A Practical Solution to (Almost) All Your Money Problems

“Go out in the world and work like money doesn’t matter, sing as if no one is listening, love as if you have never been hurt, and dance as if no one is watching.” —Victor Hugo.

Our Financial Discontent.

For most of my life, I have had money problems. In fact, I have always lived with a deep sense of personal discontent concerning my use of money. This discontent (or unease) concerning my finances came from two areas:

First, I have always been discontent with the amount of money I was spending. Ever since graduating college in 1996, I have lived paycheck-to-paycheck… never able to get ahead. Despite ever-increasing paychecks, I was never able to build up any substantial savings. My credit card bill seemed to mimic my pay stub. The money came in. The money went out. And as I entered my 30’s, this inability to build savings could no longer be blamed on an entry-level income, it had to be blamed on me.

Second, I have always been discontent with where my money was being spent. I consider myself spiritual… one who cares about the invisible qualities of life more than the visible. Unfortunately, my bank account never aligned with my stated beliefs. Nearly every spiritual leader of every major religion preaches generosity, contentment, and care for the disadvantaged in society. Yet, my financial gifts to those in need were few and far between. I had a desire to help the poor, care for the orphan, and comfort the widow, but I could never get behind those intentions with my finances. It concerned me on a deep, spiritual level.

And in both regards, a solution was seemingly unavailable. That was, until Memorial Day 2008, when my neighbor introduced me to minimalism and intentionally living with less.

As a result of our short conversation, the solution to my financial discontent became surprisingly clear. It was simple and practical. It was “Buy Less.”

Our Solution: Buy Less.

Just to be clear, the resolution of buying less was not a new solution to me. I was not naive enough to have never thought of it before. But the solution had never sounded attractive to me. Buying less sounded like I was taking a step backwards in life… admitting defeat… unable to earn the income necessary to live the American dream. It sounded boring… unfashionable… and destined for ridicule.

But I was wrong.

Deciding to intentionally live with less is among the best decisions I have made in my life. As a result of paring down most of our possessions and determining to only buy things that are needed, we have found life greatly improved.

We have more time, energy, and money available to us than ever before… we have more opportunity to pursue the greatest passions in life… we spend less time cleaning, organizing, and repairing the “stuff” in our lives… we have been forced to intentionally redefine our values… and rather than chasing every new product or fashion line sold at the department store, we are finally able to invest into the things that make our lives worthwhile and significant.

In this simple solution of buying less, both avenues of financial discontent in our lives have been resolved. Every month, we have money left over for savings. And every month, we have more to give away.

For our financial discontent, the practical solution of buying less was perfect. Today, my only regret is that I hadn’t started sooner.

Other Financial Problems.

But what about other money problems? Would the mindful practice of intentionally buying less solve them too? In most cases, it would. Consider some of these all-too-common money problems and how their solution is found in simply buying less:

I am deep in debt. According to CNN, the average American household carries nearly $10,700 in credit-card debt. Buying less provides the opportunity to slowly begin repaying that debt. It takes time. But patience, persistence, and discipline will absolutely free you from that crippling burden. And if buying too much is the cause of the problem (in most cases), buying less is most certainly the solution.

I don’t make enough money. While there are some legitimate cases where income does not provide for basic needs, more often than not, this money problem springs from an internal desire to purchase luxuries that we believe will add joy to our life. Because our income does not match our desires, we believe that we aren’t making enough money. But joy from luxury is short-lived, fleeting, and can never satisfy. Your heart will always desire more and your income will never match your thirst. Instead, an intentional decision to purposefully live with less will provide the inner space to find contentment in your life and begin making the most of it today.

I feel trapped in my job. Too many people that I know feel trapped in their present employment. Their internal groaning is often heard in statements like, “I can’t wait to retire” or “I can’t believe I have to go to work today.” And while some feel trapped because of their need for health care, others feel trapped because of their need to keep up a completely avoidable lifestyle: their mortgage, their car payment, or their credit card bills. If you feel trapped, know that the invitation to “buy less” remains open. There is an escape. The decision to live with less will open the door to surviving on a tighter budget and soon open the door to finding work you love.

