How Little Do You Really Need?

Categories Personal Finance

The reason I prefer to have money is to afford options in my life. With time I have also come to respect the limits of money however.

I used to believe that it was about attaining a certain “number”.

When I started my financial journey, I would research how much would I need? Like many, I believed that it was some magic number that once attained, all your problems would be solved. There are a myriad of calculators and articles written about this vaunted “number”. But in time, I recognized that this journey has many layers to it for myself as well as others.

Personal finance is straightforward. Spend less than you make. That. Is. It.

But like many things in life, it is simple but NOT easy. That is why I regularly remind myself that money is first and foremost a mental game. You can learn a lot about others with how they approach money.

Unfortunately, there is minimal financial literacy taught in schools. Many people do not have to deal with any of this until they have been out working for years. I am going to introduce another concept of how little one may actually need.

So what is the basic amount that I need?

Pay Off A Home

The big three expenses is often housing, food and transportation. I do not budget but I review my expenses regularly. I highly recommend people budget if they have a spending issue. For over a decade, my expenses were below 30,000/ year. We moved to my previously rented multiplex a few years ago. The carrying costs of our current home is higher. It costs about 1100/ month to take care of the current house. I do not think I could rent a one bedroom in my neighbourhood for this amount. Thus having a paid off home is very effective.

I started off with buying a half duplex in a less affluent neighbourhood with my parents. I did not want to have a mortgage since I was averse to debt that I had to pay for. Since the duplex was more affordable, I was able to buy it with cash. This allowed us to make a downpayment on our current home in the more upscale neighborhood. We rented the multiplex out for about a decade. And that is how an urban multiplex is owned. We lived in the half duplex for years and we never felt that we sacrificed anything. A lot can be accomplished with patience and using time to your advantage.

Reliable Transportation

Cars are very expensive. I think this whether it is a luxury vehicle or not.

We made sure we lived in walkable neighbourhoods. It is extremely convenient to live close to grocery, shopping, healthcare, pharmacies, banks and restaurants. I wanted to live in a community that I could have conveniences when I am 80 years old! I do plan very far in advance.

I need reliable transportation. Many times it could involve walking, biking, or public transit. It also could involve car sharing programs around my city. I use my own car rarely and mainly for larger shopping trips.


This one had been one of our largest expenses. We love to eat. Dining out was probably the only area that I spent more than the average household. And do you know what helped decrease this expense? I changed my eating habits. I began eating more of a whole foods, plant based diet. This made eating out less of an issue as it is much easier to meal plan at home with basic ingredients. This one has become a huge win. It is healthier and easier as the ingredients are simpler and many recipes are also easier to make. I even started a home garden and that has made some meals even more economical. Plus I really dislike shopping so having a home garden meant I could skip the grocery line and head out my backyard and just harvest some greens!


Some of the best trips we ever took involved visiting good friends around the world. I have taken trips which involved fancy hotels and restaurants. But nothing compared to staying with good friends and seeing the city through their eyes. Plus it is always great to catch up with good friends.

Admittedly, our favorite travel experiences involve nature. We love hiking the national parks and that takes more physical ability than money to fully enjoy it.

I believe sculpting your life to not always require financial transactions make for a better life. Money is useful for those times when there is no other alternative. It is not what I reach for first.

Here are other ways that less money is no problem!

Cleaning your house– You could hire a maid or cleaning service weekly. But you could also simplify your home so that it is a breeze to clean with an organized system. Use dependable appliances such as dishwashers, Roomba, and washing machines. You do not need to screen them, hire them, or work around their schedules since my machines work around MY schedule.

Drying clothes– I could use the clothes dryer and waste a lot of energy or dry it outside or on a rack in the house. This one is simply a no brainer for me.

Clothes– One could shop regularly and buy lots of fast fashion or you can design your wardrobe around durable, stylish pieces from reputable brands. Many outdoor sportswear stores fit the bill. Some will even repair or replace your clothing if there is a defect.

Public school versus private school– There are plenty of medical students whom I met who came up through private schools. My parents paid zero for my elementary and high school. There are many parents who strive to enroll their children into private schools in our city. However, I still see many students from local public high schools who have no issue gaining admittance to great universities and exceling when they get there.

Fitness– I used to have a gym membership. Workouts would be over an hour of driving to the gym, waiting for machines or weights and then heading home. Nowadays I simply go running right from my front door. It is wonderful to enjoy the fresh outdoor air. And the addition of free weights for the home has been wonderful to ensure that I rarely miss workouts now.

Use The Access and Sharing Economy

I use the access economy for many things. Think of the public library, public transit, Netflix and Spotify.

For many things I prefer the concept of sharing (ie you actually know the other people). I include the sharing economy for my multiplex, cars, garden, home gym, internet and other household supplies such as yard care equipment and tools.

Sometimes It Is Definitely Not About Money

I use money mainly because I have not found a more efficient or effective means to get something done.

Paying for an expensive hybrid car versus just driving less. I do not think I could ever recoup the costs of a more expensive hybrid. I would simply drive a lot less.

For some people, no green invention will ever be worthwhile. For someone who already lives a naturally green life they simply do not even need it. It is akin to container stores being useless for those who harbour minimal clutter.

Everyone is so focused on making more and more. How about trying to live on less.

More money does not make the book, movie or music that you are enjoying any better. That is also true for the great run or whatever health goal you might have set for yourself. You need some money but after a while you see that adding more money does not at all increase the enjoyment of life. Take an inventory of your life and see if any of this rings true.

This is my short list. Most folks are more imaginative than I am. I am sure they can come up with a bigger list of ways to live without using a lot of money.

Something I have also noticed lately is that even with money, it is not buying the convenience and security that many crave. The problem with money is that you think you have money but so does everyone else. You do not have any edge. Products and services go to the highest bidder and thus the bar is moved all the time. Whereas self reliance is something no one can take away from you. It really is one of the most reliable, sustainable and healthiest ways to live.

You must have a framework upon how you base your thinking about finances. If you do not, others will be more than happy to impose their ways of thinking upon you. Unfortunately they usually benefit financially from thinking for you.

If you can clearly define how little you need to live an optimal life, it can truly be a game changer.