Before I knew about a thing called minimalism, my life revolved around saving money in any way possible. While saving money is still a priority, it’s not the only thing we strive for around here. A simple minimalist lifestyle has allowed us to see past wanting and consuming more. But before I became a frugal minimalist, I was an extreme couponer. (Yes, you read that correctly.) So how does one go from extreme consumption to a life with less? So glad you asked.
This post may contain affiliate links. If you click a link and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Yes, I was that extreme couponer
In 2013, we had just moved from our college town to a “big city” leaving behind our cheap apartment and very low cost of living. Living in a new, bigger city meant rent prices were higher, our commutes were longer (sometimes over an hour each way), and things were just more expensive. Not to mention we were probably underpaid and our wages were very dependent on sales goals.
Expenses felt like they were getting out of control. Even with a budget and a spending audit, everything was just so expensive. (Excuse me while I have a chuckle at 2013 Amanda – she had no idea the cost of living would increase so dramatically over the next decade!)
In my quest to save money (but still buy everything I wanted), I started watching the TLC show “Extreme Couponing”. I knew I could clip coupons and plan shopping trips too! So there began my extreme couponing “phase”.
Hours each week were spent finding and clipping coupons, matching the deals, and shopping. I hauled my coupon binder to and from every store I shopped at so I didn’t miss out on a deal. Purchasing anything and everything that was a good deal, I quickly built a stockpile. My stockpile garnered attention from my friends who too wanted to learn to save money with coupons.
What does extreme couponing look like?
I honestly loved the tedious task of finding and clipping coupons, sorting them, finding the deals, and then shopping. All because I would spend $20 (with tax) for over $100 of groceries. It was thrilling that I could do this! (I also thought I was awesome – still do – so of course I posted it on Instagram)
And much like the people on the show “Extreme Couponing”, I had a small stockpile that I stashed all over our first apartment… then our second apartment… and finally our first house. Yes, I moved it with us.
I had personal care products to last years, shelf stable foods to last months. Eventually, I had too much. My closest were bursting with products I knew I wouldn’t use, but yet, I kept buying them because I made money on them or they were only pennies. We would donate a large portion of our stockpile only to replenish it weeks later.
This cycle of consuming more and more was starting to become exhausting. Four years into extreme couponing, I quit. I gave most of my stockpile away (again), keeping only what I knew I would use within the next six months. This was the year I found minimalism and embraced my own sort of flavor and became a frugal minimalist.
I didn’t understand the roots of frugality
When I started to think of all the ways to save money, removing expensive things from my life (at that time) wasn’t even an option. I didn’t want the “frugal” option. I wanted the best for less, all in the name of saving money. I wanted my favorite name-brand products for cheap. Getting a “good deal” on something was the only way I knew how to save money. That’s why I leaned so heavily on couponing for years.
What I didn’t understand before I became a frugal minimalist, was the roots of frugality. What my parents and grandparents embodied.
Use it up.
Wear it out.
I wanted the deal and didn’t want to give anything up. We’re all so used to consuming the same things day after day, that we don’t even realize we can do without something or make do with what we have. I spent HOURS searching for deals, clipping coupons, and shopping. Hours that I could have used to write this blog, go outside, or find other ways to save money.
All that work… for what?
In a turn of events, couponing did lead me to embrace frugality (and shortly after, frugal minimalism). After building up my stockpile just to give it away, I discovered that I was okay with less. Living with less and a stockpile of simpler items was easier for me and it was better for our budget. Learning that a simply stocked pantry, shopping secondhand, and wearing the same thing over and over again were better (and far less time consuming) than extreme couponing.
Couponing did teach me that I need to be patient if my end goal is saving money. Waiting for a good deal to reach maximum savings (aka FREE) I could do without clipping a single coupon. I just wasn’t patient enough for free or deeply discounted items to be found.
Somehow, I used to also think less of free or secondhand items. Yet I am now happier wearing my free-to-me sweater and $1.49 Goodwill Outlet yoga pants writing this than I would be if I had several brand name sets of athleisure wear.
It’s not that I’ve lowered my standard: I’ve learned to feel good without the influence or approval of others.
The most tremendous way that I have found to receive and give things for free has been through our local Buy Nothing Group. Neighbors helping neighbors with needs, wants, and everything in between. Many people have excess in their lives and they are willing to give from their own abundance.
Need vs. Want
Today’s consumer society has us believe that we still need everything that we’ve ever needed before. We have problems and issues that we need their products to solve. But these problems, issues, and dependencies are completely created by excellent marketing tactics used by big corporations. Layer a discount on top of a product we suddenly “need” and BAM! You feel like you’re saving money on something you definitely need. [sarcasm]
Big corporations give us the easy way to be happy – buy more! It’s easy to spend money! … That’s why so many of us are in debt.
Indeed, it’s hard to save money when our wallets are pulled in every direction. With hard work upfront, figuring out your needs vs. your wants can help you save money and better align your spending with your values and goals.
A need is something that we use for survival (mentally and physically) and comfort. For many, this includes:
- Personal care items
- Appropriate, functional clothing
- Hobby items
A want is something that we don’t need for survival, but enjoy spending time and effort on:
- Entertainment experiences
- Upgraded items (i.e. new cars, clothes, phones, other electronics, toys)
- Meals out
- Wardrobe updates
These examples, of course, are just that – examples. Each person and family will be different.
When determining is something is a want or a need, ask yourself:
“Could I survive and feel good without this?”
“Do I have something that I could use or do in place of this?”
Generally, the answer will be “yes” if the item is a want and “no” if the item is a need.
As you ask yourself these questions more regularly, you’ll build up your frugal living muscles. Those muscles will help you when newer, bigger decisions come your way.
