A Minimalist Guide to Money and Investing — Part II

by Jessica Dang
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This is the second part in my Minimalist Guide to Money and Investing. You can read Part I here, which explains my views on Motivation and Environment, and Mindset and Education.

You can also read about my Minimalist Meditations on Wealth and Money. This post will be about:

3—Accumulating Capital and Allocation

So you’ve decided that you want to be an investor. You’ve worked hard to change your pre-existing views about money, and you’ve been reading and learning a tremendous amount about investing.  You want to have a life of freedom, but it doesn’t come cheap. How do you get started?

Well, either you save money to get started, or you make money to get started.

Saving money to invest—How much money you have depends on this simple formula:

Money You Have = Money earned – Money Spent

If you want more money at the end of the day, you can either earn more, or spend less. That’s it. But if it’s so simple, then why do so many people get it wrong? They don’t earn enough, or they spend more than they earn, which means they have little or no money left by the end of each month.

Even worse, if the money leftover is negative for long enough, people get into debt, which can spiral out of control. I understand that it’s not easy for everyone. Some might not be able to find a job, others have family to take care of. I never said it was going be easy, but most of the time there is something that can be done—downsizing, reducing purchases, eliminating entire bills/subscriptions/memberships, anything!

One of the great side effects of living a minimalist lifestyle is all of the extra money you save from deciding that you don’t need so much junk in your life. Not only that, but if you use those savings wisely, it can buy you things worth way more in the future.

I like to call this reducing your life overhead. Overheads usually refer to the costs of running a business, but there’s no reason why it can’t apply to your life. Keep your overheads low and even if you don’t earn a lot, you’ll have some ‘profit’ leftover.

I had a very average salary when I worked full time. I chose to live in a city where rents were reasonable and I didn’t need to drive a car. I had a capsule wardrobe of work clothes, only went out occasionally, and I ate well but not expensively. By the time I quit my job, whereas most people would barely have enough money to make ends meet, I had nearly a year and a half worth of savings that I could fall back on to pay the bills. If I was even more frugal, I could have lasted two years or more.

But I didn’t want to just live off my savings. My intentions were to use my savings to buy freedom. I wanted to use at least a chunk of my funds to generate a passive income with so that I didn’t have to work again. I will go into more detail about how I did this below, and in a future post.

Making money to invest—On top of your existing savings, you can always try to earn more money to invest. Generally, the more money you start with, the more quickly you will reach financial freedom, if that’s your goal. This doesn’t mean that if you have a million dollars you can just do nothing, it can quickly run out if you don’t use it wisely to generate more dollars.

Even after leaving my job I continued to earn money via various online jobs. A quick Google search will show all the different ways you can make money online.

There are so many ways to make money if you keep your eyes open for the opportunity. Even within the realm of property, there is a lot of advice on how to start investing even if you don’t have a penny. For example, you can do something called ‘rent-to-rent’ (google it) or you can build a network (free), source deals (free or nearly free), and package and sell them to money-rich/time-poor investors for a fee (usually in the region of a few thousand dollars). This is just one example to prove that if you are resourceful enough, you can definitely make money in this world. 

Okay, enough about savings. Once you have some money, how should you use it?

Capital Allocation

What you decide to use your money for is absolutely crucial. It’s what differentiates you from the Scrooges and the spenders and it determines whether you succeed or fail.

Firstly, if you have any expensive debts, you must get rid of them first. Any returns you make in investing are not likely to cover things like credit card debt, pay day loans, or anything with a very high interest rate.

It would be like trying to fill a tub with a huge hole at the bottom. You have got to close the hole(s) first. Some cheaper debts such as student loans may be okay to keep as long as you calculate that the yields you’ll get with investing will outweigh the cost of the loan. This may depend on your personal circumstances.

You may end up having to work extra hours, take on a second job, or be very frugal for periods of a year, or two years, or more. However long it takes, it’s worth the peace of mind to become debt-free.

Secondly, after covering your debts, you need to have enough earnings and savings to cover your living expenses and then some, so that you have a nest egg for emergencies. Some people suggest one or two months, especially if they have specialised skills where they can always find a job, but I would recommend having at least three or six month’s contingency for expensive emergencies.

Finally, only when you have some money left over after all that (it can be as little as a few dollars) you can start investing.

I will talk more about how specifically to invest in the next blog post, but the basic premise of most investments is that you are investing for income and/or capital growth.

What this means is that some of your investing will be to make a short term return (yield) and some will be to make money in the future (capital). A lot of investments are a bit of both, such as shares which give you a dividend and hopefully go up in value over time, and property, which will hopefully give you rental income in the short term, and capital income in the future.

