Much of my life has been spent chasing something. The goals I set may be unrealistic at times. It’s my nature to look for that next, new best thing. Even when I order off a restaurant menu, I’m more likely to take a risk on a new dish rather than order what I’ve enjoyed before. Mr. Vines is the opposite. But my constant desire to improve is not a recipe for happiness. Maybe you’ve experienced it, too.
Coincidentally everyone started talking about minimalism. The message of cultivating a greater appreciation for what I had resonated with me. It is the reason we sold our first house. Having a second home no longer served us. It was more burdensome than beneficial. That burden wasn’t making us happier. But we realized that investing the sale proceeds and the mortgage payments would put us on a quick path to financial independence.
Frugality as a path to wealth is not new. For some reason, though, it suddenly made sense that things like clothing and cars and houses and all the flotsam we fill it with were not making me happy. Living in a small space helped with this, too. It doesn’t take much for our one bedroom condo to feel full.
Still, I feel that desire for new, higher quality things. It’s a product of the culture in which we live, I suppose. But I know that when I fight against it, and resist the urge to spend unnecessarily, I feel happier. I strengthen that contentment muscle. This is the ultimate reason I write here: To share the struggle and to document our progress in this endeavor.
When talking about minimalism, or the freedom to design the life one wants to live, privilege inevitably comes up. Mr. Vine and I certainly have our fair share of it. We are high earners.
Mr. Vine is in a well-paid profession. He went to a top undergraduate school and, since the beginning of his career, has earned wages in the top 25% or better for our geographic region. After nearly 20 years in his career, he now earns wages in the top 10% for an individual. My income is a little lower, but as a couple, we’re still in the top 10% of earners nationwide. Still, we’ve called ourselves “middle class”. We were both raised by parents with modest incomes, who probably were middle class.
Those incomes didn’t stop us from making plenty of financial mistakes, though. Before we got married, I got into some minor credit card debt. We didn’t save enough to put 20% down on our first house, so we paid PMI. We bought near the top of the market because we thought we renting was a waste of money. Our interest rate on that mortgage was well over 5% for several years. We spent way too much money on things that are now long gone–either through obsolescence or disinterest.
Just the way I used to overpack because it made me feel glamorous, my spending practices are also evolving. We now take stock of what we currently own. When we sold our larger condo, we donated or sold truckloads of things. Through that exercise, we realized we have enough, way more than enough. A few times every year, I go through the house and declutter. We still have too much and we still succumb to purchase temptation. But that happens less often these days.
We’ve employed purchase procrastination. We’ve put a few rules in place to help. I never shop online while at the office. It helps my productivity at work, too. I’ll wait at least 24 hours before buying something. For larger home items like furniture, this idea of purchase procrastination wasn’t much help. We had long since recovered from impulse buying those things. But we do try to ruthlessly assess why it is that we want this new piece of furniture. In some instances, we’re able to talk ourselves out of it by repurposing something we currently own.
Spending something to avoid a bigger spend
I sometimes subscribe to clothing rental services. It’s a way to refresh my wardrobe with designer pieces of clothing for less than the cost of buying something. That’s especially true when it’s something I’m likely to seldom wear (like a formal dress) or get bored of quickly (like a blouse for work). Using these services on an intermittent basis results in lower spending overall and it’s better for the environment.
Another way we deployed strategic spending was on our bathroom renovation. Having only a single bathroom, we wanted something that made the most efficient use of our small space. And I wanted something with a bit of luxury. We ultimately spent 20% of what we paid for our condo on the bathroom renovation. We included an upgraded tile pattern, installed a steam generator, and designer faucets. But we appreciate it every day. The renovation was thoughtfully planned and budgeted. Even though the budget was large, we didn’t have any major surprises or charges. It was completed (almost) on schedule. Although we spent a lot for it, spending 20% of our purchase price was a lot less than what we would have spent to get a larger place with more bathrooms. Then end product is much more functional and better suits our needs.