Updated on 10.12.09

The Challenge – and the Advantage – of Going Minimal

Trent Hamm

A few days ago, an article about minimalist money appeared at Get Rich Slowly, in which the guest author (Leo) advocated going strongly minimal with your spending – opting out of consumerism as much as humanly possible, cutting every optional service, and essentially starting again from a blank slate.

Some of the readers unsurprisingly reacted negatively to this idea. One commenter, Stephen, sums it up pretty well: “I don’t know if it’s possible to give up both cable and not going out to bars, restaurants etc.”

Stephen, like most of modern society, operates under the assumption that certain categories of non-essential spending is impossible to cut. In other words, if you cut some of the luxuries in life, life no longer becomes enjoyable, so these luxuries become viewed as essential.

Unlike a lot of other personal finance writers, I don’t advocate cutting out the elements of your life that make your life enjoyable. Instead, I take a different approach. I argue that a lot of the routines we consider essential in our lives aren’t bringing us joy on the whole.

Take eating out, for example. Many people do it because they see it as quicer and more convenient than eating at home. They can just drive to a restaurant, sit down, place an order, chat with their dining companion, get the meal, pay, then go home. Easy enough.

But when you start adding up the time invested there, it becomes less of a joy (trust me, I’ve done this a lot). For us, it takes fifteen minutes to drive to a decent restaurant. Five minutes to park and get seated – assuming no wait. Another five to ten minutes to place our order. Twenty minutes or so before we get our food. Another fifteen minutes to eat. Ten minutes to get the waitstaff to bring the bill, pay the bill, and leave. Another fifteen minutes to drive home. That’s an hour and a half just to eat out.

At home, I can have a meal from scratch on the table in fifteen minutes. It then takes fifteen minutes to eat and ten minutes to clean the table. That’s forty minutes – and you can, of course, tack on more time if you want to prepare something exquisite. Even then, though, you’re still not competing with the time investment of eating out.

Considering the much higher cost of eating out at a quality level comparable to what I can prepare at home, it was often the case that I found I was basically spending $15 to sit somewhere outside the home for half an hour.

So I cut it. Instead of eating out several times a week, we eat out perhaps once or twice a month now – and it’s only done as part of a family day out and about when we don’t expect to get home until very late (with the kids falling asleep in the back seat).

Do I miss it? No, not at all. I didn’t give up the part I loved, which was eating a delicious meal with my family. Once I gave the idea of not eating out all the time a chance, I started cooking quick meals at home a lot more – and I got better at them. Now, I can produce some pretty good food very quickly, so the food quality isn’t a question. We’re also often finished with all aspects of dinner an hour faster than if we eat out, so we have more time to do things like play a game together or watch a movie together.

What’s my point? Our lives are like a river. They flow through the channel of assumptions and priorities that we set for them. If we begin to alter those assumptions and priorities a little, sometimes the river will fight that change in flow, but most of the time, it’ll happily shift course and find that this new path is even more serene than the old one.

Here’s another example: bookstores. I used to be utterly addicted to bookstores. Twice a week (at least), I’d stop at a particular local bookstore not far from where I worked, browse for a while, and usually walk out with a book or two.

At the time, this seemed normal and quite enjoyable. I couldn’t imagine life without lots of fresh, new books to read. When we had our financial low point, I couldn’t even imagine cutting out this “habit.”

Several of the frugality tip lists I read strongly encouraged substituting the bookstore for the library, but my mind was already made up. Libraries were boring places that smelled like mice and I wouldn’t enjoy it. I basically pushed myself into going, simply because I was willing to try anything.

Lo and behold, I walked out the door with two books I really wanted to read under my arm (along with a big pile of personal finance ones). For free.

And the path of my river changed. I started using the library all the time. I discovered PaperBackSwap. And I gradually slowed my bookstore stops to a crawl. Now, I visit a bookstore once every couple of months at most.

The net result of that? I didn’t give up what I loved – reading books. I still had a big pile of fresh new ones to read. What I gave up was spending a lot of money on them – a big relief, indeed.

For me, the advantage of going minimal is not to give up the things you love. It’s to figure out what about them you truly do love. When people say, “I can’t possibly give up cable,” why is that? Are they afraid of losing a specific program? Or are they afraid to lose those lovely evenings that they enjoy in their comfortable chair or on the couch snuggled with their partner watching a show they both like?

If it’s the latter, why not ditch cable, hook your computer up to your television, and watch some shows off of Hulu? Or get a Netflix streaming subscription for just a few dollars and do the same? That way, you keep the experience you love – watching television from your comfortable chair – without the inconvenience of a hefty cable bill each month.

Alternately, you might find that you’re throwing money towards things that you think you should care about (likely because others around you do), but internally, you don’t really care about them at all. Cut these behaviors out of your life. Engaging in things you don’t really like because you think others will like you because of it is a sure path to unhappiness – and a sure path to an empty wallet.

Strip back your life. If you get rid of something you truly, deeply miss and can’t find a way to replace it, bring it back. The whole purpose is to figure out what you really do value (which are things that are perfectly fine to spend money on) and the things that you really don’t value. Often, there’s a ton of grey area in our lives between these groups – and that grey area is lost money that brings us nothing in return except heartache and missed opportunities.

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  1. Joanna says:

    Love it. The hubs and I cut the cable about a month ago & have hooked hulu up to the tv. It’s much better than television. I don’t fill my days with mindless shows that I don’t actually value AND when we do watch something, it’s commercial free (or extremely limited). We also have the streaming Netflix which is lovely as well. It was a tough sell to both of us b/c one does get used to House Hunters every evening. ;-) But it’s been better in the end.

  2. Anna says:

    I loved your comment about life as a river. I quit my job to stay home with my daughters, and I truly had no idea how we would do. Lived on credit for a while until I found a job I could do from home. We are making it now, but I want more. I want to be completely debt free and that involves lots of changes…but once you’ve made them, you realize…for most things…the new way is better.

