8 Ways to More Minimalist Money

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci

The other day I got a note from one of my favorite minimalist bloggers out there – J. Becker from Becoming Minimalist. I was hoping it was a request to grab lunch or a beer, but it turned out to be the next best thing – an intro to a reporter looking for local minimalists to do a story on :)

Now upon reading this my impostor syndrome immediately kicked in as I very much still consider myself a minimalist “in training” (my first thought of meeting with this reporter was actually “OMG, don’t come into my house!”) but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how far I’d come since first blogging about this movement some 7 – long -years ago.

In fact, this doodle I created back then ended up becoming my new mantra for how I now think of things:

minimalist graph

In the years since I’ve unloaded more than 75% of my things (including our house), become much more engaged with those around me (by putting away my phone and ignoring the news/media), steered my spending towards that which is important vs that which is not, and probably most important of all – figured out what I actually *want* out of life more: more life :)

I also realized that minimalism is much more of a mindset than anything else, and can be easily applied towards all aspects of living. Particularly, with our finances. Which is actually the whole point of this article that’s now taken me 6 paragraphs to get to! (Turns out I still need to work on my minimalist writing, d’oh.)

If you’re looking to simplify your finances more, here are 8 ways to do so:

  1. Keep one main checking account (to pay all your bills with)
  2. Keep one main savings account (to be used for goals/emergency funds/shortages)
  3. Use one main credit card (sorry travel hackers!)
  4. Choose one main institution for investments (not always possible with employer-tied accounts)
  5. Track one main number to gauge your financial success (I use the net worth model)
  6. Cancel all subscriptions to store emails/coupons/etc
  7. Harness the power of automation (for savings/investments/debt payoff)
  8. And lastly, remember what the point of it all is: freedom!

Freedom from stress, freedom from using up unneeded bandwidth, freedom from over complication, and the ultimate level of all freedomness: financial freedom!

Some of these come with their own sets of trade offs (fewer credit card rewards, fewer coupons, less separation of savings goals) but in the handful of years I’ve set my own system up like this, I can’t tell you how much easier – and quicker! – it’s been in managing my money. Everything’s condensed into one main section outside of a few experiments going on (Acorns, Digit, Challenge Everything), and it’s amazing how much clearer it is knowing where all your money is at any given point in time.

This is what minimalism gets you when applied to money: clarity!

And it’s a beautiful thing.

So if you’re tired of always being scatterbrained or feel like your money’s gotten way too complicated over the years, try giving a few of these a shot and see if it makes a difference. It’s always an evolution!

And if you’re looking for more inspiration, here are a few of my favorite blogs on minimalism. They rarely talk about money directly, but again it’s amazing how many aspects it infiltrates when you really stop to apply things. Less is usually more!

Hope this helps!

PS: If you’re wondering if the reporter ever made it into my home, the answer is no :) Though I did share my financial house with her! (Bah dum ching)

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  1. Brian @DebtDiscipline March 16, 2016 at 6:05 AM

    Simple does make life easier. We’ve been decluttering for a bit now and it feels good. We do keep two savings accounts. The second is for our e-fund and has no debit cards tied to it. The only way to get to the cash is to go to the bank. Just a little trick to keep us on track with the savings.

    1. J. Money March 16, 2016 at 7:37 AM

      Good trick indeed :)

      Same reason I like pouring my cash into retirement funds – too annoying/costly to pull money back out of it prematurely!

    1. J. Money March 16, 2016 at 7:39 AM

      Sounds just as lovely :) Will check out the piece!

  2. Chris @ Flipping A Dollar March 16, 2016 at 6:17 AM

    Minimalism is one of those things that feels great when I do it, but then I do a few small things in the opposite direction and lose all momentum. Like meditation, working out, and eating healthy, I just can’t seem to do it steadily.

    Finance is easier because I budget 1 month out and get to make the hard decisions further away from the actual spending.

