Over the centuries, Japan has been a great source of life-changing philosophies. There's the famous Ikigai which has inspired millions of people around the world to live more fruitful and fulfilling lives. Then there's The Toyota Way: the set of working principles that made the Toyota auto company so successful. The people of Japan have a real elegance in the way they think and live.
Japan also has philosophies for saving money. Not just saving money but in fact managing money more consciously, in a way that is rewarding in terms of both intrinsic happiness and financial wealth. It's not about being cheap, but rather using your money in a more deliberate and worthwhile way.
There are three such philosophies that we can learn from.
Chisoku means "be satisfied." In other words, being happy with what you already have.
It's not uncommon for people to keep on buying more things than necessary. Some examples:
- You're strolling through the grocery store when suddenly a craving strikes you; you end up buying extra sweets even if they weren't on your original grocery list
- The new iPhone comes out and everyone just HAS to have it to keep up with the latest trends
- It's been 3 years since you upgraded your home entertainment system, so might as well
But it's all frivolous spending.
Realistically, you probably don't need those extra things. Upgrading to the latest phone is a want, not a need. It might be cool and flashy, but you don't need it; you won't die without it.
Chisoku encourages you to enjoy what you have rather than constantly seeking more:
- You can take pride in enjoying and finishing the food you have at home before buying other unhealthy snacks and sweets
- You can happily call, text, and take photos with your current cell phone; you know that it's still working for you, so why change?
- You can stick with your current home entertainment system as it reminds you of all the wonderful memories it helped create
Chisoku is a reminder that if you're happy with what you have, then you won't have a frequent need to spend more money. You can save your hard-earned funds for things that you truly do need.
When you're about to buy something ask yourself:
"Do I need this thing or want this thing?"
A need is something that if you don't have it, will have a negative impact or otherwise block you from something important in your life. Wants are everything else. The former is more critical for your intrinsic happiness.
You don't have to stop spending money on wants altogether, but make sure you're at least starting with the needs. Then if you have extra money you can spend it on your wants.
2. Wabi Sabi
Wabi Sabi means "recognizing the beauty of imperfection." In other words, learn to appreciate old, rugged, and worn things.
Companies are constantly making and selling new clothes, furniture, gadgets, and other products; new new new. They certainly look nice and often have some feature improvements that make life more efficient and perhaps entertaining.
But it doesn't mean that those new things are better or that you have to spend money on them.
The new things might be better looking, faster, feature-rich, or more popular, but they'll always be missing the one thing that they can't get without age: character.
Wabi Sabi encourages you to recognize the character of the older things:
- That slightly worn leather chair reminds you of the great movie you watched when you were sitting in it
- Those old books have the most timeless life lessons in them
- That old t-shirt that you've worn 50 times might look a bit worn, but it has memories of your fun times with family and friends built into it
Older things have deep meaning, joy, and beauty built into them that can't be replaced through the purchase of something new.
This perspective really helps with appreciating what one already owns. It makes the old stuff far more valuable than the new.
Before you buy anything new, take the time to think about what other items you own that are similar to it. Ask yourself:
"Will spending money on this new thing really make me happier than spending more time with my old one?"
That question will remind you of the character built into your old items. If you still love and cherish them, you'll have no need and frankly no desire to spend money on new things. The old things bring you more happiness.
Mitate means "to see anew." More practically, it's about seeing that every object has more than one use depending on the time, situation, or need.
The typical way people go through things is to buy an item, use it for the original intention, and then throw it away once they're done. But that's a terribly inefficient way to use things, not to mention wasteful.
Mitate encourages you to see that any item, even of the simplest sort, can be used in multiple valuable ways.
- An old jam jar can be washed out and used to store spices
- Old tequila (or other alcohol) bottles can be turned into beautiful decorations
- A heavy rock in your yard can become workout equipment
The items you can buy in the store today, and even those that your parents and grandparents bought in their early days, are remarkably durable and versatile. It's also a really fun and joyful activity to find different uses for things.
You don't have to become a hoarder. You just have to remind yourself that every item in your home is more valuable than it seems.
Before you throw something out or buy a replacement, ask yourself:
"Can this item be reused for any other purpose?".
Try to get creative, thinking about every area of your home: bedroom, bathroom, living room, dining room, and kitchen. Think about different areas of your life too: work, games, exercise, relaxation, house chores, and hobbies.
It doesn't have to be fancy or complicated; just something simple to make use of the item.
Conscious spending doesn't mean being cheap. It means being deliberate about where you spend your money and creative with how you use what you already have.
Save your money and use it for things that will bring you a deep sense of intrinsic happiness. These three Japanese philosophies can help with that process:
- Chisoku – Be happy with what you already have
- Wabi Sabi – Recognize and appreciate the character of the older things
- Mitate – See objects anew; every object has more than one use