You will need to allocate your investments so that you earn some of both—enough short term returns to cover some or all of your monthly expenses, and enough in future capital growth so that you will have (sometimes a lot more) money in the future as well.

So what did I do in the end? After making sure that I had my basic needs covered at least for the next few months, I ended up investing a chunk of my savings into property. I chose property because it’s one of the only things you can borrow money to invest in. Also, the short term yield (the rent) will help cover my monthly expenses to live, and the long term capital growth will help me grow my income and wealth in the future. I also chose it because I live in Manchester, an amazing city that is booming at the moment and a great place to invest in property, for now.

On top of my own money, I managed to borrow some money from family, and I took out a mortgage after carefully calculating that the apartment(s) I wanted to buy would return a profit after expenses. I will go into the details in the next post, including examples of my income/expenditure/profit figures.

A brief note about borrowing money and where to allocate your debts—there is such a thing as good debt and bad debt. ‘Bad debt’ costs you money, like when money is borrowed to buy depreciating assets or liabilities, such as a car or a holiday. When you use money in this way, it costs you. ‘Good debt’ on the other hand is money borrowed to buy assets that generate money, such as property that has a rental income higher than the cost of borrowing. The property can also be sold with a healthy margin over how much you borrowed. Overall, this means you’re making money.

The key here is to have a plan. Know your numbers—how much money do you earn? How much money do you spend? How much do you have to/want to invest? When can you start?How much do you want to earn from your investments? When by?

A lot of people don’t think about these sorts of questions and go plodding along in their working life, and shopping every other weekend without stopping to think about what they are doing. Both time and money are a limited resource. They can be foolishly wasted, or they can be invested wisely to generate more free time and more money to spend.

I will write more about my specific property investments in my next post, and how you can get started with investing even if you can’t afford to buy a property yet.

Resources

The Complete Guide to Property Investment — Rob Dix

I will refrain from recommending more than one property book. This is one of the best ones I’ve read, and it will give you a good idea of how making money in property works from beginning to end. I also recommend all other books by Rob Dix, and their Property Hub website. I go to their UK meetups every couple of months to discuss property and network with other entrepreneurs.

 

 

The Compound Effect: Jumpstart Your Income, Your Life, Your Success — Darren Hardy

A great book about how small actions can lead to big results. If you think you can’t be a millionaire one day, it’s because you’re thinking about millions of dollars right now, not one or ten dollars, which will compound into hundreds and then millions in the future if you make the right decisions. This book isn’t just about money, but also about how all of the life choices you make today will affect you in the future.

 

The Magic of Thinking Big — David Schwartz

If you want to make it big, you have to think positively, optimistically, and proactively—in other words, think big. My copy of this book is full of notes and bookmarks. Containing inspirational stories and phrases like “When you believe, your mind finds ways to do” and “In everything you do, life it up,” I’ve read this book more than a couple of times and can’t recommend it enough.

 

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Minimalist Meditations — May and June

by Jessica Dang
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The latest posts on Minimalist Meditations from May and June:

Minimalism isn’t just about having less stuff. That’s only the beginning.
—Why we get rid of things: Minimalist Meditations on Opportunity

I was 300 metres away when it happened.
—Staying strong: Minimalist Meditations on Tragedy

We all need to find our own definitions for success, discover our own self worth, and learn how to balance all the forces that pull us in different directions.
—If I were a sin: Minimalist Meditations on Greed

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A Minimalist Guide to Money and Investing — Part I

by Jessica Dang
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One of the most frequently asked questions I receive from readers is how I earn and manage money, and how I was able to create a passive income so that I could quit my job.

In the past, I’ve been reluctant to share too many specifics, as it is a huge subject and I’m not a financial adviser. Furthermore, everybody’s situation is different, depending on their job, earnings, age, risk appetite, city/country and economic environment. With so many variables, there’s no way I could speak for everyone, so the best I can do is talk about my investment journey.

In these posts, I’m not going to tell you how exactly to invest (entire books have been written on this subject) or recommend one particular course of action over another. I’m not telling you what you should, or shouldn’t do. Rather, I want to share my own views on money and work, how my views on wealth have changed over the years, and how I approach investing, earning and spending now.

When I talk about ‘wealth’ in these posts, although I am discussing material and monetary wealth (something that is not often discussed by minimalists as a good thing!) I am well aware that money is not the measure of one’s worth. Please see my Minimalist Meditations on money and wealth for my views on this.

I’m going to share how I went from a full time corporate employee working 50+ hour weeks to earning the same amount of money but only working between 1-6 hours per week on a passive income, all from a minimalist’s perspective. By ‘minimalist’, I don’t mean that this post will be a simplified, dumbed-down article about investing basics. It will be about how I have applied various minimalist philosophies to my approach to investing, for example, how I’ve been able to educate myself in various types of investing so that I’m able to select the type that works for me (in this case, getting fair returns by doing as little as possible so that I have time for things that are more important).