  3. Penny says:

    My husband and I don’t have cable, largely because of the bill and the commercials. We do, however, pay for Netflix, because we can watch movie and television shows without the commercials. We make a conscious decision to watch as opposed to just plunking down in front of the tv.

    We used to eat out about twice a month, but we started to realize that every time we had, I would say it was okay, but…. The more we thought about it, the more we realized that we were more satisfied with dinners at home, both monetarily and nutritionally. To make it special “date night”, we put down a table cloth, spend a little extra on ingredients for a fancier meal, and (it sounds silly) dress up. We have a good time at home for little money.

  4. Brad Grabowski says:

    Great article! I killed my cable shortly after I proposed to 1)save money for the wedding 2)had been thinking about it for a while to reduce costs and put towards paying things off. At that point I had not heard of Hulu and Netflix did not have the options they do today. Do I miss it? At first it was hard and now looking back I usually just had it on for the noise. Now I don’t think twice about it. My wife and I realized just like you said, it wasn’t the cable that made us happy. We enjoyed the time together. Now it’s something special to pop in a DVD from Netflix or watch a program on Hulu. We make some latte’s at home (another cut back from Starbucks) and it means more now. We get more accomplished by not have the 300 channel temptation and we appreciate our movie time much more now.

  5. Vicky says:

    I agree, the Netflix instant subscription is amazing! I pay $8.99 a month for one movie in the mail, and unlimitted streaming TV shows. Add that to Hulu, and I’m one happy camper. I haven’t had a cable bill in years!

    Eating out is a big thing for my husband and I, too. The weather here has just started to get lovely again, so we really enjoy having dinner out on our back porch together. It’s romantic and cheap!

  6. Johanna says:

    When you get right down to it, quite a lot of things we think of as “essentials,” aren’t. I don’t even mean things like cable TV, new books, and restaurant meals. I mean things like furniture (Do you need it to survive? No, you do not), a car/bike/bus pass (plenty of people in the world have none of these things – if they need to go to the doctor 20 miles away, they walk), and appliances like refrigerators and clothes washers.

    This is why the people who preach the gospel of “Don’t buy anything you don’t absolutely need” strike me as very silly. It all sounds reasonable enough when they’re talking about things you *don’t* need (magazines! lattes! trendy designer clothes!) but if they ever try to spell out what exactly it is that you *do* need, they run into trouble.

    To me, the relevant line to draw is not between “needs” and “wants,” but between “wants” and “don’t wants.” (I suspect that this is about the same as Trent’s line between “things you truly love” and “things that don’t bring you joy on the whole.”) So, rather than saying, “I’m buying this book because I need it” or “I’m denying myself this book because I don’t need it,” I’ll say, “I’m buying this book because I want it – and I feel fortunate that I’m in the position to have so many of the things that I want.”

  7. Rob says:

    “I don’t know if it’s possible to give up both cable and not going out to bars, restaurants etc.”

    Cable is a neccesity? A bar? A restaraunt? Most cable channels make a mockery of intelligence. A bar is probably not the best places to meet, or form wonderfull relationships. But I’m sure many a lifes problems have been solved on a bar stool. Eating out sucks in my book, because half the time the food is only ok, then you have the screaming infants, or the loud idiots at the next table.

    Give me a good book, a home cooked meal, and a cozy couch anyday. More rewarding and alot cheaper.

  8. Meg says:

    Great post! I just shared it with the minimalism subreddit.

    I have a feeling that when most people discover how into frugality and minimalism I am they think that I’m some sort of masochist. To quote a relative: “You CAN’T give up cable! What will you do for entertainment?!”

    In truth, I’m a bit of a hedonist and definitely a foodie :P I like the finer things in life, I do. While everyone else paying for cable, I’d rather spend the money on fresh, local figs or juicy persimmons. Then there’s fine chocolates and super soft modal bed sheets and the occasional professional massage. Yeah, my life totally sucks. Ha!

    By making very conscious decisions on how I spend my resources, I’m able to have my gourmet cake with smooth, organic cocoa and eat it, too. Quality, not quantity — that’s what minimalism is all about.

  9. Chelsea says:

    And I’m the opposite of #4. My husband and I are childless (for now) and we live in a city with tons of great restaurants- many of which pride themselves on great service, local ingredients, etc. Going out for dinner on Friday night and getting to focus on each other- not who is going to do the dishes, etc.- is one of the highlights of our week. There are a lot of other things we don’t mind living without, but taking that Friday night away would make me feel like I was “grounded”.

  10. Jeff Sarris says:

    “If you get rid of something you truly, deeply miss and can’t find a way to replace it, bring it back.”

    I think that pretty much sums up the biggest obstacle we face with cutting something like cable. We imagine that once it’s gone, it’s gone and we can never have it again.

    It’s not always easy, but trying to look towards each cost cutting attempt as simply an experiment it takes the permanency out of the equation and makes it much easier to test the waters.

  11. Matt Kelly says:

    Debt and unconscious spending steal your dreams.

    It’s not the things that you buy and love – it’s the unconscious habits that you fund each month that need to be examined.

    Excellent post.


  12. Rick says:

    >“I don’t know if it’s possible to give up both >cable and not going out to bars, restaurants >etc.”

    I think we can all agree it is possible- you wouldn’t watch TV or go to bars if you were stranded on a island right? The real question is it desirable? I can see potential the zen appeal, but I don’t think it is really practical or desirable for most people.

    Frugality is much more efficient- focus on cutting out or finding substitutes for things you don’t particularly care about rather than cutting indiscriminately.

    As for cable…These days it is REALLY easy to replace cable- the quality of digital TV is great and free for network shows. There are also online TV sources like hulu, if you are into movies a netflix is very worthwhile.

