Five tactics for pursuing voluntary simplicity

by J.D. Roth

One of my favorite personal finance bloggers is Philip Brewer at Wise Bread. He writes long, thoughtful articles about the philosophy of money, not just on tips and tricks to save at the grocery store.

Brewer recently posted a piece called “What I’ve Been Trying to Say” that summarizes his philosophy. Explaining why he believes voluntary simplicity can be a great choice for many people, he writes:

You can choose how you want to live. If you choose to live simply, you gain a certain kind of freedom. In particular, you’re free to choose to do the work that’s the most satisfying, rather than the most lucrative. Choosing to live simply doesn’t mean that you have to give up all the cool stuff you want. It means, rather, that you have to focus on a small number of wants — the ones that matter the most to you.

Brewer’s key idea is similar to that of Timothy Ferriss (of The 4-Hour Workweek): you are responsible for designing your own life. When you were young, other people determined how and where you lived. But as an adult, those choices are up to you.

Brewer suggests five tactics to make the most of these choices:

  1. Live intentionally. Decide what’s important to you and what you want to do with your life. Set goals. Be aware of why you’re spending your money. Try to make conscious decisions, and not just react out of emotion.
  2. Raise some capital. Personal finance isn’t all about saving, Brewer argues. It’s not all about living cheaply, either. It’s about finding a middle ground that works for you. But every goal will require some money to back it up. Prepare for emergencies, invest for the future, and use your money to support your values.
  3. Find your true calling. “Find meaningful work, so that you can spend your time doing something that you care about,” Brewer writes. Saving and investing don’t just yield financial benefits, he says, but they also allow you to choose a vocation instead of basing your job decisions only on salary.
  4. Do it yourself. This notion has figured prominently in my thinking lately: that whenever possible, I want to do things myself instead of paying to have them done. (This probably has something to do with the fact that I just spent several thousand dollars on a re-wiring project.) There’s a lot of satisfaction to be derived (and often money saved) from growing your own food, repairing your own home, and maintaining your own car.
  5. Value community and experiences over stuff. You are not what you own; you are what you do. It took me a long time (nearly forty years) to realize this. I still haven’t fully wrapped my mind around it. But like Brewer, I’m coming to understand that it is relationships and experiences that give life meaning.

Brewer’s article offers more background on his philosophy. In many ways, it reminds me of a guest post I published last January, in which Mark Cunningham wrote, “Simplicity frees one to make any range of choices and pursue any range of possibilities.” As Kris and I continue our own personal finance journey, we’re amazed at the possibilities we might pursue. Freedom is the greatest reward for getting out of debt.

Updated: 21 July 2008

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