I’m not saying that it is every minimalist’s aim to quit their job, lie on a beach, and do nothing at all. Nor am I saying that having or not having money defines minimalism in any way. You can be a minimalist in a hut, or a minimalist in a mansion. Minimalism means something different for everyone, and for me, minimalism has always meant freedom. Freedom to choose what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it, where I wanted to go, and who I wanted to spend my time with. It means directing my limited resources of money, time and energy away from what people think of me (the size of my house, car, wardrobe etc.) towards things that actually matter to me, like giving to those in need, and spending time reading, creating, travelling, and with my friends and family.

Everything I’ve always wanted to say about money (almost!)

I’m going to be very frank about the subject of money here, because I think there are some hard truths in this subject. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, especially people who don’t want to admit that they are unhappy or doing anything wrong. I’ve heard a lot of excuses in my time. The worst approach I’ve heard people have is complaining how everything is stacked against them, how they’re ‘just not lucky’, or resenting people who have been successful in this way, but doing nothing about it.

I also don’t expect everyone to agree with everything that I say, which is fine too. I’m always willing to hear other people’s opinions and learn something new, but if you don’t have anything helpful or constructive to say except for poo-pooing on somebody’s else ideas, you can save your precious time and stop reading now.

If you’ve read this far and want to carry on, good for you. There is a lot I want to say, and because it is quite a complicated subject, I will break it down into multiple posts in linear steps, although life rarely works in a straight line. For the sake of easier understanding I’ll start with the basics.

This post:

  • 1—Motivation and Environment
  • 2—Mindset and Education

Future posts:

  • 3—Accumulating Capital and Allocation
  • 4—Investing and Income
  • 5—Your New Life
  • 6—The Past (Reflecting) and the Future (Giving)

I’m going to try to fit in everything I’ve always wanted to say about money in these posts. The reason why I say ‘almost’ is that I’m sure there’ll be things I’ve forgotten and will want to add later, or edits, clarifications, and answers to readers’ comments in the future so the above post ideas are subject to change.

Before we start, I strongly recommend reading a previous post I updated recently 5 Ways to Get Rich for Free about some basic yet important ideas about money.

1—Motivation and Environment

Most people don’t just stumble upon investing. We’re not taught it at school, and it’s not a natural instinct or something that is instilled in us as children—that money can be made other than the route of school -> university -> job -> promotion(s) -> retirement = success.

There’s usually a trigger that sets people on the path of investing—usually a person, or an event. For me, my trigger was realising (over a period of a few years) that I never wanted to work in an office again. There were times when I enjoyed myself, but after a while, I felt conflict with my inner self, the person who I wanted to be. Working long hours in a meaningless corporate job felt like it went against my philosophy of minimalism, not because I owned a couple more things, but because I felt I had much less freedom. I was cash-rich, but time-poor. Even if I changed jobs, I would be subjecting myself to the same things I hated (long hours, pointless meetings, office politics etc), just with a different job title. So I quit the world of work to get my life back.

I want to stress that I don’t recommend this approach to everyone, especially if you’ve got people dependent on you. At the time, my life overheads (ie. what I was spending on a day-to-day basis) was very low, which meant at the time of quitting I had enough savings to pay essential bills and food for about 18 months. I had a vague idea that I was going to use some of those savings to do something on my own, although what it was exactly, I hadn’t figured out yet. For most people, I recommend getting any side businesses or secondary income streams off the ground first, before quitting your main income source.

For me though, I knew that I could always get another job if things didn’t work out, and I could always fall back on a couple of online work-from-home jobs I used to have. So my basic needs were taken care of, but I needed to quit to have the time and energy to pursue all the other things that I had neglected while I was working. As well as start my vague business idea, I wanted to have the energy to get fit, to read, to write more, to travel, and to continue my language studies, among a lot of other things.

Your motivation for investing is important because it shapes what you decide to do, how you go about it, and how long it takes you to achieve whatever goals you have. You need to have the internal drive for it, otherwise you’ll get bored, or lazy, or both.

You are also affected by your environment. External factors such as your local economy, your job situation, and the kind of people you surround yourself with all affect what and how you do things, and the results you’ll obtain.

In my case, I didn’t want to work in an office. I hated the early mornings and long work hours, so I decided I would find a line of work that generated passive income. This means I wasn’t going to start an Etsy (not that I have the talent for it) or any other labour intensive business. I didn’t want to swap one full time job for another, and I didn’t want a job that was paid by the hour/day because that would mean I was trading my precious time for money.

