How to Take a Minimalist Approach to Holiday Shopping

holiday shopping

The holidays are hectic—with everyone rushing to stores and advertisements being shoved in our faces, it can be difficult to maintain a minimalist approach to shopping. Everything is made to seem like the best deal or the next must-have gift. But the holidays are supposed to be about giving and togetherness. We should focus less on the price tag and more on the meaning behind the gift.

Here are four ways that you can reduce spending on holiday shopping while still finding great gifts.

Make a List, Check it Twice

If you create a list prior to shopping, you will know exactly how much you plan to spend and the limits of your budget. It’s when you deviate from this list and start buying unplanned gifts that overspending occurs. As you begin shopping, try to find deals along the way in order to cut costs from your overall budget.

Something you should consider while shopping is tracking your expenses—this way you won’t have any unforeseen expenditures. One way to track all your purchases in real-time is by using an online banking platform with instant transaction alerts. These platforms can send updates directly to your smartphone, that way you don’t need to review your expenditures retroactively.

Repurpose Gifts

While it may seem taboo to regift something, an unopened or unused gift is practically good as new if the person doesn’t know that you’re regifting. As long as you think the recipient will actually enjoy the gift, it’s better to not let it go to waste. Sometimes you can even take a gift and upgrade it into something even better with a little bit of craftiness—like turning books into wall art! Adding your own touch will help make the gift even more perfect for the recipient. 

Give the Gift of Time

Spending time with someone can be more wholesome than any physical gift you could possibly give them, especially if your gift recipient speaks the love languages of Quality Time or Acts of Service. This means you could volunteer to do different chores for the person, offer to take them on fun adventures, or just spend an evening at home playing board games and watching movies. 

You can also spend time together while giving the gift of volunteerism. Plan a day later in the year when you can volunteer together at a local shelter or charity. The holiday season is jam packed with volunteers, so be intentional about visiting during a less-staffed time of year to truly make a big impact on your local community. 

You may just find that the joy you get from helping others can outweigh any physical gift.

Shop for Supplies

One way to cut down on costs is by making the gifts yourself. Rather than spending tons of money on expensive finished products, try spending the money on supplies for do-it-yourself gifts. You can save even more money if you already have some supplies on hand. This will take some extra time on your end, but it’s worth it because the gifts will be heartfelt and unique to the person you are giving them to. 

DIY gifts can include cookie dough ingredients in a jar, paintings, polished river rocks with a word of affirmation painted on them, a printed and framed poem, or anything else your creative mind comes up with!

During the holidays, minimalism can help you save costs and reduce stress. By applying the concepts of minimalism, you can celebrate the spirit of the holidays without getting sidetracked by the message to buy more and more.

Check out this infographic from Chime that can help you focus on your holiday needs while still meeting your financial goals.

chime infographic

Shopping Consciously as a Minimalist

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Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash

While minimalism is already widely accepted as an eco-friendly way of living, there are still ways you can continue to do your part if you’ve adopted a “less is more” lifestyle. Shopping consciously is one of the easiest and most effective ways to embrace minimalism, while also putting our planet first. As you embrace the minimalist way of life, here are just a few ways you can shop more consciously along the way.

Take Inventory

Before you set out on any sort of shopping excursion, it’s always important to create a home inventory. By definition, minimalists seek to live with the items they need, as opposed to what they might want. This means you should strive to not have a significant amount of duplicate items in your household. While stocking up on canned goods or owning several sets of sneakers might not feel like a big deal in the beginning, buying excess quantities of items you already own can create more waste in the long run due to forgetting what you already have, food expiring before you can eat it, etc. Taking the time to write down a clear and concise inventory of the things you already have is a sure fire way to keep you from buying items you don’t need. 

It’s important to note, though, that not everyone can afford to replace things if they don’t have duplicates. Don’t feel pressured to pare down to the barest of minimums, and it’s ok to keep a backup of something stored in case of emergencies. Instead of focusing on a numerical limit, consider your space the limit. Only keep as many of something you can reasonably fit on the shelf, in the bin, or in your dresser.

