Start Saving! (Buy Nothing Month)•
Posted on August 13 2011
Buy Nothing Month
Chances are good you wouldn't mind a little extra cash in your savings account. No matter your reasons, improving your financial position is an admirable goal for anyone. And while you could build your savings over time, this article is focused on one of the more dramatic steps you can take to save money: the “buy nothing month.”
A buy nothing month is simple: buy nothing that's not a necessity, and simplify your spending on necessities as much as possible. That means spending zero dollars on going out and, barring a rip in your work pants, you won't buy any clothing either. You can buy grocceries, but groceries means the food your body needs, not splurging for a T-bone steak every night. Add in gas for your car and that's about it.
If this sounds a bit extreme, it is. A buy nothing month is hardcore personal finance, but if you've been struggling to get your money in order, it's time to turn off the spending altogether. You'll learn a lot about your relationship with money when you're constantly feeling the urge to spend and having to resist it. Learning to free yourself from the urge to spend is genuinely rewarding, so don't be surprised if you emerge from your month with a new perspective. Take the example of Mark Boyle , a UK man who set out to buy nothing for a year as an experiment. Boyle found it suited him so well that he's now continuing to live moneyless indefinitely. While we don't want to go to that extreme, and don't think you should either, the point is that learning a bit of self-control and a healthier perspective on money may well be a bigger reward than all the money you'll save. If you want to build your bank account and learn some financial discipline, well, welcome to the fast track.
If you normally spend lots of money on going out to eat each month, this will be one of your biggest money savings, and also the biggest challenge. Stocking up on frozen entrees isn't an option: they're full of sodium and aren't very nutritious. You can, however, have a few around for the days when work goes late and you come home utterly exhausted. Beyond that, it's going to be you and your kitchen taking care of the meals -- and without Starbucks to make your coffee for you, you'll be up early taking care of breakfast. A little bacon and eggs in the mornings has more flavor than that drive-through breakfast sandwich you normally fuel up with, and costs pennies compared with fast food prices. And if you're the type who sleeps to the last possible moment, a quick breakfast smoothie can be ready in less than a minute -- plus it’s easy to take in the car.
For dinner, why not try some new recipes? If you've never cooked your own food, bust out your cooking utensils -- it's time to learn. Dying for that one dish your favorite restaurant serves? Make it yourself -- if you've never looked one up before, you'll be shocked to learn that most restaurants’ “signature dish” recipes have been figured out by foodies and posted to the web. So, you don't need to go without your P.F. Chang's lettuce wraps -- a quick Google search and a few minutes in the kitchen will cure your craving, and for a fraction of the cost of eating out.
Since you won't be going out this month, you'll need to focus on entertainment that doesn't cost anything. That doesn't mean you need to be a social leper, but hitting the bars isn't in the cards this month. What you can do, however, is have people over to the house, make dinner for some friends and play some board games. If you already have the gear, activities like fishing and camping make a great choice. And you should still catch the big game, but watch it on somebody's couch instead of at a sports bar.
In your alone time, be sure to spend a few minutes reflecting on your month. If it helps, you can jot down notes about your experiences to reflect on later. And reading should be at the top of your list of entertainment activities -- it's good for your brain, makes you a better man, and you'll finally be tackling all those books you've bought but never read. If you're the rare man with no unread books in the house, head to the library for a lifetime's worth of free reading, and grab some CDs and movies while you're there.
Consider the role bills have in your life. Know any friends who have a gym membership they never, ever use? It's wasteful, and cutting that expense would save them money every month. So, go through all your subscriptions, bills and fixed costs, and suspend everything that can be paused or “turned off” for the month. Even though you may not get rid of the bill by suspending it for a month, you're cutting through all the financial noise in your life, and the simplicity of this month will help you realize what's actually worth keeping and what's just fiscal clutter. If anything is more costly than it is useful, get rid of it. So, if you've been enjoying your Netflix, keep it, but if you're not getting value from it, maybe you're better off without it after all.
Bills and memberships are a special case with the buy nothing month: you can't cancel your subscription to a magazine for a month and some memberships can't be suspended for a month. They still get reviewed this month, though: use this time to review all of these costs, and decide whether or not they actually add value to your life.
This could have fit into the entertainment section as well, but getting exercise is an excellent use of your time during a buy nothing month. Your gym membership is out, so you'll be using the equipment you have around the house and getting out into the fresh air and the great outdoors. Get together with friends to shoot some hoops, throw the Frisbee or play a little soccer. And if you're trying to build your muscles, not having a gym membership for the month is no excuse -- ask any serious fitness buff and they'll tell you that body weight exercises alone are more than enough to get you ripped. If your location permits it, riding your bike to the store or work will save you money on gas, and let you strike one more “necessity” off the list of things you're going without for a month.
Taking It To The Extreme
The buy nothing month is an extreme exercise, but it can make all the difference in both the amount of money you have, and how you use it. When the month is over, spend a bit of time getting back to normal. A great first step would be to invest a little time in thinking about your relationship to money and how much of your enjoyment in life is directly tied to money. What expenditures did you miss the most? What were you surprised to find you barely missed at all? (Pro tip: you can probably stop spending money on these for good).
It's also important to make sure that all that money you saved goes to something useful. Don't just leave it in your checking account to disappear a little at a time: save it, invest it or pay off some bills with it. Finally, it's tempting to spend lavishly once the month is over. With the pressure of living so frugally finally off, many people go on a spending spree and undo all the saving they just did. So don't “treat” yourself to something; just go back to your old spending habits, unless your old habits suck. Allow yourself a pat on the back for achieving your goal, then spend within your means and enjoy the nest egg you built up in record time.