    -Rick Francis

  13. Steve says:

    Regarding your last paragraph – strip back your life. I wonder if you have ever considered family (home) nudism. I know to some people, this idea seems ludicrous, uncomfortable, and plain weird. But it is not. If you live in a warm climate, or keep your house slightly warm in the winter time, it is amazing how little you will need to do laundry and your clothes budget disappears. Just keep a towel with you when you want to sit on a chair. Of course, keep your windows shuttered or draw the drapes and have a pair of shorts or sweat pants or shirt ready for when an unannounced caller shows up at the door. (FedEx drivers are used to anything, so don’t worry too much about them.)

    Their are other amazing benefits of home nudism. IMHO, your kids will have a better body image of themselves, as will any adults in the household. It is easiest if your children are raised in a nudist home from the start, but kids of any ages will certainly catch on. If you are lucky to have a private space outside, then there is the amazing benefit of sunshine, the world’s first, and cheapest anti-depressant. And the benefits of Vitamin D, to boot. (It is amazing how many children are Vitamin D deficient – look it up on the net)

    Home nudism is not the same as social nudism, but many home nudists gravitate towards that. It is just more fun to be around people of like mind, plus most nudist resorts are large and very safe from prying eyes. I think you will find, matched age for age, that social nudists are much more active than non-nudists, simply do to the fact that there is lots of outdoors activities to do at a nudist camp or resort. And if you want to talk frugal, the cost of a nude vacation (or nakation) is amazingly slim.

    If anyone of your readers have other questions about nudism, then check out the American Association for Nude Recreation (I am a member) at http://www.aanr.com.

    I am curious to see if you publish this. I just had to write this when I saw the phrase “going minimal” in your title.

    No matter, a very enjoyable column in a very helpful blog.

  14. Michelle says:

    I’m really curious, Trent, what your view is on downloading music. I never hear you talking about illegal downloading, and I assume you would be against it. I find it more and more common,however, that many members of my peer group (young twenty-somethings) hold the belief that artists should not charge money for their music. These people will often illegally download an album to see if they like it, then financially support the artist in other ways if they enjoy their music. Sometimes this includes buying the album they downloaded for free in the first place. The argument is that you can return a meal if it was poorly prepared, and you can return a product if there is a problem with it, but you cannot return a CD or MP3 purchase if the music you bought was poorly written or produced. I’m not sure where I stand on this, although I do make my band’s music available for free download so people can judge for themselves whether they want to support us.

    what’s your view on illegal downloading? would you torrent an album to see if you liked an artist and follow up by supporting them if you liked them?

  15. Rachel says:

    Well said. When my husband and I tell people that we do not have cable, we are often the receivers of astonishment. But now we spend more time together, and still watch our favorite shows on hulu and/or download them from itunes. It saves us a ton of money, and we don’t feel like we’re giving up anything either.

  16. Great stuff. I’m a fellow book worm and they have been fairly large expenses for me in the past. I may have to check out the local library, but the last time I went there all the books were outdated which was pretty unfortunate.

    My only saviour may be the Kindle. It may be a big expense up front, but it’ll let me eliminate the stacks and stacks of books around my room and save me money fairly quickly. :-)

  17. kit says:

    I can see the point of going on a spending diet to see what it is that you truly do miss. Sure, we all could go without spending any money at all on anything but a bowl of gruel a day and a pile of rags to sleep on, but it’s not outrageous to expect that most of the time people want more than that.

    For me, I would go crazy in the winter (and have in the past when I stopped going as per suggestions like these) without getting to enjoy a meal out of the house. Do I need to go all the time to be happy? Of course not- but saying I can NEVER go is just silly. It’s also common in my cold urban environment to have a very small apartment and any entertaining in groups is done at a bar or restaurant. It ends up being a lot cheaper than shelling out for a bigger place with a kitchen that holds more than a trash can, two chairs, and a folding table.

    One expenditure that I know I would miss is running in races. I’m not competitive and heck, I run all the time for free anyway, but the reward of competing in a race that you’ve worked and trained for with the pomp and crowds and cowbells is something I would be sad to give up.

  18. guinness416 says:

    David Turnbull, give it a shot. What’s on their shelves may not be representative of what they carry – you should be able to access the stuff that other branches have and the more recent/popular books and movies that spend a lot of time travelling from hold to hold. I put a whole bunch of new releases on hold a couple of months ago and they’re starting to filter through to me – I was the first to read the copies of the new Nick Hornby and Margaret Atwoods that I got this weekend, which was nice, but I imagine they won’t find their way to the shelves for a while.

  19. Kate says:

    I love “our lives are like rivers”. What a great way of thinking. Another great cloumn. I am over the age of fifty and have never had cable. My husband gave it up when we married over twenty years ago. We do have a small Netflix subscription, which allows us to get opne DVD at a time and watch their Instant Play shows and movies. We also watch a few shows streamed from the internet, directly from the networks websites. The commercials are fewer and we can watch when we want.
    We also tend to eat at home most of the time. I agree that it saves time and money and is healthier.

  20. Steve says:

    “What’s my point? Our lives are like a river. They flow through the channel of assumptions and priorities that we set for them. If we begin to alter those assumptions and priorities a little, sometimes the river will fight that change in flow, but most of the time, it’ll happily shift course and find that this new path is even more serene than the old one.” — This is the second time in as many days that a blogger I like has gone philosophical with water. Lucky enough, I have no problem with spending. I think your example is much clearer, or practicable. What I am getting is that it is hard to change habits, but once you give it a shot and stick it out, it works. Lucky enough, I don’t have problems with spending… my problem is changing other habits. [I just had to drop a comment because of the water example.]

  21. mark says:

    Trent (and everyone else):
    I’ve recently started using the library more to keep expenses down. We’re in suburban Detroit. Around here every little ‘burb has their own library and their all on a network exchanging books. I can place books on hold online and pick them up at the library most convenient to me. My pick up library is not even in the city we live in, but right on my commute home. The actual book may have come from 20 miles away, but I literally cannot buy a book faster than I can pick up a hold from the library. Saves money, saves time, saves gas.

