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How Minimalism Changed My Life And Saved Me Tons Of Money
Everyone wants more.
We’re working so hard, but why? We want more. We want to have a bigger house, a nicer car than our neighbor, the perfect dress.
When we finally land that job which pays us $50K, we soon aim for $60K. And then $70K, and why not switch to a 12 hour day job with a $100K pay, so you can consume even more.
When the new TV comes out, we want it. We must have it. Our society is built upon the model that everybody wants more.
Recently an acquaintance of mine bought a house that was 3 times the size they needed. And the mortgage was sky-high. For the next 2 years, this is what he said would be his daily routine – work 8 hours at his day job and come back home to renovate his newly acquired house to the newest standard (which takes a long time!). Even on weekends, he’s going to work on renovating his house. For the next 2 years, he is going to work to pay down a mortgage for a home that he barely lives in. By the end of 2 years, his mortgage would only be higher on account of the money loaned out for renovation.
Are there any other people who think this isn’t the right way to go?
But what would happen if everybody wanted less? What if I gave you the brand new iPhone, but you replied: “Thank you, but I’m doing good with my old iPhone 6”?
Or if I gave you a Louis Vuitton bag, but you rejected it because you are happy with the bag you have?
What would happen if we wanted less? Wouldn’t we be happier if we were content with what we already have? Then there would be no more objects to strive for. Therefore, less stress and you needn’t run the rat race.
How I Discovered Minimalism
When I was a child I wanted to become a reader or a writer. But the people around me told me that I couldn’t make a living by reading books, newspapers, and writing stories. I soon realized that it would be more realistic to become a firefighter or a police officer, so that’s what I told everyone who asked what I wanted to be when I grew up.
But deep in my soul, I always knew I wanted to become an author, storyteller, writer, reader, or something like that. But I’ve repressed it because everybody told me to not believe in it.
Then I became a teenager and I no longer knew what I wanted to pursue. After high school, I started to study economics, but I quit after three months because I missed my home town. I started studying economics again because I didn’t know what else to study, and all my friends pursued it. After toiling for one and a half years I quit again. I saw no future in a university degree in economics because I knew it would trap me in a cubicle for the rest of my life.
Around this time I was deeply engaged in strength training and had come across useful nutrition information. Incidentally, I found a university that taught “Nutrition and Physiology”. I was hooked. For the first time in my life, I decided to pursue my formal education in a field of study I was keen to learn about.
Looking back, I am grateful that I took the right decision. During that time I survived on a small budget every month. I also had a part-time job to cover my tuition expenses. I may have lived a frugal lifestyle, but it was a satisfying life. These were some of my most memorable days. I finished the course with a Bachelor’s Degree.
I was excited about the opportunities life had to offer but my classmates were stressed out about finding a job. I, on the other hand, had just started to explore life. Why would I want to work right out of college when I had everything I needed?
I was hungry about two things – learning and exploring my country., I moved to a new town to study Biochemistry and the Environmental Sciences. Now that I didn’t have a part-time job anymore, I had to be extra cautious about spending money. But I was confident that I could manage to live with a monthly expense of about $850. These years I spent studying and accustomed to living without wants to change my mindset permanently. Some of my most memorable days were spent during that one year I was studying in a new town. It was a year where I discovered myself.
At the same time, I learned about the environment and Garret Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons”, in which he states, “The tragedy of the commons is an economic problem in which every individual tries to reap the greatest benefit from a given resource”. I also learned about eradicating poverty by empowering the poor. By giving out microloans to the poor they can start something for themselves thereby becoming self-sufficient.
I learned why it was better for the environment to eat Vegetarian food, and why water scarcity was a huge problem. Both these things stuck with me. I turned my attention to consuming a plant-based diet, It was also during this time, I decided to get a Master’s Degree in Water Engineering.
At the University where I got my Master’s Degree, I learned about myself and how I could make the world a better place. I remember feeling empowered enough to save the world. Like the previous years, I again had little money, but I ended up enjoying life to the fullest.
Perspective On Happiness
During my studies, I traveled to India for a month, and then 6 months later, to China. These trips changed me. I saw people living on the street, people poorer than one can imagine. But I also visited villages where everyone was smiling, sharing stories around a campfire, and showing happiness.
I asked one of these villagers regarding his daily earnings, and he quipped, “About $3 a day”. I couldn’t believe my ears at first. What this gentleman said got me thinking. How could they seem so happy with so little? And, why do I chase material possessions back at home? Because I always thought “things” would make me happy.
How often do you say: “When I get _______, then I will be happy”? Or, “If I just work for another year, I will be able to go on the vacation of my dreams”.
I was never completely happy because I had assumed that happiness came from material gains. And with material gains, you can never be constantly happy, because there will always be more to strive for. It is akin to running continuously on the Hamster’s wheel.
