I enjoy articles and videos explaining different aspects of minimalism — especially daily life, the organisation of homes and clothing, and the management of money.
Recently I've been exploring what's online about minimalism and money management. The main focus is usually either amassing wealth (so as to retire early or travel, or live from the heart not as a wage slave) or escaping from accumulated personal debt. Though this input is very interesting and informative, it doesn't really speak to my condition or relate to my circumstances. So I thought I'd add my own two-penn'orth to the discussion, as I've thought this through very carefully over several decades.
I was very blessed to come under the influence, in my twenties, of a Christian teacher who went methodically through the New Testament identifying the principles of life and faith practice it offers. One of the strands he pulled clear was the management of money — that the teaching of Jesus (and indeed you see this in the Old Testament too) included advice to be clear of debt. Matthew's version of the Lord's Prayer gives not "forgive our trespasses" but "forgive our debts as we forgive those indebted to us". A society without debt is substantially more free for both service and creativity than a society whose people are shackled by owing massive amounts of money. My teacher said the purpose of avoiding debts was not to amass personal wealth (see here) but to create the necessary freedom that makes a person available to extent the reach of Christ, build the kingdom and spread the gospel. That was what I wanted to do with my life, so I heeded his advice, and made it my aim to get out of debt. The only debt I had was our house mortgage, and by this means and that I found ways to wriggle free. By the time I reached my early forties I was entirely debt free.
That's a good start, but if all my time had been sold for money to live on, I still would not have been free to work for the gospel. So I looked into ways and means to live my life as I chose without relying on State handouts or working for other people. I also discovered that money doesn't exist, as such — modern currency is what's called "fiat money", nothing but figures on a balance sheet; and like most notional reality it is somewhat frail. So I realised that it would be better to travel from the unreal to the real. Bricks and mortar are real, and so is land. Therefore when I was given the precious gift of half my father's modest estate (50% of his little cottage and small savings), and the also precious gift of a substantial sum of money from my mother downsizing as she grew old, I made sure to invest these in a house with a big garden, which I let to tenants. Before I received these precious gifts, I used the space I had, even though it meant bunching up tight at home, to let rooms to lodgers in my house. The sources of income these created set me free to work for the gospel as a writer and preacher and teacher. Income from writing Christian books is not very much, even for those writers who do well, but of course it is also very helpful.
By these means I defended my time from erosion and invested the unreal into the real. The practice of minimalism has been very helpful to me in doing this, because the accumulation, storage and maintenance of possessions is very expensive of time, money, energy and attention. Living with almost no possessions sets the energies of my mind and heart free for what I came here to do (propagate the gospel).
Another aspect of what I have found online about minimalist financial practice is the absence of attention to ethics. The minimalists I've found giving financial advice speak of investment in stocks and shares and corporate bonds etc, but what does that imply? I wanted to be sure no resources of mine were invested into damaging the created order or financing war or enslaving workers into misery — absolutely sure. This is another reason I invested what I had into a house with a big garden. We (me and my husband) personally manage our tenancies. If anything goes wrong we are right there. We make sure our tenants' homes are kept in tip-top condition. If they have trouble paying their rent, we wait. We go in person to collect it so we can unobtrusively keep an eye on the houses (I have one and my husband has one), rather than subjecting our tenants to a six-monthly inspection. I can say, hand on heart, that my resources have not contributed to the horrors of war or the miseries of the slave trade, because apart from the investment into a property to let I have almost no money for my bank to invest in anything. This is important to me. If I did have funds to invest, insufficient to buy more land or houses, I'd put them in the Triodos bank (that's what I did when I had some money but not enough to buy a house). Practicing frugality to get out of debt and create wealth is shrewd, but considering the ethics of investment is important.
Part of ethical consideration, for me, is earning directly. Employment by a corporation or investment in composite finance obscures from view the involvement in goodness-knows-what one may have inadvertently taken on by association. I love to earn money by providing something an individual actually wants and needs and being paid for it by them — not managing to successfully market something nobody really wants in order to part them from their hard-earned cash, and not growing money by investments that take advantage of others and make them suffer, out of sight and out of mind. Whether it is officiating at a funeral, or writing a book, or (as my family does) letter-cutting a grave stone or painting and gilding a statue, someone has come looking for our work and requested it because we do a good job, and they pay a fair price (excellent work for low market price with a little taken off, usually) for exactly what they wanted and no more. And if anyone linked with me professionally requires me to do something unethical, I immediately disconnect and do no further work for them.
Another aspect that has surprised me about typical minimalist advice and example regarding resources, is the strong emphasis on individualism. There's a lot about nomadic lifestyle, living in cars/vans/RVs, making the most of small apartments and living in tiny houses. Now, I love tiny houses — I think they are delightful and ingenious and a lot of fun. They are very aesthetically pleasing to me — but at the same time, if one is serious about minimalism, really serious, it seems to me there is a superior option: sharing.
If you have a tiny house with one heater and one cooker and one solar panel and one light, it fulfils the needs of one, maybe two people. Plus the surface area compared to the internal space is big — even with insulation it must lose a lot of the heat generated. But if you have a normal house populated by a larger group of people all living as minimalists, you can still have one heater, one cooker, one solar panel and one light, and it fulfils the needs of perhaps five people. Sharing maximises potential like no other thing you can do. One set of utensils, one car (if any), one water filter, one furnace, one television, one plot of land to put your home on. If minimalism is the means/objective you're seeking, sharing is your friend. It surprises me that in general minimalists do not mention this, because sharing is a minimalist super-power.
For me, the three best pieces of advice for managing finance and personal resources are Gandhi's, Thoreau's and John Wesley's.
Without properly kept accounts it is impossible to maintain truth in its pristine purity.
This accords with something my daughter Hebe said, elegantly expressed in a haiku:
Money shows the truth —
the truth of where the heart flows.
Look at what it chose.
Careful and thorough accounting reveals to us our true direction of travel — this is why it's important to know the exact location of our financial investments; giving one's resources into the hands of financial experts to invest in their arcane world and oneself merely harvesting the interest yielded is not minimalism, it's long-range participation in very dark complexity. The purpose of investment for a minimalist should not be the creation and maximisation of the unreal (money) but of freedom and peace and goodness (the real). Minimalism needs to know what it's investing in, which is where Thoreau comes in.
Keep your accounts on a thumbnail.
The mind's ability to keep track of multiple strands is limited. The more you own, the more complex your activities and involvement, the less carefully and scrupulously you can manage your life. Ambitious schedules, accumulation of belongings, a heavy load of commitment of any kind, provide the ground in which carelessness cheerfully sprouts. The purpose of minimalism is to give us the space and freedom we need to live mindfully and responsibly. Thoreau's advice to keep your accounts on a thumbnail is sage indeed; simplicity is inherently effective and promotes accountability (to God) and responsibility.
John Wesley said:
Earn all you can
Save all you can
Give all you can.
It's important to realise the word "save" here means "spare" not "hoard". That is to say, by "save all you can" he means, "be as frugal as you can", not "amass all you can".
This is about the maximising of your personal potential with a view to living as a channel of love. It implies a belief in community and a generous investment of oneself into the cause of kindness and compassion. Again, it is about turning the unreal into the real — using your personal time, talent and energy to earn money (unreal) which you then direct into the purposes of love and wellbeing and goodness (real).
Gandhi's advice promotes honesty, transparency and integrity. Thoreau's advice makes it workable. Wesley's advice promotes the wellbeing of human society.
These three principles offer all you need to put together effective and efficient minimalist financial management.