Money & Essentialism

This past Friday, I finished a book entitled Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown (selected by my new company’s book club)! It was a fast & incredibly relevant read. (P.S. If you’ve been to my corner of the internet a few times, you’ll start to recognize that books serve as a major source of inspiration for my posts). Today I’m bringing a breakdown of Essentialism, overall life, and how this all correlates to money & personal finance.

money & essentialism


More and more the rapidity of life, technology and pursuit of success seems to overwhelm individuals. I can attest to this…from shaping my resume & refining my GPA in high school and college, to graduating and feeling like I am constantly huffing and puffing to keep in stride with life. After leaving several years of life at the educational institute level, it suddenly seems like you are back to square one. Regardless of how equipped you may be with the knowledge you acquired in school/university, nothing can quite prepare you for the spontaneity of the real world. Not to mention, the years fly by rapidly in an exponential fashion. The days are not prepackaged in tidy quarters/semesters where you can look forward to the consistent refresh & recharge experienced during winter, spring and summer break.

But we press on, and we learn what works best for us. The Essentialism book allows you to evaluate what truly matters to you independently, versus the needs & wants of others. One of the main themes of the book is: how can you contribute your best efforts and passions if you are spreading yourself in a million different ways? Despite the underlying tones of needing and wanting to have it all, how can you create an intentional life that allows you to flourish?

Here is a great line from the book that encompasses its message:

“Essentialism: only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter” (McKeown pg 4).

Then I got to thinking of Essentialism in terms of personal finance…

  • How many times have we said “yes” to an event, or an activity despite what parameters we set for our budget?

  • How often have we stressed about our next student loan payment because we were too busy spending all of our money in fear that we would miss out?

  • How consistently have we spread ourselves too thin attempting to accomplish every financial goal as fast as we possibly could that we neglected a particular expense that caught us off guard?

  • How many occurrences have we given into the temptation of “another round,” a splurge purchase, a treat yo’ self moment, that we suddenly turned a blind eye to long term savings goals?

When we are not essential with our money, we have competing interests forcing us in every which way. This could quite honestly relate to positive, or negative habits in relation to your finances. When we refer back to the Inverted U-Curve of Personal Finance we discover that thinking too little about personal finance can develop habits that drain your wallet. While thinking too much about personal finance can lead you to missing what life is wanting you to experience right now. Finding your optimal point of how much to think about personal finance allows you to practice Essentialism with your money.

If you say yes to every brunch-concert-weekend getaway-bar night-impulse buy-latest technology gadget-fancy clothes…where is the room in your budget to contribute to those student loan payments, future retirement savings, or goals to travel to where you want to go (and not just the passing fancies of someone else)? When you say “yes” to every request you may lose sight of what you value, what you would like to do, where you want to go, who you truly want to spend time with. Your contributions to your savings goals become less and less.

Then there is the other angle, where we may have too many savings-tax-expense-budgeting-investing goals in which we are expending a vast amount of effort & energy just trying to do it all. A small lump sum there, a deposit here, a couple dollars there, and they all should amount to something right? Yet when we are exhausting our mental capacity, and seem to be reaching the verge of argument over money matters with friends, family, significant others – our contributions to each competing goal can become trivial. Slip ups and mistakes may emerge due to your mental capacity stretching thin. Oversights to unforeseen expenses may emerge and knock your pristine budget that you felt was absolutely gridlocked.

To combat these negative aspects of financial matters, I recognized that we can practice the fine tuning of money & Essentialism. When we hone in on what we value, what matters to us, who we want to spend our time with – we can start saying no to things that take away from our financial goals. We can then enhance our motivation to contribute to our savings without conflicting and competing interests. Our energy is not displaced, but flourishing. We find the perfect balance between optimizing our personal finances, and discovering the ability to make our best contributions to what we value in terms of saving, donations, investing, etc. When you determine what is essential to you in life, you will discover ways to align your personal finances with a new found ease. 


How can we practice Essentialism with our personal finances? Can you relate to money & Essentialism? Let’s discuss below!

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11 thoughts on “Money & Essentialism

  1. Excellent review and with drawing a parallel to the personal finance realm. We can completely relate to the idea of spreading too thin. When we first got on the right track with our finances after our son was born, we paid off our credit cards in a short period of time and then backed off on the debt paying (still have wife’s student loans and a car loan) and increased our retirement savings. Within the past 4-ish months, we reevaluated our priorities and realized that, at this point, the more important goal is to be free of our debt, especially before we decide we are ready to move away from our current location in the next 3-5 years. Focusing on one goal at a time (debt freedom) will allow for more freed up capital, once that goal is accomplished, to then focus on our next major goal of FIRE. Our son is our motivator to achieve these goals as quickly as possible; he is the inspiration for all of our decisions so that we can put ourselves in the best possible position to capitalize on our time together as a family. Having our priorities in order truly makes for easy financial decision making, as we always looking out for his and our long-term best interests.

