Shopping has always given me anxiety. Getting ready, navigating traffic, parking the car, pushing through crowds, browsing through goods whose only purpose is to make me feel bad enough about myself to feel like I need them, then nervously crossing my fingers that my debit card won’t decline at the cash register — thank u, next! Not to mention the impact that over-consuming can have on the environment, animal welfare, mental health, the people involved in manufacturing them…
Needless to say, I don’t have a shopping problem. However, as adulthood hit me hard and I began taking things like finances and future planning seriously, I’ve been searching for ways to help me achieve more in these areas. In the past sixteen months, I’ve moved back home, gotten a part-time job as a hotel housekeeper, re-designed my freelance business, and paid off over $13,000 in debt. But a lot of that was reactionary. Freelance writing not what you wanted it to be? I’ll try out grant writing. Too much debt? Get a second job. UK visa about to expire? Guess I gotta move home.
In the same time, I heard enough about shopping bans, no-buys, and no-spends that my curiosity started piquing. As a reasonably anti-consumerism consumer, I’m good at avoiding big sales, online shopping binges, and fast fashion. I value zero-waste, cruelty-free, ethical goods, and I can declutter with the best of them. However, when I’m in a position of relative wealth, I can catch myself in bad habits of frivolous spending on food, experiences, and big-ticket items that are technically essentials, but still shouldn’t be prioritized over an emergency fund or debt repayment. So, after a lot of research and introspection, I decided to hop on the bandwagon and do a no-spend 2019. My personal rules are designed to help me achieve broader goals rather than limit the number of things I own. Instead, I’m focusing on the different ways I can be a mindful consumer, to design a better future for myself, and to create more healthy habits, rather than just reacting to changes in my circumstances.
Here are five reasons I will be attempting a no-spend year, that have nothing to do with avoiding shopping.
1. Wealth — I am facing an increase in income
I finished paying off my debts on October 4, 2018. And from then until now, I’ve had a lot of big events to pay for that limited my discretionary income. In that time, my long-distance partner came for a two-week visit, I was laid off of my part-time job for a month, I celebrated seven loved ones’ birthdays in addition to Christmas and New Years, and took all of December off of freelancing. In effect, my budget didn’t change a whole lot even though I was debt free.
On the other hand, I have taken on a few more contracts in my freelance business that should lead to an increase in overall income in the first half of 2019. This means for the first time in a long time, all of my money will be my own to choose what to do with, aside from the small percentage that goes to bills. In the past, I would react to this newfound wealth with a rash decision. I’d book a trip somewhere, or I’d buy a new laptop and be back at $0 in the bank. But this time, I’m using the no-spend rules to force me to save everything I don’t need so that I can achieve larger financial goals, such as buying a home, but not at the expense of my personal wealth. The rules for my challenge state that I can spend on experiences and items, so long as they are saved for specifically (and only with leftover income after I’ve paid into my priority categories like retirement). This means that at the end of the year, I will hopefully be in the habit of making small steps towards a goal rather than impulsively overspending for the sake of instant gratification.
2. Health — My small addictions were getting out of control
While clothing, makeup, and household decor hold no interest for me, that’s not to say I never spent any money before this no-spend year. I’m ashamed to say that for probably the past two decades, I’ve been addicted to soda and sugary drinks, to the point where I can go for weeks without a single glass of water.
When you are addicted to something, it is very easy to justify whatever it costs to feed that addiction. Even easier when that thing you are addicted to is less than $3 and available on every corner, in a variety of formats and flavors, and no one will judge you for carrying it around and taking a hit in public. It was a simple thing to turn a blind eye to the relatively small amounts of money each drink cost me.
However, when I added up the cost of this multiple-times-a-day habit, I was spending nearly $3000 a year. And that’s probably a conservative estimate. This phenomenon is also known as the “latte factor.” And while many scoff at the reductiveness and sexist/ageist/privileged connotations of this principle, I’ve seen first-hand how it affects my bottom line (and my teeth). So, 2019 will be the year that I’m kicking the sugary beverage addiction for good, and I’m leaning on the no-spend year to help get me through the temptation of popping down to the store at every craving. I’ve allowed a “weaning period” for the first few weeks, in which I am allowed a single case of soda in every grocery shop, but once it’s gone, it’s gone.
