Written By: Laura Hendrix
Josh Fields and Ryan Nicodemus, two 30-something guys who ditched lucrative corporate careers for simpler lifestyles, are The Minimalists. You may have seen their movie, read the blog, visited the website, listened to the podcast or seen the challenge on Facebook.
Their latest book is a collection of essays written by Fields Millburn and Nicodemus. This collection of essays is organized by topic so that it reads more like a cohesive book. The topic areas compose twelve chapters in the book: Minimalism, Stuff, Technology, Finances, Mindfulness, Gift-giving, Priorities, Health, Relationships, Passion, Contribution, and Success. Several specifically address personal finance and consumer behavior including: Chapter Two—Stuff, Chapter Four—Finances, Chapter Six—Gift Giving, Chapter Seven—Priorities, Chapter Ten—Passion, and Chapter Twelve—Success. Woven throughout the book are anecdotes from Fields Milburn’s and Nicodemus’ own life experiences as minimalists.
Minimalism is defined by Miriam-Webster as “a style or technique (as in music, literature, or design) that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity” (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/minimalism). The Minimalists describe minimalism as living a meaningful life and as a tool to make room for what’s important. They warn against “compulsory consumption” and invite readers to “be more intentional in how we spend.”
Chapter two addresses what most people think of when the term “minimalism” comes to mind—consumer consumption and amassing material possessions or stuff. They describe consumption as an unquenchable thirst in a culture of overindulgence. Materialism can be seen in organized storage of stuff as well as visible hoarding. While people can’t just stop consuming, The Minimalists invite readers to be conscientious about the stuff they bring into their homes and keep only what adds value to their lives. The minimalist theory on stuff lays the groundwork for financial management practices. As stated by the authors, “Minimalists invest in experiences over possessions.” In their chapter on gift-giving, the authors recommend giving experiences such as concert tickets or a home-cooked meal instead of physical items.
Personal finance is a frequent topic of discussion on The Minimalist blog and podcast. The authors devote a chapter of the book to the topic. They describe every purchase as either adding value or taking away freedom. They reference author Dave Ramsey and recommend his book Total Money Makeover. The authors recommend five steps for consumers to take control of finances: (1) use a budget and include an emergency fund, (2) pay yourself first by making a priority of investing, (3) be debt-free, (4) minimize, and (5) contribute by giving time to improve others’ lives.
A written expense statement is recommended as the best method to gain control over spending, with expenses designated as “needs, wants, or likes.” This adds a new layer to the traditional needs versus wants principle. “Wants” are those purchases that add value to life. “Likes” are frivolous, impulse or feel-good purchases. The Minimalists drive a hard line against the use of credit as they include in their signs that “you might be broke”: having credit card debt, having student-loan debt, and having a monthly car payment.
Career choice is often seen as important to financial stability because of earning potential. In the chapters on passion, priorities, and success, the authors implore readers not to follow their passion, but instead to cultivate passion by intentionally working toward building knowledge and skills for a career field. They reject what they state is a cultural view of success that is based on high income and certain material possessions. The Minimalists write that “Success is a simple equation: Happiness + Constant Improvement + Contribution = Success.”
Essential: Essays by The Minimalists is a good read for anyone interested in learning more about the current trend of minimalism. Personal finance recommendations presented in the book are not research-based but do echo some traditional hallmarks of good money management practices such as budgeting and debt management. The principles and methods presented by The Minimalists seem to flow from their own experiences with reference to one personality in the personal finance education field—Dave Ramsey. However, it is important to recognize that some concepts presented are unconventional and may not align with our usual personal finance recommendations. The Minimalists methods for managing possessions and spending have gained a following in social media and may be a helpful resource for consumers who struggle with issues related to consumption, over indulgence, or unplanned spending.
Dr. Laura Hendrix serves as Associate Professor for Family and Consumer Economics and advisor for the Arkansas Extension Homemakers Council (AEHC) with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service. Dr. Hendrix is an Accredited Financial Counselor, Certified Volunteer Manager, and RYT200 yoga teacher. She has a Ph.D. in Public Policy, specializing in family economics policy. Dr. Hendrix has written numerous publications and has been a regular, featured guest on several Arkansas television stations.