  22. Grace says:

    We’ve cut back a lot of “essential” things in order to save money, and it’s been very helpful. Your suggestion about Netflix and Hulu replacing cable is something we did over a year ago, and it’s worked very well. We are saving money without having a cable bill, and only paying a small amount for Netflix. Hulu is awesome, and we can still watch our favorite shows on there! We also find that we save our time as well, since we don’t get sucked into watching show after show on cable. We make a specific choice to watch a show or two on Hulu, and then we do something else. It’s working out great.

  23. I dont have cable for the simple fact that I dont believe it is worth the $X per month they charge ( talkin about Australian rates ) If it was, I’d get it. Leo’s tip for waiting 30 days to decide on purchases is a great tip. Dont buy it becuause its everyone else does, take a step back and breath. Control your own spending. Trent provides good examples for finding alternatives for those items you cherish but can get same experience for less.

  24. Lolly says:

    “Libraries were boring places that smelled like mice”

    Sorry, this sentence cracks me up for some reason.

    What do mice smell like?

  25. kristine says:

    The only real necessities are food, shelter, and clothing.

    Food- anything beyond basic nutrition is embellishment: restaurants, prepared foods, wine, etc.

    Shelter: anything beyond enough room to sleep, bathe and prepare food is embellishment.

    Clothing: anything but simple durable clothing is embellishment.

    We reveal our values in the embellishments we choose: money on education, plasma TVs, fashionable duds, house stuff, and so on. We define our standard of living by what embellishments we elevate to the status of “needs”.

    This post was great-a lot of food for thought. I like the idea of starting with a clean slate, and adding things back very judiciously. Kind of what I intend to do when I go live off the grid. Start from scratch!

  26. Rosa says:

    The not-eating-out thing is a good frugality tip for people who already have a house with a decent kitchen, pots and pans, etc.

    But I know a number of people who do the opposite – just rent a room or a very small studio apartment, or have never invested in cooking implements or appliances, and eat out all the time (or cook at friends houses and share meals with them). A single coworker of mine who bought lunch out every day and ate the leftovers for dinner spent far less time and money than if she had been cooking for one each evening and then eating out at lunch., for instance.

    It’s when you feel like you have to have a fully-stocked big kitchen (which most homeowners do) and then don’t use it that you fall into a spending hole.

  27. Lisa says:

    Nothing has altered my assumptions and priorities as much as visiting a third world country. People living on the dirt under a piece of scrap metal, but the parents sing, the kids dance, and everyone laughs often. I saw that over and over again. Family/friends, food, some religion, and no war is my recipe for happiness.

  28. #3 Johanna — Spot on, I totally agree. :)

    For me, well, I do enjoy my cable tv. (Gasp, horror.) And the bill isn’t tiny for cable and internet… But it’s manageable. It’s not breaking the bank. It’s a luxury we can afford. (And it seriously helps me do my homework, it’s a bad habit I guess but one conditioned throughout many years.)

    My husband and I also indulge in eating out quite often… When we can afford it. It’s much more fun to not fret over dishes, food choices, etc and actually *enjoy* each other’s company for once. We hardly see each other sometimes as is.

  29. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “But I know a number of people who do the opposite – just rent a room or a very small studio apartment, or have never invested in cooking implements or appliances, and eat out all the time (or cook at friends houses and share meals with them). A single coworker of mine who bought lunch out every day and ate the leftovers for dinner spent far less time and money than if she had been cooking for one each evening and then eating out at lunch., for instance.”

    Why not cook for one each evening and eat the leftovers for lunch the next day? It’s cheaper than either of the options named and likely healthier, too.

  30. another josh says:

    I like the way Johanna articulated the want/don’t want distinction. Having narrowed my passions down to two areas, photography and music, I concentrate my “want” spending on gear and supplies for those passions. Since I couldn’t care less about watching TV, going out to bars, eating out, and so forth, I spend nothing on those things. The minimalist can’t understand why one “needs” a high-end digital camera or musical instruments when a cell phone can cover both duties. The “average person” can’t comprehend how one can live without cable TV. It seems that the choice of balance won’t please either extreme – but hey, it makes me happy!

  31. mare says:

    Hmmm…I feel kinda shallow not adding to the conversation but wanting to take away more, but this is what I wanted to know:

    Trent, knowing that I am a vegetarian and a celiac and would need to adapt most, if not all, recipes, would you post your ’15 minute’ favorites? By that, I am asking if your family would be okay sharing the quick meals you enjoy. I’d appreciate it and I’m sure others would also.

  32. kenyantykoon says:

    these things are easier said than done in my case. in the first case, the libraries are outdated and so it is a real hustle getting new books and i secondly, i love eating out. i like having a selection of foods to pick out that i hadn’t planned that i was going to eat, and not to mention well cooked and tasting very different. i dont really like cooking anyways. the curse of bachelorhood :)

  33. I agree with the author–it is all about changes habits and behaviors.

    Obviously, the author is advocating what would be a MAJOR shift in attitudes and behaviors, and I am not sure that even I could take on such a project, but his point is something that all of us can learn from.

    You can adopt/adapt to anythnig that you put your mind to in life.

    To say that it would be impossible to give up both cable and gong out to eat, to me, is almost a defeatist attitude. Of course, if you are financially healthy, maybe there is no need. If not, what would it hurt to give these up for a few months just to see the financial impact?

    We used to eat out as a family at least once a week, and enjoyed every minute of it. We gave it up a long time ago, and now we don’t even miss it.

    Who knows? Cable just might be right around the corner.

  34. Daniel says:

    I couldn’t agree more with you on restaurants and how they aren’t worth it.

    But most people don’t really know how to cook, so when they try to decide between eating out and cooking at home, the “learning curve” of cooking is staring them in the face too. From what I’ve found over my three years of blogging about home cooking, that’s a key stumbling block for people to realize the enormous benefits of cooking at home.

    Casual Kitchen

  35. Jonathan says:

    Great post Trent. There are so many modern conveniences that people think they have to have: cable, internet, cell phone, second car, etc. While none of those things are bad if you can afford them, many people let those things hold them back from financial freedom.