I wanted to find a way of earning money that allowed me to put in an initial amount of work, but then after that income would continue to roll in, rather like someone writing a book within a few months and getting royalties for it forever. After a lot of research, I found that I lived in a city where there were huge business opportunities in property. The market was growing, with lots of young people wanting to live here, and prices to buy and rent were steadily rising. Investing in property fit my requirements—if I was able to buy a place (it is slightly capital intensive to buy an apartment but I will tell you how I did that in a future post) the rental income would continue indefinitely.

Once I had an area in mind (property investing), I could start building a foundation of knowledge…

2—Mindset and Education

With investing, if you just dive in, you’re probably going to get hurt. And it will be painful. I wasn’t stupid, so before I did anything, I spent months learning everything I could about about the practical aspects of investing, from how inflation works, what ETFs are, how to make a start-up, to the psychology of investing. I read a lot of books and information online about property, all of the monetary and legislative aspects involved, and researched the market in the city that I lived in. I lived and breathed investing, absorbing everything I could, and learned a huge amount. I’m still learning every day.

One of the most important things I learned from the book ‘Secrets of a Millionaire Mind’ by T. Harv Eker is about people’s ‘money blueprint’. Your blueprint is how you think about money, largely influenced by how you grew up. For example, if your parents have always told you that “money is the root of all evil”, or that “rich people are greedy”, you might still believe it today, and the thought subconsciously holds you back from earning too much because you don’t want to be seen as evil or greedy. Resentment towards the rich is what causes people to stay poor. (Here, I use ‘poor’ not as a derogatory term, but as a practical word to describe people who live paycheck to paycheck, but don’t want to be. I’m not making any sort of moral judgement for or against people who are ‘poor’, or ‘rich’ for that matter, but when talking about money in this context, it’s important to honestly say that there are definitely people who are poor (in monetary terms) but wish they could be more financially free.)

This resentment causes people to not do anything about their work/money situation. They go wherever the flow is taking them in their jobs, and they don’t do anything about their spending habits. They let other people influence them on what they want to buy, and their saving/investing habits may be poor or non-existent. They might even be fearful of any other type of work, such as starting their own business because it’s ‘too risky’ and they would prefer the security of a job. There isn’t anything wrong with living like this by the way, I’m all for enjoying life the way it suits you. If you love your job, good for you (honestly!). However, if you don’t enjoy working, then the constant spending on expensive things means working more than you have to, which means you’re spending half of your life unhappy, as was my case.

Also, people who are not financially literate may think that the only way to earn money is by working a ‘normal’ job, which is simply not true. We live in an amazing world now where there is so much money to be made, and you don’t have to have a lot to start with. People with closed mindsets think that any other way of earning money apart from working is ‘risky’ or at least, so complicated that they could never understand it, so they don’t try. Confusingly, some of these people who are so scared of risk would happily buy lottery tickets. The worst I’ve heard are people who think that investing is in some way ‘cheating’, and that one doesn’t contribute to the economy if they don’t ‘work’ for 9 hours a day. To that, I would say that there are a lot of people who have more to contribute to the world than paper-pushing.

On the other hand, people can have a mindset that money is abundant, and is there for anyone to earn if they have the openness to identify the opportunities, the creativity and tenacity to pursue them, and perseverance when things get difficult. I admit this isn’t the most natural mindset, it’s usually learned out of necessity. My immigrant parents who didn’t go to school didn’t have a choice but to earn money with their own bare hands, literally. They missed out on learning how to read but at least they were never conditioned to follow societal conventions about work. They hustled and worked hard, and did everything themselves until they got to the comfortable lifestyle they have now. I was lucky enough to go to school and college, but it took me years to learn this lesson.

Lest you think I come from a place of privilege, I would like to share that apart from the hustling mindset, I wasn’t given anything above and beyond what most kids my age got (in fact, I would argue with my background I had a lot less) but I have always worked extremely hard. Because of our family’s poorer financial situation while I was growing up, I was always looking out for ways to make money. I started my own eBay wholesale business when I was 15, and have always managed to support myself so that I didn’t have to rely on my parents’ small amount of money. During college, while other students were partying or spending their loans on holidays, I had two jobs and never allowed myself to get into debt.

I am not saying that all you have to do is change your mindset, and you’ll automatically become rich. I know it’s not that easy. You can’t just dream about it and be a bit brave and you’ll be a millionaire. People who truly live in poverty face huge obstacles that aren’t just up to them to ‘think’ their way out of.

But for the majority of people, it’s essential that they have the right mindset because first they have to believe that it is possible for them to be rich, at least then, they can try to do it.

As with anything, it’s it would be almost impossible to accomplish if they didn’t think it was doable from the beginning. 