    1. J. Money March 16, 2016 at 7:51 AM

      All those small things still count though! Anything is better than nothing! :)

  3. AMW March 16, 2016 at 6:57 AM

    I realized the other day that minimalism is subjective. My family lives in a typical house in the burbs and never considered myself a minimalist (but I also do not put much sentimental value on things) until my neighbor questioned how we stored stuff in our attic. We have nothing in our attic and have never even been up there in the 12 years we’ve lived here, simply because we have nothing we need to store. The neighbor’s reaction was “I didn’t know you we’re minimalists…that seems so extreme.” Maybe I am a minimalist and just never knew it. Either way, it seems like too much work to worry about stuff I have to store. Looking at your financial minimalist list, I checked most of the boxes off. So from here on out- I declare myself a minimalist (ok, maybe a junior minimalist).

    1. Curtis @ PayoffmyRentals March 16, 2016 at 7:42 AM

      Good point regarding the subjective nature of minimalism. I own 7 rental houses, but a few months ago my beautiful wife and I moved into a 29′ travel trailer. Is that a an irony, or what?

      Just this week we paid off the last of our three rental mortgages over a 3 year span. $177,650 gone. I have officially declared us FI! Life somehow feels a heck of a lot simpler now. We have a ways to go, but minimalism is freeing: Physically, mentally, emotionally… Even the small taste of it is rewarding. I hate clutter.

      You know, when you think about it, we were all born minimalists…naked and not even owing a diaper. Somehow we learn to become hoarders and clutterers over the years.

      1. J. Money March 16, 2016 at 7:55 AM

        HAH! True!

        And congrats on being FI now – and living in a trailer too!!! Two of my biggest dreams, haha…. (I can do w/out the rental houses, but only if you swap in index fund $$$$ in its place so I can still grab those tasty dividends :))

    2. J. Money March 16, 2016 at 7:56 AM

      *waves to his junior minimalist friend*

  4. kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor March 16, 2016 at 7:15 AM

    I like the doodle! And wow to getting rid of 75% of your stuff.

    I agree with your steps toward minimalizing your finances. We’ve never thought to do it any other way, aside from churning a few rewards cards in the last year. Even for those, it’s one at a time to keep things simple. There is definitely something freeing about not fussing over too many different accounts.

  5. jestjack March 16, 2016 at 7:24 AM

    Haven’t heard any Craigslist stories. Do you still use CL to get rid of things?

    1. J. Money March 16, 2016 at 7:59 AM

      I do, yeah, just not as hardcore as I used to be now that I got rid of a lot of my stuff… Plus I get a better return working on my online stuff than I do selling so not as top of a priority anymore :)

  6. Lindsay @ the Notorious D.E.B.T. March 16, 2016 at 7:27 AM

    I’ve tried to make life a lot simpler in the past few months re: books. I am a book fiend. If I could buy all the books, I would. The problem is a) it’s expensive, and b) lots of books are actually quite heavy and I’m just a tiny person. So, I sold all the books I won’t read anymore, I’ve started to go to the library, and I’ve saved a ton of money!

    Now if I could just get my husband to get on the bandwagon with his old DVD and video game collection…thankfully it’s not growing anymore, but we have several thousand little boxes all stacked up in various other bigger boxes all around our little apartment.

    1. J. Money March 16, 2016 at 8:13 AM

      Yeah, books + minimalism is hard!

      My friend Nate always made fun of me for keeping hundreds of them around even though I rarely picked any of them up to read, but they just made my house so warm and cozy and fun to be in! At one point I even made a personal library with a half dozen bookcases so I could feel like I was blogging from an ACTUAL library. But a cooler one, haha…

      Pic: https://budgetsaresexy.com/images/j-money-library-updated.jpg

      It’s been a hard one to figure out now that I’ve gone the more minimalist route as I find joy and peace in both!