  36. whimsygirl says:

    We’ve made several of these changes and the more frugal way has turned out to be the more abundant way by far.
    I love knowing I can put a better meal on the table faster than going out – and it’s really fun to take those savings and invest in good cooking instruments.. which makes cooking easier and more fun.. it’s a crazy fun cycle I tell ya!

  37. Lenore says:

    I’ve also begun to see that the 20-minute wait at sit-down restaurants isn’t much fun and there are many meals you can make at home in less time for far less money.

    When I’m “jonesing” for a meal out, I often hit a fast food drive-thru or have pizza or sandwiches delivered these days. It’s less of a wait, cheaper, better than I can make and no clean up.

    I’m interested in Hulu and Netflix, but I wonder if I’d miss the convenience and surprise of “streaming” cable. Also confused by the technology and don’t have the latest, greatest computer or video equipment to make the experience as good as what I’ve got. Anything that keeps us away from the lure of $8 matinees and $5 sodas sounds good though.

  38. Lauren says:

    Question for the “no cable TV” people? How do you watch sports that aren’t shown on the major networks? I wouldn’t mind just watching shows online, but my husband is a HUGE college football fan and I watch a fair number of Penguins hockey games each season. We can easily afford our cable/internet bill, so I don’t worry too much about it. It just would be really difficult for a sports fan to go cable-free.

    I do have to give a thumbs-up to the library. My husband just started going to our local library, and he was able to rent the first season of Big Love and Deadwood for free.

  39. Aaron says:

    At a home buyer’s class the instructor gave this sage advice: “If it doesn’t clothe, feed, or shelter you, you don’t need to spend money on it.”

  40. Steven says:

    A minimalist economy is a great thing, except for the fact that so much of our economy is in the service/hospitality sector. And then you have other areas like IT and engineering that support the service sector, that would lose business. Which in turn means lost jobs and even less economic activity. Can you see where this is going?

    There are always consequences to peoples reactions, you just don’t notice them until a whole bunch of people react in the same way.

    For example, the recession is being prolonged by people hoarding money, being paranoid and fearing the worst, as well as a movement from many people to finally be responsible with their F!@#$*&^ money. This recession shows how over-extending most people were and how the bubble of economic activity in the last few years was built on lies and dreams, not to mention profiteering speculators driving prices artificially high.

    The financial meltdown wouldn’t have been so bad, if not for the mass exodus of investors from the stock market. People panicked, and sold their stock, prices fell, and more people panicked. The cycle continued to the crap we saw in the early months of the year. Now, the markets have calmed down and the stocks are starting to reach a less volatile state, with the most risk-averse investors out.

  41. ETF says:

    I’ve got to say, especially the eating out part really only resonates if you are married with a family.

    If you’re single, you have a lot of friends that you want to talk to and hang out with but may not feel comfortable cooking for. Or you may want to cook sometimes but the whole process (the fifteen minutes driving to the place etc.) becomes part of the entertainment of discovering a new place together and exploring a new part of town.

    I guess this is all part of the preferences stuff (as in people have different preferences and you agree with that) but I just wanted to add some non-married perspective to the discussion.

  42. Jill says:

    I find both humor and sadness in the things we feel we “just can’t live without”. My boyfriend and I discontinued our cable service 6 months ago, to trim out the fat, and save some extra money. We thought for sure it would be such a painful experience, as most of our weekends were spent catching up on our shows. It just didn’t seem fathomable to live without cable. However, the adjustment wasn’t that bad. It’s also made us realize that we spent countless hours zoning out in front of the tv, and not doing much of anything else. I feel I get much more accomplished around the house, and my boyfriend does more projects and throws himself into his hobbies. Cutting out cable has been a very positive experience for us, not only financially, but for our overall well-being.

  43. Craig Ford says:

    My wife has a cookbook called “More with Less”. I think the concept applies to our spending as well. As you pointed out sometimes we actually gain by reducing our usage and consumption. However, we need to remember ‘addition by subtraction’ means we get more by actually giving up some things.
    I think it is important we identify what we truely enjoy and cut out the rest of the distractions.

  44. leslie says:

    You don’t even have to go to as drastic measures as cut something completely. When I first subscribed to Netflix, I was on the 3-discs-at-a-time plan, $18/mo. After a while, I realized that I just didn’t have the time to watch all those movies.

    But instead of cutting Netflix completely, because I do enjoy watching movies, I just downgraded my plan to 1-disc-at-a-time for $10/mo which is much more manageable, and still enjoyable for me.

  45. LIttle House says:

    I love the simile “ours live are like a river.” It’s so true that one can change their habits, and therefore change their lives.

    I just want to comment on the cable thing as well, my husband and I have never had cable in our 12 years together. Our friends and family are baffled by this. When they come and visit, they always comment on how quiet it is at our house (we also don’t have kids yet.) But, I love the quiet and can’t stand the constant blabber of a television being on all day.

    I also love Netflix. My husband and I have played around with the different options and have settled on the 3-disc out option because we watch a movie every night (instead of tv).

    thanks for the post-
    Little House

  46. Hope D says:

    My husband and I are very minimalist in our finances. This is out of necessity. I do like to go out to eat every once in awhile. I know Trent likes to cook. I do to, but sometimes it’s nice to sit down and be waited on. It is nice to not have the dishes or mess. We have an inexpensive Chinese restaurant in town we like. We probably go out to eat twice a month. That is including drive thru’s. My birthday is this weekend, and we will go out to eat. The gift is not just food, but the break from cooking and cleanup for a family of eight.

  47. Kyle says:

    My wife and I did this when we moved cross-country to North Dakota for a job in 2008.

    We could only afford to take with us what we could fit in our car, and that included two cats. There is a major housing shortage up here, so we took a two-room apartment (not two-bedroom, two room).