The good news is that your mindset is not set. You can learn to change, for better or for worse. Being rich or poor isn’t a dichotomy, it’s a spectrum that you can move along at different times in your life. Poor people don’t have to stay poor, and rich people don’t necessarily stay rich. People can become rich by work, inheritance, or winning the lottery, or lose it by spending above their means, getting into huge debts, or gambling it away.

Whatever your mindset is right now, without the appropriate one, you’ll never be financially free. That’s fine for some people, but that’s not how I want to live my life. I want to be free so that I can choose what I want to do with my time. Your mindset is your choice. You can choose to be rich. 

The other points I want to briefly make are:

  • There are a lot of things about money that we are told that are simply opinion, not fact.
  • If more people stopped to question their assumptions about work and money, they would be much better off.
  • Environment plays a role, but I believe that you decide whether or not you will be rich.
  • Investing means ‘using money to make money’, and you don’t need a lot to begin with. In fact, you can start with $10, so there are hardly any excuses.
  • People overestimate the risks, and underestimate the potential benefits.
  • Money doesn’t make you good or bad, it magnifies who you are—if you are already greedy, you’ll be greedier with more money. If you’re already generous, more money would make you more generous.
  • Having money isn’t the aim, having freedom is.

So I adjusted my mindset and went about educating myself about the world of investing. I learned about the different options available, and the risk/reward profiles and advantages and disadvantages of each method. See below for some resources. Knowing the basics, I was able to draw up simple calculations and work out whether or not my business would be profitable. From my research, I identified that there was money to be made, now it was just a matter of going after it…

This post will continue next time with:

  • 3—Accumulating Capital and Allocation: how I got the money to get started, and how I decided what to do with it.
  • 4—Investing and Income: how I actually went about investing my money, and how I get an income.

In the meantime, please let me know what you think of this topic. You can comment below, or contact me on Twitter or Facebook.

Resources 

They don’t teach you about money at school. I wish they did, a lot of people would be much happier, and would have much healthier attitudes towards money. I’m not a millionaire (yet) but I would have certainly become ‘richer’ earlier and more quickly if I started earlier. Instead of just complaining about it, I went about changing my views, and therefore my life. Here are some of the best books I read that helped me get there:

Secrets Of The Millionaire Mind: Think Rich to Get Rich

As I mentioned above, this book taught me that making money was all in your mindset. It’s hard to believe, but how we think about money can hold us back from making it, or push us to find ways to make it even though the odds seem slim. It also talks about how different mindsets aren’t necessarily right or wrong, but work in different ways, and in some cases even complement each other, as in the case of couples/partners. I recommend this book to people who think that becoming a millionaire is impossible without winning the lottery.

Rich Dad Poor Dad: What The Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! 

This book taught me the basics of liabilities vs. assets. If you don’t know what these mean, you need to start with this book. A lot of things that people are taught about money, like how home ownership is the most important thing in the world has ruined them financially. At the very least, people would have been much better off if they could distinguish between buying things that put money in their pocket, or cost them their long term future. That’s the difference between people who stay poor or become rich. That’s not to say that you can never buy your own home or a nice car if you wanted to, but people do this when they can only just about afford it, and therefore they don’t or can’t invest, which if they did, a few years later they could buy their house ten times over.

The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life

If you want to be the best, you have to learn from the best. It might sound cliché, but if Warren Buffet is the most successful investor in the world, wouldn’t you like to know how did he did it? This is the most detailed biography of his life published, it’s a very long read and perhaps you don’t learn a lot as much about how to invest as much as you learn about what investing really means. Warren Buffet delivered newspapers as a boy, and had to borrow money to get his business started, but he never doubted he could be rich. Then he made billions.

Blogs: I recommend checking out Afford Anything and Financial Samurai (I read every post).

More resources to come in future posts, enjoy!

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Minimalist Meditations — March and April

by Jessica Dang
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The latest posts on Minimalist Meditations from March and April:

How do you keep going when things get difficult? If you don’t have a good answer, you won’t last long.”
—Find your reason: Minimalist Meditations on Why

“You can own 1,000 or 10,000 things, so long as everything contributes to your life in a meaningful way.
—Debunking the biggest minimalism myth: Minimalist Meditations on Quality

“There are two ways to be rich—to get everything you want, or to want everything you have.
—There is such thing as a get rich quick scheme: Minimalist Meditations on Money

“Your net worth is not your self worth. Your bank balance has little do with what your true value is, or how rich you really are.
—When money costs too much: Minimalist Meditations on Wealth

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Minimalism and the Pursuit of Perfection

by Jessica Dang
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If you could see the WordPress dashboard for this blog, you’ll find hundreds of crappy drafts. For every post published, I have at least 5-10 drafts that will never see the light of day.

