Let’s start things off with my fun minimalism joke from last year, easily in the top 10 of jokes you guys probably ignored.
— Nelson! (@financialuproar) May 31, 2015
After just moving to my new place, I’ve sort of gained a new appreciation of minimalism. On the one hand, I want to fill my new man cave with a nice chair and couch and maybe a TV. Anything less than 55” is for girly boys, or at least I’ve been told.
But on the other hand, I can see why the whole exercise is dumb. I’ll spend only a few hours in that room a night, tops. And that’s if I’m ignoring my wife, which I don’t like to do. At least most of the time. She cooks me dinner, and in exchange, I’m nice to her. It’s a real win-win relationship.
(Gets served with divorce papers) I really should have seen this coming.
Although our house is only 875(ish) square feet (with a full basement), it’s probably too big for two people. We have a spare bedroom that, as I’ve argued before, is pretty much a money pit. I should really AirBnb it, actually. We have two bathrooms, which is convenient about once a month. We could easily make due with one. And I need a man cave like I need Cheetos.
We could easily live in a place half the size.
Plus, after moving, it’s easy to see the appeal of only owning enough things to be able to fit into the backseat of a car. This undoubtedly makes live less complicated. It’s usually much cheaper too, since this enables one to live in very small places. There’s no sense buying a house or renting a whole apartment when your stuff fits into a bedroom or even a tent.
The extreme early retirement guy approves.
Minimalism has a huge financial benefit. Cash normally spent on items can be directed towards investing, saving, or paying down debt. Renting a room is undoubtedly cheaper than renting a whole apartment, although you do run the risk of having a crazy roommate. And there’s a certain lack of stress about a minimalist existence.
That’s the biggest benefit to being a minimalist, the freedom. If you can cut your fixed expenses to just a few hundred dollars per month, it’s easy to have flexibility in life. Want to spend your life washing dishes in all 50 states like Pete Jordan and then write a book about it? You can do that if you’re a minimalist.
(Aside: the story about [not Pete] spitting in Hillary Clinton’s sandwich is well worth the $12 price)
Inevitably, that becomes the big appeal of minimalism. In the world of personal finance, I’ve come across a lot of folks who would identify as minimalist. And just about always, a big part of embracing this lifestyle boils down to travel. They want to ride elephants in India or moon Hitler’s bunker in Berlin or partake the local “cuisine” in Amsterdam (weed or hookers, take your pick).
Long time readers may remember your’s truly falling for that, packing up and leaving for South Korea for a year. And although I enjoyed the experience (for the most part, anyway), I sure am glad I had a job throughout so I could continue growing my net worth.
Want to save money on hotels? Of course you do. Here’s how I saved over $250 in just a few minutes using Hotwire, which is pretty much the greatest thing since sliced bread. Not that sliced bread is worth getting excited over in 2016, but still.
The problem with minimalism
Minimalism seems like a noble pursuit. So why exactly is ol’ Nelly here about to turn into the internet version of an old man yelling at teenagers?
It’s because like a lot of good movements, minimalism has devolved from something noble to something that, at least for some of the people preaching it, rotten to the core.
It goes something like this. Somebody embraces minimalism and decides it’s pretty outstanding. They realize there’s a market to selling their lifestyle to others, probably after the 27th “I’m so jealous!!!!” post on their latest vacation pictures on Facebook. So they start to push the sexy aspects of it.
Soon, the business takes off, which enables our hero to continue traveling indefinitely. Instagram pictures of her sitting on a beach get even more likes. Twitter status updates are filled with the kind of headaches regular people only experience every few years. Ugh! My flight is delayed again! Better @ mention the airline. That’ll get me on the plane faster!
Seriously, people mentioning the airline on Twitter is my favorite thing ever. You couldn’t pay me enough to run the social media for any airline. I’d slit my wrists within an hour.
The whole lifestyle becomes a bit of a competition. How many cities can I visit? How much money can I make while embarking in this sexy lifestyle? How many credit cards can I churn to get even more miles to go even more places? And so on.
What happens is the so-called minimalist creates a lifestyle that’s pretty much the opposite of free and easy. Traveling is stressful. Showing up in a city without a clue about using the subway is hard. You have to figure out where to eat and where the new hotel is. And depending on the place, locals are practically salivating over the either kidnapping or ripping you off.
I feel like I should be inserting a Rio 2016 joke here.
And the money spent! I don’t care if you stay at hostels or eat cheap or do all of the tips that end up in those “save money traveling” blog posts. Even if you do it cheaply, spending time on the road costs money. Vietnam and Thailand and wherever might be cheap, but so is renting a small bedroom at home.
This gets to the important message I want to get through with this blog post. I don’t care what you spend money on. You can spend it on things, travel, collectibles to hang on your wall, food, beer, or buying yourself a pet gorilla.
The point is cash spent is cash spent. It’s gone. It’s not contributing to your net worth if it’s spent onanything.
We seem to have this idea that money spent on experiences is better spent than money spent on stuff. Why have a closet full of clothes when you can have a brain full of unforgettable memories?
But remember the motivation of the person telling you such a thing. They’re likely directly (or indirectly) making money by perpetuating this lifestyle. Think of it as a technological version of a barber telling you it’s time for a haircut.
There’s a case to be made for spending money on experiences. Too often, however, that case is made by a person who has everything to gain from such an attitude. And remember that no matter what you spend your money on, once it’s gone, it’s gone.
At least when you spend it on stuff there’s often a little residual value. Try taking your Ibiza photos down to the pawn shop and see how far that gets you.