As I traveled with these thoughts in the back of my head, I started to embrace the simple life. The lack of money prevented me from buying new things. Once I stopped buying new things, I stopped wanting new things. And when I stopped wanting new things, I realized that things do not have power over your happiness.
Hello And Welcome To The “9 To 5”
Two years later I completed my Master’s Degree and found myself in a cubicle which forms the crux of the 9 to 5 world. With ideas gathered from my formal education as arrows in the quiver and my inspiration as the bow, I aimed at the problems that existed in the real world.
The first few arrows even found their mark. It was a heady mix of – the excitement of being new to this game and thrilling that I was aiming at solving real-world problems. My first paycheck was approximately $3,300. I was euphoric when I realized this was four times as much as I had lived on in the last 8 years. I remember telling myself, “What am I gonna spend them on?”.
I bought an apartment with a $300K mortgage and was happy, at least for a while. My spending was still around $950/month at the time. This meant I had over $2,000 extra to spend per month, but I didn’t want anything new. So in the absence of anything better, I began to aggressively pay down my mortgage.
I had the things I needed to be happy. I read books which I borrowed from the library, I met family and friends, I played games, and traveled occasionally. Everything was perfect, except that I was neck-deep in debt.
I wondered why everybody wanted me to chase a life of excess when in reality I already had everything I could need. I began sorting my clothes which had accumulated over the years. I retained the clothes that I frequently used and donated the rest. I remember, it felt so good to declutter. Instead of wanting more, I wanted less. It dawned on me that I’d been chasing the wrong things in my life.
Turning Into A Zombie
I was completing one year of my 9-5 and a feeling of dread started to creep over me, I started feeling bored. During my studies, they taught us how we could use our engineering skills to help those in need.
But here I was, improving solutions that already worked. Making my country 0.00001 % better. At least that’s how it felt. The reality was a stark contrast to my education. One was black and the other was white. What I hope was for shades of grey in-between.
After my regular work hours, I began studying Project Management in the hope of finding a meaningful job. And it worked. I had that “video game” feeling again for a year. But it passed on too.
Discovering “The Sweet Escape”
A few days later my brother told me about index funds, and I was completely hooked. I was suddenly asking myself this question – “Was there a legal escape from the 9-5?”.
It appeared there was an escape from the 9 to 5 grind. I couldn’t believe it. Not because I found an answer to this question, but because the answer was plain and simple and staring everyone right in the face. It was the answer to anybody’s question.
The whole Financial Independence community indirectly (through blogs and podcasts) helped me increase my income by finding better jobs. I never wanted to earn more money to spend more money; on the contrary, I wanted to earn more money so I could spend them on buying more time. I wanted to escape the 9 to 5 earlier so I could spend my time doing the things that were close to my heart.
For 3 years I had been working 40 hour weeks for the purpose of buying more and having more. But all along the way, there was nothing I wanted to buy. So what good was a job for me? What was I supposed to be working for? Nothing, except for buying myself more time by investing in index funds.
But suddenly it struck me that I didn’t need to work five days a week to continue to live the life I need to. One or two days of earnings a week was enough to support my lifestyle. The earning I made from the remaining 3 days could go into investing in Index funds.
This will not let me rid myself completely of work, but I’m sure it will give me valuable time to pursue things I’m passionate about. Writing and reading for example.
Because how can I be good at something if I don’t try? How will I know I am good at something if I don’t try? And if I succeed, I may even be able to earn some money too. When that happens, I can quit my day job. And if I fail, I’ve learned a lot and I can safely work full-time again. This is eventually something I consider.
What I Dream About
I remember a quote which said something like: “The most important thing is not to be rich. But to feel rich”. And I feel rich because there is nothing more money could buy in material terms for me. The only thing I want more of is time.
I live in a big city right now, but what I dream of is living a quiet life amidst nature. I dream of waking up without an alarm clock, doing work that I like, read, write, spend time with my wife and children, workout, and hang out with friends. A modern version of Thoreau’s Walden.
I dream of the years to come to be the richest years of my life without the burden of a full-time job. I dream of a house with a smaller mortgage and a house empty of stuff. I want to spend days pursuing fulfilling activities such as writing, reading, learning, cycling, exploring, exercising, cooking, relaxing, and as you know, all of these things are free.
With time, eventually, I will become Financially Independent. I will live like a retired millionaire, just like the Mexican Fisherman did all his life. The difference between me and a retired millionaire is that I have a lot less money and perhaps a Million that I need not worry about.
But I’ve learned that when you stop buying material things, you stop needing a lot of money. This leads you to no longer need a normal job, which again allows you to take your time back. And when you have your time back, you can pursue what you were destined to do on this earth. You can fulfill all your dreams and desires. And when you can live your dream, you will reach the highest level of happiness. Isn’t that what we all want? To live happy, fulfilling lives?
Start asking questions like:
- Who do I want to be?
- What would I do in life if money was no object?