It takes a lot of brainstorming, bad ideas, poking, prodding, and feet dragging to get a single post out. Most of all, it takes time. In fact, I wrote the original idea for this post in 2011. You can imagine how my book is going.

But by being persistent, something eventually comes out of it. If you’re lucky, it might even be good. Sure, there are posts that aren’t as popular as others, but that’s okay, because there are as many posts that exceeded my expectations.

There are two types of pursuits—you either have to get perfect results, or you don’t. If you’re building a bridge, it needs to be precise. Fortunately, most things fall in to the latter type. It’s better to try and get something done, than not doing anything at all because it can’t be perfect.

There’s no such thing as perfection. Art, business, science, life…everything is one big experiment. Sometimes you’ll get something wrong a hundred times before you get it right once. Nobody learned to walk without falling.

Minimalism is the same. Doing a little bit is better than none. You don’t ‘become minimalist’ overnight, or even over a couple of months or years. There’s no final, perfect goal. It’s a continuous practice of shifting your mindset and making the best decisions you can. You’re allowed to have lapses. There are no rules, so who’s to judge you?

Embrace the struggle. Anything worth doing is difficult. The discomfort weeds out the wannabes. The hardship is what makes it an accomplishment. As Roosevelt said,

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

Book I’m reading now: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life — Anne Lamott

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Minimalist Meditations — January and February

by Jessica Dang
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In case you missed the announcement, I have moved on from monthly articles on Minimal Student to weekly updates on my new blog Minimalist Meditations.

Here are the first few posts from January and February:

If you enjoyed these, you can subscribe to the new blog via RSS, email, Twitter or Facebook.

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Minimal Student is graduating

by Jessica Dang
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I started this blog seven years ago at the beginning of my minimalist journey.

It was 2009. I discovered a lifestyle movement that talked about the joy of having less. I learned about how being obsessed with buying and owning material possessions is a recipe for an unhappy life, and it resonated with me. I began to write about it.

At first, I was mainly concerned with stuff and how to get rid of it. I wrote about decluttering and one bag living. It suited my nomadic lifestyle at the time when I was living, working, and exploring several different cities and countries.

Eventually I returned to the UK. I was approaching my mid-20’s, and everyone around me was settling down. I moved into my own apartment with the single suitcase I had been living out of.

I got a corporate job and it was everything I ever wanted—or at least, I thought I wanted. I was paid well and got promoted, but the environment was so tough I began to change as a person. I struggled to find balance. I started buying more things to make up for the creeping unhappiness I felt doing a job which I realised, deep down, was ultimately meaningless. It took a long time, but in the end I found the courage to quit. I ended up starting my own business which gave me the freedom to do what I wanted. I took back control of my own life.

At every stage of my life, my perspective on things shifted. The more I experienced, the more convinced I was that many of the conventional ideas we’re supposed to follow—such as working in a soul sucking job in order to pay your bills and buy stuff until you’re either 65 or dead—didn’t really stand up to scrutiny.

In turn, the direction of Minimal Student has followed me on my quest, moving on from ‘how to declutter’ articles to ones about the tougher questions—what is important in life? What does success really mean? How can I be happy?

I still have more I want to share with the world that isn’t just limited to young people or students. By trying to keep things relevant to the blog name, some of the articles I’ve written have been held back from being able to reach a wider audience. As my readers have grown, the blog has to as well. The Minimal Student community is made of readers of all ages, and from all walks of life. I want to reach out to them too.

So I have decided to start afresh. Don’t worry, Minimal Student isn’t finished. I will always be a student of life and will continue to study what it means to live. However, I will be doing so under a new blog, Minimalist Meditations (www.minimalistmeditations.com) which I am working on expanding the ideas for my book that I’m hoping to finish and publish this year.

To make the transition easier, Minimal Student with continue to exist for a little while, before all of the links will redirect to the new blog URL. All of Minimal Student’s social media will also be renamed.

The good news is that I will be writing a lot more often, and you can keep up with new posts I write and publish by subscribing via RSS or email, or following me on Twitter or Facebook.

I don’t claim to have all of the answers, and in no way have I reached ‘the end’, but I can reflect on what I’ve learned in the past several years and what I, no doubt, will learn in the future. Feel free to join me at Minimalist Meditations on this path towards finding a life of happiness.

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Also see Minimal Student’s best posts.

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Finding what matters in 2016 and the best books I’ve read this year

by Jessica Dang
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road

There’s a saying that goes, ‘the days are long, but the years are short’, which I didn’t understand when I had my corporate job.

Back then, the days were long, the weeks and months dragged on, and a year seemed like an age. Although I had what most people considered an ideal job, after month after month of unhappiness, I couldn’t carry on. I was at a crossroads, so I chose the road less travelled. I quit.