3. The Future — I need to get a credit card
Ok, this is a strange one for a no-spend year, so bear with me. That $13,000 of (defaulted) debt came at the expense of my credit score. I am no longer a desirable candidate for credit, according to most financial institutions. However, if I really want my dreams of owning a home, driving a reliable car, scaling my business to get rid of the housekeeping job, and going on weeks-long trips to become reality, repairing my credit is the most straight-forward way to do that. Thus, the need to meet the minimum requirements for a credit card.
My bank has suggested I apply for a secured credit card. The representative I spoke to advised me to have a healthy savings account before applying, so I can show the company that I have changed my debt-abusing ways. Plus, there’s the cost of the actual security for the credit card ($500 in this case). So, that means I’ve got to save up a few thousand dollars before any credit card company will even look at my application. But even when I get the card, I’ll still need to use it responsibly so that it actually becomes a useful tool, rather than dragging me back into the red. I’ll need to pay it off in full every month, and avoid maxing it out. The no-spend year will help me to design good saving habits so I reach that minimum savings target as soon as possible, while also giving me the parameters to use the card for my monthly essentials, without going overboard and landing me in the same shape I was in a year ago.
4. Productivity — I need to develop more productive habits
I would generally describe myself as a lazy person. Now, through lots of therapy and inward reflection, I understand that this comes from a variety of self-worth and anxiety-related issues rather than purely indulgence and selfishness. But that knowledge doesn’t mean I can magically make myself get off my ass and get stuff done. In experimenting with different ways to increase productivity, I’ve found that a combination of preparedness and momentum are the key. I know — genius!
But the catch is, my laziness leads to procrastination. This leads to failing to prepare, which then leads to more procrastination, and pretty soon the only momentum I’m building is in not doing anything. Good luck controlling my anxiety at this point! I’m looking to my no-spend year to help me strengthen that preparation muscle. You have to be really prepared in order to succeed in spending within budget. If I don’t make a lunch, I’ll have to buy something or go hungry. If I don’t put my reusable grocery bags in the car, I’ll have to account for the extra charge per plastic bag which will reduce my workable food budget. If I don’t buy gas when it’s at its cheapest, I won’t be able to drive as far in the next week. Plus, as I begin to see my savings grow and quality of life improve through the no-spend year, that in itself is a win, which means I’ll have an extra dose of momentum to help me fuel momentum in other areas. Hopefully, this combination of always being in a preparation mindset, while also seeing positive results stemming from that preparedness, will infect things like my freelance work and my other goals.
5. Perspective — I need to check my privilege
Let’s be honest: “No-Spend” and its sidekicks, minimalism and decluttering, are trending topics these days. And most of it stems from a position of serious privilege. You have to be relatively wealthy to donate unworn clothes, or to buy only the best quality furniture instead of cheap flat packed stuff, or to look at living on less as a fun challenge. I am super lucky that I have the means and the option to live well within my means. I am hella privileged that I can continue to live at home, paying thousands of dollars less in housing costs than most other people.
My journey hasn’t always been easy, and of course no one’s journey is. I’ve spent the better part of the last year feeling humbled and extremely grateful for the things in my life that have allowed me to survive this rough patch and come out relatively unscathed. However I still find myself complaining about this and that and wallowing in my anxiety.
In 2019, I want to be truly and thoroughly schooled what it means to have unconditional gratitude for the blessings that have come my way, not because I deserve them or have worked hard for them. During this challenge, I have chosen to allow charitable donations and supporting other creators in my budget. I have to spend it all. I have also chosen to donate my grant writing skills to local organizations so that they can affect change. I can only hope that an increase in mindfulness and community can help me to check my privilege.
A no-spend challenge isn’t a cure-all for anything you wish you could change about yourself. However, adding new routines that set you up for reaching your goals in a mindful way can only benefit you in those areas of your life. Saving money is just the bonus. If you try a no-spend week/month/year/life, good luck! And if not, look for ways you can be more intentional with any new habits you want to create so that they serve multiple purposes.
Jill is a freelance grant writer and copy editor from a tiny First Nations reservation in BC, Canada. Aspires to be average at everything, because otherwise, the pressure gives her panic attacks.
Image via Unsplash