After buying our first tiny house (which we now use as a rental property in CO) and going back to school to become an NTP, my husband, Erik and I racked up a good 10 thousand dollars in debt on credit cards. This was not a good feeling, and led to me feeling trapped and suffocated in a job that I hated. I thought I wanted a nice, new, furnished (yet still tiny) home so that is what I bought - but then I couldn’t start pursuing my business goals because I needed to be making enough money to pay my credit card bill each month.
This is a common catch-22 that keeps many of us stuck: wanting physical possessions - getting into debt - then feeling trapped in your job because now you NEED that paycheck to stay afloat.
It's now been over a year since my days of being financially suffocated - and I owe much of that freedom to minimalist living.
And - despite what some would consider financially irresponsible decisions (like moving to Maui, starting an online business, traveling to Europe for 3 weeks and quitting my 9-5) I was still able to pay off 10 thousand dollars in debt - in just 1 year.
Here are my top tips for using minimalism to help pay off your debt:
This one's a minimalism no-brainer.
You guys know that I've already downsized multiple times, and the most recent downsize into our 120 square foot tiny hut was the most extreme yet. Erik and I both packed up 2 suitcases each of clothes and belongings and that was all that we moved to Maui with. Downsizing was the catalyst to paying off 10k in debt because we started to realize how much useless junk we owned. We made a little bit of money from selling extra clothes, furniture and appliances, but the biggest needle-mover in paying off our debt quickly was downsizing to a tiny house so small that we literally have no choice but NOT to buy anything non-essential. Of course, you don’t have to live in a tiny house to practice minimalism, but it does make it a lot easier. Shit is easy to accumulate!
Outside of physical items, we downsized from monthly subscriptions: cable, netflix, magazines, and memberships we didn't use (or could do without).
When was the last time you added up how many things you are paying for, month after month? Most likely this adds up to at least a few hundred dollars that could be going towards paying off your debt instead.
2. Not having a car payment
One of the biggest expenses that most of us mindlessly pay month after month is a car payment- Especially if that car is on the newer side. As soon as Erik and I knew we were going to move to Maui, we sold our 2012 Jetta (that we shared) and decided to purchase an older car so that we would own it outright and not have a car payment. Although this was more of an initial investment, it continues to save us money, month after month, and allowed for us to pay off our debt more aggressively each month.
Of course, older cars always run the risk of breaking down and having other problems, so it does come with it’s risks. BUT most families in the U.S. have more than one car, so if this is you: is it possible to share that car with your spouse instead of having 2 (or even 3) different vehicles? Sometimes this is not possible, but many times a little bit of planning and coordinating car-schedules can save upwards of 500/month of car payments.
3. Not putting anything on credit cards (whenever possible)
Oooh credit cards…how I love/hate you. I’m sure i’m not the only person reading this who has found themselves deep in credit card debt. Until I learned how to start budgeting and get my finances under control, I had no choice but to charge everything to my credit card; this is a scary situation to be in, and I totally get it.
Adopting a minimalist lifestyle allowed me to start saving more money and thus pay off my credit card faster AS WELL AS start using cash for everything. I still live by the rule of: If I can’t pay in cash, I can’t afford it.
(I get that sometimes this isn’t possible to do) But MANY times, we just “charge it” because we want whatever that thing is…right NOW.
Whatever happened to having to save up for things that we wanted to buy, like when we were kids? What if we still lived by that rule as adults?
4. Only buying necessities
Brace yourselves, you guys: I didn’t buy any new clothing for nearly an entire year (ok, so about 8 months). Now I know this sounds extreme, and I have an advantage because I live in a place where the weather is the same year round. But I didn’t spend money on new clothing for nearly an entire year.
I simply didn’t need any new clothes. Nothing I owned was ripped or broken (just a few stains…) SHOCKER right?
I would have gladly gone shopping if I actually needed something new (i.e like the new shoes I bought before going to Paris last month). I’m not trying to torture myself here. But I truly didn’t need anything new. I also planned to ask for a few specific items that I wanted (like a bikini gift certificate) for my birthday and the holidays, so I technically did go shopping, but I wasn’t spending any of my own money.
5. “Cooking” mostly at home
This one is laughable since my “kitchen” consists only of a microwave, fridge, rice cooker, and Vitamix, but one of the main ways i’ve been able to pay off 10 thousand dollars in debt is by creating a food budget, shopping in bulk, and rarely going out to eat.
Each week, I plan a grocery list of what I plan to buy at Costco, and stick strictly to that list. Shopping in bulk, especially in Hawaii, is the only way to eat real food without going broke. This means lots of repeat meals that have a few simple ingredients and are quick to make. This might sound boring to most people, but it serves a minimalist purpose in 2 ways:
#1 it saves money, #2 it means I don’t have to think about what to cook - pretty much ever. There are usually 3-4 options each week and that is what I choose from. In my opinion this is just a small price to pay in exchange for traveling the world and working from my laptop.
6. Snowball method
You can thank Dave Ramsey for this one (I didn't think of it) but it is a serious game changer if you have credit card debt on more than one card. Here's how it works:
Pay the minimum payment on each credit card every month to avoid penalty, but choose the card with the smallest balance to focus on tackling first. Pay as much as you can to that ONE card every month until it is gone and you can move onto the next. This makes it feel like you're making much more progress than if you were to only pay a little bit of each card balance each month.
If you're competitive like me - this tactic works amazingly well because I love seeing the progress i'm making and always want to pay off more and more each month.
7. Starting a side hustle
Minimalism is great, but you can only downsize and budget so much - at some point you’re going to need to start bringing IN more money if you want to hit your financial goals and gain more freedom to travel (or however you TRULY want to spend your time/money).
A little over a year ago, I started my side hustle (now my full time job) which consisted of this blog, seeing 1:1 nutrition clients, building up my social media channels, and creating and selling online nutrition courses. Most recently, I started taking on other NTP’s and nutritionists who want to start their own online businesses, as clients (learn more about that here). This topic is another full post in itself (maybe even a full course…) but it is seriously incredible that we live in a day and age when you can make money doing literally ANYTHING online. There are people making a living online talking about the Smurfs (<<< Gary Vee reference).
Seriously. My point being, find that thing that lights you up, makes you different or special - and find out how to leverage it via blogging, online courses, working with brands, affiliates, etc.
8. Manifest like a mother fucker
I can give you all the cut and dry, minimalist money saving tips in the world to help you pay off your debt, but if you still feel fearful, defeated, and hopeless about your money situation, IT WILL NEVER IMPROVE. I used to be afraid to look at my bank statements, so I would go weeks or even months without looking at them. I started to recognize that this fear I felt around money was making me feel disempowered, and I was sick of feeling like shit whenever I looked at my bank statements, so I made a change.
I started to view money as a neutral resource - not good or bad, simply a result of the decisions I had made thus far in my life. Another counterintuitive money manifesting tip for minimalists? Removing my “scarcity” mentality around money. Truly believing that money is an unlimited resource, always available to me, and that I will always have enough. >>> Even though this didn't always feel like the truth.
To this day, I always focus on what I DO have, rather than what is lacking/missing from my life or bank account, and I believe that this is the single most important way to make minimalist living work for you.
Ready to declutter your finances and start living your dream life?
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