    We started out with no furniture, sleeping on an air mattress. We slowly rebuilt our lives with only what we actually wanted, and we found out that there wasn’t much that we actually wanted.

  48. Cara says:

    I find that being single means that I eat out more in order to socialize. I am often tempted to hole up in my house and just cook and watch a movie, but the truth is, I need to go out (and that usually involves restaurants and bars) if I ever want to meet new people. I know there are alternative, less expensive ways, to potentially meet people – classes, sports teams, etc. – and I do all that as well, but dating is a numbers game, right? So if I am invited out to a bar or restaurant with a new group of people, shouldn’t I just realize that it’s going to cost a little money, but it’s more important at this point in my life to meet new people?

  49. Dave says:

    Trent is not telling you not to spend money on anything, just think about it, don’t just spend because you have been, It’s not about stopping something you like, it’s about stopping something you could take or leave, or finding a better way, is it the morning coffee, or is it the visit to the coffee shop? is it enjoying watching cable or is it enjoying spending time with the ones around you?
    If you actively think about it, that is good, if it just happens over and over again that is not.
    I worked with someone that would go out to eat every weekend, they would drive two or more hours sometimes, but that is what they enjoyed,They purpously looked around for different restaurants They also never had a brand new car, they didn’t care about that.

  50. elderly librarian says:

    Just a comment on libraries. They are having a great deal of trouble right now because local tax revenue is down. In my location, they are going to eliminate positions and there is a great deal of “anti-tax” sentiment as well. I am curious to know what Trent’s readers think of supporting “public spaces” to read and/or check out materials. Will there be a big shake up in what kind of public service can continue to be provided?

  51. Rosa says:

    @Trent #18 – well, in her case she doesn’t have a kitchen of her own, or any pots and pans – she spends her evenings at a second job or at school.

    And the amount of rent/mortgage people pay to have a kitchen WAY outstrips what you can save cooking for yourself. I like to cook, but for someone who doesn’t like to and who lives where there are cheap restaurants, a kitchen is a big waste of time and money – but one that people just assume they need, and pay for regardless of whether they’ll use it or not.

    I really learned this from roomates we had who literally did not cook at ALL, who we taught to make basic dishes like mashed potatos and refried beans. I’m pretty sure when they moved out (into a very small apartment with a tiny 1920s kitchen, nothing like our big farmhouse style place) they went back to sharing a plate at a Mexican restaurant with friends 4-5 nights a week and eating plain fruit for their other meals.

  52. Mary Scott says:

    comment on #33 elderly librarian (love the description-LOL)
    I am happy to pay local taxes for library services,and have noticed in the past few years that libraries in our area are “advertising their services” more than they have in the past, which is a good thing. If people place value on something,they are more apt to spend taxes on it. They just have to be reminded. Mary

  53. IRG says:

    Aaron, #23 writes:
    At a home buyer’s class the instructor gave this sage advice: “If it doesn’t clothe, feed, or shelter you, you don’t need to spend money on it.”

    Sounds like a pretty bleak existence using that formula too closely (and yes, I fully realize that so many around the world don’t even have clothes or shelter and we are, as Americans, even the poorest among us, much better off than others globally).

    How does art (visiting museums; purchasing art; purchasing supplies to create art and crafts)and self-education (via books, courses after college, activities, etc. and yes, gasp, even TV such as PBS)fit into a life? It doesn’t seem to.

    Our family has memberships to two museums–and we are proud to support them. Given the high cost of a single admission and our love of going, it pays off. (Yes, we do go to some museums for free when they have free days.)I cannot imagine living in the wonderful city I live in without going to its museums regularly. Same with the theater, although now it’s only an annual excursion. But we look for cheap, experimental stuff as well as free. And we’d rather spend whatever “extra” money we have on this than other things like designer clothes.

    We use the library each week and Paperback swap. We exchange books with friends. We watch a lot of TV shows on the computer.

    We’ve invested in a well-stocked kitchen. And we find, surprisingly, that sometimes we spend MORE not less than we would if we ate out because you know what? You can really get into cooking and it can get expensive when your tastes move well beyond the basics, as often happens when you cook for yourself and really try to duplicate some of the food you miss because you can’t afford to eat out and also want to eat home more.

    We are aging and we continue to do what we can afford when it comes to the theater, museums and other activities in our beloved city. The day will soon come when we simply will not be able to afford very much at all–even with a senior discount. At least we will have some great memories to sustain us.

    FYI: When we were single, in our twenties and thirties, we spent a lot of time and money socializing at events, activities and eating out–and we did buy expensive clothes. I don’t regret that for a second and had we not done it, we never could have lived a more “austere” life when we had a family and needed to save and invest for our family’s needs.

    Life is about cycles. Both in earning and spending. There is a time to “spend” (without debt, obviously!) and a time to spend less and a time when you won’t have enough to spend. Do what you can, when you can based on what really matters to you. And it will always require hard choices unless you have a lot of money. (We would have loved to have purchased a home over the years, but it just never worked out given our fluctuating incomes and work)

    You will have plenty of time in later life to sit in your home, maybe meet with friends, etc. Socializing often means spending SOME money even if you just hang in each other’s houses.

    As for TV: some of you fail to get that in certain parts of the U.S. you have cable for one reason only: You cannot get ANY channels without it. That includes basic local news, and national news on a real-time basis. For some of us, particularly based on our professions, those are not a luxury. (And no, net news is NOT a substitute.)

    What’s pathetic is that just to get basic channels you need to pay an arm and leg, both in monthly fees and electricity for their stupid always-on boxes (and you need more than one).

    That’s a rip-off I wish we could eliminate. (We tried. Converter box and antennae via a USB tuner device on our computer. Not so great.)

    I am so very very tired of advocates asking people to strip their lives down to almost “nothing” in the belief that less is always more.
    The monastic / zen life is NOT for the average family, although an annual “life audit” can help to pinpoint where we are wasting our time, energy and resources of all kind. And if our lives as we live them, match the life we want.

    Your life is not about what you have in it, but how you use it.

