It’s been over six months since my year of no shopping challenge ended, and I find myself wondering if there is a word in another language for picking up a project that you’ve left to stagnate months. Can I make one up? My husband and I found out in October 2018 that we were going to be parents, and since then, our life has often felt like a runaway train heading to a destination both exciting and terrifying. Our little one was born in July, and the past 2 months as Mom and Dad have left us reeling. I have never cried so hard, screamed so loud, or felt so much joy all at once. These are all experiences and thoughts for another time, and believe me, I am certain they aren’t going anywhere. Today I’d like to attempt to wrap-up my year of no shopping the best way I can – by giving you the lowdown on how it’s impacted me long term.
Aside from some Halloween craft and costume supplies, pregnancy-related spending (maternity work clothes), and a splurge on a new cell phone to take travel photos, I would call the last six months of 2018 a success. I gave myself some wiggle room to purchase items that sparked joy during the holidays - like the materials to make Harry Potter themed wands for Halloween or my Twin Peaks Log Lady costume for Dragon Con – while avoiding purchasing needless clothes, books, or home goods. When my work shoes started falling apart, I took my time and researched companies. I eventually replaced them with a more durable and affordable option from TOMS. Right after the challenge ended, I purchased three pairs of yoga pants from Athleta for my yoga teacher training program, and they have seen me through two trimesters and countless hours of yoga, cardio, and strength training. I’m wearing a pair right now, and lo, they are currently spit-up free.
My year of no shopping challenge has provided me with the space to see that my spending is a reflection of my life’s priorities. Do I squander my time and energy on things that ultimately cannot serve me? Or am I making conscious and thoughtful spending decisions that move me towards a path of happiness and personal growth? The author Ramit Sethi, who wrote the book I Will Teach You To Be Rich, has a philosophy of spending lavishly on the things you enjoy but cutting mercilessly on the things you don’t. By limiting spending significantly, every purchase you do make seems that much more substantial and in many ways, more gratifying. This is true of EVERY scarce thing in your life. I’ve started applying this philosophy to my time and my relationships as well, and as I’ve delved deeper into personal finance, I’ve realized how money management is basically life management. Your money goes where you want it to go, and when that flow is in line with your own wishes, dreams, and goals, your entire life, not just your budget, is balanced. (Cue golden rays of light streaming down from the sky onto your wizened, upturned face.)
About halfway through the spring, I wanted to start getting serious about our budget. I knew I would not be getting a full paycheck during my maternity leave, and we would eventually be shelling out about $1000 a month for childcare. Up until this point, Britton was the only one monitoring our spending, and it was really only as a failsafe to keep us from over drafting. We weren’t budgeting at all. While searching for a convenient app, I came across YNAB or You Need a Budget which is set up to help you track credit card-based spending, to slowly age your money, and uses a methodology that is in line with my newfound belief in finding your priorities and focusing (almost) exclusively on them. Its flexibility allows us to move money from categories over time as our priorities change or as unexpected expenses (and sometimes just moods) come up. We both love budgeting with this app so much that I look forward to our semi-monthly budgeting meetings where we drink coffee and discuss where we are at with our current priorities and plans for the future. It’s about $7 a month for the app (I know – PAYING for a budgeting app sounded crazy to me too) but I am certain it has already saved us hundreds in overspending. If you’re interested in trying out YNAB, there’s a free 30-day trial no strings attached and tutorials like this one to get you started.
Some of those non-negotiable expenses we’ve discovered are travel, gifts, fitness, date night expenses like food and movie tickets, and building up our emergency fund. We are still working to “cut mercilessly” as there are so many fixed expenses in modern life. We’ve started grocery shopping at Aldi (which has a surprising selection of organic and plant-based foods) and we’ve started budgeting for “true” expenses like auto maintenance and medical care. It’s a great feeling to have money set aside for new tires or a sinus infection. There is no guilt, no worry. The money is already waiting for you. Knowing (and seeing) I have a little money in my allowance, I can spend freely on things that truly make me happy without any remorse. After all, this is what that money was meant for. I made the decision and followed through.
We’ve also spent a lot of time trying to find inexpensive or free alternatives to things we would normally purchase outright. The grand majority of our baby gear was gifted secondhand. The nightgowns I was living in for the first two weeks of my child’s life (ok, let’s face it, I am still in them) were purchased for $16 from Goodwill. And instead of buying a fancy nightgown that will ultimately get peed on, I am free to purchase a teething-friendly mala bead necklace with break-away clasp from Etsy at 3am to help me during meditation and to help my child focus on breastfeeding (Come on, E. Get it together here. Your Mom is next level tired.)
What’s most shocking to me is the number of conversations I’ve had with Britton about our future since starting this personal spending journey. We both want to retire early, to travel more, to reach certain milestones at work, and to have time to do the things we love every day. I’ve recently discovered I want to take a month or two to help baby E during the postpartum period when he has babies many years from now. We want to plan a gap year where the three of us travel the world together. I want to teach yoga while we travel and share the gifts that have been passed down to me by my mentors. I want to grow old with my best friend, to full mouth kiss him long after it’s sexy. I want to dance across the dining room with a dripping ladle of pasta sauce on family movie night (The Godfather, Part Two of course – age inappropriate). I want to rouse everyone in the middle of the night to go catch shooting stars like I did with my father. I want Baby E to feel the full wonder of the world, spreading out before him over an ocean or across rolling misted mountain tops. I want to feed my family lentil soup and vegetable dumplings and fried rice and the sweetest summer tomatoes. Family is essential to us, and our time together is life-giving. More so than ever, I know this to be true.
These are the things I have learned most clearly from my year of no shopping. What started out as a simple project has become a path to a happier life, and I am so grateful I went on this journey so many months ago, even with its ups and down. If you’re interested in starting a no-spend challenge, I would recommend starting at just a month or maybe a quarter year. I hope you find it has positive effects on not just your wallet.