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    1. Thank you, Frugal RN! When I first started to focus on my personal finances, I was spreading way too thin as well. My goals and thought process where in a million directions! You bring up an incredibly pivotal point in terms of re-evaluating priorities. Every stage of life is going to require that step, and adjustments may occur in terms of personal finance goals (and it will be unique for everyone, which is amazing)! I love how you have a progression of once you reach one goal, you move forward with the next. I am so happy to hear that your son is the motivator for your goals! 🙂

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      1. Exactly! It’s so easy to want to try to DO DO DO everything all at once, which can be quite counterproductive. Early on last year, we jacked up the investments and were still paying a little extra towards my wife’s loans every month; however, in the long run, we were essentially spinning our wheels because, at that rate, we would still be paying for her loans for the next 8-10 years. While we may be losing out on some of the time-value of investing now, by focusing on the debt first, we are balancing out some of that loss by saving on the overall interest we would otherwise be paying.

        Very good point about the “stage(s) of life,” as well. We must constantly reevaluate where our priorities lie; while I have a clear vision of where I generally see us in the next 5-15 years, the minute details will evolve as we move forward and change on a year-to-year or even month-to-month basis.

        And, yes, our son was truly the boot in the you-know-what that we needed! He’s amazing! 🙂

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  2. Until a few years ago I definitely had a mad case of FOMO. I just HAD to go to every concert, every happy hour, and every work lunch. Looking back now it seems pretty silly because a lot of those people aren’t in my life anymore. It’s sad to say, but when you’re an adult, a lot of people who you’re close to at one point drift away just as fast, especially with kids. This happened to me with a lot of former coworkers – once we stopped working together it just gets harder to make time to see each other. Sorry for being a Debbie Downer. 😉

    I’ve now focused a lot of our time (and money) on experiences with close friends and family and make sure that those experiences are truly worth it. We’re pretty mindful of our budget and don’t just go out anytime someone asks.

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    1. Vic – I completely agree! It’s definitely feasible to feel like you’re missing out, especially now with the prevalence of social media. When you’re relaxing at home & you suddenly see what everyone else is doing (that you’re not at the time), how can you not feel like you’re missing out?! But it’s true – proximity is a huge factor with people you spend time with like co-workers, fellow college students etc. I think about all the people I used to spend so much time with during undergrad because of classes, living down the street, and the bit and now we move, make career choices, make new friends, and more. You are definitely not being a Debbie Downer at all! I think Mumford & Sons definitely got it right in there song where the line is “Where you invest your love, you invest your life.” Spending time & money with the people you know will always reciprocate, love & support you is incredible. 🙂

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  3. It took me years to realize that I couldn’t do everything — or even most things. With chronic fatigue + Type A personality… it was a struggle. Slowly over the years, I’ve moderated my expectations so that I try to just do a couple of things well, rather than many things haphazardly.

    That said, in personal finance, I do like the dribs and drabs approach. We have a lot of goals. At any given time, we have a major goal. (Last year, it was amassing enough for my husband’s dental implants this year.) But we have a few sub-goals — increasing the emergency fund, saving for vacations, saving for a new car — that we still want to make progress on. It’s definitely frustratingly slow at the time of throwing, say, $2.50 per laundry load into a fund for a new washer/dryer. But then you check the account one day and see that you have $500 saved!

    I guess what matters is choosing a main goal where you’ll really see progress, and then the background savings are a nice surprise when you check in periodically.

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    1. I think for everyone it takes a certain degree of struggling to find moderation and balance in life. I’m happy roar that over he years you’ve been able to create moderation for expectations and now you know what things you can focus on to do well. 🙂
      We do the same! It’s multiple goals running with auto deposits in the background, but we choose one prominent run to put more advancement towards. Isn’t it a great feeling to see those sub goals exponentially grow? Great explanation, I like your approach & methods!

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  4. For me, the change in my attitute toward spending money came with a realization that I didn’t want to be “normal.” This allowed me to stop my unquestioning spending towards everything that society deemed “normal.” The biggest challenge is when it comes to my kids. I don’t want them to miss out, but I don’t want to spend money on things just because all of the other parents are doing it.

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    1. Hi Harmony! Breaking away from “normal” surely helps when it comes towards spending money. I could imagine that is a challenge. My fiancé and I do not have kids yet, but we are already beginning to brainstorm on how we’re going to approach money, conversations, and spending habits. It must be a challenge to balance, but solutions will come for what’s best for you & your family I’m sure. Thanks for stopping by!

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