- What do I want to learn and experience through life?
Because what makes you rich and unique is not what you have, but how you have lived. It’s in the stories you’ve collected, the lives you have touched. It’s in the memories you have to take with you.
I’m an introvert and a thinker, and I just love to sit and reflect on life. In my lunch break at work, I more than often stay by myself to think through things, and the one thing I always tend to think about is happiness. How can I be happier? When can I let myself live the life I truly want?
Like my previous self, many of you are chasing that dream house, a brand new Tesla, or a cabin by the sea. And if you win the first prize in the lottery, you will get all that. But would all those things make you happy? What if you got all that tomorrow? Now, close your eyes and imagine that you have all your wishes fulfilled.
What would be your next move? Would you continue to work? Probably you would answer that you were going to spend the rest of your time on Earth doing the thing you loved, eg. travel, spend time with your loved ones and finally catch up on all your hobbies.
But stop for a moment and think about it; because you can do all these things now. You do not need that dream house, a Tesla, or a Trillion Dollars for lasting happiness and fulfillment. You don’t need more to be happy. And this will tell you that your happiness has nothing to do with material things at all. Happiness is found in simple things, such as taking a bicycle trip in the woods or gazing up at the stars at night.
If you find yourself unhappy, not having the time or money to live the life you desire, start asking yourself, why? What are you missing in your life? What are you missing from your life? I’ll bet you’re spending too much time working, and not enough time on the things you love. But what are you working so hard for? What do you need to buy that you don’t already have?
- You can buy a car for $10,000, or you can invest that $10K in index funds which will pay you $700 every year for the rest of your life. And of top of that, you get compounding. No coincidence that Albert Einstein said that the compounding effect was the world’s eighth wonder.
- You can buy a $1,000 TV, or you can buy a nice vacation in Europe which will give you lasting memories.
- You can buy a $1,000,000 beach house with an enormous mortgage, or you can choose a cheaper lifestyle and eventually become FI.
Think about the stuff you’re buying. Is it bringing your dream closer? Or pushing it further away? Maybe you don’t even know what your dream life is, and therefore it’s not a weird thing you are wasting money.
But you have the chance to take a grip of your life. To dream about what you want. To control your destiny.
Like Christopher Mc Candles says in the movie “Into The Wild:
“When you want something in life, you just gotta reach out and grab it.”
What is your ideal lifestyle, and how much does it cost you to live that? For me, I think $2,000 a month is enough, you can see my expenses here.
My investments in index funds pay me now approx. $500 every month even if I sleep, workout, or go on a vacation. That means I’m paid simply to exist. I dream of reaching my crossover-point, that’s where my monthly FI-money will be $2,000 or more every month. At the same time, I think about working fewer days a week and pursuing activities and hobbies I love.
That means it will take me longer to reach financial independence, but does it matter when I can do more of what I love now? What about you? How much money do you need? If your lifestyle is too expensive, want less. Everyone has a choice between living with more and working more, or living with less and working less.
Which Path Will You Choose?
I do not spend my day dreaming about things to buy, but rather reading about ideas, things I want to learn, writing about things that are on my mind, and occasionally seeing places that I’ve always wanted. I walk, I exercise, I read and write, I explore and I relax. That is my perfect day. I’ve been liberated by simply living a life of minimalism. I no longer believe in the lie that success consists of earning more and buying more. I buy only what I need, and I simply live.
The problem with buying expensive things is that you need to loan money. And because of that, you can’t stop working. You can’t travel, spend more time with your family or pursue all your hobbies. You can’t quit your job because you need that money to pay the loan. Your entire day, your entire life is dedicated to earning more money to pay for your excess needs. Who owns your time? Yourself or your employer?
Minimalism and Financial Independence is about taking your time back! I highly recommend you to read “Your Money And Your Life” if you want to start taking control of your own time. Here you can read how it changed my life.
So you spend your time working 9 – 5 almost 50 weeks a year. When the weekend finally arrives you have two precious days free, but you need to spend it maintaining your lifestyle. You have to clean the house, the car, the boat, the second house, the clothes, the garage, the garden.
What if we turn it around? What if you had nothing? How much simpler would life be? Nothing to clean, nothing to fix, nothing to solve. Just you and your time to do whatever you want. How much more time would you have to pursue your dreams? You could sleep in late, read, write, look at the stars, do sports, yoga, meditate. You could do anything! It’s only the stuff that stands between you and all your dreams.
So why not pursue a minimalist lifestyle? Instead of wanting more things, isn’t it better to want less? Empty your closet instead of filling it up. Give away things and get warm smiles from the people you help at the same time.
Instead of buying something every weekend, sell something. Instead of wanting everything, want nothing at all.
You are capable to decide what you want in your life. If you want fewer things, you need less money. And if you need less money, you don’t have to work for money. And if you don’t have to work for money, you’re free. The choice is yours.