We’re Not Broke, We’re Minimalists

We’re broke, didn’t you know?

Believe me, it came as a complete surprise to us as well. All these many months of budgeting and saving and investing and paying off student loans and buying a car with only 2 payments, and here we sit today, flat broke. The way I hear it, we can’t even afford to buy a box of Kleenex. You’re shocked, I know. You thought we had more sense than that. And you’re probably wondering what happened. Where would a couple of minimalists spend their life savings and how would we suddenly go from financially flexible to strapped for cash.

Here’s a clue. We didn’t.

As much as I love toying with the idea of living a moneyless life, being broke is not on my list of things to do in 2018. The assumption that we’re living paycheck to paycheck came from someone who is living the “American Dream” (in other words, she is broke herself) and it caught me so off guard that since hearing it, I’ve turned it into a joke.

“No, love, we can’t get those day-old croissants. We’re broke, remember?”

“Mom, do you have a quarter? I need to get some Ramen for dinner.”

There are people all around us who are living in poverty. There are hardworking men and women who can’t make ends meet no matter how hard they try. There are students saddled with so much educational debt that they have no choice but to live with mom and dad until they are 30. There’s nothing funny about that, and I firmly believe that it’s going to take the voices and efforts of all of us to make any changes there. But when someone mistakes minimalism for financial insecurity, now that’s something to chuckle about.

Let’s talk about how we got here…

We’re broke because we eat out of the dumpster. 38 million tons of good food goes to waste every year in America and the grocery store next door does a fine job of contributing to this terrible statistic. Knowing this, we feel a responsibility to at least rescue what we can. Besides, when you can find foods like this for free, why would you pay for them?

We’re broke because we shop at the thrift store. The average American throws away 80 pounds of clothing per year. Most of which ends up in a landfill somewhere. The average minimalist wears 30 pounds of clothing per year (yes, I weighed our wardrobe). Angie and I both could dress quite nicely on the discards of just one person so yes, we shop at thrift stores. Not only is thrifting better for the environment but it’s quite fun. Who doesn’t enjoy finding a pair of $80 ExOfficio travel pants for just $2.99?

Monkeying around at Rainforest Zoo on a Groupon.

We’re broke because we use coupons and discounts. I’m sorry but paying full price for something is not an indicator of wealth (like so many folks here in the South think). Every dollar saved is well…a dollar saved. And with those saved dollars, we can do other, more important things like travel.

We’re broke because we don’t have luxuries like cable and the latest iPhone. Don’t even get me started on how backwards we are because of this! Yes, our $50 Boost Mobile phones do have a tendency to attach random sentences to text messages but what’s life without a little novelty? And on the subject of cable, we broke up nearly 5 years ago and we haven’t missed it yet. We have; however, had quite a lot of fun on the $79 per month we used to spend for the pleasure of clicking through channels to find there was never anything on.

Playing cornhole at the park.

We’re broke because our idea of fun is a day at the park. Not the theme park. The regular park. The one with the grass and trees.

But mostly we’re broke because we “failed” at Christmas this past year. While this person went overboard, buying everything that everyone in her family even thought about wanting, we made our gifts and stuck to our guns about not supporting rampant consumerism. And we have yet to live this down.

Minimalism is a hard concept for some people to understand. It’s different, I know. Maybe even revolutionary in some respects. It’s definitely counter-intuitive to the way we (Americans) have been raised, where “stuff” and “debt” are such a part of normal culture that we often fail to realize a different path exists. Minimalism asks folks to take stock of what’s important to them and usually, because of it, they eschew the traditional path of excess and responsibility and do something far more fascinating/important/worthy with their lives. When this happens, those around them react and more often than not, the reaction is a negative one. I’m sure there’s a better psychological reason behind this but my take on it is that people often feel threatened by things they don’t understand, or think are beyond their own reach.

The thing is, minimalism is not beyond reach. Anyone can choose to live a life of less. You don’t have to live in a tiny house or wear the same clothes all week long. You don’t have to get rid of everything you own or stop shopping altogether. You just have to decide what’s most important to you and reduce or eliminate anything that doesn’t support that choice. For us, the most important thing is spending time with each other and our family (and travel, of course!). Having cable or an expensive phone doesn’t support that. Neither does buying new clothes or handing out expensive holiday gifts to show “how much we love someone”.

We can’t change how other people see the world if they choose to keep their eyes closed. We just have to accept that for every one person who supports our choices in life, there are likely to be ten more who don’t. If being environmentally aware, if being thoughtful and considerate of others, if making more conscious decisions about what we do with our money and more importantly, our time, makes us “broke” then I suppose we’ll just have to accept that too.

Now does anyone have a dollar I can borrow? I really need that croissant.

Celebrating a Year of Work-free Wednesdays

One year ago this month, I reduced my work schedule to part-time. For an entire year, I’ve had every weekend and every Wednesday off and I have to say, it has been great. Want to know the crazy part? We didn’t tell a soul (in our family, that is). We did tell all of you but as far as I know, none of you spilled the beans, did you??

A few times, I thought they might have gotten wise to my work-free Wednesday routine but since nothing else in our lives changed, I think they dismissed the idea as quickly as it came. By nothing else, I mean, we didn’t change our spending habits, our travel actual increased, we pretty much paid cash for a car, and we saved money like mad – all of which might indicate we worked more, not less this year.

By cutting back to part time, we reduced our income by close to $8,000 this year. So you’re probably thinking that we side-hustled to make up the difference, right? Nope. There have been times throughout the year that we’ve hustled our way to a bit of extra income but in comparison to years past, even that was less this year. Thankfully, we didn’t need to compensate for the reduction. Our 2016 experiment of living on 50% of our income was great training and it put us in the perfect position to employ those same frugal principles going forward.

Aside from practice at living incognito, our year of part-time employment brought a few other notable changes. We were able to enjoy:

More walks in the park.

More picnic lunches (and breakfasts).

More impromptu adventures.

More family time.

More homegrown food!

There were also more books read. More freebies found in the dumpster. More experiments in the kitchen. More practice at cutting our own hair. More documentaries watched. More visits to the library. More time to help others. More creativity. More movie nights at home. More pictures taken. And more money saved. I think I could go on all day!

In other words, what seemed like it might be a difficult endeavor a year ago has turned into one of the best decisions we ever made. Though, I should probably point out that living successfully on one part-time income is not always fun and games. It requires a whole lot of budgeting and planning and there are some sacrifices to be made along the way. Simply put, you have to have your mind set to simple, otherwise it just won’t work.

If you’re wondering why we didn’t tell anyone outside of this blog that I was going part-time, here’s the unashamedly selfish answer – we wanted a day for ourselves. When you live a life of less, sometimes other people tend to see your free time as their opportunity to plan something for you to do. “Oh you’re just hanging out at home today? Reading a book? In that case, can you go to the grocery store for me, take these curtains to the dry cleaner, pick up my package at UPS, drop off the little one at day care, and if you have time, I’ve really been craving your homemade spaghetti sauce. Let’s have that for dinner. Say 6 PM?” You probably already know all too well how often that really does happen.

Throughout the year there were many Wednesdays that we spent in service to others – taking my Mom to a doctor’s appointment, babysitting for my niece, or doing yard chores – but the choice to do those things was ours. And that, I believe, really was the best part of having Wednesdays off; knowing that we could get up and choose for ourselves just how to spend our day.