I fear retirement. As nearly every financial outlet worth reading reminds us, the most important key to building retirement savings is to start saving today and contribute consistently. Whether you are 20, 30, or 50, your retirement account will not grow substantially without your contributions. So get started today with this simple formula: Buy less. Save more.

My marriage is falling apart due to financial stress. It is true that one of the leading causes of divorce in our world today is financial stress. This stress stems from any number of factors: disagreements on spending, loss of employment, stress from existing debt, and/or financial secrets. Depending on your specific circumstance, intentionally buying less may not solve all of them (or any of them). But it certainly can’t hurt. And maybe… just maybe… the extra financial space that is created from even one partner deciding to buy less will provide the space necessary to address the underlying factors that are leading to the inability to resolve your differences.

To be true, your specific money problem may not have been addressed in the list above. Unfortunately, there is just not opportunity to address every financial condition in this limited post. If you need to read practical advice from a different angle, consider any of these blogs dedicated to the subject of personal finance: Get Rich Slowly, The Simple Dollar, Wise Bread, Frugal Dad, or ChristianPF.

But my goal was not to specifically address every possible avenue of financial discontent. Instead, my hope was to raise your personal awareness towards the same simple, practical solution that resolved the financial discontent in my life: buy less.

Whatever financial stress you may be feeling today, know that buying less is probably the most practical solution. And the road to relief may in fact be far more appealing than you think…

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. says

    This is great! It feels so basic but something foundational like “Buy Less” can impact so many things. It almost feels like being reprogrammed because the typical mindset is to buy newer and better things just because they’re available.

  2. Tiffany says

    The rewards of buying less are fantastic and so true…but such a simple thought/action requires a lot of work! It takes a lot of work to change your mindset…to stop going to the mall on the weekends because that’s what you’ve done all your life. to stop rewarding yourself with a new gadget because you work hard and deserve it. to stop and actually think about dropping $40 on a cute pair of shoes and then WALK away because you have 10 pairs of shoes at home already (not to mention the ones you wore to the store in the first place).

    It really is a whole new mindset…and the adaptation of a new way of life. But once you start it becomes easier and easier, and the rewards come faster and faster.

    I’m actually at the point where when I have to go to the mall to find a specific item I look around and wonder what the heck all these other people are doing inside on such a beautiful day!

  3. says

    Josh,

    I couldn’t agree more. *Buy Less* is the ticket to freedom. I’ve been working really hard to get that message across in an inspirational way to the (admittedly few) readers of my site. The biggest obstacle I feel most people come across is feeling like living in this way is somehow giving up, or giving in. It’s a great feeling when it can be explained in a way that just clicks for people that it’s not giving up, it’s not giving in, and it’s certainly not settling for less. It’s choosing to LIVE more instead of SPEND more, and to BE more instead of EARN more. I think you do a really great job of not only explaining that, but exemplifying that on your site. Thanks, and if you’d ever like someone to write a guest post, please let me know.

    • Nicole says

      I love what you said there Nick. “It’s choosing to LIVE more instead of SPEND more, and to BE more instead of EARN more.” So true and so simply put – this is something I want instilled in my children before they get their first pay check or they decide to cash in their pocket money :)

      • says

        Hey thanks!

        I think that it’s an important idea that’s been lost in recent generations. Unfortunately it’s so counter-cultural that it’s a very difficult idea to explain. Here’s hoping that future generations don’t have it so tough: That the idea of a job encompassing your whole life simply for the purpose of making money is something rare and shameful instead of celebrated. If you’re not passionate about something you’re doing, you’re not doing the right something.

  4. j dan says

    Buying less can be tough to implement if you don’t stop to think about what you are purchasing. My husband & I decided that any purchase over $75 (other than food or gas) needed a cousult with the other spouse AND an overnight wait.

    • Patricia says

      Wow, I envy you. I’ve wondered how a true partnership is supposed to work.

      I make about 25 – 30% of what my husband now brings in for a wage, but I have to fill all the ‘holes’ left – about 50% of our living expenses – once he takes whatever he feels he needs from his paycheque to pay for the things he wants. If he works any overtime, he takes that pay over to another bank to which I have no access and spends or invests it on what he chooses. Because it’s his money. He can do that.

