Thursday, May 29, 2008

How to Buy Nothing

We're doing a compact here to not buy any new thing for a year. Since January, when we began this adventure, we've only bought a few things brand new. I have purchased underwear, socks, a couple of late Christmas gifts, a couple of birthday gifts for others, ballet shoes (and not a goldfish yet...) and lately my son, with the complicity of my husband, has bought a few packs of Pokemon cards with his own money. Not sure what to think about that. Continuing on.

It seems there must be enough people also thinking about NOT buying things to warrant helpful hints on how to achieve a blissful state of non-purchasing. Just how do you NOT buy new things? Are there tricks to that? Are there ways of thinking that can help you NOT buy? Is there something you can do instead of going to the mall? Yes!! Yes there is. Yes, there are other things you can do!

Just as there is Wkipedia, there is also Wikihow. It is a helpful manual that we can edit, just like Wikipedia, and it is where I found a handy article on NOT buying.

Here is the article:

How to Buy Nothing

This is a featured article. Click here for more information.
Were self-checkouts invented so nobody has to see the useless junk you buy?
Were self-checkouts invented so nobody has to see the useless junk you buy?
In O. Henry's classic Christmas story The Gift of the Magi, Della Young sells her most prized possession, her long, beautiful hair, in order to buy her husband, Jim, a Christmas present. The present she chooses is a chain for Jim's heirloom pocket watch, the only valuable thing he owns. When she presents her gift to Jim, she discovers that he has sold his watch in order to buy a set of ornate combs for her beautiful locks. Is there a lesson in here for us? The lesson is you don't have to buy anything to be happy. Here's how to resist the urge to splurge.

[edit] Steps

  1. Examine your spending habits. Are your buying decisions motivated by your own values or by advertisements? Don't be influenced by consumerism and an obsession with spending.
  2. Stay home. If you don't need to shop, don't go shopping simply because you are bored. Don't use shopping as a recreation or amusement.
  3. Leave the money at home. The easiest way to not buy anything is simply not to take any cash, checks, debit cards, or credit cards with you when you go out. At most, take a small amount of cash with you for emergencies.
  4. Avoid plastic. Try putting your credit card in a container with some water and freezing it. That way you have it for holidays and emergencies but not just to go buy stuff.
  5. Buy used. If you really need something and haven't been able to beg, borrow, or dumpster-dive it, go to a thrift shop and get one for pennies on the dollar. Online auctions and yard sales are also good, although there is still the temptation to buy "stuff" you don't really need.
  6. Pay cash. Studies show the average person spends less when paying with cash and much more when paying with credit, possibly because when you use a credit card it feels as though you are not parting with "real" money.
  7. Make a budget and stick to it. Don't treat your budget like a New Year's resolution. While creating and sticking to a budget requires self-control, it's a really good way to get your finances under control and avoid accumulating a pile of crippling debts and a bunch of worthless crap in the process of destroying your self-respect.
  8. Make a list and stick to it. Make purchasing decisions at home, where your needs are apparent, instead of in stores where shelves full of other products will distract and entice you. A list can also help you postpone and consider purchases and consolidate trips out.
  9. Ask yourself some questions. Will I use this every day? Will I use it enough for it to be worth buying? How many hours did I have to work to pay for this? Employ the 3-month forecast. Ask yourself if you'll still be using the product regularly in 3 months. If you have lived this long without it, do you really need it? If you move frequently, contemplate whether this purchase is really worth hauling around each time you move. If you don't, ask yourself if it's worth sacrificing some of your precious living space to own it.
  10. Repair, don't replace. If you shopped carefully and got good service out of something, don't assume you have to replace it when it breaks. A good repair shop might be able to restore it to "near-new" condition for less than the cost of a replacement, and you won't be adding to the landfill problem.
  11. Try to get things you need or want for free. In a surprising number of cases you can get whatever you need without spending a dime.

    • Check local "free sales". Visit websites such as freecycle, Freesharing,Sharing is Givingor craigslist. These sites are so useful precisely because so many people buy things they don't need or replace perfectly good things with similar but newer things. You can decide to be smarter than that.
    • Borrow. If you need a product for just a short time, why not borrow someone else's? There's no shame in borrowing as long as you are willing to reciprocate when someone needs to borrow something of yours.
    • Try bartering. Your past extravagances have probably left you with a lot of things you no longer need, but which other people may want. Experience some of the gains from trade that economists are always talking about.
  12. Oh, my! This would look nice in the bathroom.
    Oh, my! This would look nice in the bathroom.
    Avoid shopping malls, if possible. If you need to purchase something, go to a store that sells that thing. Don't automatically head for the mall, where you'll likely get lured into buying things you don't need. If you go to the mall just to hang out with your friends, consider finding new hobbies, or new friends. If you have to walk through a shopping mall to get to a restaurant or a movie theater, keep yourself engrossed in conversation (either with yourself or your companions) so that you don't focus on your surroundings. Concentrate on where you are going, but pay no attention to the stores along the way.
  13. Use the buddy system. If you go out with friends, you may find that you enjoy yourselves so much that you don't even feel like buying anything. You could all make a pact to prevent purchases. It's kind of like a 12-step program to escape the consumer culture.
  14. Avoid unnecessary upgrades. Yes, that new toaster has a little chime and can toast eight slices at once, but seriously, how often do you need eight slices of toast at once? Our consumer culture pressures people to replace perfectly good products with newer products for silly reasons, like fashion. Remember, an avocado-colored oven works just as well as one that's mango-colored.
  15. Buy for durability. If you decide to purchase something, choose something that won't wear out, or won't wear out quickly. Also avoid purchasing items that will go out of fashion. Think through how you will use the item and how your choice will meet your needs for as long as possible. Thinking in the long term, a more durable item costing 30% more up front will still save you money if you can use it twice as long.
  16. Buy for easy compatibility. If you really like an item, think carefully about how well it will work with what you have already. Maybe a clothing item is fresh and flattering, but if it doesn't coordinate well with at least two or three pieces you own, you'll either get limited use out of it, or worse, you may 'need' to buy more to use it at all.
  17. Use the "Rule of 7." If something you want is over 7 dollars, wait 7 days and ask 7 trusted people whether this is a good purchase. Then buy it if you still think it is a good idea. This rule will curtail impulse buying. As you get more financially secure and have a larger disposable income, you can gradually increase the threshold upward from 7 dollars.
  18. Make gifts for people. Use your own skills (or learn a new skill) to make gifts that people will remember long after they've forgotten store-bought presents. Don't forget that gifts needn't be wrapped. You can make a gift of time or skills, too. Remember the lesson of The Gift of the Magi: it really is the thought that counts. Money can't buy you happiness or self-respect or any friends worth having.
  19. Tax yourself. Every time you make a purchase over $10 (or $50 or whatever limit you choose), take 10% of the price and put it into your savings or your investments. This way, you discourage yourself from buying something just because the item is "marked down" or "a bargain" and boost your financial security every time you make a significant purchase. If you use a debit card or a credit card, try using one that has a savings program, American Express offers a card with a savings account and Bank of America offers their "Keep The Change" program to automatically transfer money into your savings account.
  20. Grow your own food. If you have even a small garden, it's easy to grow your own food.

