I’ve always been intrigued by the Buy Nothing movement’s challenge to buy nothing new for a year. But a year is a long time. After buying a new home in a new city last fall, my husband and I fell off the frugal bandwagon. We’d been saving our pennies for so long towards this goal of home ownership that once we wrote that very large down payment check, it seemed like all our will power went out the window. And with our will power, a flood of money. Realistically, the new house needed some updating and lots of paint, and we simply didn’t own some of the things we needed to take care of it—like a lawn mower. But I also readily admit that I enjoyed doing some decorating and buying some new furniture. Moving into a home that is twice the size of our last place in California meant we had some empty rooms.
Interestingly though, I noticed that loosening our financial restraint in one area also spilled over into a loss of restraint in other areas of our finances, like groceries and clothing purchases. Now that we’ve settled in, and our big painting project is over, it was time to catch our breath. I love new beginnings and challenges, and January seemed the perfect time to start fresh with our finances.
I also really needed to know what our expenses looked like in this new house, and this new city, so that we could start setting new financial goals. The rules of our Buy Nothing Month were simple. Besides our regular bills, the only things we would spend money on were things that were absolutely necessary. For us, this was mostly food and home supplies, but we also brought home a new puppy in December, so there were vet visits and pet supplies. Anything else we wanted to spend money on, including entertainment, was put on a list on the fridge to be reconsidered in February.
So how did we do? I’d say we did pretty well, but I can see now what our weaknesses are. Our only major purchases that broke the rules were to celebrate my birthday—and it was a milestone one, so my husband insisted on celebrating it with dinner and drinks out and some nice gifts that were actually very practical and very much appreciated. I would have been happy with a more frugal celebration, but we did enjoy ourselves and the evening out felt special and definitely celebratory. I also had to get my hair cut and replace a lost hairbrush, only because I was going for an interview and really needed some sprucing up.
Here’s what made it onto our “wait and think about it” list and what our final decisions were:
Haircuts for my two daughters (not necessary for now-maybe in the spring)
Pet food can covers (a piece of foil over the can works well, or just putting the food in a jar with a lid)
Clinique Cityblock (will buy soon, though I’ll maybe shop around online before heading to the mall-my least favorite place in the world)
Millet for our parakeet (researched this online, and found that millet is sort of like candy for a bird, definitely not necessary. I’ll make sure she’s getting plenty of her favorite spinach instead)
Large mat for the back door (lots of muddy paws) (will stick to the old towel in front of the door. It doesn’t look great, but it works.)
License plate mounting hardware (Idaho requires plates on the front and back of our car—something we didn’t have before) (will have to buy this)
CO2 detectors (still deciding if these are necessary…)
Maintenance service for our twenty year old car (Mr. Simple Word will continue to do what he can himself for regular maintenance, and we’ll probably have a few less expensive things done in the future)
Bottle of gin (a luxury, but not necessary. Or is it?)
Engraved dog tag (Instead of buying a dog tag, we just wrote our phone number on the back of puppy’s rabies tag)
As you can see, some of the items and services are being postponed, and some have been substituted or declared unnecessary. So though there will be some purchases made, there will be fewer. I was surprised to see that our “wait and think about it” list wasn’t full of too many frivolous items. For the most part, we have what we need, and don’t want too many useless items, which feels good to say. I also learned that the “wait and think about it” list is a really, really good idea. It forced our whole family to delay purchases (like the haircuts my daughters felt they needed, but which haven’t been mentioned since), and either think of a substitute, figure out a cheaper option, or rethink the purchase entirely.
We also learned what we couldn’t live without, and what would make us feel deprived. For us, that mostly revolves around eating well at home. I’ll give up restaurants and cafes, bake my own desserts, and make my own mugs of hot chocolate, but I still want and enjoy good food and the occasional treat.
The biggest lesson though, was that our Buy Nothing month simplified decision making. There was no debate about whether to walk to our favorite café for breakfast, or whether or not to buy more clothes during the after Christmas sales. We just weren’t buying anything we absolutely didn’t have to, and this became the default.
It actually felt very freeing to have spending decisions on autopilot. Instead of constricting us, we got creative and appreciated our small pleasures. The “wait and think about it” list will definitely be a regular fixture for us.
What about trying a “wait and think about it” list yourself? Let me know if you learn anything about yourself.