      I pay for many of the costs in raising the kids (clothing, sporting fees, college saving funds) but he gets all the tax benefits. Now, I owe $6500 in federal taxes from 2010 for my small business. I don’t have a steady income, plus I continue to pay many of the household bills over and above my business expenses.

      This week my husband had me type up a letter to “our” investment consultant asking him to withdraw $7000 from his retirement savings, and deposit into his personal bank account.

      He didn’t sacrifice this lump of retirement savings to help me clear up my tax bill. Hell no. That’s my responsibility.

      He’s withdrawing that money so he can go buy a dirt bike.

      He would NEVER agree to an arrangement like you have with your husband.

      Mine is still a 50/50 relationship… he gets all the cash and assets, I get all the liabilities and debt.

        • Jen says

          Not to be harsh at all and of course I don’t know your personal circumstances, but I would fight like hell and not let him get away with this. This sounds like abusive behavior, really. Best of luck to you!

        • Genista says

          Wow Patricia! That is no marriage at all! You guys need to sit down and work out what your combined income is then make decisions about how to spend it/invest it. If you carry all the liabilities and pay for the raising of the children what on earth are you doing married to him?? Sounds like you just have an additional selfish adult child to look after! I feel for you, I really do. You need to see a financial planner or counsellor and I would definitely be giving him some ultimatums. Good luck!

          • Eboney says

            Totally agree. That is not a marriage or partnership. Make a way for yourself so that you can be set free. He’s clearly taking advantage of the situation and you can’t let him do that to you any longer.

      • Dj says

        Patricia, if you are looking for validation that you are being treated unfairly you got it! Overtime is his? Who was working overtime with the kids while he was at work? I do not mean to belittle your relationship. Only you can decide what is best for you, but I encourage you to seek change that will also serve as a better example for your kids. Either a healthy relationship together, or living apart (hey- financially speaking at least you’d probably get more with alimony and child support!…sorry, couldn’t resist)

    • Peggy M. says

      Seems like all the stress for making your budget work falls on your shoulders alone. That’s an awful big burden to carry by yourself. I can relate, I’ve been in similar situations before but, once our financial goal was set that we both wanted for our family, it was easier to get both sides to cooperate and focus. I wish you all the luck in the world, and start making baby steps to a better future.

  5. says

    At the beginning of the year I set out to purchase nothing (except food and hygiene products). The most magical thing happened: within 90 days my entire mindset changed; I realized the pernicious aspects of our heavily mediated culture and its effects on our buying habits. It changed my life.

    I recommend this to anyone. Try it for at least 60 days. You will realize that you can’t buy things and that that’s OK. Life goes on (and gets better).

    Take care,

    Joshua Millburn

    • says

      I did a buy nothing month in Sept. it was like a spiritual fast. I have been removing all the unnecessary things in our home too. (I never had a whole lot of stuff but this is more extreme.) It has changed how I shop and I’ve set a new goal, to save as much as I can for a trip around the world. I never go without, I have so much I can’t give it away fast enough. I’ve been blessing my friends and neighbors with my excess and it feels good. We have always lived below our means but this has taken it to a whole new level for me. I’m a professional organizer and I have more and more encouraged my clients to stop organizing and start downsizing, not that being organized is a bad thing I just get tired of seeing stacks and stacks of bins and containers full of “stuff” that people think they need and want while they struggle with their finances and their busy schedules. I’ve shared your posts with a lot of people, thanks for the encouragement.

      • YanaM says

        Carole293,
        Thank you for this comment! I love organizing too but whenever I see garages full of stuff and cars parked outside of the houses it is driving me crazy! On the same note, some people say that they are straggling financially and at the same time paying every month for extra storage lease to keep their STUFF – how does this make sense? I don’t get it. I am with you all, it feels so good to be downsize and de-clutter. Bottom line is we truly do not need a lot and money can be spent on other important things like travel, health, charity. Love the blog – cannot get enough of it!

  6. says

    Isn’t the power of buying less amazing? Shopping used to be my favorite pastime. I still shop, but it’s more of a mindful experience. I bring cash and not credit cards. I know ahead of time exactly what I’m shopping for. Do I live with less than 100 things? No. I still consider my family minimalist … we don’t need much to have fun or feel happy.

