Not-so-simple living

May 14, 2015
I feel like such a contradiction sometimes.  I am very attracted to the idea of a very frugal, minimalist lifestyle.  But only in theory.  Because when I actually attempt to consider what life would be like without:

– vacations that include flights/hotel stays — not all the time, but at least once yearly and maybe a weekend trip here and there

– date nights at restaurants (includes cost of restaurant + babysitter)

– the ability to order takeout at times

– fitness classes (barre) sometimes, and occasional races

– Japanese straightening (CANNOT EVEN FATHOM)

– Whole Foods (I know, but yeah)

– the ability to stream the TV shows we like (we did cancel cable, but have Sling, HBONow, and Netflix — still cheaper, but not free)
– the occasional (like, every few months) massage/spa service (pedicure)
– buying books from time to time (though I need to make better use of the library)

. . . I can’t imagine giving these things up. If I’m being honest with myself, it’s pretty clear: I don’t want to give them up.

On the other hand, I could live forever without a luxury car (I just need mine to be safe, reliable and fuel-efficient).  I will happily live in a house filled with aging IKEA furniture, as long as it is clean and in working order and not cluttered.  Many of the things I do with the kids on weekends are free (playgrounds, hanging out with relatives, etc) — though I also like the freedom to hit the zoo or museum if the mood is right.

I don’t know.  I love the idea of stoicism that Trent writes about in this post.  I read about aggressive retirement savings plans (ours is currently . . . not).  But I have a hard time defining exactly what our goals are, or should be.  This came up in part because I was thinking about the potential $$$ that would be associated with a Thursday night “off”.  I’d also loooooove to eventually change our work schedules so that Josh and I take weekend call at the same time, with childcare.  This would mean we’d have many more weekends OFF TOGETHER, which I feel are sorely lacking (which makes me wonder what the point of all this work is, anyway?).  But of course again — it’s a cost.  The reality is that we’d have to give something else up, or save less (not a good idea), or earn more (where’s my book deal?).


Taken at a recent dinner out.  Don’t even ask …


  • Reply Amy March 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    Long-winded – sorry in advance! When I think of minimalism, I think, for me, it’s more about living in a way that values experiences over stuff, and using my resources to invest in myself and those closest to me. Most of the things you listed are not really things imo. Trips? An experience and an investment into your relationship with your family. Date nights: investment in your relationship (sure, you could probably do it cheaper but, to me, the dinner is an experience and if it brings you joy…). Fitness classes: in investment in yourself and self care. Takeout: investment in spending more time with your family vs. making dinner; also, self care! Even the massage: self care and an investment in your mental health. The japenese straightening, even that could be looked at as an investment in your career if you think it makes you look more put together and professional. I guess it’s a slippery slope and you could begin to justify everything but I think my point is, there’s no one size fits all for minimalism; it’s really what it means to YOU and it’s also a spectrum. I think the crux of minimalism is only allowing things into your life which bring you joy and discarding the rest – and maybe some of those things are pricier than others. I like the Simple Dollar but his life is somewhat extreme and he really doesn’t value things like travel/other cultures at all and that’s something, to me, worth investing in. If you’re going into debt to do the above things or find you have no money to do the things which really do matter, or that the above things don’t really make you happy, that’s a whole other issue but it sounds like you’re living intentionally and well within your means and doing things that only contribute to your happiness. Or perhaps I have no idea what minimalism really is! Just my two cents 🙂 I love when you write about this topic because I’m dipping my toes into minimalism, too, and can get down on myself when I decide to go for a pedicure or something.

  • Reply oldmdgirl March 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    Totally. It’s hard to figure out what is "worth it" and that equation is different for everyone. Right now we eat takeout a lot, spend too much on date nights, and spend huge amounts on childcare. I also have a weakness for cute/soft and comfy kid’s clothes. It’s always a balance between saving for later and your current happiness quotient.

    What you’re doing right now is really hard, Sarah. I think things may start to get easier in a year or so when you’re dealing with a 2&4 year old, or a 3&5 year old. Have you thought about hiring a live-in or au pair? Sometimes they are cheaper and more flexible, but…. they live with you (not that I notice — I’m always at work!), and they require a room in your house. Again, tradeoffs!

    I do enjoy reading about your thought process, though. It’s helpful to see what other people are doing, so you can consider alternative arrangements for your own family.

    • Reply theSHUbox March 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm

      Re things getting easier – I do think of that. And they will get *cheaper* when the kids are in public elementary school, when I have paid for my car, when my loan is paid off. So I do rationalize more spending now thinking we’ll save more later when those things change. but then I think about "starting early" and compounded interest (ie, better to save EARLY for retirement not later) and get nervous.

      Re au pair – I love our nanny way too much to ever consider any alternative!

