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7 Ways to Live Like a Minimalist Without Feeling Deprived
If you’re interested in paring back your lifestyle or sticking to a budget, it’s easy to go too far, too fast. Despite best intentions, setting strict goals for yourself can backfire and make you feel deprived.
But a successful budget can actually make you feel empowered, suggests financial reporter Stefanie O’Connell. “Though often perceived as restrictive, budgets are a powerful tool in achieving financial freedom,” writes O’Connell at GoBankingRates.com.
“By breaking down big dreams into manageable annual, monthly and weekly targets, budgets provide tangible structure and accountability for successful goal achievement,” she adds.
We’ve got 7 tips for living like a minimalist without feeling deprived—with helpful advice for identifying your goals and cutting out extra expenses along the way.
1. Identify Your Priorities
Knowing why you want to simplify your life, or spend less on material goods, can help guide the choices that you make on the road to a minimalist lifestyle.
“In order to achieve your goals, you need to make them concrete,” financial planner Annette Clearwaters explained to TIME.
So before you start making cuts to your budget, remind yourself what the end goal is. Are you trying to save up money to buy a house? Or are you simply trying to spend less wastefully?
Likewise, are you trying to declutter your space? Or do you actually want to shrink your footprint by moving into a smaller home or apartment?
Whatever your priorities are, write them down. A list can be a powerful reminder of why you’re making financial decisions and can be a helpful way to put yourself back on track if you go over your monthly budget.
After all, the more you know about your lifestyle goals, the easier it will be to make a budget that helps you minimize your spending—without feeling the pinch.
2. Cut Out Extras
Once you’ve identified why and what you want to change about your current lifestyle, look for things that don’t fit and cut them out—or cut your spending back on these items.
If this seems difficult, keep it simple at first. Make cuts to your entertainment budget, or your funds for eating out. Think of all the digital subscriptions you buy but don’t necessarily use—or the $4 latte you purchase on your way to work.
We all spend money on things we don’t necessarily need. But, really, it’s up to you to define what counts as an “extra,” and which expenses contribute to your overall happiness, says Desirae Odjick, founder of the personal finance blog Half Banked.
“You might opt to keep some of the extras, which is totally fair,” Odjick told NBC News. “But getting clear on what counts as a necessity can help you really enjoy your discretionary purchases more.”
2. Declutter Your Space
Sometimes the desire to simplify your lifestyle is also a signal that you’re hanging on to too much baggage—old files in your office, every drawing your daughter made in Kindergarten, or a year’s worth of magazines you haven’t read.
Make a plan for decluttering your space—but take it slow, suggests Alan Henry, the former editor in chief of Lifehacker. “Set yourself up for success by making a plan and targeting specific areas you're going to declutter, clean up, and organize over a prolonged period of time,” writes Henry. “Then stick to it so you don't tire yourself out.”
A good rule of thumb is to shred or recycle papers, magazines, and bills more than six months old—unless they pertain to your taxes. The rest should be kept in filing boxes in an office or storage space.
As for the rest of your stuff? Henry suggests making a detailed list of all the possessions you would feel compelled to replace if your home caught on fire. What would you be willing to spend money on twice?
The list should help you pare back your possessions to only what you really need—or only what makes you happy.
3. Downsize Your Wardrobe
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spends about $1,800 on clothes each year—but are you actually replacing old items every time you buy something new?
According to Joshua Becker, the author of Becoming Minimalist, we only use about 20% of our wardrobe. “Almost everyone would benefit from…cutting their closet in half,” Becker told Reader’s Digest. “They wouldn’t miss half the things they get rid of and would find getting ready is easier.”
In order to free up space in your closet, donate old items—or items you haven’t worn in more than six months—to a charity shop or Goodwill. Paring back will help you see any gaps in your wardrobe, or make it clear that you can get by on even fewer items of clothing.
Interested in creating a capsule wardrobe? Here’s a helpful guide to designing a truly minimalist closet.
4. Master Simple But Flavorful Meals
Like starting a new diet, sticking to a minimalist budget can feel constrictive, especially when it comes to food shopping. But mastering your food budget can help put you on the path to financial freedom.
"The best way to save money in the kitchen is to learn how to cook,” confirms Avi Shemtov, the author of The Single Guy Cookbook, at U.S. News & World Report.
If you want to nix your budget for eating out, find a way to feel good about the food you fix for yourself at home, too. For example, pair lean proteins, like chicken or ground turkey, with healthy fats, like avocado, olive oil, or sesame oil, so you feel full and satisfied—rather than cranky and deprived. Eating vegetarian meals a few times per week can limit your footprint and help you pare back your grocery bill, too.
Trying to cook on a shoestring? Check out Eating Well for delicious recipes you can handle on a minimalist budget.
5. Buy Used
Even minimalists need basic household necessities and appliances—or have to pay to use them elsewhere.
But the next time your car, washing machine, or lawn mower goes kaput, don’t rush out to buy a new one. Shop around for lightly used or refurbished appliances, suggests Brent Shelton, the shopping expert for fatwallet.com.
“[A refurbished appliance is] a good buy if it’s a good price, because it’s been looked over by a technician who knows what they’re doing and can make sure it will work for you,” Shelton explained to Reader’s Digest.
Other neighborhood sharing programs, like Freecycle and Listia, can put you in touch with neighbors trying to downsize or swap household items—and who might just have what you’re looking for.
6. Save Up
One of the best strategies for spending less is to live on less. For example, if you’re a two-income household, consider living on one salary and banking the rest for a specific goal. Or if you received a raise, put the raise directly in the bank rather than rushing out to buy something new.
The end result? You can save faster to eliminate debt or spend more time traveling, or to save up for bigger goals, like a down payment on a home. But this strategy only works if you budget carefully—and make saving a priority.
“Try and set aside a certain portion of your income the day you get paid before you spend any discretionary money,” suggests certified financial planner David Blaylock at Forbes. “Most people wait and only save what’s left over—that's paying yourself last.”
7. Be Grateful
When you practice gratitude about the possessions you do have, the less deprived you’ll feel when you consider the changes you’ve made to your lifestyle.
It also helps to remind yourself that you’ve made these changes for a reason—so check in regularly on your progress toward your goals and make it physical, suggests personal finance expert Alden Wicker.
“You need motivation to start adopting better money habits,” Wicker writes at LearnVest. “And if you craft a vision board, it can help remind you to stay on track with your financial goals.”
Whether you put your extra income toward a major savings goal or just want to spend less, a minimalist budget doesn’t have to make you feel deprived. And if you ever feel the pinch, remind yourself why you’re saving in the first place—so you can stay motivated to keep going.
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