  7. Andria March 16, 2016 at 8:10 AM

    I have been following financial bloggers for 4 years. You introduced me to theminimalists.com and it has literally changed me life when I thought I learned so much already. They have meetup groups. I have gone twice and it is so nice to be part of a community and not just interact online. So thank you. I feel like I met old friends and it is so nice. We help each other out and bounce ideas off of each other. We meet once a month now. :)

    1. J. Money March 16, 2016 at 8:18 AM

      Awwwwww that is so cool!!! Sounds amazing and fun and just so helpful! Way to immerse yourself into the community like that – love it!

  8. Penny @ She Picks Up Pennies March 16, 2016 at 8:16 AM

    Decluttering my phone has been my biggest undertaking lately. It was actually harder than going through my office or my kitchen cupboards. Streamlining and consolidating apps (even finance related ones) has been really helpful. My next project is putting away unused credit cards. Why I keep them in my wallet, I really couldn’t say ;)

    1. J. Money March 16, 2016 at 10:35 AM

      I think one of these days/weeks I’m gonna hide my phone and see if I survive… no temptation would be interesting to try!

      1. Aaron March 17, 2016 at 7:18 AM

        My phone has been broke off & on this week. If I can survive you would certainly survive! I’d go cell phoneless if my wife didn’t make me have one!

  9. COD March 16, 2016 at 8:59 AM

    I read an interesting perspective on book hoarding recently. When you have too many books (a phrase some in my family will insist is simply not possible!) what you really are doing is hiding the books you really care about. The books you care about, that bring joy into your life and that you will re-read annually if you remember they are there, end up buried on a bookshelf behind a throw-away sci-fi space opera that you’ll never read again.

    1. J. Money March 16, 2016 at 10:39 AM

      I can see that… Or you could just keep all your favorites/ones you enjoy reading over again in the same spot for easy access :)

  10. Hannah March 16, 2016 at 9:47 AM

    One thing about cutting clutter is that its contagious. I’ve been working through a lot of my own junk and just two days ago, I saw my husband listing stuff on Craigslist/Ebay. It turns out that he’s willing to get rid of his old hobby stuff to clear up space for his wife and to buy a GoPro.

    The hardest things for us to get rid of are investing accounts (we’re all over, and need to decide what isn’t important to us), and recreation equipment (because its expensive but durable).

    PS- you should update your Copyright to include 2016

    1. J. Money March 16, 2016 at 10:51 AM

      haha, okay I will – thanks :)

  11. Tonya@Budget and the Beach March 16, 2016 at 10:12 AM

    I’ve been trying to do this too, not even paying attention to cash back apps or anything like that because, well frankly, I don’t feel like spending extra time doing that just to save $1. I’m torn about travel hacking though. On one hand it’s a PITA to keep up with your cards, annual fees, knowing you have to spend a certain amount at a certain time, etc. But, it does seem super easy to utilize and the benefits are awesome, so the jury is still out on that one.

  12. Fervent Finance March 16, 2016 at 10:30 AM

    I’m definitely a minimalist when it comes to my money accounts. Use one bank, use two brokerage accounts but will be one soon, use two credit cards. Makes things much easier to track for sure.

  13. Justin March 16, 2016 at 11:11 AM

    Excellent advise, as always J$! We simplified to the extent possible and it certainly smoothed the path to acquiring significant wealth at a very young age.

    The psychological power of simplicity is the most underrated principle in PF I think. Once you set up your auto savings and investing, the pain of losing part of your paycheck disappears. The struggle over when to buy investments and what to buy also goes away. I think those are the two largest hurdles to anyone trying to save and invest for the future, so why isn’t automatic saving more common? :)

    1. J. Money March 16, 2016 at 4:14 PM

      I think people are allergic to boring ways to grow wealth :)

  14. Abigail @ipickuppennies March 16, 2016 at 11:53 AM

    Eh, I like my money… cluttered, I guess? I have a bunch of sub-accounts so we can work on different goals: saving up for a dog (and just getting used to having the money for insurance come out of our budget), saving up for a vacation, for a car/car repairs, etc. If I have all my money in savings or even savings and e-fund, I get panicky each time I have to lower the balance — even for planned purchases.

    But I do like to think that I try to avoid unnecessary purchases. My husband is a little more crazy with acquisition, but it’s his fun money. So I don’t get a say!