I don’t have any regrets. I needed to experience everything wrong with a 50+ hours per week office job to realise that it was completely the opposite of what I wanted from life. Scared of facing the truth that I was wasting my life, I lived in denial and I never gave myself the chance to ask myself the important questions—what’s important to me? What do I want in life? Who/what do I want to spend my time on?

There’s a happy ending. With all the time and freedom I had, I started some side ventures which lead to my own investment business, and now I’m making more than my previous salary (and still growing). The best thing is, I have set it all up as a passive income, so that I don’t have to work more than 2-4 hours per week. 

In other words, I’m earning 50% more while working 95% less. 

I also travelled to several different cities/countries, hit my long time goal of reading 52 books in a year, ran both a half marathon and a full marathon, found time to learn more French and Japanese, take swimming and yoga lessons, and so much more, all of which I never would have had the time or energy for before.

My own success is the best remedy for the time I wasted during 2014-2015. Now that I have done well on my own, I have let go of my hang up about never having a successful corporate career. I don’t need one. Everybody is different, but for me, I’ve learned that I am not willing to pay the price.

Whilst all this was going on, quite a few negative things happened during 2016 (politically speaking) in the UK and abroad that I strongly disagreed with. While I did what was in my power, I’ve come to terms with the fact that there are many things outside of my control, and the world isn’t perfect, but that’s okay. As long as I do my best to make the world a better place, and I encourage others to do so too, then slowly things will be better. We’ve made a lot of progress in other areas, and with the right amount of introspection and attitude, the world can only move forwards, not backwards.

2017 will be a continuation of my personal and professional journey. With all of the free time I now have, it’s not a question of if, but when I will do the things that I hope to. I want to do more and give more this year. The best thing is that I don’t have to seek the time, money, or permission to do it. I created that for myself. I’m my own boss now.

Posts of 2016

January: Life begins when…

February: I’m only passing through

March: What I learned from 7 years of minimalism

April: How minimalism redefines success

May: Minimalist Meditations — Giving

June: Minimalist Meditations — On Control

July: What’s left after minimalism?

August: There’s no such thing as karma

September: What minimalism taught me about dying

October: What minimalism taught me about love

November: The bigger picture

Bonus: Searching in 2015

the best books I read in 2016

For the first time in my life, I read 52 books in one year. In the theme of freedom and figuring out what I want from life, here is a selection of some of the most helpful pieces of advice I received this year:

The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage – Ryan Holiday. Holiday turns stoic philosophy into practical advice on how to get over difficulties that we face in our lives. It’s okay to have obstacles, and even to be annoyed by them, as long as we face them with the right perspective and get over them with the right action. Wisely, he says, “Doing new things invariably means obstacles. A new path is, by definition, uncleared. Only with persistence and time can we cut away debris and remove impediments. Only in struggling with the impediments that made others quit can we find ourselves on untrodden territory—only by persisting and resisting can we learn what others were too impatient to be taught“.

 

The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich – Timothy Ferriss. I reread this book again for the first time in about 5 years and things are very different this time around. Before, while I could agree with a lot of what Ferriss said, this time they actually meant something doable and tangible to me (see passive investments above). This book contains a great argument for working less even if it means earning less, and also solid tips on how to start and grow a passive income business. I’m also in the middle of devouring his newest book Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers.

 

Man’s Search For Meaning: The classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust – by Viktor E Frankl. Thankfully, many of us haven’t had to go through the horrors that Frankl did as a Holocaust survivor. As a professor in neurology and psychiatry, his unique perspective on what it means to find meaning in life fascinated me. In particular, his view on what it means to have good mental well-being, “[…] mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become,” reminds us that meaning is found in having something worthwhile to aim for.

 

The Last Lecture: lesson in living – by Randy Pausch. With his immediately likeable personality, yet devastating story of being diagnosed with a terminal illness that only gives him a few months to live, Carnegie Mellon Professor Pausch gives leaves this important and poignant memoir for this wife and three young children about what is really important in life. He teaches us to dream big, and not obsess over what other people think, because in the end, who cares? It’s the dreams you have, and the things you do, and the people you love and who love you that really matter, and makes us happy. Let’s not wait until we realise that we are dying to make the most of it.

 

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance – by Angela Duckworth. What makes a person successful? I’ve been asking myself this question for years and Duckworth sheds a lot of light on the answer. The answer is, spoiler alert: effort. Persistent effort. Not just showing up, or innate talent, or luck, or environmental factors, but persistently putting in the time and energy to get better. While this means I have a lot of work to do on the things I want to get better at, it’s reassuring to know that what separates the mediocre from the great is blood, sweat and tears because I’m willing to shed a lot of it.