    We have TV so our kids can have their friends over and we can “monitor” what they watch and have them around (safer). We share our Netflix sub and have friends over for “movie” night (between the two couples, we save something like $65 and up per movie, given what a nite at the movies would cost).

    We participate in various community nights and have progressive dinners and special theme nights. (Not sure how much we save with those, but it’s a lot more intimate and friendly than expensive restaurant dining.)

    Oh, and yes. It’s a lot easier to give up expensive dining because again, in our twenties, and thirties and forties, we worked like dogs and part of that included business entertaining at some very nice places. We’re grateful, even if a lot of the time it was not fun. (Business entertaining is anything but relaxing.)

    By the way, I never hear much about anyone advocating to cut back on kids activities, lessons, and stuff with related high $ expenses. This is something in every socio-economic group. I have to laugh. We never could have afforded what so many parents spend on their kids activities todays

    Kids are so over-scheduled and often so pushed by parents…but nobody talks much about trimming/cutting back on this! same with clothes for kids.

    Being a child today seems to be a huge competitive sport in so many ways for the kids and parents. It’s just unreal.

    I don’t know how parents today cope with the pressure from the kids, the schools and other parents.

    I admire your lifestyle Trent. But it would not work for many people with their kids in major cities. Trust us on that. Those who try to break the mold here end up isolated and ostracized. It’s not fun at all.

    But people get a lot from this city that you can’t get anywhere else. And whether one lives here for a time or forever (lucky), it’s a blessing, whatever else the sacrifices.

  54. Jo says:

    I refuse to give up my cable subscription. It’s part of a bundle which includes unlimited local and long distance calling, as well as internet service.

    Anyways, I can’t say enough about how much I have learned from watching such channels as the History Channel, Discover, NatGeo, Discovery Health, TLC, Science Channel and so on. My formal education may have stopped with a high school diploma, but the ability to self-educate using resources such as these educational channels has been going on for decades now. I’m grateful.

    Regarding using the library rather than buying new books, I certainly advocate this. The caveat for myself, however, is that the towns I have lived in either didn’t have one or was very small and limited. The library in the next zipcode mandated that I have that town’s zipcode to be a member. It was a lose-lose situation.

    Instead, I’ve used Amazon.com to buy my books used for pennies on the dollar. I can then turn right around and sell them at my next garage sale for around .50, depending on the book itself.

    I agree that we should not give up the things we love doing, but we also need to recognize the fact that just because some of us choose to cut cable from our lives, doesn’t automatically make others to do the same.

    Das ist alles……

  55. Bavaria says:

    The library in our town is always looking for suggestions on books to order…so if you have a book you would like to read, let them know. If they have the funding, they can order it to add to the collection.
    Consider donating some of your favorite books to the library so others can enjoy them.
    Also, interlibrary loan (book loaning between libraries) is very useful.

  56. Sue J says:

    My husband and I cut our budget drastically after he was downsized from one job and I was downsized only a month or so later. (I’ve been thru several mergers as well) Still don’t have all the latest gadgets–and don’t care to–still happy I’ve been married for 25 years, maintained my faith, and have healthy children. This is what matters.

  57. Jill says:

    As for TV: some of you fail to get that in certain parts of the U.S. you have cable for one reason only: You cannot get ANY channels without it. That includes basic local news, and national news on a real-time basis.


    We’re BFE according to Nielsen market research, and can get one fuzzy tv channel from a station 50+ miles away unless we want to go with a tv antenna slightly bigger than a cell phone tower.

    You might be able to get ‘lifeline’ basic cable, which ends up being the local broadcast networks, like three different shipping channels, and maybe TBS. In order to get broadband where we live, you have to go through the cable company, and it was presented to us that we’d either pay $35/month for broadband and $10/month for that lifeline service or $45/month for just unbundled broadband service.

    And we still get satellite tv on top of that lifeline basic. It’s our preferred media entertainment option- never really seemed to get our money’s worth out of Netflix, haven’t rented from a video store in a year or actually seen a movie in a theater since Return of The King. And we get to see an entire season of NHL games for less than it would cost for us to get decent tickets to see one game in person.

  58. leslie says:

    #35 IRG: What meal are you making at home that costs more to make than if you were to order that same meal at a restaurant?

  59. Kim_Mango says:

    I don’t watch TV so I don’t have cable hooked up. I do like the idea from #1 where she says she has hooked up Hulu! I’m going to give that a try, and thanks for the tip.

    Eating out and going out with friends seems to be my huge money suck. It is my social activity of choice with my friends, however. So I don’t want to become a loner.

    Like most things in life, striking a balance between spending money and enjoying my time off is important. I have started cooking for friends as I get more confident in my cooking so this may become an option too.

    I’m definitely more into enjoying an experience with friends than buying more materialistic “stuff.” That said, I find the less I want the happier I become.

  60. Veronica says:

    Great Article. I like to live by Loral Langemeier’s lead on debt. She teaches you to make new money and explains that debt isn’t always a bad thing, that there are a number of ways to put more cash in your pocket…hence the title of her new book. “Put More Cash in Your Pocket.” I just ordered my copy today.

  61. Rachel says:

    As for the librarian’s question, YES, I would gladly pay fees to use the library. Since I live in the city limits, my library card is free. But I get so much service and enjoyment from the library I would gladly pay for a card.

    It amazes me the amount of people who say they would never give up cable. What if it was have cable or feed your family? Yes, we have a need for entertainment. But reading books is free. Visiting a neighbor or friend is free. And here’s an idea, going to church services and attending other church events it free as well. It also will feed your soul in a way that television will not.

  62. Andrea says:

    I have a funny to me moment while reading this post I came across this typo: Many people do it because they see it as quicer and more convenient than eating at home. With quicer being the mistyped word. I was only half paying attention to what I was reading and I just couldnt figure out that you meant to type quicker (late afternoon slump).