Practice Mindful Grocery Shopping

A great way to keep yourself conscious as you shop is by being as mindful as possible as you purchase your groceries. Whether you like to buy your ingredients on a weekly or biweekly basis, be sure to have a plan of action when you enter the store. Having a list helps keep you on track and inspires less shopping spontaneity. Don’t shop on an empty stomach as this can cause you to purchase more than you need.

Consider changing up your diet slightly by adapting to a more environmentally friendly way of eating. Try your hand at practicing recipes that incorporate little to no meat, as the meat market’s carbon footprint is a steadily growing problem. Planning out your meals well in advance will keep you from making unnecessary purchases and it will keep your pantry more organized over time. 

Shopping at local farmers’ markets can also help reduce the carbon footprint of importing food from far away and helps boost the local economy and support small business.

Donate As Much As You Buy

This is essentially the “one in, one out” rule.

Try to make a mental note to donate items from your home just as often as you add new items. If you’re debating buying a new chair or sofa for your living room, first assess which current piece of furniture you know you could do without, unless you are shopping for a space that needs a change in functionality to seat more people or add a guest bed, etc. 

This goes for your clothing as well. For each new item you add to your wardrobe, choose one to get rid of, if your closet is already at capacity. Smaller possessions such as clothes are easy to accidentally stock up on if you aren’t careful to clean out their hiding places regularly. The next time you feel yourself in need of some wardrobe retail therapy, look online for a closet clean out option to help you keep your closet from becoming overwhelming. Donating will help ensure that all of your shopping is a circular process, helping you maintain a minimal life the eco-friendly way. 

Invest in Reusable Products

If you are able to invest in reusable products, it can reduce your overall home inventory as well as your waste. The best place to start when looking to buy more reusable items is with the things you find yourself using and needing most on a day to day basis. From zip lock bags to plastic water bottles, we tend to create the majority of our waste in the kitchen.

If you haven’t already, try reducing your plastic waste by buying a quality reusable water bottle to keep you hydrated throughout the day. Instead of having to continually purchase zip lock bags for your leftovers, look for alternative ways to keep them fresh, like with beeswax wrap. Take the time to consider washable, reusable alternatives the next time you’re hoping to shop more consciously. 

Checking Your Minimalist Privilege

It is extremely important to note that not everyone has the financial means or the ability to follow these recommendations. Sometimes you have to buy in bulk to save your pennies, and the one-in-one-out rule does not apply when you are starting from a point of having less than you truly need in the first place.

Minimalism is a way of life to prioritize the important things over living to excess — and that is whatever you make it.

How Minimalism Can Help You Spend Less

Live more and spend less — that’s the simple idea. It’s no secret that today’s society places value on piling up the possessions and spending more than we need. Ultimately, this can clutter our lives and weigh us down. Minimalism encourages you to make conscious efforts to live simpler and value the things that are a part of your life. 

How it helps your wallet

Naturally, if you are spending less on material goods then your savings will definitely feel the benefits. However, it’s important to note that minimalism isn’t about restricting your budget so much that you feel trapped. It’s about spending your time, money, and energy on things that are important to you. If this means taking a vacation or getting your nails done, then invest your money in experiences that make you happy.

How to make it work 

Minimalist living can help you feel freed from the things holding you back. Start with small things and work your way up to living with less. Take inventory of the stuff you have and start decluttering, donating, or selling things you don’t need. 

For more inspiration on how to start a minimalist lifestyle, check out these 10 TED Talks on minimalism to help you spend less (from Mint.)

 minimalism-ted-talks

21 New Years Resolutions for Minimalists

Happy New Year!

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At a time when most of us are plotting the course to become a Totally New Me, I’d like to remind you all that you are doing great already. You’re enough, just as you are, and you don’t need to lose 50 pounds or get a boyfriend or achieve a certain level of income to be loved or worthy or enough. That said, New Years Resolutions don’t have to be about absolute life changes. You might find that if you focus on small lifestyle focus areas, you’ll reap large-scale rewards. I’ve put together a list of minimalist resolutions to help you simplify your life and focus on what matters most to you.

