More latte froth, less long-haul flight: Small pleasures make me happier than saving for travel
For seven months, I cut all non-essential costs in order to save money. ‘Essential’ meant anything to stay alive and functional: rent, groceries, public transport, medication. Non-essential meant that among many other things, I cancelled all my streaming accounts, I didn’t go out to eat once, and I didn’t buy a single item of clothing.
There was a point to this hardcore frugality. I was saving for a six-week trip through several countries at the end of the year, and I wanted to be able to eat at any restaurant I wanted, buy as many tchotchkes as I could carry home, and generally not be financially restricted in any way.
To gain control of the experience as something more inspiring than ‘rejecting all small pleasures’, I decided to package it as an experiment in extreme minimalism.
If you Google ‘minimalist lifestyle’, you’ll discover endless millennial Youtubers and bloggers championing their frugality as an aesthetic choice – but also as a financial choice. I followed and subscribed to every account I could find, reminding myself that this was temporary, I had a savings goal to move towards, and I was not alone.
Hand-in-hand with extreme minimalism went the ‘latte factor’ model of saving popularised by John David Mann. The idea is that if you save the money you’d normally spend on your daily coffee, by the end of twelve months you’ll have enough for something larger, like an international trip. This later transformed into the infamous Australian ‘stop eating avocados and you can buy a house’ meme – a mentality that, at the time, I optimistically bought into.
It made sense: if I cut back every non-essential purchase, saving that money will make me happier in the long term because then I’ll be able to go on this trip. And there was no end of minimalist millennial influencers who scrimp and then travel to reassure me this was the right decision.
In hindsight, the impact of saving every cent possible during those seven months was in no way justified by the six-week trip.
Sure, travelling was an absolute dream, but for more than half a year I turned down countless coffees and dinners with friends, impacting my relationships to the point where they just stopped asking. People were understanding that I was saving – that wasn’t an issue – but eventually, I felt pushed out of most social things by my refusal to spend any money.
It became a health and safety issue, too: I always used public transport instead of calling a car, even when my commute tripled, or it wasn’t the safest time to be travelling alone. If I was sick I’d still force myself to go out and buy groceries and cook at home instead of looking after myself, resting in bed and ordering food delivery.
Ironically if anyone else had been restricting so much to save for travel – something I just wanted to do, not out of necessity – and for a period of more than half a year, I’d have thought them a bit silly.
When I returned from my trip and went back to accepting coffee catch ups after work or taking the occasional Uber home after a late movie, I realised I was happier overall spending a little bit every day to have those things, even if it meant I didn’t have a massive trip to look forward to.
Enriching my daily life with mundane small purchases – even just the occasional bunch of flowers, new book, or brunch – was ultimately making me feel more satisfied. Instead of another extravagant international expedition, I’ve been looking at small weekend trips in little towns across my state (a sea-change without seven months of pinching pennies!)
While there’s a stereotype that all millennials want the big Instagram-worthy travel adventure and will sacrifice whatever it takes to achieve it, I’ve come to terms with the reality that extreme minimalism doesn’t work for me as a long-term savings model.
If it doesn’t for you either, that’s okay. I still have savings goals, but now they’re far less extreme and for boring sensible things, like an ampler emergency fund. I prioritise my daily quality of life over a lavish temporary adventure, and both are completely legitimate ways to consider your money.
Because at the end of the day, that’s what it is – your money, and you’re free to spend it on lattes or save for long-haul flights as you please.