While not necessarily the same thing, minimalism and frugality do have quite a circular relationship. One tends to influence or encourage the other. To be a minimalist requires you to be selective and mindful about what you consume; to be frugal is to be reluctant to acquire unnecessary items.
Frugality and minimalism
For some, frugality is simply seen as a “minimalistic approach to finances”. Though the two ideals do align, there are cases where you can be one and not at all the other. It’s perfectly possible to be a minimalist and not be frugal, and the other way around.
With financial independence being important to most individuals, it’s no surprise that frugal living and minimalist values are increasingly talked about. We’re going to delve deeper to clear the confusion and better understand the relationship between the two.
What does it mean to be frugal? Is being frugal a bad thing?
Being frugal generally has a negative connotation. Someone described as “frugal” is usually stringent and picky about where and how they spend their money, usually to the point where they openly detest superfluous spending.
However it’s really just being very conscious of how you spend. Frugality is often just the side effect of ardently pursuing a financial goal like saving up for something.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being frugal either! Thomas J. Stanley, Ph.D., author of the brilliant bestselling finance book The Millionaire Next Door, frequently refers to the fact that the vast majority of society’s millionaires are very frugal, and that their frugality is actually the catalyst to their fortune!
Notice that I said, “the vast majority” of millionaires. As of 2022, there are literally millions of millionaires in the United States! Celebrities and T.V. or social media personalities—those who are most often seen flaunting their wealth—are just a small percentage of society’s millionaire population.
It’s hard to believe because most millionaires aren’t flashy at all. You wouldn’t be able to tell that they’re worth millions of dollars because they drive a 2015 Honda Civic, wear plain t-shirts and blue jeans, and live in an average 1,600 square-foot home.
Frugality is a beneficial practice fiscally and mentally. Undoubtedly, frugality requires self control and detachment from consumerist-ideals (like minimalism).
This trains your mind to make quick and accurate decisions about what you want, not just in a grocery store but, say, when interacting with others or manifesting. How else are minimalism and frugality alike and how do they compliment each other?
Minimalism and Frugality: A Closer Look
Like close cousins, frugality and minimalism are lots of fun when they’re together. It’s practical to practice them together too.
If you’re deciding to take up minimalism for financial reasons or apply it to the economic sector of your life, you’re bound to go down the path of “frugality”. For those who aren’t in it for the money, there are still several benefits to integrating a frugal mindset into your minimalist journey.
You can encourage yourself to buy as little as possible by challenging yourself to spend as little as possible, or by setting a strict budget. A comprehensive list of all the things you own/need can act as a deterrent from grabbing anything extra from the store or bringing home something outside the necessary list.
Since you already don’t have to invest as much on a regular basis, being wise about where you do put your money can go so much further in minimizing your living expenses.
If you wish to live frugally, making your living situation as small as possible is a great way to go about it. Minimalists generally have to invest much less in maintenance, cleaning, and replacement of possessions (music to your ears, right?).
Minimalists live with only the things they need which isn’t just light on the wallet but increases focus, productivity, and creativity. The less distractions around you, the more you’re getting done. So now, you’re earning more money and spending less to live.
Quite the pair! They have this way of enhancing each other, however keep in mind that they aren’t the same thing. There are minimalists who are not at all frugal—it depends on what kind of minimalist you are! Living frugally doesn’t necessarily mean that you live minimally either.
What’s the difference?
To be a minimalist means to live with less. Just because you’re frugal doesn’t mean you partake in minimalist customs such as decluttering your home, organizing and limiting your attachment to the material world.
Also, frugality (like minimalism) is subjective. What you consider a conservative budget won’t be what someone else considers conservative. One person could think that spending only $200 a month is frugal while someone else could think that only spending $200 a day is frugal. However, minimalist practices are generally consistent no matter your income level.
Also, to be frugal doesn’t necessarily have to mean you have less things, it could just mean you’re careful to get all your things at the cheapest possible cost. For example, a frugal person will accept a free item, but a minimalist will refuse if they don’t have a genuine need for the item.