  • Reply Ana March 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    I feel EXACTLY the same way. I like the idea of stoicism and super-frugality—and I’ve lived (to some extent) like that for a long time. My parents were remarkably frugal and I didn’t have a real job until pretty recently. I’ve done a lot of shoe-string travel (staying at hostels, eating pb sandwiches everyday), and other penny-pinching stuff and it was fun at the time. Its satisfying to do things on a minimal budget, and feel like you "beat the system". And when it was just me, there was no reason not to.
    But at this point in life, we need to buy ourselves some sanity and, yes, some fun. I was really into getting our budget as low as possible and throwing more into savings—and then we had this awesome vacation, and it completely blew the budget, but it was WORTH IT. Including the fancy dinners out and drinks—that was part of the experience, and it wouldn’t have been the same eating pb sandwiches and drinking water all week. It actually bought us happiness, great memories, and leaves me looking forward to future trips—and that anticipation brings MORE happiness. The things I like to spend for, like yours, are experiences. I know people (including myself) can be happy without those types of "luxury experiences" like vacations or dinners out or salon services, but I happen to like them, and I can afford them within reason, so I don’t see the need for deprivation. Like you, I am definitely not into "stuff". I had a brief period of over-shopping for clothes but I don’t even miss that once I stopped. If/when we get a car, it’ll be used & functional. I’m not rushing out to buy the latest tech stuff. I use the library, we spend most of our weekends at parks, and 90% of our furniture is also from IKEA.
    I think, like you mentioned in the past, that simplicity/minimalism/whatever is more about recognizing what matters to you and spending towards that. As long as you’re not in debt, there is no badge of honor in going to Aldi and the library with frizzy hair with two kids hanging off you every minute of the day.
    For a while I was reading those uber-frugal blogs (including SD, MMM, etc…) and I was really drinking the kool-aid, and then I realized I needed to stay away from those.
    I had a very similar post I was working on…

  • Reply Ana March 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    OMG that picture. Hilarious.

  • Reply Veterinarimom March 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    I’m really curious – you said you aren’t saving aggressively for retirement. What does that mean, to you? DH and I are behind, because I was in school FT until I was ….. 34? And have only had a real salary for 3 years, so until I started my first real job, we weren’t able to save much. The Fidelity guidelines recommend having a year’s gross in savings at 35, and we’re 36 and 38 and don’t QUITE have a year. According to several retirement calculators, we need to be saving almost my entire take-home pay each month to meet our retirement needs, which honestly is inhibiting me from TTC #3. I feel like SO many of our current expenses won’t be present in retirement (daycare, student loans, health insurance for 2 kids) that we’ll probably need less than estimated, but it’s SO STRESSFUL!!!! I think I’d regret not having a third more than I’d regret having to live frugally in retirement, but I still weigh it on a daily basis. And it definitely stops me from doing a lot of things (vacations, dates, etc) that I’d love to do, because I think that money should be going into retirement savings. How do you feel about your retirement situation? How aggressive (or not) are you?

    • Reply theSHUbox March 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm

      Hard to answer without getting into too many specifics that I wouldn’t be comfortable with having online. But, I think it’s safe to say we are in the ‘saving some, but nowhere NEAR the 30%+ mark that many of the frugal blogs aim for’ category.

  • Reply Ali March 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    It sounds like you are doing just fine! Just remember–once your debt is paid off, that will free up more money for savings. And if you are aggressively paying it off, that’s just as good as saving it more than likely. I know I am often critical of my own spending on the types of items you mention (eating out, gym membership, lots of little extras, etc), but in the grand scheme of things, those items are really not a large % of our budget. (Who am I kidding? Childcare is by far our largest expense !). In any case, as long as you aren’t letting your budget be consumed by these extras, I think you are doing just fine . 🙂

  • Reply Andrea March 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    As a surgeon in Hungary I earn waaay less than the doctors in the States. But what is the point to all of the hard work, if not living live to it’s fullest potential? I sometimes worry that I am not saving enough(now that I have the luxury to stay at home with my daughter I have a salary that is basically enough for food so saving it’s impossible), but still, on my death bed I won’t think back on the houses I didn’t bought, or the savings I didn’t make,but on the adventures I took. I don’t remember how it was living in a small apartment 2 years ago, what I did or did not like in it, but sure as hell I remember the nights out with my husband, the great parties we attended, and the trips we took, the places I’ve seen. And I am aware that my few months old daughter won’t remember these things, but even so,we are taking her to places,and on trips. And yes, I like enjoying luxury hotels, but I can sleep in hostels too, of needed. What is the point of working so hard if I am always dead tired, not seeing my family that much, and also not enjoying life as I please?

  • Reply middle_class March 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    To me, minimalism and frugality are very different things. Minimalism is not focusing on de-cluttering and not accumulating STUFF. That can save you money or it can mean you bought a beautiful new iMac because you don’t want to clutter your space. It can mean getting an expensive smartphone that you also use as an alarm, music player, fitness tracker, calendar etc.. I think it does "allow" you to easily justify spending on experiences as well.

    I’m not knocking one or the other since we have to be frugal to support a family of 4 in a high cost of living area. I guess what I’m saying that both being minimalist and being frugal has its place in life.

  • Reply oldmdgirl March 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    It’s probably a hazard of the job, but I keep thinking about what will happen to my family if I get sick and am no longer able to work. It would kill me if paying for my own nursing home prevented me from sending my kid to college. Less dramatically, what if you get injured and can’t work anymore, and that retirement fund suddenly has to stretch a lot farther. These are the things that keep me awake at night, and make me feel an urgency to saving.

    • Reply theSHUbox March 10, 2019 at 7:13 pm

      re: nursing home care, you probably know this but long term care insurance is an option there too.

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