Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Reflecting on my "Buy-Nothing" Month

Last month I participated in Crunchy Chicken's Buy Nothing Challenge. The challenge was simple, to not buy anything other than groceries for a whole month. That meant no meals out, no new clothes, etc. but also no haircuts or other salon services, no makeup, and no entertainment expenses either.

There were a few exceptions: necessary things like school supplies or other purchases, and also "items used for canning and food storage". This was explicitely spelled out as jars and pectin for canning, which I did purchase during the month.

I did, however, extend this definition somewhat with my first and most major breach of the month, to buy a small chest freezer. Yikes! But let me explain: as many of my readers know, I'm expecting a baby very soon--2 weeks and 5 days to be exact (well, as exact as "due dates" are anyway!)--and I figure one of the most important things I can do right now is to stock up on prepared food that I can rely on for our dinners once the baby arrives and things are turned upside-down. I also bought some zip-lock baggies to store food in the freezer.

I remember two and a half years ago when our daughter was born, we were not prepared food-wise and we ended up getting a lot of convenience items. Take-out pizza, grocery store barbecued chickens, frozen lasagne, etc. Since I got my freezer in early August, I've been slowly filling it with yummy food like spaghetti sauce, chili, pesto made with local organic basil, and a variety of creamy soups. It's so great to know I won't have to spend the extra money for lower-quality additive-rich food later on.

I made other purchases as well during the month, such as my weekly cookie purchase at a cafe where I meet friends to knit. This is a sanity-saver, as it's just about the only time I get away from the house and my toddler. Don't get me wrong--I love spending time with her--but it's great to be able to escape once a week and not be a mom for about 90 minutes!

Some other things I bought were perhaps less excusable: one lunch out for myself, plus at least two lunches at the farmer's market when I was not organized enough to pack one up before leaving. Replacement batteries for my kitchen scale (an absolute necessity!!), a stupid $10 sippy cup (in a desperate, failed attempt to night wean my 2 1/2-year old off the boob and onto the bottle . . . didn't work!), a gift for some friends, and a bunch of second-hand baby stuff, which we got an AMAZING deal on. I'm probably forgetting something, but I do feel I did pretty good . . . until the last couple of days.

For some reason, buying nothing felt pretty easy for most of the month. I had lots of energy to prepare lunches and snacks, and I was okay delaying or redirecting my desires for new fun stuff. We went to the park, brought our lunches, met friends at the park, avoided the mall, ate well at home instead of going out to restaurants, made gifts by hand and gave away jam. For entertainment we went to the library and hung out in our building's back yard. We watched downloaded TV shows and used our membership to go to the museum. We had fun, and life really didn't change in any way!

But for some reason toward the end of the month I started to suffer from buy-nothing burn-out. I started to want. I started to NEED! So on August 31st when my mother-in-law came visiting in her Mazda Protegée, I took advantage and went . . . to Ikea.

Oh my, but it was satisfying. After a full month (almost!) of not indulging in "retail therapy" I broke down and bought: some new bibs, a "park" potty and a baking kit for my little girl, a children's rug with roads drawn on it to put in the living room for the coming baby, some light bulbs for our hall light that's been burnt out for over 2 months, and a tray to serve as the top of my "utility cart" so I can pretend to be a hotel chambermaid as I move through the apartment tidying up. Overall, $100 damage. Way to go out with a bang!

So, what did I learn from my "Buy-Nothing" Month? The first thing I noticed was that our bank account was much healthier than usual (before the Ikea trip in any case!) . The second thing I noticed was that I do have a bit of a retail addiction that works against my otherwise frugal lifestyle. In times of stress I react by buying things. Not for myself (as in makeup or clothes) but for my daughter, or more likely, for the house.

If I can keep a watch out for my triggers, and work through these desires in a less spendy way, that will help me to maintain my frugal lifestyle. For the moment, I'm thinking about doing a buy-nothing week once a month, just to keep myself trained and practice being better organized.