25 April 2012

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Living with less

Image: A minimalist lifestyle means less stress and more time for the things you love

Living with less means a simpler life with fewer possessions, being happy with second hand or cheaper possessions, fewer luxuries such as expensive dinners or holiday trips and not choosing the biggest house you can afford. It might sound like you’re trading in a life of creature comforts and luxuries for a plain and boring life, but people who succeed in living this way do not look at it as a sacrifice. People choose to live a more minimal life because living below your means actually means that you have more freedom. Capitalist society wants us to spend: this is hard to deny as we are constantly bombarded with advertisements and we are always encouraged to look up to those who have more.

A minimalist lifestyle is also referred to as frugal living. Having more money kept away every month means that you are far less likely to need credit in case of an emergency. This means that people who live this way have more financial freedom and little or no debt. The burden of debt often keeps us awake at night, but those who choose to live below their means make a conscious decision to save rather than buy on credit. These people don’t necessarily earn large amounts of money; they just intentionally don’t spend it all by having a different outlook on life than most. They value independence from financial worries higher than seeming successful or feeling empowered by the possessions that they own.

The other advantage of living with less is that you have less to budget for each month. However, this only applies to people who are good at earning more than they spend. The Digerati Life makes the distinction between earning more than you spend and spending less than you earn. People who spend less than they earn make a conscious decision to stick to a budget, while those who earn more than they spend make an effort to earn a bigger income than they need to cover their basic necessities. The first is motivation to keep your life simpler by keeping in mind that you want that freedom of having money left at the end of the month and the peace of mind that comes with it. The latter reminds you that money does not come easy and to live comfortably and worry free means hard work, so the less you spend the less you need to work and vice versa.

At this point you may think about how hard this is. After all, we often think for our lives to be fulfilling it is necessary to have a satellite dish, store cards, a new car, designer clothes, the latest gadgets and the like. We did not consciously decide this, but we are taught that possessions mean comfort and freedom when often the opposite is true. We tend to think happiness and comfort can be bought, and this is true to a degree as we need some basic things to be comfortable, but those who live minimalist lifestyles know that being content and appreciating the small things in life means living with less clutter and possessions.

The same principle of living with less goes for where we live: having a large house is great when you have people over, but it costs a lot more, is harder to look after or demands more maintenance costs than a smaller home. Those of us who live above our means also tend to collect possessions. This can mean that our living spaces become crowded and it creates some anxiety (even sub-consciously) when we live in cluttered homes.
But what if you are already over indebted? By now you are probably kicking yourself for living above your means and not saving as much as possible. However, a minimalist lifestyle can definitely help! Scaling down as much as you can will allow you to focus on getting back on track with your finances and beginning to focus on the important things in life. South Africa’s Credit Protection Act allows those who are over indebted the opportunity to hire a debt counsellor and to go under debt review. Adopting a minimalist outlook can make the debt review process much easier for you.

The counsellor will look at all your living expenses and budget for the necessities while the rest of your income will go towards paying back your creditors after restructuring your payment plan. If you can adapt to live with less, you can pay back your creditors as fast as possible and you don’t run the risk of running out of money at the end of the month. This can be a real problem and you are not allowed to take out a loan once you are under debt review. If your choose to skip a payment to your creditors, the debt counsellor or creditor can cancel the debt review because they seek to help those who are serious about getting out of debt.

No matter what your circumstances, living with less has definite benefits for those who want financial freedom or those who want to focus on the important things in life and escape the cycle of consumerism. 

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