A look back

Take a moment to reflect on the year behind you. I can say for certain that when I was approaching 2018, I could not have predicted anything that was about to change for me. In 2018, I realized I was living half a life in an abusive marriage, so I left. In 2018, I lost my stepdad. In 2018, I cut contact with loved ones who damaged my mental health. In 2018, I socialized and made new friends and developed two healthy and loving romantic relationships. In 2018, I discovered a new favorite restaurant. In 2018, I accepted a book deal and wrote a book. It was a BIG. YEAR.

Related: MarketWatch – What to do when your best year at work is your worst year at home

Self reflection and goal setting

To help you reflect on your year in review and find the areas you want to work on for the next year, I recommend finding a few minutes to focus and reflect. This guide can help you out with guided questions and printable sheets to brainstorm.

First, reflect:

  • Did you achieve your resolutions and goals in 2018?
  • Do you have unfinished 2018 projects? Why?
  • Did you take time in 2018 to make a plan for your goals? Did you give yourself the time and resources needed to accomplish your goals?

Then, prepare:

  • Set clear, definable goals with measurable progress and success
  • Think about how you’ll react if you don’t achieve your goals
  • Decide how you’ll motivate yourself to reach your goals

Decide on the areas you want to improve, and then focus your goals on those key areas. The smallest consistent actions can create big improvements.

On to the resolutions

Depending on your areas of focus, here are some resolutions you may be able to adjust to your needs for 2019!

Career

  • Get in early. Resolve to arrive at your desk 15 minutes early this year. Having a few minutes to slowly get your mind into work-mode will leave you feeling more productive and less rushed. This doesn’t mean spend an extra 15 minutes working! Spend this time to close your eyes, set an intention for your work day, and get ready to work.
  • Update your resume. The simple act of updating your resume and polishing your personal brand can help remind you of your skills and make you feel more confident. You don’t even have to look for a new job if you don’t want to – just looking at your credentials and experience on paper is a great reminder of how you’re doing in your career.
  • Learn more. Resolve to read a book or take a webinar or workshop related to your career on a regular basis this year. Check out resources like Lynda, which may be available for free through your local library. Lynda has courses about almost everything.

Physical Health

  • Go to bed. You need more sleep than you are getting, if you’re like most Americans. More rest means better health, regardless of how much you’re hitting the gym. Working out while your body is exhausted can set you up for injury and burnout, so prioritize getting your ZZZs. Try to keep a consistent bedtime and wake time to teach your body your new habits and rhythms.
  • Stretch daily. Rather than commit to a year-long weight loss goal that so few people achieve without a heap of negative self-talk, choose a simpler resolution. Wake five minutes earlier so that you can stretch before you start your morning routine, and perhaps you’ll see that just a small amount of movement can help naturally inspire more.
  • Hydrate. Resolve to drink enough water on a daily basis – this will have a huge and lasting impact on your health. You’ll have healthier digestion when your body is properly hydrated, and you’ll also notice healthier skin.

Mental Health

  • Go to therapy. If your medical insurance covers therapy, find a therapist! Even if you don’t feel like you need one. It can be extremely helpful to have someone to talk to who isn’t knee deep in your personal life. They’re a neutral third party and can help you find other areas of your life to work on.
  • Try mindfulness. Many apps are available to help guide a quick meditation during your day, or you could try keeping a daily journal to jot down some affirmations, intentions, and gratitude.
  • Add plants. Houseplants are one way to improve your mood and mental health. While they’re obviously no replacement for therapy or medication, being around plants and natural microbes found in soil can help boost the immune system as well as inspire joy and decrease symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Social Life

