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.


vintagehousewife said...

We have done a "non-consumer" month in the past and I love the effects. We are now on a 3 month non-consumer adventure. We have a few exclusions; only buying used, bartering. Also, there are the obvious things we can buy new. And, we can get a treat if we're out to town *only* if we have a coupon for it.

Steph said...

Hi, I'm new to this blog. I'm enjoying it so much. I was giggling while I was reading, because whenever we've been on lock-down, as we call it, either voluntary or otherwise ;), after a few weeks, I too, feel like I NEED to buy something and it starts taking over my brain. Like, all I can think about is how I need a new shirt or new bag, or my house is completely unlivable without a new accessory on the mantle. Sigh...it's very revealing and convicting. But always beneficial. I've been feeling a lock-down month coming on. Thanks for the encouragement!

Aiming4Simple said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aiming4Simple said...

Thank you for your candor! A buy-nothing month is certainly a commendable exercise, especially with the holidays approaching. But making such a vow is also like going on a diet. Both food and shopping cravings can return with a vengeance (as I know too well). My husband is right to indentify me as a "binge-and-purge" shopper.

I think I find more success when I focus on what am getting rather than on what I'm trying to give up. Cultivating gratitude and contentment are my goals, but I am still a work-in-progress.

GooseBreeder said...

We can always find excuses or ways to make it necessary can't we?
Having no young children at home,not going out to work and having few needs all make it easier.Even the sanity 'going out for coffee' has decreased as the work around the place increases and the satisfaction with achievement.

Emiy @ Under$1000PerMonth said...

Buy nothing months used to seem silly to me. I always thought, what if a good deal came along and you missed it? But you speak of it like it is an addiction that needs battling. I'm rethinking buy nothing months, to say the least.

NMPatricia said...

What an incredible post. As was said, thanks for your candor. From other posts in other blogs, it has seemed so easy to not spend. I can do the packing of the lunches, entertainment at home, etc. HOWEVER, I do get the I-just-have-to-buy feeling. And I thought I was the only one. It can be pretty strong too. I also have thought about the need-not-to-pass-up-a-great-deal idea. When one cruises second hand stores in search of things that are on an ongoing list (I have a tea kettle, canning jars, jars in which to give presents like homemade vanilla extract), it seems that it would be a good idea. I do however stay out of retail stores because I know that I am weak. Thanks for the post

Tree Hugging Mama said...

Again we are so much alike in our journeys. I too tend to splurge in times of stress, but not on me, I grew up without and can live without, but I can't resist this or that cute thing that the girls have to have.
I have been toying with no spending days, and even tried to join the CC's no spend month challenge, but with one DD entering a school without a uniform for the first time in 5 years I had to spend a fortune on back to school clothes (half of which were used). I did pretty good myself, only spending a little bit here (Chia - which could have been avoided), and a lunch out with co-workers (which is a tradition for us for each of our birthdays).
I really to enjoy reading your posts and your blog.
I was thinking about doing no spend months in January (to fix my less than frugal holiday splurges) and in July or August (whichever month we aren't vacationing in). Just to see if I can really and truly do it.

debi said...

While I've never done a "buy-nothing" month, I have noticed that when we're trying to cut back for whatever reason it's as if I rebel inside and see all these things that I want, and drive myself crazy. I actually have found for me that it's more of an acquiring addiction than a retail addiction. So, when I feel like I "need" a "new" item, it actually helps if I go to a garage sale or used goods/charity store. I feel a lot better because I'm keeping something out of a landfill, helping other people out, and spending less money. I'm also more picky, 'cause I don't want to buy something trashy, so I'm willing to wait. So, maybe I'm not nixing the habit completely, but at least I feel less guilty.

cndymkr / jean said...

I've never done a buy nothing month. And why is it that like you, I can go without things for myself but feel the need to buy for my son? I may have to look into trying this. Maybe just for a week though!

anie said...

We are trying to buy a house and I'm trying so hard not to succumb to retail therapy. It's hard! I appreciate your notes on your buy nothing month and also like the idea of a week a month with no purchases.
Happy upcoming baby! Congratulations to you and your family!

eatclosetohome said...

It seems like a buy-nothing month is like a crash diet: it might help kick you in the rear as a start-off, but it's totally unsustainable and does nothing to help you develop healthy habits. I'll be curious to see what kind of long-term changes you keep as a result of this month of virtually zero spending.