Buying things, making purchases, spending money — it’s something most people do daily. There are the necessities we simply can’t live without: food, rent or a mortgage, utilities, phone bills. Then there are the little nonessentials that consume our time and money: eating out, takeaway coffees, new clothes, decor and home goods, the latest electronics, supplies for hobbies, and all those little bits and bobs that are picked up without a second thought.
When I began my minimalist and low waste journey three years ago, shopping was one of the first aspects of my life to receive a massive overhaul. I became what I thought was a conscious and mindful shopper. I always brought my keep cup for takeaway coffee or tea, I eschewed fast fashion and instead bought my new clothes from sustainable, environmentally friendly (and often locally based) designers, I bought all natural makeup, I used natural and compostable cleaning tools and products, I chose low waste options for office supplies and stationery. What more could I possibly do?
Even though I was buying with low waste and minimalist principles in mind, I was constantly making unnecessary purchases. It’s a habit that’s been ingrained into most of us from an early age: shopping is good, so good in fact that people like to indulge in retail therapy from time to time; it’s a way to show people you care; it’s something to do with friends and family. Until I challenged myself to a no spend month, I’d never considered just how many changes I could make to cut down on my consumption. I could have made tea and coffee at home; I didn’t need new clothes, I wanted them; I was enticed by the latest eco-friendly and low waste products, even though some of them were gimmicks or simply green-washed products that did nothing to reduce my waste; I already had enough office supplies and craft supplies for my hobbies to last years.
An essential and continuous part of my minimalist and low waste lifestyle is reducing my consumption. Consumption is an inevitable part of living on this earth, but it’s also something nearly all of us can improve on, and that’s why I chose to undertake my first no-spend month.
I set upon my no spend month with no expectations. I thought I could go a month without buying anything that didn’t count as an essential item, but I’d never kept myself accountable for all the little purchases I made throughout the month. Though I experienced a few little bumps along the way (especially in the third week, when not being able to buy those little bits and bobs started to get to me), I completed my first no spend month with relative ease and enjoyment. It became a habit to check if each purchase was a necessity and not a passing want, and, without thinking about it, I carried on with my no spend for another month. No spend months are something I still embark on once every few months, as a reminder to always be conscious of my spending and consumption habits.
Regardless of one’s intentions for a no spend month, it isn’t about deprivation. You shouldn’t feel miserable and deprived, nor should you feel bad or guilty if you make a mistake. No spend months are all about being cognizant of finances, resources, consumption, and material goods. It’s about learning and progress, not perfection.
For me, a no spend month looks something like this:
- Food, rent, and bills are all excluded
- No new clothes or shoes
- No additional makeup or skincare products (refills of staple products are allowed)
- No new homegoods (especially candles) or office supplies
- No takeaway drinks
- Limited eating out
- A focus on free activities, rather than costly ones
- For hobbies (knitting, reading, writing, yoga, etc) focus on what I already have and find no cost options (such as the library and free online yoga classes); necessary purchases only
A no spend month should never feel like a punishment. I always accommodate no spend months to fit around my schedule and life. No spend months are not a one size fits all method. For example, I choose to exempt the occasional lunch or dinner out with friends and family, as having a meal with loved ones is one of the main ways I see people and is a great boost for my mental health. For other people, this may be frivolous and wasteful and something they choose to omit (you could always have people over for a meal instead).
Embarking on no spend months has been one of the most freeing and rewarding things I’ve done in the past year and has taught me numerous and invaluable lessons to apply to my low waste and minimalist lifestyle.
→ True need vs want
When I want to make non-essential purchases today, I add them to a list on my computer and tell myself I’ll check the list in a month. If I still want it, I’ll order it. Only once in the past six months have I actually ordered one of the numerous items I’ve added to my “wants” list.
→ Less food + plastic waste
My food waste has decreased dramatically. Before my no spend months, I often tossed out a handful of unused, rotten produce each week. I now plan with intention and make a point to use all perishable goods. Plus, fewer purchases means far less rubbish getting tossed into the bin. It’s a win-win.
→ Huge decreases in material consumption with deprivation
I have never felt miserable or as if I was missing out on a no spend. So often, we are sold the idea that we need the latest and the greatest to be happy. Going without all those little extras (while making allowances for expenses that bring me joy, like activities with friends and family), showed me how little I actually need to be happy.
→ Getting creative
No spend months have made me more creative both with my hobbies (such as finding knitting projects for leftover yarn, rather than buying a new skein as soon as I’d used up most of one) and with my cooking. For most no spends, I try to stick to basic, nutritious grocery lists. I’ve always loved to cook, and no spends have made me quite inventive when it comes to meals and recipes, making an effort to use up all the food we’ve purchased for the week rather than having to throw out what’s gone bad.
→ More free time
I never considered the amount of time I spent browsing around online shops. Everyone around me had tabs upon tabs of stores open in their browsers. At university I’d watch as the person sitting in front of me in the lecture theatre scrolled through countless rows of clothing; out with friends, we would try on clothes and browse shops for cute knick-knacks; if I wanted to destress or couldn’t sleep, I’d look at home goods and clothes I wanted to order. Without knowing it, I gave myself far more time to do things that I really enjoyed but I hadn’t realized I was missing out on. I started reading more, I took up knitting again, I practiced yoga regularly. These days, everyone seems short on time. Granted, most of us lead busy lives, but often some of the rush and briskness and wasted time in life is self-imposed.
→ More savings
Although I wasn’t trying to make any drastic cuts to my spending for financial reasons, it’s certainly not to say I wasn’t happy with my savings. At the end of each of my no spend months, there’s always been more money than normal to put aside for big ticket items, like holidays and the down payment for our first home.
→ Awareness + grounding
Before embarking on my first no spend, I was not aware of just how much time I spent thinking about purchases. That focus now gets applied to other areas of my life, such as on study, blogging, and enjoying my favorite hobbies. No spend months tend to have a lasting effect, too. While I make a few purchases in the months following a no spend, they are all carefully considered and meaningful items. If I ever find myself mindlessly consuming, I like to implement a no spend month with guidelines that reflect my current situation.
→ Happiness + a sense of relief
By the time I consciously stopped my no spend (there was a cute tea towel I absolutely loved and had to have), I realized I’d found a sense of relief in giving up my old spending habits. I no longer felt pressured to have the newest things, trends mattered less, what others thought was less important. A no spend is by no means a magical panacea for stress, wealth, and good mental health, but it does work wonders for creating a conscious and principled mindset for material consumption.