unless you’re buying for a big family, that isn’t always the case.

It isn’t just the food you don’t eat that goes to waste. Spices have a limited shelf life, which means they’ll start to lose their potency after a while. If you buy a container of cumin for one recipe, then only use it every few months, you’ll probably find yourself throwing it away before it’s empty. But spices typically aren’t sold in small packets, so how do you get around that?

With a minimalist lifestyle, you buy only the items you need, and your food is consumed rather than tossed out.

Meal delivery as a solution to food waste

In recent years, meal delivery has become a viable answer to food waste. You choose from a selection of meal options, then receive your items in a box, with temperature-controlled packaging to keep everything fresh until you can refrigerate it all. Each meal is portioned for the number of people who will be eating, with only the ingredients necessary for that evening’s meal.

If you prefer a wide range of traditional meals, Home Chef, our favorite meal kit company, has down-to-earth selections like pasta and rice bowls and pork chops with vegetables. The cost is slightly more affordable than competitors which makes it great for families or those on a budget. You can choose between servings for two, four, six, or eight people and meal choices are rated by difficulty.

Our favorite meal kit
Home Chef

Rated #1 in customer satisfaction and our favorite meal delivery company.

Home Chef offers multiple meal choices each week with ample variety to meet dietary needs. While not the most adventurous or customizable meal box out there, Home Chef delivery fresh, quality ingredients and tasty recipes consistently.

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  • Recipes are easiest to follow
  • Customize meals with your favorite protein
  • Super fresh ingredients, all measured out
  • No vegan option (vegetarian only)
Choose Your Meals

But since so many of us have dietary restrictions, you may appreciate the fact that HelloFresh has more options from low-carb to vegetarian meals. You can toggle between plans for two or four people and customize your selection to vegetarian, family-friendly, or low calorie if you don’t want the meat and vegetable plan. As with Home Chef, it’s not only a great way to minimize waste, but you’ll also learn cooking techniques from expert chefs. I’ve also noticed that Home Chef often has special deals running that are definitely worth checking out.

» See how Home Chef compare among the Best meal delivery services.

Low income folks can’t afford “experiences”

Minimalism is a theory based on valuing experiences rather than things. While it’s true that you don’t necessarily need money to enjoy your interactions with others, things such as travel or going to the theater cost money that most just don’t have. “Experiences” can cost as much, or more than the things we can accumulate.

The psychology behind owning is important to consider

There’s a reason lower income people (especially those who grew up so) hold on so tightly to their possessions.

If you never had anything growing up, owning anything now holds great value in your mind.

Minimalism is about having the “right” things…aka expensive things

Quality over quantity is a popular phrase, especially in minimalism. But there’s a reason Walmart and wholesale stores are so popular. They’re what most people can afford.

It’s easy to own just one piece of nice technology—a laptop, for example—if you’re not constantly worried it will break and you won’t have the money to repair it. I knew plenty of people in college who were technologically inclined and kept boxes of extra, worn out, laptops for their spare parts.

This also holds true for clothing. Sure, buying a pair of really nice, $300 boots could last you years, but coming up with that money upfront can be difficult for someone living paycheck to paycheck. The alternative? Keep buying $30 replacement boots every year, or couple of months.

Should you become a minimalist?—A personal account

I’ve been critical of minimalism in this post, but I truly believe it holds a lot of great values. You don’t have to go all out and get rid of everything you own in favor of living a minimalist life. That is one of the great things about minimalism—you can pick and choose what’s right for you.

Maybe you just use a minimalist budget like I described above, or maybe you get rid of those possessions that don’t really make you happy and take up a hobby instead.

I wouldn’t call myself a die-hard minimalist by any means, but I’ve spent quite some time listening to The Minimalists podcast and have been trying to teach myself to live with less.

I started slowly, by simply asking myself each time I wanted to buy something “does this bring meaning to my life.” For nearly everything, the answer was no. If anything, this simple step has helped me start a substantial emergency fund in lieu of having a closet full of the same plaid flannel in different colors or books I’d never read laying around my apartment.


Whether or not you become any form of minimalist is entirely up to you, but living by a few of their simple philosophies can do wonders for your finances.

About the author

Christopher Murray

Christopher is a professional personal finance and sustainability writer who has covered everything from budgeting to unique investing options like SRI and cryptocurrency. His work has appeared on a number of personal finance websites, including Money Under 30 as a former senior editor and staff writer.