I decided to try a no-spend month, and it all started because of a blog post I read. Actually, it wasn’t just one blog post; the “it” item of the season seemed to be touted by everyone on Instagram. The item did look cute in the styled photos, not to mention the reviews were amazing. Then, it was majorly on sale, so it seemed like a no-brainer and I needed to buy it immediately.
Except I really didn’t need this product. There always seems to be “the” product of the year that everyone is telling us we need in our lives. After excitedly browsing the color options and clicking “add to cart,” I took a moment and asked myself, why do I need this? I’m in the process of moving and don’t even have my own space right now. Reality set in: I did not need it (no matter how lovely the colors are and no matter how functional it is). I might need something like it in the future, and the price might not be so discounted, but that didn’t mean I should buy it now.
All of this made me realize how much messaging we get of all the things that we’re told we need. There usually tends to be a theme with a handful of items that show up on every “must-have” list. Click it once out of interest, and retargeting ads follow us around the worldwide web reminding us about it.
Sure, that cozy sweatshirt is on sale for an unbelievable $10 and looks cute, but I have sweatshirts. Too many sweatshirts. And I probably don’t need a new one, even if an Instagram story is telling me I do.
During the month of December, I was starting to think about my financial goals for the new year. The major goal my family has set for 2021 is to buy our first home. It doesn’t seem like purchasing a few unnecessary items will totally derail our finances and our ability to buy our home, but things add up. In an attempt to better my finances starting from the bottom, I put myself on a no-spend December.
How I started
First, I set some guidelines. As a notoriously late holiday shopper, I still had many people on my list I had to buy gifts for. Spending on these pre-planned gifts was allowed, as was buying things that were necessities (food, gas, and so on) or products that I used regularly and require for basic needs (like if I ran out of body wash or shampoo).
Once my rules were set in place, I set out for 31 days of no unnecessary spending. Every time I saw something online that I wanted, I made note of it. Sometimes I even added it to a cart (but didn’t buy). I was curious to see all of the things pile up that I might otherwise purchase but this month wouldn’t.
Every time I saw something online that I wanted, I made note of it. Sometimes I even added it to a cart (but didn’t buy).
My list of items included pajamas for my daughter (she has plenty), Lululemon dupe leggings I kept hearing rave reviews for (I’m drowning in leggings), new cups for my daughter (again, she has more than enough cups to drink from), new bath toys, sweatpants… the list goes on.
I didn’t buy any of these things. And you know what? We’re all doing OK. I’m pretty comfortable in the excessive amount of leggings I already had to choose from, my daughter is never without a cup to drink from, and my bank account is already looking healthier without a stream of miscellaneous Amazon charges.
I learned some lessons along the way that I am bringing into the new year. Here are my big takeaways.
There’s a difference between want and need
Like I mentioned, we’re constantly told we need the hottest new items, whether it’s a face cream, a pillowcase, or a kitchen accessory. Most of the things people on the internet say you need, you don’t. You might want them, and they might be nice, and I, too, enjoy a treat-yourself-gift every once in a while. But I’m trying to ignore the extreme messaging that your life is incomplete without a product. If someone tells you need something, think about if you actually do. What will it add to your life, and what will you be missing if you don’t have it?
We’re conditioned to live in a world of instant gratification
I think the invention of next-day delivery on Amazon Prime has totally messed with our spending habits. The second I would think of something I wanted, it was too easy to click “add to cart” and expect it on my doorstep the next day. Knowing you can get almost anything you want on a whim is so tempting.
Instead of jumping to spending money to try and solve a problem, I tried some other things first.
For example, my toddler has been hating baths recently, so I turned to Amazon and added a variety of new toys to my cart, knowing I could get them in 24 hours. But I didn’t complete the purchase. Instead of jumping to spending money to try and solve a problem, I tried some other things first: playing music in the bath, getting in the bath with her, and blowing bubbles in the bathroom.
I’m trying to be better about not using money as a way to solve problems and am giving myself a little breathing room to try tactics that don’t include physical items or are based on things we already have.
Small purchases add up (monetarily and physically)
It’s easy to spend a few bucks here and there, especially when everything is so discounted. But these small purchases add up. Not to mention, they add unnecessary clutter to your home. During the month of December, I wrote down all of the things I wanted to buy but wouldn’t. And they were almost universally under $20. So many small things were weighing down my spending. There are big-ticket items on my wish list, but these types of items I put more thought into, do more research on, and don’t mindlessly click to buy.
Whether it’s a big item because it’s expensive or because it physically takes up a lot of space, you are probably more likely to think through the purchase, if it’s worth it, and why you want it. We should be putting the same thought into everyday small items as well because they are eventually what can overwhelm our finances and the space in our home.
The one-in one-out rule helps
And speaking of unnecessary items that can lead to clutter, one rule that helped my mindset was the one-in one-out rule. If I wanted to buy something, I had to get rid of a similar item. I’ll go back to the sweatshirt example. Would I be willing to donate or throw out a sweatshirt I already owned in favor of the new one? If the answer was no, it meant the new one was definitely not needed at this time.
Less is more
And finally, with all the small things that add up, sometimes it’s better to focus on the big picture and higher quality items. Less really can be more. Consider your financial goals and how every element of your spending impacts your ability to reach those goals. While shopping and spending messaging is at an all-time high in November and December, any time is the right time to look into your finances and make the changes that will get you one step closer to your goals.