  15. Tawcan March 16, 2016 at 1:05 PM

    Realized that we have way too many accounts! Need to simplify for sure. Time to look into that.

  16. Harmony March 16, 2016 at 2:14 PM

    As always, I love your doodles. Once you adopt better priorites for your money, it becomes a lot easier to give up “stuff.” I’m so thankful that we have seen the light, now we just need to find the best return on getting rid of all those unnecessary possessions that we accumulated.

  17. Stockbeard March 16, 2016 at 2:18 PM

    I’m on a path to sell lots of the stuff I don’t really need anymore. The feeling is great, wish I could do it faster but when I can’t sell it I still feel bad throwing things away…

  18. phriot March 16, 2016 at 2:43 PM

    I think that using automation can bring simplicity to some other areas that you talk about going minimal in this post. I like to have a bunch of online savings accounts (though at the same institution) for big-ticket savings goals. Automating the saving into the accounts took maybe 10 minutes, and now requires about the same amount of thought as a single savings account. Same with credit cards. Payments are made automatically in the full balance each month, and the result is barely any concern above that of a single card. Stick within my budget, and it doesn’t matter how many cards I use (and watch the rewards points roll in).

    That said, I definitely see the benefit to sticking with single financial institutions as much as possible. I also like picking a single measure to track your success.

    1. J. Money March 16, 2016 at 4:18 PM

      Automation can do wonders – ESPECIALLY if you have multiple accounts set up. And def. no shame in that either if that’s what works best for you. All about tweaking until we get that perfect system down!

  19. Tissue King March 16, 2016 at 7:32 PM

    The clutter stresses the HELL out of me. The clutter is bank accounts, junk in my house, several investment accounts and bank accounts. I even have a bank account in NY and I haven’t lived there in over 10 years.

    I think I will stop reading about minimalism and start jumping on board. I read way too many blogs also and I’m thinking about downsizing them also. Don’t worry, JMoney and Paula P stays on for podcasters and this blog stays for my reading pleasure.

    Thanks for the post.

    1. J. Money March 17, 2016 at 6:41 AM

      Do it!!!! Cut out the clutter across the board!

  20. Heather @ Simply Save March 16, 2016 at 8:11 PM

    I love your little diagram! So accurate. I too have gotten rid of so many possessions for many of the reasons in the picture and man, it feels GOOD! Same for the finances…less to keep up with, think about, potentially fall behind on. Less is more. Great bloggers linked there too.

  21. Anabisdally March 17, 2016 at 9:20 AM

    Minimalist?…far from it here. :( Intrigued by the concept and certainly attracted to the benefit of simplifying life as a whole. Have started working on it, particularly around the house – selling stuff on ebay, donating things we haven’t used in years… little by little but still a long ways to go. It is always inspiring to read other journeys and stories as they are happening real time. Thanks for sharing!

    1. J. Money March 21, 2016 at 11:34 AM

      Keep on trying! Every little bit helps for sure – it’s taken me over 5 years to finally get better at it – and I still have a long way to go! Takes a while for the mentality to soak in :)

  22. LuckyOz March 17, 2016 at 12:56 PM

    Living minimalist becomes easier if you move homes often, and much more difficult when you are settled. I find anytime I move, I donate and trash so much.

    I don’t agree about travel hacking being an issue. It is much easier to be mentally balanced if you vacation, and credit cards is such an easy way to take that vacation for virtually free. I guess it is more a discipline question on managing all that credit.

  23. Josh Gwin March 17, 2016 at 4:33 PM

    Great post buddy! The 8 tips are awesome! What’s the best way you’ve found to unload excess stuff? Donate or sell online?

    Thanks for the great content!

