Minimalism and frugality. I heard someone refer to the two terms interchangeably recently and it got me thinking… How similar are they?
As someone who tries their best to be both minimal and frugal, I can see a strong overlap, but I have nevertheless also always felt them to be two different approaches. So let’s explore: Minimalism and frugality – Two sides of the same coin, or chalk and cheese?
For me, the idea of minimalism is intrinsically linked with that of frugality. After all, those seeking to live with less are naturally unlikely to be spending large amounts of money on ‘things’. Likewise, if you live a frugal life, you are not going to be wasting money on items you don’t need.
But they are not the same. While there are some common factors, there are also some clear differences.
The difference between minimalism and frugality
Let’s start by looking at an uber stereotyped version of these two mindsets. I punched the words ‘minimalism’ and ‘frugal’ into Google and scrolled to see what frequently came up:
- Minimalists by and large are seen as too-cool-for-school Instagram types who are generally a bit aloof. They live in austere white boxes with no character, shunning sentimental items in exchange for a trendy aesthetic. (Not true by the way…)
- Frugalists seem more to be portrayed as penny-pinching coupon cutters who hoard jam jars like the apocalypse is coming. (Also not true)
These two characters are clearly not friends. There can be no overlap between owning nothing and also hoarding all the cereal boxes, because you never know, they could come in handy for something one day.
However, I have yet to meet a minimalist or a frugalist who fits either of these stereotypes. Both lifestyles are as individual as the person who adopts them – as with anything like this there is no one way to ‘be a minimalist ‘or to ‘live frugally’. So I’m going to take a look at the differences as pertains to the minimalist and frugalists I have known and loved, and hope this provides a slightly more realistic comparison.
Related reading: Minimalism for Beginners – How to Live More with Less
Minimalism VS Frugality
Minimalism is about having fewer possessions but more time. It’s about quality of life. It is a downshift.
Minimalists strive to make space for what is important. With relation to money, this can sometimes (but by no means always) mean opting to have less money, or ‘just enough’ if this means they can prioritise that which matters to them. For example, giving up a fast-paced and stressful job that pays well, to live a simpler, less hectic existence.
Conversely, frugality is more about making the most of what you have, adopting a mend-and-make-do attitude and making your money work for you. Perhaps by getting the best deal or buying items in bulk – It is true that the frugal type can often be a bit of a hoarder, hanging onto things because they may one day be useful.
Quality over quantity
Minimalists are more inclined to purchase expensive, high-quality items, if it’s something they love and feel will add value to their lives.
That’s not to say the frugalist wouldn’t make such purchases, but they will almost certainly shop around for the best deal. Frugality is often equated with buying poorer quality to save money or bulk buying items that simply aren’t needed, because y’know, they might be one day and they were such a good deal!
Does frugal mean cheap?
This is another common misconception. I said above that frugality often equates to buying poor quality. The seasoned frugalist however, will always see the value in buying one good quality but pricey item over having to buy multiples of the cheap option because it keeps breaking.
Simply put, minimalism asks: What adds value?
Frugality asks: Where is the value?
The similarities between minimalism and frugality
Value then is the obvious overlap.
Both minimalism and frugality are lifestyles that seek to enhance the experience: One by asking you to establish what adds value to your life and appreciating that fully. The other by searching out the value in things so that you are not wasting your resources.
This is a common theme with both approaches.
Minimalists by definition don’t want an excess of things and often live in smaller spaces so only buy what they need, naturally reducing the amount of waste they produce. They also often have strong eco sensibilities and prefer to buy unpackaged or low waste goods.
Frugalists may buy extra items to save money in the long term, but nothing goes to waste! They reuse items all the time rather than buying new, and fix up things that are broken wherever possible.
For the minimalist, every item has a purpose, and the frugalist will find a purpose for every item.
Both minimalism and frugality are, at their core, about living with intention and purpose. They are deliberate approaches to life that can benefit and enhance the way you live, by keeping you involved in your own choices and paying attention to what matters.
The frugal minimalist
By stereotypical standards, the idea of a ‘frugal minimalist’ could strike fear into the heart of your average person, imagining the worst of both worlds – a tight-fisted, miserly, cool kid with austere style living in a small, bleak box with no comfortable furnishings. But in reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The frugal minimalist is the person who finds the sweet spot where these two mindsets overlap. Slow, simple living, returning to a place where you can appreciate what you have, the time you are spending on your projects, the people you choose to spend time with, and the money you choose to spend.
Deliberate and intentional actions, choices and spending are at the core of being a frugal minimalist.
Finding the balance between knowing what is useful to hold onto and knowing what is a reasonable amount to hold onto.
Think cosy, homespun, kitchen-baker type who is able to work on a project knowing they have exactly what they need and where it is because they don’t have to wade through 1000 different boxes and drawers sifting through all the clutter to find it.
I think that minimalism and frugality are two different, but compatible ways of life. They have enough in common to complement each other beautifully but also stand their own corners. I also firmly believe, as I said earlier, that neither is set in stone and you should take from each what suits you best.
I’d love to hear your thoughts – Are you a minimalist? Do you live a frugal life? Both? Let me know in the comments below!
Related Reading: Can You Become a Minimalist if You Are a Hoarder?