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An Experiment in Mindful Spending

June 5, 2019

About a month ago, I was listening to Young House Love Has a Podcast, something I usually do while cleaning or putting laundry away. I was working my way through their past episodes when I got to episode 93, in which John and Sherry talk about Cait Flanders‘ book The Year of Less, and set a challenge for themselves: an entire month of no superfluous shopping. That means no Starbucks, no trips to Target “just for fun,” NO AMAZON PURCHASES. They wanted not only to save money but try to break themselves of the Ariana Grande “I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it” mentality, something I have definitely struggled with. You should see our recycling bin, currently packed full of Amazon boxes. Oof.

After listening to John and Sherry talk about how they would implement a month-long shopping ban and listing the rules that they would follow, I realized that this could be beneficial for me (and Peter) too. I opened up our Mint account and took a look at the purchases I had made in the last month, and you guys…I was shook. I had spent nearly $750 on Amazon in April, and most of it was unnecessary. There were things that I felt justified in purchasing, like new maternity clothes for summer (everything from my first pregnancy was fall/winter, and Florida is already an oven), but there were also a lot of fridge and pantry organization items and several books…and we didn’t need any of it. It was money that could have been put toward our credit cards or saving for a new house.

I sat there looking at my spending habits, and I felt awful. I couldn’t keep spending like this if we ever wanted to save up for a new house, but I also couldn’t place the blame solely on myself. Peter has his own spending issues too, to be sure! His spending isn’t on physical goods like mine is, instead, it’s eating out at work. For him, going out to lunch can typically run around $10-$15, but I’ve seen them creep up closer to $20-$25 sometimes. Doing that 5 days a week really adds up! We both could use a reset in our spending habits, and I thought a month-long shopping ban would definitely help.

So, for the month of June, that’s what we’re going to do. We’ve set up a list of rules that are applicable to our household and habits, and defined a budget. Now, we just have to stick to it. Here are the rules we came up with:

What We’re Allowed to Buy:
– Groceries and kids’ snacks according to our meal plan
– Once a week beer/wine purchase (2x 6 pack of choice or 2-3 bottles wine; once it’s gone, bitters and soda!)
– Twice a month dinner out as a family
– Once a week Peter out to lunch or food truck at work
– Movie rentals on Amazon/iTunes, but only as a family event (i.e. no movies/tv shows for just one person, but we don’t do this often to begin with)
– Gifts for others

What We’re NOT Allowed to Buy:
Impulse groceries (treats from the bakery, ice cream bars, random snacks, magazines at checkout, etc)
– Fast food, including Starbucks
– Amazon
– Target
– Clothing and shoes (except to replace something that has broken)
– New toiletries and cosmetics
– Home décor
– Books and magazines (this should be easy, we have a library close by that we like)
– Electronics and apps

Some of these rules may seem pretty restrictive, like banning Amazon and Target entirely. My decision for that is three-fold.

Reason one: there is too much temptation for me to buy random stuff when I go to Target – I’ll walk in needing a box of diapers for Ben and walk out with a cart full of stuff…and have forgotten the diapers entirely. Whoops.

Reason two: the things that I often order on Amazon, like collagen protein powder for my coffee or a specific brand of fruit bar for Ben, are often unnecessary. I don’t need the collagen powder, and Ben is perfectly happy eating whole fruits (he’s currently stealing my apple slices as I type).

Reason three: Shopping is a coping mechanism I need to address. If I’m having a bad day, or I’m bored, Amazon is often the first place I turn to. What book is trending? What is the newest skincare product? Ooh, there’s a cute vase that would look great in our bedroom. Check out that nifty kitchen gadget, I need that. The instant gratification of clicking the “buy now” button isn’t a healthy way to deal with stress or boredom, and I need to find better ways of coping with those feelings.

I’m very lucky to have a partner like Peter. He has never shamed me for my spending, agrees that we both have areas in which we could improve, and thinks that this will be a beneficial experiment both for our bank account and our personal relationships with money. It’s my hope that we can stick to these rules for the month of June, and potentially even longer. Imagine what we could save in a year!

I want us to be accountable with this, so I’ll be sure to update here how things are going. After the month is over, I’ll do a rundown of how the experiment went, what we learned, and hopefully, what we managed to save!

-A


If you want to read more about Cait’s year-long shopping ban but don’t want to buy the book, check out her summary here, which has an excellent infographic at the bottom about others who have attempted a shopping ban!

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