    I decided to google this new word and figure it out. Then I totally busted a gut laughing… First posting was from the Urban Dictionary: 1 definition – To drop your pants in a park, lie down, put french fries on your balls and let the seagulls eat the fries. Pretty sure that is not at ALL what was intended. LOL

  63. Gina says:

    @Rachael (#40):

    Well, my first response is I’d make it a goal to never have to choose between feeding my family and paying cable. Seriously.

    I know people fall on hard times, and I know people are struggling just to make ends meet. I have been there myself. I don’t mean to sound callous to their difficulties.

    But the reason I’m working is to provide myself with a certain level of comfort. I intend to eat and have my cable too. For a long time I had only the most basic cable ($15/mo.) — just two months ago I upped my subscription. I don’t watch tons of TV, but I’m finding I actually enjoy watching a variety of things I didn’t have access to before.

    Yes, I can certainly live without cable, but it adds something more to my life. Why punish myself by living a more austere lifestyle, simply because I could? What, is it a crime to enjoy ourselves even if that means spending a little money to do it?

    I think the missing part of this discussion is — just because you CAN live without it, does that mean you HAVE TO?

    Personally, I’m not interested in being guilted into making due with less.

    Oh, and I’m a devotee of hulu.com. But even that has its limits.

  64. TONY MARREN says:

    Is downsizing worth the effort? Is cooking at home versus eating out worth it? Is researching ways to save money worth it?

    I decided to embark on a gameplan to cook well without blowing a bundle on cookware.Wholeheartedly I endorse EBay or Overstock.com to track down Quisinart cookware.Cookbooks? Go to Amazon.com.

    I decided to shift my thinking on clothes from chic to utilitarian. I found brand new Oxford button down dress shirts on EBay for $10 that were tagged at $39.99.Dickies twills were found for $12 brand new. Penny loafers were two pairs for $80 at Shoe Carnival in my town. New Balance Cross trainers brand new for $33 were found at Nordstrom Rack.

    It is all about researching ideas. Ways are available to cut costs without cutting quality.

  65. Gretchen says:

    I never understood how netflix or hulu on the computer is “better” then watching the same movies or TV shows on cable.

    Plus the local news angle as someone posted above. It’s not all junk.

  66. JuliB says:

    I think that cutting back on the activities for kids is hard for people to do. No kids here, just dogs (no agility class this year, they have to be satisfied with the dog park), but a friend spends $3800 a year for her son to be on a hockey team.

    OMG. No way. He’s 10 or so…. Things seem to be different now.

  67. Daner says:

    Books are probably the one thing that I cannot live without – not without a significant decrease in life quality anyway. To me it’s not only about reading books, I love to own them and seeing them on the shelf. It’s a personal collection and it reflects my personality and my history of current and previous interests. Buying and owning books are an essential part of my life. Also, I use books both professionally and for studying purpose so owning the books is the easiest way to recollect information.

    But I often spend hours on browsing different online bookshops, searching for interesting books and where to get them cheapest. I have a list of stores that are relevant depending on whether I need just one book with low shipping costs or many with low per-book price.

    A really good tip is to look at the “Used and new” section on Amazon. Very often you can get new or never read “used” books for a fraction of the retail price. Sometimes for as little as 0.01USD plus shipping and Amazon make sure that the sellers are very honest about the condition of the books – I have never been disappointed. As a European in a country with VERY high VAT (25%) it is even more rewarding to buy used books from sellers in UK as they don’t add VAT to used books and our costumes rarely control packages from within the EU. We also have a minimum value threshold of merchandise from outside the EU, so at times money can be saved by purchasing used books from the US.

    Just my 2 Cents :)

  68. RabdZGood says:

    For those of you with inadequate kitchens: cook and entertain at a friend’s house. If you are inviting people over that your kitchen host doesn’t know – great, if it’s a dinner party with friends your kitchen host knows – even better! You’ve entertained in a nice home, cooked in a nice kitchen and spent an evening with people you enjoy, fulfilled social visits for both yourself and your kitchen host.

    When my kitchen consisted of a microwave and a few dishes my elderly friend was always open to having company. She often set a beautiful table and started the salad prior to my arrival so we had a few minutes to chat before time to start cooking. In return, when she hosted a party of her own I set the table, welcomed her guests, took food to the table, kept drinks fresh, made new acquaintances and met other people who cared about my friend.

    The benefits of hosting at someone else’s home or sharing your own kitchen are simply to many to list.

  69. Bill in Houston says:

    I really can’t think of a heart healthy meal I can create in 15 minutes. It takes me fifteen minutes to cut up the veggies and make the salad, then comes cooking. Defrost a chicken breast (boneless/skinless) for the both of us, either bake, grill, or saute the ingredients. 45 minutes minimum.

    That being said, we rarely eat out. I’m trying to think of our last lunch out. Two weeks ago. Costco. I had a turkey wrap and she had a slice of pizza. Our last dinner out was an Indian restaurant on September 29th. Mind you, we’ve been saving for expected meals out this weekend in Dallas (State Fair weekend, UT-OU game).

    The key is to define actual needs, actual wants, and stuff. Cutting out the stuff and saving for the wants keeps us out of trouble.

  70. steve says:

    I also know a single coworker who buys all of her lunches out and eats the leftovers for dinner and saves money that way (mainly, according to her, because she hates anything related to the concept of female domesticity, and cooking is highly associated with that). But she is about 5’2″ tall and very tiny. Most people need a little more food than that.

  71. Danielle says:

    I also used to have a bookstore habit. I’ve replaced it with a habit of buying books that I plan to read multiple times. I recently read a library book written by Steve and Annette Economides called “America’s Cheapest Family”. Someone recommended it to me, and I’m glad they did, because I will probably read it at least a dozen more times. To me, that’s worth a purchase.

    I will say, though, that reading TSD has helped inspire me to go back to my bookshelves and enjoy favorites for a second, third, fourth time (or more). I love that I’m getting more out of my books, and my husband loves that it isn’t costing him anything.

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