  • Say no. Minimalism is about what to exclude from your life moreso than it’s about what to include, including your schedule. Learn to say no to some social plans so that you can say yes to the ones you really want to attend, without burning yourself out or overscheduling.
  • Try a new place. If you’re a homebody who wants to try going out more, set yourself an easy goal like trying one new place or route per month.This could be going to a new cafe to read a book, visiting a different branch of your local library system, or even taking a different route on an afternoon walk. Just try something different.
  • Give compliments. I used to be pretty quiet in public places, always staying in the shadows while my sister rained rainbow sparkles of joy on everyone she crossed paths with. “Love your earrings!” “That dress looks great,” “Your hair is awesome,” etc. etc. etc. After I went on medication for depression and anxiety, I was less scared of being seen as weird in public by engaging with people I didn’t know. Now I love to tell a server that I love their eyeliner, or give props to a coworker for a job well done in our weekly meeting. Resolve to say something nice every day. It will change your whole outlook on life.

Generosity

  • Leave bigger tips. If you normally tip 20%, resolve to tip 25% at minimum in 2019. This is a great way to be generous and make a big impact with a small change to your current habits.
  • Support marginalized artists on Patreon. Find someone on Patreon who is marginalized in an area of life where you have privilege. Donate to them monthly for the entire year. (For example, if you’re a cisgender white person, donate to a transgender person of color).
  • Declutter for a cause. When you’re decluttering and minimizing in 2019, donate linens, business casual wear, formal dresses, unopened toiletries, non-perishable foods, etc. to local agencies, women’s shelters, and other charities that help people. Even stained or torn towels and linens can be donated to most animal shelters to be used as bedding or cleaning rags.

Finances

  • Minimize your budget. Go over your past few months of bank statements and see what you’re spending money on that you forgot about, don’t really use, or are not seeing a good return on. For me, this meant finally canceling my Beachbody Coach account. I kept it active long after I stopped selling workouts and shakes, because I got an occasional commission and felt like “passive income” was a good reason to keep it up. But I hated the clutter of my monthly budget, so I canceled it and freed up a whole segment of my budget that I no longer had to think about.
  • Go “No Spend.” Resolve to have a no-spend week or month a few times a year. During this time, use up items in your freezer and pantry, learn to do without online shopping for the period in question, and give homemade or pre-owned gifts to people if an occasion falls during your no-spend challenge.
  • Live on half. If at all possible, challenge yourself to live on half of what you make in order to achieve your savings or debt payoff goals as fast as possible. If you can’t live on half of what you make, challenge yourself to spend half as much as usual on something in your budget for a month.

Physical Environment

  • Donate once a month. Make a resolution to take (at least) one full box to the local donation center each month. This is a low-stress way to declutter and minimize all year long.
  • Try Project 333. This capsule wardrobe project challenges you to go three months with only 33 pieces of clothing and jewelry (undies and workout clothes excluded). This experiment can help inspire a closet makeover in your home and help reduce future spending on clothes, once you realize you don’t even wear most of what you have.
  • Commit to one area. Resolve to keep one small part of your home as minimal and simple as possible. Your minimalist save point. It could be a whole room, or it could be as simple as your desk or one nightstand in your bedroom. Just find one spot that you’ll keep to your minimalist standards on a daily basis all year. The joy of seeing it so nice will likely inspire a similar commitment to other areas of the home.

What’s your New Year’s Resolution?

8 Guilt-free tips to minimize Christmas spending

12-11 Christmas

I was already a few purchases into my holiday season when a friend of mine said she’d really enjoy a no-spend or buy-nothing Christmas. She envisioned swaps of artwork, clothing, and books between friends who could give freely from what they already had without adding to the stress and pressure of the holiday shopping season.

I budgeted around $400 for holiday gifts, but I probably won’t end up spending that much at all since I shifted my focus to giving experiences and artwork rather than purchased goods (though the unicorn calendar was a great buy and I stand by it).

Here are some ways you can reduce or eliminate your holiday spend without feeling like you’re downsizing the holiday cheer factor.