    You’re right – buying less has increased the amount of things we can afford to do. We still have nice meals, go on vacations and visit loves ones out of town. Buying less allows us to do this without going into debt. Now, our savings grows instead of our credit card balance.

    At times, buying less is still a challenge, especially raising teens. They feel a lot of pressure to buy and spend and wear their value on the outside. In the end, it’s still the best decision. We live a slower life by buying less.

    Thank you for spreading the word. :-)
    Melissa Gorzelanczyk

  7. says

    Wow. Josh. Ever since I somehow stumbled upon your site (the “100 things” post), I’ve been incredibly inspired to move toward a minimalist lifestyle. And yet, I’m so. very. far. from it (as I sit here in our cluttered-to-the-max mess). I don’t want to pass “this” on to my kiddo the way it’s been passed on to my husband and me. I *know* the serenity of minimalism is there, waiting for me to choose it, and I hope to just take the leap, whether everyone’s on board or not. Thanks, once again, for reminding me of my priorities and showing me the pathway to transformation in such a crystal-clear way. I love it.

    • says

      Whoa, and I haven’t been here in a while, so didn’t even see your previous post “Encouragement for Your First Step Towards Living With Less”. A little too close to home! :o)

    • Fiona Cee says

      Yes Wendy, I’m in the same position sans kids tho. It is very hard to make the start. Keep reading. Something will kick in and off we’ll go!!!!

    • says

      Love that skit! Was even showed in our church recently as we talked about spending less on stuff and investing more in people and things that make a difference.
      This is a great post Joshua! Thanks!
      Bernice

        • Jen says

          This is trickier because people only want the government to spend less on things that don’t affect them personally. Everybody loves and can justify government spending when it’s for them!

  8. says

    Very well written and so very true!

    It’s been almost two years now since I’ve stopped “buying” into the “have more” mentality and “shop til you drop” mindset. I’ve erased ALL my debt, built my savings, buy only what is purposeful to me, and can still give to others! My income is so small I don’t qualify to pay taxes in April. Well, except for self-employment, as an independent artist.

    IT WORKS!!

  9. says

    This is fantastic Joshua. Coming to the realization that we can simply stop spending money on things we don’t need is incredibly liberating.

    My husband and I set down the “buy less” path last year. Because of this, within the next two months we will be 100% non-mortgage debt free.

    Once we realized that we were sacrificing our future income for things we thing we felt we needed now (or yesterday), it was easy to gain perspective and start really considering whether we truly wanted that latest shiny *thing* that we would just consider old hat next month.

    I’m so grateful we started making changes when we did. Our lives have been — and will be — so much better for the freedom we’ve created for our two children and ourselves. There is no*thing* more important to us then quality time with our children, family and friends.

  10. Katie says

    Great post, first time commenting! Now I am going to go and return the new lamp that I just bought yesterday because I really don’t need it. I want to be a minimalist…one step at a time! First step buy less!

  11. Miles says

    It’s so true, I do feel that society generally pushes people towards a lifestyle of buying a lot of things they don’t need. I began being more minimalist and generally focusing on what I want from life, but I’ve begun waning off course of that, probably because I got too focused and felt more like I was constraining myself. Time to refocus again I think

  12. says

    I agree that you do initially feel like you are going backwards. I had all the “steps” figured out and planned out. Get married, go to college, get a degree, earn money, buy what I want, buy more of what I want, buy bigger and better to show how successful I am, get married, have children, buy the lots of stuff, get a bigger house to hold all the stuff, create a lot of debt, work harder, work more. Oh wait those last three weren’t in the plan! It was definitely time to reconsider the plan. Im so glad and so thankful our family changed course, went “backward”, and started living again. We spend more time reading, going outdoors, connecting with God, our friends, community, and family. We strengthened our resolve to live more relationship focused rather than stuff focused.
    It does seem strange. I still fight the urge to go do something and to go spend money, but once there is less stuff and less pursuit of stuff, time is your friend again and that is priceless!
    Loving the blog….thank you for sharing Joshua.
    Thanks for the

  13. Pat says

    We have been buying less for about 5 years now. Started out to get out of debt. Now that we’re out of debt and have money to spend, there isn’t anything we’re interested in buying anymore. We only buy what we really need.