[edit] Tips

  • Read books such as Why We Buy, so you understand retailer tactics that are used to get people to buy things they do not need. Get the books at the library; no need to buy them!
  • If you have children, bring them with you when you shop. Ask them to remind you to think twice when you pick up an item. Have them say "Do we really need that?" or "Can we really afford that?" This tip helps you AND teaches your children the value of properly managing their spending. Use common sense. Young children, especially, could become scared if you ask them to regulate your behavior. Children can sense how stressful a topic money can be, and sometimes find it scary and confusing.
  • Can't think of any place to hang out but the mall? Try visiting a friend, taking a walk on a nature trail, going to a free concert or event, or playing at the park. Your life will be richer in more ways than one if you eschew shopping malls.
  • Instead of renting movies, check your local library. Many libraries offer a wide selection of movies for free. While you're there, check out their other offerings, too. Remember, libraries are nice places to hang out in and reading is free.
  • If you're really weak-willed, freeze your credit cards in a coffee can full of water so you will have to thaw them out before you use them. Or if you have a trusted neighbor, put your credit cards in safekeeping with them, explaining to them you're trying to limit your spending. Chances are you won't be able to face them to ask for your cards if you don't have a compelling reason.
  • "Buy Nothing Day" is November 23, 2007, in North America and November 24th elsewhere. Participate by not joining in the mad and often mindless holiday shopping rush on that day.
  • Buy second hand! That way you'll save money and spare the environment by reducing waste, also more likely than not you'll support a charitable organization.

I must say, we've had an easier time than to have to freeze our credit cards so we won't use them. We just haven't used them. However, I can see how that might help a compulsive shopper, but then they probably have their number memorized, so they would still be able to buy online or over the phone. Shopaholics!

Also, I don't think you need to stay home in order to not shop--go for a walk in your walkable neighborhood (lucky!). Go walk through the park. Go play with your kids. Go to the library. Do some laundry. Do the dishes. Listen to some good music and dance like a maniac through the living room. Take a bath. Call your sister and talk for an hour about nothing and everything. Go out to eat at a wonderful restaurant--you still have to eat--it's allowed!

When you think about it, it really is easy to not buy, buy, buy all of the time. Use the tips in the article if it will help you and you want to consume a little less. It might be helpful.

Let me know if you stop yourself from purchasing, and what helped you put the brakes on.

Happy non shopping! Have a nice day!--if you want to. No pressure.


ebehm said...

Yesterday we stopped ourselves from buying an electric cooler. We are going on a big car trip this summer, camping part of the way, and are thinking about how to save money along the way by making meals instead of eating in restaurants. We looked into these coolers that you can plug into your car, and also into a wall socket. But we decided that the low tech way (ice in our regular cooler) would suit us better. We had been thinking of the cooler as a refrigerator, but we found out it really isn't. Food safety is an issue. And we discovered some great ways to keep ice around for longer in a cooler -- for example by freezing blocks of ice in old milk jugs.

Isn't the internet great for finding out information? Maybe that is why the 'rule of 7' works -- if you talk to some people about it they will give you alternatives that your narrow acquiring vision may not have been able to come up with.

We are still planning to buy a propane stove for quick meals and making coffee in the morning. Then we won't have to build a fire every time we want something hot. (What do you think?) We are going to double it as a fathers' day present for my husband from the kids.

Laura said...

Woot! Well done--nice save.

I'll weigh in on the whole stove thing--you do need one and you can buy one (a gift for your husband), or you can borrow our little one burner unit if you'd like to.

Your cross country trip will be amazing!

Anne said...

Last year, my daughter was invited to a birthday party at a Build-A-Bear in the mall...on a Saturday no less. The employee leading the procession was literally, inarguably yelling. Kids were being jostled and hurried through the line. My daughter (6) burst into tears, because...well, someone was yelling at her, she still couldn't hear the directions and she didn't know what to do.

We don't do the mall. That party was probably the first time dd has been in a mall in 3 years. It's an exercise in culture shock and overstimulation if you're not used to it.

I wouldn't put dd through something like that again, but I guess the bright side for shopoholics is that it probably gets a lot easier the longer you obstain.

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