After living out of a carry-on for over a year, it’s hard to fathom that once upon a time, a simple weekend trip could warrant a large suitcase with more outfits and shoes than there were days.
I’ve come a long way since then: leaving behind my corporate life in New York City back in early 2016 to travel full-time has taught me that more often than not, we do not need nearly as much as we think we do. I spent nine months traveling the world on just $8,500, and how I chose to spend that money directly determined how long (and how well) I traveled. Shifting to a minimalist-inspired lifestyle while traveling has changed my relationship with money by helping me understand that when we have less, we actually end up having more. Over the course of a year, I ended up visiting 20+ countries across five continents, living happier on my tight budget than I ever was with my cushy New York City corporate salary.
It’s no secret that you can have a lot of money and success and still be miserable. Seeing how people all over the world live and how little we actually need to fulfill our basic needs has shown me that wealth is not just about accruing material goods. While it’s true that pursuing our dreams can be difficult (although not impossible) without any financial resources to get us started, what is the point of having money if we don’t have the time or are too stressed to do anything with it? Treating money as a tool – rather than just an end goal – can help us create the time and mind-space pursue the ventures we are passionate about.
I share some tips on how downsizing on material goods and shifting our mindset when it comes to money management can increase our wealth:
1. Extract value from your purchases
Everything that we spend money on holds a certain value in our lives. It’s up to us to determine, however, what is necessary versus what is superfluous when it comes to our expenditure. For example, we can buy food because we are hungry or because we are bored and feel like eating. We can purchase clothes that we want because they’re trendy, or because we need them. We can buy a glass of wine because we are genuinely craving one, or because everyone around us is drinking and we feel like we should join.
I once heard the wise words “you can’t have everything you want, but you can love everything you have.” Traveling full-time on a budget has completely changed how I approach purchasing goods and services since I have to justify my costs to support my lifestyle. The need for souvenirs and other frivolous knick-knacks that I like but won’t make much use of on the road, for example, goes right out the window. Everything that I buy must now have several uses: clothing items should match most of the items already in my wardrobe, wires should charge multiple devices, and how much I’m willing to spend on a plane ticket is directly correlated to the amount of days I’ll be spending there (e.g. I wouldn’t spend $1,000 on a plane ticket to be somewhere for a few days, but would be willing to do so for a trip lasting a few weeks).
Approaching purchases with a critical eye has helped me evaluate just how much value (or lack thereof) a purchase contributes to our quality of life. Thinking twice about how we spend our money and finding ways to extract the most value from what we buy will ensure that our purchases are deliberate, get put into good use and are worth every dime.
2. Learn to let things go
While there is nothing wrong with owning material goods, having less stuff is a sure way to reduce stress. There is a famous quote from the movie Fight Club that goes: “the things you own end up owning you.” I couldn’t have found this to be more true while on the road. Due to the nature of my lifestyle, I would lose, break, or misplace my possessions all the time. Keeping track of and trying to protect all of my belongings caused me a lot of distress – and I only had a carry-on of them!
My life got significantly easier and stress-free when I reduced the meaning I assigned to my possessions. There are very few goods that cannot be replaced, and those that are irreplaceable are probably not what I’d want to take with me on the road. I got rid of items that I was not constantly using, I purchased cheaper items that I could “afford” to lose, and made a conscious effort to feel less attached to what I owned.
The result was a sense of freedom that I hadn’t experienced before: I was hardly affected when stuff inevitably got damaged, I lost interest in acquiring new items, and I had less to think about and account for. The relief was both physical – I had less weight to carry – and mental.
By letting go of the excess in our lives, we create the time and mind-space to live in the present and enjoy life without the constant fear of loss.
3. Less expenses means more money
When I lived in New York City, I made enough money to not have to think twice about buying the stuff that I really wanted. I could afford to eat out several times a week, treat myself to drinks on the weekend, and occasionally buy nice clothes. I used to spend hundreds of dollars on trendy, fast fashion every month that would hardly be worn and go out of style shortly thereafter. In retrospect, the quick and fleeting “hits” of joy I got from indulging in these habits were not worth the colossal waste of money.
It may seem like an obvious statement to make, but I can’t stress it enough: when we spend less, we have more money. I guarantee that if we take a good, honest look at our budgets, most of us will find more frivolous expenses than we’d like to admit. For example, hefty monthly subscriptions to gyms we don’t attend or streaming devices we hardly use, overpriced coffees, clothes that sit in our closets untouched, or food that was purchased and not consumed.
By taking a step back and evaluating what we really need to live a fulfilling life, we can spend significantly less. Minimalism is so much different than being cheap – we don’t need to count pennies or deprive ourselves of necessities to generate more wealth. Rather, reducing our excessive expenditure helps us have more money to focus on what does matter to us. In my case, living a more minimalist lifestyle has significantly liberated my funds, which I can re-direct towards following my dream of traveling the world. In the end, my greatest source of wealth has not been measured in dollars, but rather in the time and opportunity that I now have to pursue a lifestyle that I desire.
Originally published on Forbes.