  14. camille says

    This is a great. I wish there was a way to email your different posts to friends of mine that are not on Facebook. Have you ever thought of buying either an ipad or a kindle and putting all your books on it. I was wondering because I have cut down on all my books but still have about 50 reference books that I don’t want to part with. If I put them on a kindle or an ipad I could get rid of the shelves around the house and really free up some space. Any thoughts? Thanks!

    • di says

      The more you have, the more you pay for rent, property tax, etc. – plus maintenance time, etc.

      Replace an entire office and all media with a handheld computer – work anywhere at any time.

  15. di says

    My family always took good care of everything and then passesd them on to others. Because of this, I’ve purchased very little throughout my life.

  16. Camille says

    I have been a minimalist for years. I have emptied closets, bookshelves, my calendar of unnecessary commitments, cutback on spending or overbuying. At the beginning of this year, well more accurately the end of last year I made a choice to enjoy this year every moment and if that meant spending money it meant spending money. First, I spend on things that added to my minimalist lifestyle ie a Kindle then I treated myself to an iphone (I don’t have a home phone and my 4 yr old cellphone was dying a slow death). Now I added a few household items to make my life easier. I must say I feel a little guilty about the household items ie throwing out my $2 basin for a collapsible one that fits better in my bathroom or a new colander for the sink that won’t tip over while in use. It seems odd but I feel more wasteful throwing out the $2 basin for the $15 dollar one then anything else not about the $600 I’ve spent on classes for fun this year so far. Yes I am spending a bit of my savings but after 25 years of watching my friends buy Prada instead of paying their rent/bills I decided to spend a little to just have one year when I could drive up the coast, go for a swim, eat in a nice restaurant etc and allow myself to have a few conveniences at home that I could enjoy. ALL COMMENTS ARE WELCOME! I feel like this minimalist blog has really help over the last few years to feel that their were other minimalists like me out there.

  17. prakash says

    i am in a very bigg financial problems .i want ten lakhs this amnt not get my decision is go to suicide pls hel me its tru iam a indian lives kerala trivandrum

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  19. Kotta.mark says

    Praise the lord sir iam very somuch finance problem pls help me iam and also my family decide the sucade pls prayer for me

  20. Judi Vander Bie says

    Love being a minimalist! I have sold, given away and donated to where I am down to the things I love and use! Such a easier lifestye and more money for experiences!!

  21. says

    Again, great post! I had this revelation recently when I was considering whether to purchase a new organizer or not – why purchase it? Why not just get rid of the stuff I need to organize. I’m not using it enough anyway. Another dollar saved!

  22. says

    How do you make money today, Joshua? You don’t need to preach to your blog readers about living with less — but how do you earn those paychecks?

  23. Gaylene says

    My husband and I have been on the minimalizing train since the beginning of this year. We are slowly getting rid of all the “stuff” and not purchasing “stuff.” My house is so much easier to clean; washing clothes takes way less time; more time for my swimming pool; more time for my back deck and my fire pit to relax around; more time to do exactly what I feel like doing! Little by little; step by step – we will get there!

  24. Mary says

    I work in retail in several “dollar” stores and the big blue store. I see people load their shopping carts with so much junk that will break, go out of style, unhealthy to eat and most of it is totally unnecessary. I’m guilty to a certain degree but the more I look around and ask “Do I really NEED this item?” the less I buy. Seriously, how can anyone need $85 worth of stuff from the dollar store?

  25. Ella says

    Thanks, Josh. Since buying a place I’ve felt the pressure to replace old furniture and decorate. Your posts keep me on track to be thoughtful about my approach, hold off for a few quality items that I really love and can afford. I’ve donated tonnes of clothes, books and other items and feel much ‘lighter’ for it. It’s really great to know that should I choose, I can pack up my place fairly easily and put it all in storage – and head off on an adventure!

  26. Catherine says

    I believe we need to shift our thinking that our selfworth is not in our things but who we are. There will always be someone with a bigger car or house. You will never catch up. The only person we need to worry about is us. To be free of stress of financial worries is a life worth living. Like anything in life take baby steps toward your goals . Eventually it will become a way of life.

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