This type of minimalism doesn’t save money

by Lindy on October 10, 2011

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Being a minimalist saves money, this is one fact that’s hard to dispute.

If you don’t have a lot of stuff, then you didn’t spend a lot to get it. Having less means one can live in a smaller house and not spend money on storage units. Less stuff also means less things to break, less time spent maintaining those things, and more flexibility to pick up and move if times get hard.

But there’s one kind of minimalism that doesn’t save money. And that’s the kind of minimalist I am.

I like things to be streamlined. Simple. Not complicated. Efficient. I’m a minimalist processor.

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If I find myself spending too much time doing the same things over and over, I find ways to make shortcuts or templates so I only have to do it once. I recently moved my cinnamon and my honey into the same spot in the kitchen. Taking two steps from the cupboard to the pantry to gather my yogurt toppings, and then two steps back to put them away, was not efficient.

When it comes to our finances, A-Rob and I don’t have a lot of bank accounts, just a few really useful ones. We keep a budget that has wiggle room so we don’t have to keep it to the letter. Our savings transfers are automated. Our finances are simple and relatively hands free.

But being a minimalist processor means I often pass up on opportunities to make or save money if it sounds too complicated.

1. Coupons. Do I need to speak to their complexity? Snipping and organizing tiny pieces of paper, using them before they expire, reading the store fliers to match sales. Too much for me.

2. Flexible spending accounts (FSAs). Tracking what we spend on health care, making sure we don’t spend too much or too little, knowing what counts as a health expense and what doesn’t. Sounds like a lot of work.

3. Credit card rewards. I’m irrationally neurotic about carrying any balance on my card in fear that it’ll spiral out of control like it did in the past. I know a lot of people play the credit card rewards game – using credit cards for everything, then paying it off in full at the end of the month – but that would require effort. Effort to track that we’re not spending too much each month, effort to research the best rewards programs, effort to track and use points. I might be swayed on this one if a simple answer is dropped in my lap, but for now, I’m living credit rewards free.

4. Making phone calls. They say you can save money if you call the cable company and ask for a discount. Retire by 40 got a sweet break on a hospital bill just by calling and asking. I could have gotten my money back that time the dry cleaners didn’t actually clean my clothes. Then there was the time a hit-and-run driver nicked my bumper and I didn’t make a claim…another story, another day.  In general, a phone call is just one more “to do” on an already full list, so I don’t do it.

I’m sure there are other areas in my life where I could save money if I made the effort. But in the end, the efficiency buff in me doesn’t want to bother.

Now’s your chance to convince me of the error of my ways.  Do any of you use the above methods to save money?  Are they really as complicated and time consuming as I think they are?

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  • Jen

    Credit catd rewards don’t have to be complicated. Sign up for a cash back card. No tracking or redeeming points. Every so often the company will either send you a check (like our MBNA Mastercard in Canada) or deposit money directly to your account (like my old Discover card in the US). You don’t need to switch all of your payments either. Just use it like you currently due and every so often you get money. This one is a no-brainer for me.

  • I’m the same way as you. I don’t use a ton of coupons, but I probably should use more. I don’t have an FSA or have any credit card rewards. I DO make phone calls though to see if I can get things cheaper.

  • The FSA can be a pain, especially when you have to remember to submit the paperwork in order to get reimbursed. Things got really simplified for us when our work moved to an FSA debit card. We typically spend the same amount every year but we leave about a $200 buffer just in case. We’ll do periodic checks on the balance but that’s it. I’m actually glad we have it now because it comes out pre-tax, I budget off of that, and I never have to worry about a)paperwork or b)worrying if I have enough cash for a medical expense.

    As far as coupons–I’m right there with you!

  • I sometimes do the coupons, but I typically forget about them when it comes time to use them, so I’ve cut back on that. I also dont get a newspaper so it’s hard for me to find coupons.
    I have never messed with the FSA because I figured it’d be too much of a pain – I dont go to the doctor very much at all, so all the time put into figuring out amounts and other things like that just seem like a hassle. I may need to look into it though.
    As for the credit card rewards, I’m all over this – I’ve gotten quite a bit of freebies from here (plane tickets) and have been able to keep my spending under wraps and at levels that it normally was before I started using them. I also enjoy the fraud protection they give.

  • Dee

    I’m with you on coupons. Too much effort. I used to have a little plastic organizer with the coupons separated by category, but I would forget I had it or the coupons would expire, etc.

    As for the credit card, I find paying with cc’s is much easier than anything else. I get daily email alerts with my balance so I always have an idea of how much I’ve spent—plus I think about what I’m buying before I purchase it (which I’m sure you already do). At the end of the month, I get my bill and pay it. Done! Super easy. And usually the cc tracks your reward points for you so there is no work on that end.

    • Lindy

      That daily spending alert sounds like a nice feature. I wonder if there’s an app for that. :)

  • Making your home efficient and streamlined might not save you $ but it feels good, right? I do a lot of those things too. I just did a mini cupboard reorg in the kitchen so that child and adult snacks were on the same shelf. And then lined up my spices with the ones I use most often being at the front.

    We used to solely use a credit card that gave us airline rewards points. We still have it but since moving to the UK we strictly use debit for daily life here. Are the airline points worth it? Less and less. They keep jacking the taxes you pay on a point ticket up. I looked at using points recently to go RT Dublin –> Toronto. The choices: use a load of points and pay $450 in taxes or get a killer dill on the flight outright at $650. I went with the good deal on the flight and saved my points. We are finding more and more that with budget airlines out there and the additional taxes on points tickets, the points are best saved up for something big like first class to Europe or N. America.

    Coupons: not what I want to spend my time on. I try to shop for seasonal produce and what’s on sale.