  1. Give your time. When I asked a friend what she wanted for Christmas this year, she thought about it and said that she’d love a day we spend together more than anything I could wrap up and give to her. Pencil a friend onto your calendar for a day of movies, hanging out, or even going out to window shop and try on the most hilarious Goodwill outfit you can find.
  2. Create something. One of my hobbies is painting, and I plan on creating art for many of the people on my list this year. It’s something that means a lot to both me and the recipient, since I create something personalized and inspired for each person on my gift list. You could also write letters or poetry, draw something, make homemade bath products, or sew something for your recipient.
  3. Cook something. So technically you’ll have to buy ingredients, but baking some cookies or cooking someone’s favorite meal for them is a great way to put your time and energy into showing your love for them.
  4. Regift. If you got some gifts last year that are still hanging around, new or barely used, give them to someone on your list who will love them and have a good home for them. And if you can’t bear to regift, then admit to yourself that you’re not using them and send them to the local charity store.
  5. Host a party. Instead of shopping for a personalized and unique gift for everyone on your list, you can opt to host a holiday party instead! You can focus your time and energy on preparing a delicious meal and ask everyone to bring their favorite dessert for a mouthwatering pot-luck of treats.

If you’re a dedicated gifter who just wants to reduce the budget instead of shoestring it entirely, try the following ideas!

  1. Try the “four things” holiday gift. Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. This is a great way to give gifts to the kids in the family so all bases are covered, while maintaining a frugal gift budget.
  2. Shop local. Buy from local crafters and shops instead of Amazon Priming everything* or shopping big box stores. Check your city’s calendar for local craft shows, which are all over the place leading up to the holidays!
  3. Shop handmade. ETSY ALL THE THINGS*.

*Some people have no reasonable options but to purchase from large sellers like Amazon, Target, Wal-Mart, etc., due to finances, schedule constraints, physical ability, etc. Your own mental and physical wellbeing is more important than shopping local or small.

Are you planning on a “less is more” holiday this year? Tell me your gifting plans!

PS. If you’re in the Cleveland, Ohio area, don’t miss your chance to buy tickets for the Jolobokaflod fundraiser for the nonprofit Reading Room CLE on December 21! The Reading Room promotes literacy in the Cleveland area through a nonprofit bookstore that supports educational and artistic programming.

How to Set Realistic Financial Goals for 2017

The most effective way to achieve your goals is to set 90-day objectives instead of looking at a looming annual goal or even a 5-year plan. You need to take small action steps so you don’t get overwhelmed and lose your motivation. This applies to anything from losing weight to planting a garden to renovating your bathroom to planning your finances.

I’m a huge proponent of Dave Ramsey’s baby steps program, which includes saving for emergencies (steps 1 and 3), paying off your debt (step 2), investing for retirement (step 4) and kids’ college funds (step 5), and paying off your home early (step 6). The reason this program works is that it breaks things down into small steps. You need to focus your energy – and money – on one goal at a time. People have their consumer debt paid off in an average of two years using the snowball method, which frees up their income to save and invest more freely rather than trying to win by nickel and diming every aspect of their financials.

I’ve been working on my first quarter goals for 2017 and even though it’s already March, I want to reach out and share some financial goal-setting advice you can use as you plan your 2017 financials.

It’s important to understand your finances no matter what you’re doing. There are the basic things you should know: how much money you make, how much you have in savings and checking, your monthly budget, etc. Then there are bigger-picture items like investments and debt payoff goals. As you’re evaluating your financial goals, this Money Saving Challenge infographic from Earnest can help you make a useful goal for each month of the year. Earnest is a company that offers refinancing of student loans, which can be useful if their rates will save you money over the remaining life of your loan (assuming you pay it off early using the baby steps). Every penny counts!

I added a minimalist twist on a few of the included months. In March, you’ll see a recommendation to declutter your home and host a yard sale, which helps you minimize the amount of “stuff” in your house and can also help you make a few bucks. In June, I recommend evaluating your subscriptions and services to once again reduce your commitments and add money back to your bottom line.

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Which of these financial tips are you already working toward, and what new ideas can you add to your goals for the next 90 days?

