What would happen if you pared your life down to the essentials?

It’s been a while since my last blog post. Truth be told, I’ve been frozen like a deer in headlights. It felt like everything there was to say about personal finance had already been covered in the national media thanks to CNN, CNBC, The New York Times, etc. I wasn’t sure I had anything left in me that could help you.
And then I royally screwed up.
I was supposed to do a half hour LIVE radio interview one Friday night at 9pm EST. The morning of the interview I emailed the show host to confirm the dial-in. Some time in the afternoon we exchanged emails to further clarify the topics we’d be discussing on the show. That night I came home and…. completely forgot to dial in to the LIVE radio show. We’d been planning the interview for over a month. It was for a show whose audience I felt passionate about helping. I adored the show host. And I just completely forgot. It was as if a circuit breaker just flipped in my head.
While mortified by my behavior, in retrospect it was a huge wake up call. I had been packing my days so tightly with work, my brain was literally overloaded and had shut down. I was burned out.
That got me thinking about whether the overwhelm so many people feel about their personal finances could be caused by packing their lives too tightly. So I turned to my friend, Francine Jay, author of the critically-acclaimed book, THE JOY OF LESS. In this must read book, Francine details how she – and you – can “live lightly” on this earth.  Today Francine shares with us her thoughts on how minimal living can help combat financial overwhelm. Here’s hoping this Q&A with Francine will help keep you from missing any important events in your life. [For more Francine, sign up for her Miss Minimalist blog, follow Francine on Twitter, or read her other insightful book, FRUGILLIIONAIRE].
(1) Francine, what is minimal living & what triggered your journey into it?

Minimalist living is stripping away all the excess, to make room for what’s truly important to us. It’s about eliminating the clutter and distractions that keep us from fully appreciating life.
My minimalist journey began when I started traveling lightly. I realized how wonderful it was to travel with a small carry-on bag, with only the essentials, instead of lugging around a heavy suitcase. When I was on vacation, I found it absolutely exhilarating that I could get by with so little – I felt like I could go anywhere, and do anything, because I wasn’t loaded down with stuff. And I thought, wow, how amazing would it be to live this way, and have the freedom and flexibility to pursue whatever opportunities arise!

(2) How has living a minimalist lifestyle affected your finances?

Becoming a minimalist was the best thing I ever did for my bottom line. When I decided I didn’t want to own a lot of stuff, my spending plummeted; it’s amazing how much money you save, simply by staying out of the stores. Furthermore, selling my castoffs on eBay and Craigslist was an eye-opening lesson—I learned just how quickly material goods depreciate. Henceforth, I resolved to “waste” as little money as possible on frivolous consumer items.

(3) What is your top tip for streamlining the day-to-day financial tasks associated with running a household?

Pay with cash or a debit card whenever possible—it eliminates a world of worry (like interest rates, minimum payments, and late fees) from your financial life. Accordingly, reduce your credit cards to the absolute minimum. Learn to say no to all those credit offers and store-branded cards; the fewer bills you have to deal with, and the less temptation to swipe the plastic, the better.
Also, put some transactions on auto-pilot. Set up automatic payments for recurring bills like your car loan, mortgage, or insurance premiums—it not only frees up your time, it guarantees you won’t miss a payment and incur late fees or higher rates. I’m a big proponent of automating investments as well… it’s a wonderful, no-fuss way to grow your nest egg.

(4) Francine, as someone who has written a personal finance book and a book about minimal living – what is the most common mistake you see people making with their money?

… valuing consumer goods over financial freedom. Chasing trends, status symbols, and the “latest and greatest” technology is a losing proposition; the satisfaction we derive from most such items is short-lived at best. When a newer model comes out, or a “must-have” goes out of style, we’re right back where we started—and with less money (or more debt) to boot…. Financial security creates more long-term happiness and well-being than any consumer item.

(5) What are the greatest benefits of living a minimalist lifestyle?

Less stress. The fewer possessions you have, the fewer chores and worries you have (in other words, you have less to clean, maintain, repair, insure, protect, and pay for).
More freedom. Possessions can be like anchors, tying us down and keeping us in place. When you’re not weighed down with stuff (or the debt used to pay for it), you’re more flexible, mobile, and able to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.
More joy. I believe that true happiness comes from what we do, not what we have. And the less stuff we have to fuss over, the more time we have for friends, family, community, and the wonderful experiences in life.

Thank you, Francine! Here’s to all readers avoiding financial, and all other, overwhelm thanks to Francine’s excellent tips.
Do you have any additional tactics you’d like to share about avoiding financial overwhelm?  I’d sure love to hear them!