    1. J. Money March 21, 2016 at 11:37 AM

      Glad you like, man :)

      I find it’s a balance of both. Hawking the bigger/easier things and then donating boxes of the rest just to *get it out the door*. That’s the end goal you’re going for when all is said and done – not keeping unwanted stuff around. The money is nice if you can get it, but the freedom from it all is even better :)

  24. Free Range Nation March 18, 2016 at 3:50 PM

    I LOVE minimalism. And you, are right that it definitely infiltrates to all areas. My finances are super simple and I have achieved financial freedom at a relatively young age. I am also a professional sustainability consultant, so I am very anti-stuff. I developed a presentation that I hope to give for free to schools and other organizations called “Stuffocating: Peak Stuff and the Pursuit of Less”.

    1. J. Money March 21, 2016 at 11:38 AM

      Cool!! I hope you find a way to get everyone on this planet to watch it :) Bad ass that you hit financial freedom so early on too – way to figure it all out.

  25. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank March 18, 2016 at 7:04 PM

    Sticking to a simple strategy is part of being a minimalist. I think a simple budget really helps and having 1 credit card is easy to manage.

  26. Elle @ New Graduate Finance March 20, 2016 at 1:09 PM

    I love the list you made.

    I find that i get stressed when I have to think about different accounts, different numbers, different objects. I stress about knowing where everything is, how I can access it, and knowing if it is safe.

    I know that I will save myself a lot of stress and drained energy if I keep my financial life as complicated as it currently is.

    1. J. Money March 21, 2016 at 11:40 AM

      That’s your homework assignment this week then :) Get it all down into one main spreadsheet so you can see where everything is, and then start closing down/merging accounts throughout the week (take one at a time) until you get it whittled down. Will feel so much better!

  27. Risin March 22, 2016 at 6:25 AM

    I decided (simply decided) to be financially free after I get a lot of difficulties in getting a good job after graduation and in the real job.
    (I graduated in mids of GFC – may be that’s why the bad experiences)

    So I decided just decided that I want to be independent … independent from jobs, from salaries.

    Being financially lean, was my first step. I offloaded a lot of my stuffs (sold on ebay, or donated to charities). I only have a few items right now. But I feel soo sooo much happier… so much lighter.

    Now, I maintain savings rate of 75%+ per year.
    I keep my budgeting and money management process to be very simple. I use no apps, excel spreadsheet, etc. I use online envelope technique. I pay cash for everything including car. I have $0 credit card debt, or any other debt, except the aussie student loan which is imo a good debt.

    If u want to check out my blog, on how I maintain to be financially lean, keep 75% saving rate, and getting side incomes, please visit my blog on moneysmartt.blogspot.com.
    It is a work in progress, but very honest and hopefully useful and information.

    Rising Phoenix

    1. J. Money March 23, 2016 at 2:21 PM

      Rock on! 75% savings is no joke, geez… you are killing it!!

  28. Chris @ MindfulExplorer March 22, 2016 at 9:53 PM

    Finally got a chance after our big Instameet this weekend in the backcountry to get a around to catching up with all the budget sexiness. Perfect list and we are aligned buddy as I got 8 out of 8 on your list. I hope I can get a gold star :) All jokes aside simplicity is the way to go, it may all seem complicated but once the systems are on place the reward is worth every minute.

    1. J. Money March 23, 2016 at 2:22 PM

      Yeah son – love it! Not that I ever doubted you :)

      No idea what an Instameet is (Instagram in real life???) but sounds edgy… Looking forward to Instameeting you one day in real life – zing!

      1. Chris @ MindfulExplorer March 26, 2016 at 6:35 PM

        A meeting of people connected via Instagram . Usually a group getting together to meet and greet at a location and go about shooting photos and discussing ideas on how to better capture. In my circle of connections we choose to use our’s for productive social projects or to bring awareness to social or environmental issues. We should use our social media for good or to educate others….all of which you are doing :)

        Yes to meeting for us indeed!!

        1. J. Money March 28, 2016 at 11:52 AM

          Absolutely brilliant.

  29. Xyz from Financial Path. March 24, 2016 at 6:09 PM

    Cannot agree more with having ONE account of each.
    I used to be spread out in so many banks I couldn’t follow!
    Thanks for the great article.