Frugal living vs. minimalist living
Frugality is defined as “careful management of material resources and especially money”. Minimalism is “a style or technique that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity.” So being a frugal minimalist is the careful management of finances and material resources (possessions) in a way that embraces simplicity.
You can absolutely be frugal without being a minimalist. Having a store of items for later use (that you’ll actually use) can be helpful and save money long term. Whereas a minimalist would likely purchase items as-needed only in the quantity needed for immediate use. A frugalist may have many “just in case” items because it saves them money, whereas a minimalist may have none because it saves them space mentally and physically.
For added clarity: frugality is not the same as being cheap.
For example, being cheap would be buying a pair of socks at the dollar store knowing that 1) they’re just a dollar and 2) that they’ll only last a week. So over a year, a cheap person would buy 52 pairs of dollar store socks for $52 total. A frugal person would realize that the same $52 could buy 2-3 pairs of nice socks that would last well past a year of use and could be mended.
If you average cost per wear, the $1 pair costs $0.14 a wear (1 dollar / 7 days). The better pair of socks costs $17.33 a pair (using our price from above of $52 for 3 pairs) making it $0.14 a wear (17.33 dollars/121.66 days or 1/3 of the year). However, as they work out to the same price per wear, the higher quality socks have the potential to last well beyond a year, further diminishing the cost per wear.
Meaning, seeing the long term value in a more expensive item and intentionally purchasing a longer-lasting product gives you more money saving power than forever spending a dollar a week on socks you know you’ll have to continue doing until you purchase a better pair of socks.
Buying something of higher quality doesn’t mean you need to buy it new (but socks maybe you should). The secondhand market is loaded with just about everything you could ever want to buy.
PS: if you like good socks, I highly recommend Darn Tough! They warranty their socks for regular wear and tear. Meaning, they’ll completely replace your worn out socks if you mail them in – further lowering the cost per wear. 🙂
But enough about what appears as opposites. Let’s get to the good stuff! The frugal minimalist stuff!
The divine intersection of frugality and minimalism (and environmentalism too!)
Frugality and minimalism intersect at this divine point in our lives. It’s called consuming less.
Frugalists consume less because it saves them money and they can make their items stretch further.
Minimalists consume less because they’ve found contentment in owning fewer things.
With being a frugal minimalist, you purchase and consume fewer items. You have less to buy, less to store, less to maintain, and less to dispose of when you’re finished. While you’re buying less, consuming less, you also have the potential to lessen your environmental impact. All because you’re reducing the demand for new products to be made.
Simple choices can be made everyday to use frugal (eco) minimalism as a tool to help you work towards your goals. Some of my favorite choices include:
- Shopping secondhand and choosing secondhand first
- Cooking with what’s in my pantry before going to the grocery store
- Recognizing when my space feels too cluttered and ridding my home of excess immediately
- Waiting 72 hours before purchasing an “want” item
- Being more aware of where my unwanted items go and donating/selling items more appropriately
- Crafting with reused or recycled items
- Purchasing foods with less packaging
- Borrowing items needed for a single specific task rather than purchasing it
- Shopping my own home and wardrobe when feeling the “need” to purchase something new
These are just a few examples of how frugal minimalism works in my life. Some of these choices I used to make very intentionally and struggled with at times are now second nature. Aligning your real life with your life goals is hard at first. “Slipping up” is okay and expected when you’re building your minimalism muscles!
Being a frugal minimalist is NOT deprivation
When we lived on a single income, we had every opportunity to say that being a frugal minimalist is too hard. Our income is so low, so why does it matter?! We’re spending all of it anyways! Oh, but it does matter!
Every choice you make in a day, whether you consciously make that decision or not, has the opportunity to compound for the future. YOU have the opportunity every single day to take control of your life, home, and finances. Taking the path of least resistance is easy, but isn’t always in your best interest. Making a choice to do something that takes more time or effort may not be easy, but it’s likely to benefit you better than taking the easy way. (PS: you can read more about taking the path of least resistance in the article I wrote of Joshua Becker’s website, Becoming Minimalist)
Small decisions like skipping the afternoon snack for a week can propel you to bringing snacks and drinks with you on the go so you rarely have to purchase anything. Bringing your lunch to work everyday could help you see that one meal out a month is far more impactful that a meal out almost daily. Waiting to purchase a new phone until yours truly bites the dust can increase your satisfaction when you get the new phone in hand. Checking social media weekly rather than multiple times a day can help you form more meaningful online connections rather than scrolling for that next dose of dopamine.
You are not depriving yourself of anything by choosing to embrace frugal minimalism. Rather, you have allowed yourself to explore what life feels like when you choose to consume less. And I have to say, it feels pretty good.
You don’t have to fit into a box
Being a frugalist, minimalist, environmentalist – it’s just a label. Just a box you could fit in. You don’t have to call yourself one or the other or all three. These are not labels you give yourself and live with for the rest of your life. Rather, these labels or boxes are merely tools you get to use to help shape your life.
The core of all three, but specifically frugality and minimalism, is consume less. Use up what you have and enjoy and get rid of the excess.
Not fitting into one “box” is kinda my thing over here. Hello Brownlow has featured haphazard vegan recipes (food blogging is not for me, I don’t measure anything!), budgeting, frugal living tips, decluttering tips and guides, how to save money on groceries, baby things, minimalism, and more.
Life would be so boring if you tried to only live inside one box and only that box for forever. You grow, change, and learn new things. Using frugal minimalism (or any “-ism”) as a tool to help you form a life you love is certainly worth doing and it will evolve and grow just as you do, adopting new principles along the way.