On the flip side, minimalists aren’t always on a tight budget. There are a variety of different minimalists and not all of them are in it for the money. Aesthetic minimalists, for example, just want to achieve the minimalist look (nice geometric shapes, earth tones, simple and clean).
With that being said, they could very well be caught with a $200 designer lamp. But it’ll appear monochromatic and plain. An environmental minimalist may have only common and essential food items in their fridge, but it’s all organic so it costs twice as much as regular food (I don’t know why, it just does).
The main difference between the two is that frugality is a money-based principle while minimalism is an umbrella term that can be applied to many different sectors of your life.
A frugal minimalist is actually a thing, and describes the lifestyle of someone who applies minimalist principles to their finances. People make it a point to execute these two together as one tends to beget the other.
Minimalism and Frugality: How To Do Both!
If you’re going to decrease your interaction with the material world, this is a great time to also pick up some good money habits. Many turn to minimalism after divorce, but there are many reasons why you may want to give it a shot.
Some frugal habits will help you refrain from spending unnecessarily and make sure you don’t bring any stray items home. Here are some frugal minimalist tips that are guaranteed to keep your money in your pocket.
1. Do your shopping in-person. You don’t have to think very much about what you buy when you only have to click a button and it’s being packaged to be sent off to you.
Not to sound crazy, but personal time with the object of consideration really does give you more information with which to mull over whether you need it or not. Being able to physically touch and try the item goes along way in accurately deciding whether you should buy it.
Here’s something to chew on: the temptation to buy something we see online partially comes from our desire to simply physically engage with the object—touch it, look it over, all that we can’t do through a screen—and not a genuine desire to own it.
Say, you see a commercial for winter leggings, the ones with an internal lining of soft, lush fleece that looks so warm and comfortable. You’re going to buy those leggings not because you need a pair of leggings.
It may not even be cold outside. You’re going to buy them because you want to feel, to engage with, that soft, comfy fleece. Then it’ll end up in the back of your closet for months at a time.
It’s also more common to want to return an online product than one bought in person. And nobody wants to go through the packing and mailing that usually comes with returning an online item in the mail, so we usually just end up keeping it (and companies know that). It’s a seamless way to reaccumulate things.
2. Choose quality over quantity. You’ll want to prioritize buying things that’ll widen the margin between now and your next trip to the store.
Make sure what you’re getting won’t easily break or tear. Good quality doesn’t always mean expensive. But it’s ultimately more beneficial to invest in one thing that’ll last a long time than to have to replace it multiple times.
3. Sell anything you don’t need. Even better than saving money is making a profit! Go through your things and sell off anything you don’t need. Find a consignment shop for your clothes, and you can set the price for your furniture and appliances in online marketplaces. Or have a yard sale!
4. Let go of the wheel. If you live in a big city or somewhere where most of your wants and needs are relatively close by, consider walking or biking instead of driving.
Using your car for every trip and errand uses gas and puts lots of miles on it over time, both of which you’ll eventually have to pay for. Save money and the environment (and the frustration of looking for a parking space) by choosing other modes of transportation when possible.
Walking is also a great time to do some decompressing and reflecting. If you’re having trouble fitting some “me time” in your day, consider walking to complete an errand instead. Take that time to appreciate the world around you, and let your mind wander and linger on ideas.
5. Make some lists. Lists are a great tool for keeping organized and saving money. Make to-do lists to organize priorities and evenly distribute your time. Make grocery lists before every trip to the grocery store.
Go through your kitchen, write down exactly what you need replenished, and resolve not to stray from that list when purchasing. Make a list of necessities to serve the same purpose at department stores.
Make a list recording how and where you spend your money in order to become familiar with your consumer habits and adjust them as necessary.
Don’t be so quick to tag yourself, or anyone else, as frugal simply because you live a minimalist lifestyle. However, living minimally is a great way to maximize your dollars!
You can use the extra funds to travel more, do more of what you love, save for a goal, treat yourself to some self-care activities (because you deserve it), or invest and watch it grow. And if anyone asks, you’re not “frugal”, you’re a financial minimalist!