  30. Greg March 30, 2016 at 9:03 AM

    Fantastic article! Being in my early 50’s I caught the FI bug too late to be able to retire as early as I’d like, but I’m now working on it. I’m currently in a limbo, setting aside as much as I can but committed to paying for the undergrad education of my two kids (one is a sophomore and the other is graduating and moving off my payroll this May). I am taking this time to evaluate everything about my life, what really is important and what I can jettison. This has led to the same clutter reduction you are advocating. For example, I just sold my motorcycle trailer…I might rent a bike in the future but will never own one again. I just got rid of all my old corded power tools and pneumatic ones with all the extension cords, compressor, hoses and went entirely to just a few essential battery operated ones (I can rent the more specialized ones by the day if I need them in the future). I am in the process of going through all my books, keeping a few treasures, buying what I can on kindle, and saying goodbye to the rest. I have already digitalized my music. I am also in the process of digitalizing all my photos and records, only keeping the most important in physical form. It’s very liberating!

    1. J. Money March 30, 2016 at 3:18 PM

      You’re on fire man! Love it!

      And now REALLY want to see a picture of that motorcycle trailer, haha… please tell me it’s a trailer you attach to a cycle – like for storage or something cool?

  31. Mrs. SimplyFinanciallyFree March 30, 2016 at 12:00 PM

    I have been slowly decluttering our house over the past year. It is amazing how much I have gotten rid of and yet how much “stuff” we still have around the house. Although moving towards a more minimalistic lifestyle is not necessary to achieve FIRE I think they do go well together as the less stuff I have in my home, the more freedom I have.

    Last night I sold two bookcases on Craigslist for $25 each and not only did I make some money but the room looks so much better without them. Progress, one item at a time! One step closer to freedom.

    1. J. Money March 30, 2016 at 3:20 PM

      You know it!

      I also like that minimalism mentality of “one thing in, one thing out.”

      If you follow that there’s no way to over-clutter again! it’s just swapping in older stuff with better stuff in theory :)

  32. Kurt March 30, 2016 at 12:34 PM

    For me, ‘simple’ and minimalist have always come easy–seem to be in my genes. Lots of stuff around and overflowing closets make me nervous. The more stuff there is around, the harder it is for me to find something that I really need. Now I just have to get my spouse on board. ;)

    1. J. Money March 30, 2016 at 3:20 PM

      (When you figure that out, please let me know :))

  33. Liz March 30, 2016 at 2:53 PM

    I remember the days of minimalism – mine were unintended but very much enjoyed. After a divorce 6 years ago, I arrived back in Canada with just 4 moving boxes and a bike. It was so liberating, and truly left me feeling like anything and any road was up for grabs.

    I love the road I’ve chosen, but now find myself with a huge farm house full of stuff that is not mine…and a barn…and a workshop… and.. and.

    The challenge to boil it all down to what we need is overwhelming.

    I’ll start with getting rid of debt ;)

    1. J. Money March 30, 2016 at 3:22 PM

      Haha, there you go :)

      And at least you know *how* to do it as you’ve done it once before! This time though it’ll be in much better circumstances I would imagine?

      1. Liz March 30, 2016 at 3:45 PM

        You bet! I may have more clutter now, but I also have more happiness, laughter and fun :)

  34. middle class March 30, 2016 at 6:49 PM

    I definitely have too many accounts. Some can’t be helped like my employer’s retirement account but you just reminded me that should close out one of my savings account soon.

  35. The Roamer March 31, 2016 at 2:19 PM

    I agree I have heard of people who say you should have an account for every goal but it seemed like that would add a lot of work.

    Right now we are still at the physical decluttering. So I haven’t really looked much at accounts. But we did close a bunch of CD’s 3 years ago when we did aggressive debt pay off so we have less accounts now.

    One thing I do know is that we take advantage of automation. And that does simplify our money management

    1. J. Money April 4, 2016 at 6:48 AM

      Totally! And before the internet a lot of that automation wasn’t even around – *gasp*!