Your Mission Statement, Should You Choose To Accept It

I’ve been working on some budgeting and financial planning resources for a personal finance group I help run on Facebook. In the guide, I made a brief activity for participants to create their own financial mission statement. The big “WHY” that can remind them of their long term goals when they want a short term pleasure. I’m all for building in a steam valve so you don’t get money stress ulcers, but that’s why budgeting is important. You need to know your limit on how much steam you can blow off, before your whole long-term plan goes up in a sea of cute shoes that were on sale, soy lattes, and even Redbox rentals. Don’t nickel and dime yourself out of a secure financial future.

The mission statement approach can also help you stay mindful and in the moment when you’re having anxiety or stress about something. If you’re not happy at your job, think about your long-term mission. Put today’s annoyance on a scale against the long-term achievements and goals associated with more tenure in your position. Is today’s gripe going to ring a bell in a year? If you’re really miserable, start looking for new work that is more in line with your mission. (Your career mission can be “to have a job I really love,” which makes job shopping not only an option but a responsibility to your goals!)

Mission statements can be for the long term or they can be a short term mission. A mission for one hour, or one day. A to-do list is sort of a mission statement of how you plan to spend your day. I’ve started making my to-do lists in three-item chunks. The top three priorities of my day (usually more difficult or grudging tasks), followed by a quick and easy list of 3 things I can accomplish in a few minutes. By the time I’m done with those 3 big tasks and 3 little tasks, I’ve gotten a lot done and can either rest or make a new mission of 3 top priorities.

By making a really specific mission statement for my day, I’m able to reduce my anxiety. A giant to-do list of all the things I’d like to accomplish on a Saturday is overwhelming and I tend to get so caught up in not knowing where to start that I just procrastinate or do things that are “sort of productive” but not actually things that need to be done that day.

A recent list of mine looked like this:

Top 3 Priorities Today

  1. Work out
  2. Grocery shop
  3. Finish freelance project

3 Easy Tasks

  1. Send freelance invoices
  2. Send freelance pricing information
  3. Take laundry to basement

Next 3 Priorities

  1. Write budget guide
  2. Write a blog post (hey, it’s the post you’re reading right now!)
  3. Scoop litter box and clean up in the office

3 Easy Tasks

  1. Clear the living room table
  2. Take out trash and recycling
  3. Put away the clean dishes

If I had just put all these things on a list without prioritizing or putting them in any order, I would have very likely done all the little quick items first, then pretended I had gotten *so* much work done, and sat on my butt, wondering when I would get around to doing the bigger tasks. By arranging them in order like this, I could pull out the top 3 things that MUST GET DONE and make sure I do them before anything else. Doing the dishes would be nice, but not a top priority. Dishes can wait. Work needs to get done.

I am a list person, and I am a goal person. A list of goals is even better. The better to craft my mission statement, my sweet!

Here’s a breakdown of some of my current short- and long-term mission statements. Most of them are financial but one is related to health.

  • My mission is to pay off our next three debts by the end of 2016, at a rate of one debt per month. (This helps me keep my budget on point. I am less likely to find other things we “need right now” to take out of the budget when I’m focusing on something like this. This goal is really big, those debts are between $1600 and $2000 each. And even if I only get two of them done, that’s amazing!)
  • My mission is to weigh between 150-165 pounds and live a healthy lifestyle with daily exercise and a healthful diet without binge eating or obsessive food behavior. (This is a much more long term mission statement that encompasses not only a weight loss goal but also goals related to my mental health and relationship to food. This helps me to not overeat and also to allow myself indulgences without a guilt trip).
  • My mission is to be debt free by the time I am 30. (This is another big goal! That’s only 18 months away, and we have quite a pile of debt. Over $60,000.)
  • My mission is to become debt free so that we can afford for one of us to stay home with our kids when we start a family. (THIS ONE is the overarching mission. The mission driving all other missions. Nothing makes me reconsider buying a pair of leggings or a burrito bowl like imagining how fast I can get out of debt to be a stay-at-home-mom.)

What are YOUR personal mission statements, and how do they help to keep you accountable?