    Phone calls are always free! We use Skype. ;)

    • Lindy

      That’s an interesting comment about airline taxes. I know there are some rewards cards that make it incredibly difficult to redeem your points, yet others are much simpler. Taking the time to sort out which is which is what slows me down.

      And you’re right, making a home streamlined feels incredibly good.

  • It depends on what you want to spend your time on. I don’t have kids, and it’s just me and the hubby, so I have extra time to clip coupons and such. I do the credit card rewards too, but pay it off as soon as we get home. Just save the reciept, come home, log on and do online bill pay. Takes a minute.

  • I’m lazy, too, though I don’t think it’s ever cost me money (unless you count failing to get contents insurance until AFTER being burgled… Also, how long it took me to finally enrol in a retirement scheme). I’d clip coupons if they were available to me in NZ…but they’re not. I wouldn’t be hardcore with them, though.

  • I can’t speak to the first two, because I don’t coupon (I also tend to think it’s a waste of time) and I’m Canadian, so the flexible health savings thing doesn’t apply to me.

    But for credit card rewards: Try using Mint.com to track all of your spending, and then set budgets, that way you can easily see where you are in the month in terms of being way under budget, or coming close. It’s kind of like watching your bank balance, but in reverse. I’m totally one of those people who uses a credit card for everything and then just pays it off. ALSO, if the idea of handling points seems like too much, maybe just try for a cash back card? Easy peasy.

    About the phone calls, I think it’s just about managing expectations, and knowing how likely it is you’ll get your way. For instance, about a year ago I spent no more than 20 minutes on the phone with my cell phone provider, and saved $20 off my monthly bill, got a better plan AND got a discounted iPhone. Woo! On the same token, I haven’t yet called to ask for a break on my cable bill because I know I’ll be on hold forever, and then they probably won’t give it to me after that, so that one’s not worth my time.

  • My husband saved $500 today just by picking up the phone and asking…

    • Lindy

      Well shoot, if my husband wanted to do that, I wouldn’t complain. :)

    • I like the argument that peeps are more likely to bargain with a male voice. :)

      Perhaps he’d be interested. Especially if you said he could keep part of the savings for his own purposes, no questions asked.

  • Credit card rewards don’t have to be hard… just keep an eye out for good sign-on bonuses and monitor your credit. I got 2 round trip airfare from LA to Buenos Aires, Argentina for $420 because I got a great sign-on bonus with an airline card, and that’s probably the easiest $2,000 I’ve saved.

  • Sam

    I use a cash-back reward credit-card. I put all monthly bills on it, on auto-pay. Cable, phone, utilities. I never forget to pay the bills and when I have earned enough rewards, presto, they send me a check with my bill.

    • Lindy

      That is an interesting thought. Bills are more predictable than everyday spending, and it’s not like you wouldn’t be paying them anyways. I’ve also thought about only putting gas on the card, since that amount is relatively fixed too.

      Thanks for sharing!

  • If you’ve had problems with credit card debt in the past then I’m with you on this to leave them be. Sure, you might be giving up some cash back, but if you aren’t comfortable you aren’t comfortable.

    That said, we track our spending on the credit card just like we do when we use a debit card. It really is just like free money to us.

    • Lindy

      I’ve read when other personal finance bloggers have had a bad month and actually can’t pay off their credit card bill in full. To use only credit cards, you have to keep a watchful eye on your spending at all times. We do pay attention, but we also like the flexibility to go a few weeks without logging into our Mint account if things get busy.

      There’s also something to be said for seeing the bank account balance get smaller. If we don’t have money to spend, we can’t spend it. Whereas with credit cards, we could potentially keep on going.

  • Credit card rewards are the best. Mine coincide with Christmas shopping, so Christmas costs me nothing. I have Amex Blue Cash, and I get back about $1500 in December. Can’t pass up free money. We just pay the bill each month and enjoy the rewards.

    Love the FSA too, and it comes in real handy for braces!

    Regarding the other things, well I find I do them real well when I am not busy, but when life gets crazy, those are the first things to go.

    • Lindy

      Ooooh, braces. We’ll be having those in our future. Good point.

  • Susanna

    I snip coupons when it’s convenient (like I come across something in the paper insert or mail that is something I’ll use or the occasional browsing online and see one to print out). I use my FSA but always underestimate since I lose it if I don’t use it. I also use Discover for the cashback bonus – just check every so often to see if the balance is at $50 and if so I either apply it to the current balance or transfer to my checking account or take advantage of another deal if I know about one or plan on shopping at a specific store. I also shop through their link for a bigger cashback bonus.otherwise I try ebates or fatwallet.com. I despise a bunch of phone calls and avoid them whenever I can. I also stick with INGdirect instead of hopping from online savings to online savings to keep things simpler. if a really super duper deal came along I might change my mind but not for 0.1% more on interest.

  • I’m with Money Talks – if credit cards make you uncomfortable because of high balances in the past, then by all means, don’t use them.

    I consider myself pretty good at managing my money, but I will still buy something I haven’t saved up for if I can get a 0% financing deal. Access to credit can suck you in really easily.

    Plus, if you’re only getting 2% back, you’d save more just making sure that most of the stuff you buy is 10% off.

    I think I benefit from rewards because I have a bunch of reimbursable expenses for work. So I get the points, but don’t really have to pay.

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  • I also like making systems efficient! It’s the best part of my job, and I exercise ti in other areas of my life, too (it’s NOT the same as being lazy, Mom).

    That said, credit cards rewards couldn’t be much easier for me. I use my Chase Freedom card for nearly everything, pay it off in full every month, and on that same day that I log in to pay the bill, I transfer my cash-back rewards to a savings account. Takes all of 5 minutes to do both. It’s so little work that I really do consider it “free money”. After all, there’s no annual fee, no minimum spending to qualify, and I don’t have to think about it more than once a month.

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