Frugal vs. Minimal

To be frugal or to be minimal. That is the question. Whether ’tis nobler to buy new, to buy used, or to go without….

Must. Resist. Shiny. Things.

I get pretty excited about both frugality and minimalism. But sometimes contradictions arise and I’m forced to balance the two.

For example, I own a $5 yardsale blender for smoothies and a food processor for recipes. A $350 Vitamix would accomplish both tasks and only take up the space of one appliance. Pretty tempting to minimalistic me.

But the frugal part of me is happy with my current setup, and finds it totally unnecessary to buy something new that accomplishes the same basic tasks.

Frugality wins this time.

It all comes down to what you and your family prioritize. What values do you hold highest? Minimalism? Living on less? What are your goals and dreams for your family? Paying off debt? Producing less waste? Minimizing your energy footprint? Giving to those in need? Hosting large gatherings?

Find Your Focus 

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People encourages readers to create a mission statement. A family mission statement can be pivitol in making all types of decisions, including thoughful buying decisions. Being regularly reminded of who you are and what you value will help you find the right balance of frugal / minimal / everything else.

Our family mission is based on these three pillars:

Simplicity. Generosity. Hospitality.

I’ll write about these three pillars and how you can form your own family mission statement in detail another time. For now, just know that Josh and I have these three words in the forefront of our minds when wrestling with a decision about how to use our resources.

Some forms of minimalism can be expensive. Buying quality items that serve several purposes is the more minimal thing to do, but when that’s not affordable I used to struggle with what to do. Same goes for buying items in large bulk – frugal, but not really minimal.

Now I look at every decision through the lens of my mission. Is it helping me accomplish my greater goal to live simply, give generously, and practice hospitality?  (FYI, hospitality is one of our family’s biggest frugal and minimal exceptions, and that’s because we prioritize opening up our home more than having just one small set of dishes.)

Do I really need these chairs to make people feel welcome in my home?

Materialism in Disguise? 

I found it tempting when I started getting into minimalist decor to spend money on stylish sleek decorations. But that is completely missing the point of true minimalism. That is consumerism disguised as minimalism. My desire to not spend and avoid consumerist waste outweighs my attraction to those hip sheepskin rugs at IKEA.

Kalie from Pretend to be Poor shares:

“I find it immensely ironic that ads portray sparse and immaculate scenes, when over-consumption only creates cluttered chaos. No one gets rid of all their equivalent possessions as soon as a new purchase crosses their threshold. Advertising sells the double lie that more stuff will improve your environment when it’s more likely to over-crowd it.”

Kalie says that simply imagining the item in her own house, alongside all her other stuffis usually enough break the illusion the retailers are creating.

A far better way to truly embrace minimalism is to simply let go of things and embrace the empty space that’s left – not replace them with sleeker objects that do the same thing. Even with minimalism it’s easy to be materialistic and become consumed with things. As much as I love The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, the very idea that an object can “spark joy” in me is materialistic at heart.

So my frugal rules for myself are to:

Wait for it to Break

The cool thing is, this rule allows me to be less uptight about my home (which is important with small children!)

I love hardwood floors way more than carpet. But rather than immediately rip out all the new carpet the previous owner installed in the bedrooms, I’m going to wait for it to wear out. I won’t be as upset if my kids walk on it with dirty shoes or accidentally spill something. It means the timing might be right for my upgrade then. In the meantime, it’s wasteful to throw out perfectly good carpet.

Use it Up

When cleaning house, minimalistic me can be tempted to toss everything in sight. Frugal me tugs on the reigns and remembers: it’s okay to use things up rather than send them to a landfill.

Right now I’m doing this with all my soap, shampoo, and lotions. I have no idea why I had such an assortment! All you really need is one bottle of shampoo, one bar of soap, and one lotion. In order to declutter my collection, I will not be buying anymore of these kinds of things until I completely run out of what I already have. (It might take a year!)

Account for Hidden Costs

Some upgrades shouldn’t wait. You can appease both your frugal and minimalistic sides if you do the math and discover a new fridge or freezer would be significantly cheaper to run than the bulky monstrosity you currently use. We had a huge, ancient fridge in our basement when we moved here and were overjoyed that locally Ameren picks up inefficient fridges to recycle – and pays you for them! Win win! We also saved money (in the long run) by replacing a toilet, shower head, and windows with more efficient models.

Beware Unnecessary “Deals”

Remember not to let your frugal self get carried away when you see a $40  item at 50% off. Deals are really only deals if you need the item in the first place. Otherwise, you’re not saving $20, you’re spending $20 – and gaining an unnecessary item! Not really frugal or minimal, in spite of how appealing it may seem.

These are my personal rules, but the bottom line is to know what you value most and go with that in a pinch. Life is full of decisions, some of which must be made in a split-second. Having core values as your default is incredibly helpful.

I hope this gives you some ideas of how to balance tricky spending questions. Best of luck figuring out the right balance of frugal / minimal priorities for your family!


Add yours →

  1. I love your family’s three tenets! So similar to ours. Thanks for the shout-out, too. It can be so hard to resist shiny things!

  2. Really enjoyed this post and articulated exactly how I feel when trying to walk the line between minimalism and frugality. Great mission statement too. M

  3. It is well known that ensure financial survival from debt and missed payments, costs should be minimized as much as possible.

    The tips Wait For It Break and Use It Up emphasize maximizing utility. Personally, I still have lots of school supplies left to go even though I recently finished school. Knowing that, it is not best to purchase more school supplies.

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