 

The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now  – by Meg Jay. The Image result for defining decadebiggest crime of twentysomethings these days is thinking they have all the time in the world to do anything they want. I’m certainly guilty of this in some respects, so I’m glad I found this book when I did. With all the changes in the last century, people are putting off important decisions until their 30’s or even 40’s, which is too late to make the most of the time they had. The decisions we make in our 20’s have the biggest impact on our lives down the line, and it’s better to use that to our advantage right now, rather than let bad choices made for us, or by us, dictate the rest of our lives.

I read many more books than the few I’ve listed here, but these were some of the most impactful. Of course, I will continue with my journey of learning, and will post more book updates in future posts.

Minimal Student book update: This project means a lot to me so I’m taking my time with it. I’ve nearly finished the first draft of the main text, and sketched up potential covers. There will be a lot of editing to do, but I’m planning on spending some time disconnected to get 80-90% done by early spring. I will continue to update the blog regularly.

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The bigger picture

by Jessica Dang
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flying

It’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of everyday life.

There’s a traffic jam, someone is rude to us, the milk has run out. Understandably annoying.

Some problems are a little bigger—ongoing stress from work, money troubles, or finding fulfilment are legitimate concerns.

We don’t make things easier for ourselves. The more we have, the more we want. When things don’t meet our expectations, perfectly good doesn’t seem good enough.

But what if we stopped for a moment to look at the bigger picture?

the view from 10,000 feet   

Anything, even a tiny insect, looks big if you’re close up. Zooming in on something until it takes up your whole focus is a recipe for unhappiness. Speed bumps become huge hurdles. Molehills become mountains.

But what if you stepped 10 feet away? Or 1,000 feet? Or 10,000 feet? Suddenly the troubles that seemed so big now seem so small. Only what really matters, the really big stuff, will stand out.

To step back, ask yourself, ‘Will this matter tomorrow? Next month? Next year?’. What’s really important here? That you used a few hundred dollars, or that you experienced something you’ll always remember? That you got a new pair or shoes or that you changed someone’s life? That you win this argument or that you had people who loved you?

A worry or a problem may seem irritating or insurmountable now, but chances are you won’t remember it in a few weeks, let alone across our whole lifetime.

Sometimes, the solution to a problem isn’t to dive into it, but to step back from it. Get a new perspective, or let it go. You’ll fly lighter because of it.

Book I’m reading now: The Magic of Thinking Big by David J Schwartz

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What minimalism taught me about love

by Jessica Dang
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love

What does it mean to love?

To love is to care. To care about something, to care for someone, to appreciate its importance in your life and to be grateful for it.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of things that we say we love and care about, but we don’t act upon it.

Life gets in the way. We get distracted by work, money, commitments and a thousand other things which take our time and attention away from the things we care about.

In this way, minimalism can save us.

Giving time to the ones you love
When working long hours to pay the bills takes our time away from our friends, partners, and families, minimalism gives it back.

A minimalist lifestyle asks, ‘Do you need to be working so hard? What for?‘.
To pay the bills,‘ you might say, or ‘because I have to,‘ or even, ‘what else would I do instead?
Well, what if your bills weren’t so high? What if you didn’t have to? What if you had better things to do?

When I was growing up, my parents owned a hotel and restaurant and worked long hours from noon until past midnight. They would drop dinner off and go back to work. We didn’t see them for most of the day, and they were too tired to come to any of our shows or football games. They missed us growing up, but what for? We didn’t want or need much, but they couldn’t resist the feeling of security they got from earning more and more money. In the end, everything turned out okay, but there’ll always memories we never made because they were away working.

Doing the things you love
Unless you love your work, you probably spend most of your time doing something you dislike to fund a few weeks off a year to do something you do like. For a lot of people, it’s hard to find more than a few snatched hours during the week to do the things they enjoy.

A minimalist lifestyle asks, ‘Are you working to live, or are you living to work?‘.

Your time is limited, so making time for you means you are prioritising yourself. Do you have something that you’ve always wanted to do? Then for goodness’ sake, get started and do it. You’ll be making the most of being alive, which is the same as saying that you love life.

Loving yourself
It sounds like I’m telling people to quit their jobs, but work isn’t the enemy. It’s the things that people get obsessed with—possessions, status, wealth—that trap them into lifestyles that they’re not actually happy with. It turns them into people who they never imagined they’d be.

Distraction is the enemy. If we eliminate the distractions in life, take away the need for designer clothes and the status car, we’ll find that we’ll uncover the person who we are underneath.

Being true to who you are, who you’re supposed to be, surrounded by who and what you love is a form of loving yourself. Which is the most important love of all.

Book I’m reading now: The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own

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Minimal Student has graduated! You can subscribe to weekly updates on the new blog Minimalist Meditations via RSS, email, Twitter or Facebook.