Note – I debated even writing this post, because I am aware of how privileged I am. For far too many people, a 2-week spending freeze isn’t an exercise – it’s just life. I ended up deciding to write this because I do think that habits like mine – unthinking, insidious, wanton spending – is a symptom of a greater, shared problem. My attitudes towards money are not only bad for me, they’re bad for society, and they’re bad for the kind of world I want to live in. As someone who idealizes a life based on experiences, and spending time with people, and eschewing harmful aspects of the society we live in, my actual habits don’t reflect any of that. Furthermore, that type of life will never be attainable for everyone if people like me keep feeding the cycle of mindless consumerism. I feel that’s something that’s worthy of another look.
I know I’m not alone in saying that my spending has become a sort of crutch for temporarily relieving the aches and pains of being a middle-class professional living in modern society. Feel ugly? Buy new makeup! Feel bored? Buy a video game! Feel poor? Buy designer clothes! (Not sure how that one is supposed to work.)
Like many other young(ish) professionals, my spending has inflated along with my income, and it’s crept up so slowly I didn’t even know it was happening.
It was only when I was on vacation for the first time in years that I realized – I’ve been prioritizing buying stuff over things like going on vacation and seeing new places. I was spending too much money on going out to eat forgettable meals because I couldn’t be bothered to cook. I had a closet full of clothes that made absolutely zero sense for my life in LA. (Four winter coats? Uhh…) I was just spending, spending, spending, without ever stopping to evaluate why.
So, I took two weeks to stop all spending (groceries exempted!) just to see what attitudes and impulses popped up.
Here’s what I learned:
- Impulse purchases are real, and destructive. Is grabbing a candy bar in the drugstore checkout line really such a big deal? Of course not. The thing is, I had dozens of those “candy bar”-type purchases throughout my previous month’s bank statements. Not only do they add up financially, they’re also completely forgettable. I would never have remembered that $5 nail polish if I hadn’t checked my statements, nor would I have really remembered ordering yet another t-shirt online at midnight. Forcing myself to table any purchases for two weeks showed me just how pointless these types of purchases are. My life sure isn’t any worse for not having spent $5 on in-app purchases for Alphabear.
- I am not a great cook. I know how to make a few things reasonably well, but because most of my food came from restaurants, I never had to get better. Forcing myself to eat in really highlighted the limitations in both my grocery shopping strategy and my cooking ability. This was the hardest part of the challenge for me – and one I suspect will be the most rewarding to overcome. (An added incentive? Eating healthy meals at home helped me drop 4 pounds!)
- When I did spend money, it felt kind of weird. I allowed myself a day off to go on a date, where I purchased movie tickets ($18) and a large popcorn ($7). I normally wouldn’t think twice about that sort of spending, but it just felt a little strange. Not necessarily a good or bad thing – I think I was just being more aware of what I was doing for the first time in a long time.
- Owning less is the answer. I was spending so much time and energy cleaning, storing, and maintaining my stuff, and I never stopped to think about that added cost. It certainly never crossed my mind while purchasing the stuff to begin with! Buying nothing made me take a closer look at the things I already owned – I figured I would “shop my closet” instead of shopping online – only to realize that I didn’t really like most of this stuff to begin with. Don’t underestimate how good it feels to discard stuff you don’t really like or need – when you’re left with only the things that make you feel good or are useful, it’s a strangely amazing feeling.
So…did I learn anything earth-shaking? Not really, but then again…kind of. I didn’t feel empty or bored without spending money, and it made me realize that most of the things we think of as “required” for living are truly optional. It’s something I already suspected, but having experience back it up feels like a turning point for me.
Would I do it again? Definitely. I am greatly inspired by Blonde on a Budget, who didn’t buy anything for a whole year (!!!) and is doing the same thing again right now. Could I make it a year? Could you? Maybe we should try.