I wasn’t planning to take on a challenge like this. I mean, who really wants to, or even can, go an entire year and not buy anything? But the day I wasted $20, purchasing a clearance priced ceramic roller set, that just didn’t work for me, I knew I was being beckoned for change.
I’m not sure about you, but for me, I don’t have a lot of extra money lying around, making it pretty important to analyze my “binge” purchases. Sure, a $20 item isn’t a huge money loss, but the sheer idea of that “waste” started myself on a deeper level of thinking. How many $20 binge items had I tried and tossed the previous year? In fact, how many things in my house did I own that I really never needed to buy in the first place?
This led me to a personal challenge. Could I possibly go a year without buying anything? I asked myself that question December 18, 2016.
It’s now January, 2018, and I’m here to say that, yes, it’s possible to take such a challenge and pull it off. And not only is it possible, it’s healthy and invigorating.
During the year 2017:
- I never bought a roll of toilet paper.
- I never bought a ream of copy paper for the printer.
- And only once did I buy meat.
- No clothing.
- No shoes.
- No make-up.
- No school supplies.
Here’s how I did it:
1. The Buying Ends Now
Deciding to buy something is a mental act…so the first step in being successful in the buy-nothing plan is to mentally get control of desires and thoughts. Being able to tell yourself no, and sticking to it, is key.
The very day I made the decision to take on the 12 month buy-nothing challenge, I put my words into action. I skipped the after Christmas sales. I walked past all the clothing markdowns. And I learned to tell myself “no” time and time again. It didn’t take long for me to realize, “buying” can become a habit without us even realizing it.
Curbing that habit starts with building mental strength. As long as you can tell yourself no to anything, you can keep yourself from doing it.
Once that strong mental “no” is established, the next step is gaining discernment for the difference between a true need and a want. The day I decided to go an entire year without buying anything, I simply stopped buying.
2. Realistic Thinking
You might already be asking yourself, “How could she possibly buy nothing for an entire year? What about basic needs like food, personal hygiene items, and gasoline for the car?”
In order to make my year of buying nothing successful, I had to define some rules. Yes, of course, some buying, was necessary. So I created a list of allowable items.
- Food for the family: While we did not cut out all fun food items like ice cream and chips for the year, we did limit them. I voted for buying “staples” only and my husband and two daughters insisted ice cream was a staple.
- Essential clothing needs for my daughters: my year of buying nothing coincided with the year my youngest daughters would go through major growth spurts. Next size up clothes and shoes were needed, but new clothes shopping sprees were not. We limited ourselves to essential needs.
- Basic living needs: typical vehicle upkeep and filling the gas tank were approved.
- School related essentials: class fees and curriculum needs were still allowed, but we didn’t buy high dollar sports photo packages or expensive spirit wear, and we didn’t buy any school supplies. We used what we discovered we already owned.
Creating this list only intensified my other list of rules.
- I would buy nothing for myself.
- I would look for other sources before buying general items for our household and family.
3. Utilizing Current Resources
I believe that committing to the idea of “buying nothing” was one of the best physical therapy exercises possible for my brain. Prior to this challenge, it was easy and convenient to just bop over to the nearest big box store and find every basic essential item needed. But forcing myself to first look at the resources we already had in our home, in the end, created less stress, saved money, and allowed us to become more resourceful.
Like toilet paper.
We bought none in 2017. In fact, we still haven’t bought any in 2018.
Prior to taking on this challenge, I had not slowed down enough to realize that an entire case of toilet paper was stashed away in a bathroom I rarely used. But in the year of buying nothing, I had to slow down. Instead of standing in long lines at the store, I was spending time at home finding usable items I had forgotten we owned.
- Like clothing that was never worn and shoved in the back of a closet.
- The frozen food items still available in the inconvenient bottom part of the chest freezer.
- And enough school supplies for both of my girls in the coming school year.
It actually became fun to discover how we could “live off the land” so to speak, choosing to focus primarily on resources we already had in our possession.
A key to being successful in a long term buy-nothing spree is to carefully analyze every non-essential purchase. Do you already own something that will fill the need, and if not, is it truly a need?
4. Buying Nothing Reaps Bountiful Rewards
I believe we were created to be people of relationship. Even though, it’s so common, and sometimes encouraged, to be solely self sufficient.
By committing to a year of buying nothing, I had to rely on others. Instead of buying something my neighbor already owned, I borrowed from her, and she borrowed from me. It feels strange to type these words, but: I had to ask her for her help. That’s not something we always like to do. We like to proudly stand on our own. But my neighbor and I shared our resources, and became better friends in the process.
I discovered God’s ability to provide creatively. While remaining committed to not buying for myself, I was unexpectedly given gifts that fit many of my personal interests. I found these gifts to carry such meaning, because they were among the very few new things I came to own in 2017. Possibly even more important than the gifts, were the givers.
And at the end of the month, when I would look at my bank account balance, I was continually amazed at how much was still there. It’s a basic principle: stop spending money, and you will have more money to save.
The year of buying nothing caused me to realize that when we commit to having less, God can fill with so much more.
5. A Change of Plans
I didn’t complete the entire 12 months of buying nothing. I was diagnosed with a really serious medical situation the first week of November, and suddenly there were a lot of changes to my daily schedule: trips out of town for doctors appointments, prep for surgery, and then recovery after surgery. I needed button down shirts, and didn’t own any. I needed special wedge pillows for sleeping, and I needed to feel the freedom to stop at a restaurant any time I was travelling and get a sufficient meal. These purchasing decisions may seem like no brainers to you, but to me, they were hurdles. I wasn’t ready to be finished with my 12 month challenge.
So God and I had a talk, and that’s when I realized the year of buying nothing wasn’t really about a 12 month span; it was about seeing things with new eyes, and wanting to see things more through God’s eyes.
So, what now?
If you want to take on a buy nothing challenge, it’s okay to start small. Try it for a week; then try it for a month.
Stand firm on your decision: When I took on this challenge, I didn’t anticipate how I would have to fight an internal desire to buy some of the simplest things, but I did. My mind told me I really needed that dress on sale and my life would be better if I purchased that new gadget for my kitchen. I fought that voice in my mind and haven’t regretted it.
Don’t become legalistic: I gave up buying unessential items. I did not give up on investing in our family. We still rented movies, went out to eat (within reason) and even got out of town, overnight, 3 or 4 times.
Be realistic: Use a challenge like this to make you a better person. If you have children, its likely you will teach them practical financial choices along the way, as well.
I remember when the girls were little, you put them in the running stroller-for-two and headed out for my house… You said you had just reminded the Lord that, while you had meat in the freezer, you needed fruit and vegetables. As you turned the corner, a woman who grew vegetables on her front porch called out to you and offered you some vegetables. When you got to my house, there was a watermelon and other fruit I had felt compelled to give to you, lying on the table by the door. How tenderly He cares for every detail of our lives, when we ask Him to!
I find it helps to think of buying in terms of Bibles, rather than dollars. Bibles for China are $5. So that $10 bargain I just can’t pass up is costing two Chinese believers their Bibles. Suddenly that “bargain” seems very expensive! Seeing my stewardship through God’s eyes.