It’s easy to get caught up in a cycle of consumerism.
Shopping and errands begets more shopping and errands.
Before you know it, your quest to live a more intentional life is drowned out by stuff.
One possible solution is the No-Buy Year, also known as a No-Spend Year: one year dedicated to cutting out extraneous purchases in order to reset your spending habits.
With the new year approaching, it’s the perfect time to think about adopting a no-buy year challenge.
In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of a no-buy year, the challenge rules, and necessary preparation. Included are 8 examples of people who attempted a no-spend year.
The Benefits of a No-Buy Year
Limit Purchases To Save Money
By spending less on nonessential items, you will save money. In the examples below, many were able to pay off debt during their no-spend challenge.
Whether your savings goes into a bank or retirement account, or if you choose to re-allocate money for a meaningful vacation or experience, the money saved on smaller purchases will accumulate quickly.
The no-buy year will put your spending habits and budget under a microscope, both during the challenge and in the future.
A No-Buy Year is Environmentally-Friendly
When we consume products, we place a higher demand on manufacturing and logistics. Reduce the amount of things you purchase, and your household will automatically have a lower carbon footprint.
Simply put, a no-buy year is good for the environment.
A limit put on personal care products, for example, may persuade you to use up what you already have before you’re “allowed” to buy another product. This results in less waste and fewer trips to the store.
Reset Consumerist Tendencies During a No-Buy Year
Much like fasting (abstaining from eating food for a specific duration), a no-buy year will help to clear your mind from impulse purchases and the automatic tendency to shop or browse.
Fasting from anything reintroduces a better perspective.
More Time for Other Endeavors
As a result of a no-buy year, you’ll lighten emotional burdens and you will have more time and energy to focus on other things.
If you’re looking to tackle a no-buy year to help you in a journey to minimalism, you’ll be able to spend more time decluttering (instead of shopping). More time will be spent on re-assessing purchases, which can trickle down into re-assessing the items you already own.
Also, living with less enables an energy shift so you can contribute to your chosen mission: the thing that provides us with the most fulfillment and happiness.
The benefits of a no-buy year are boundless. Now, on to how to accomplish this challenge.
Set Your Goal for Your No-Buy Year
Like minimalism, the reasons behind consuming and owning less are different for everyone. Your experience will be vastly different from someone else’s.
To start, determine your goals.
- Are you spending less in order to save money?
- Are you limiting shopping in order to stop the power that consumerism holds?
- Are you prioritizing using what you already have so you can cut down on clutter?
- Or something else?
These goals are vastly different. Some are financially-focused. Others are more emotional.
By naming your goals first, it will help you determine your list of rules effectively.
The Rules of a No-Buy Year
Despite its name, “No-Buy” doesn’t mean “don’t buy anything.”
In fact, “rules” should be used loosely as well.
A no-buy year is what you make it. The experience is different for everyone, because it depends on your overall goals.
To determine your rules, first write a list of approved purchases. These may include things like:
- Consumable goods
- Replacement items
- Experiences or vacations
Second, write down a list of things you’ll abstain from buying. Some examples:
- Clothing and decor
- Online courses
- Dining out
Your approved purchases list may include some items from the “disapproved” list, or visa versa. Set your own rules, and you’ll have a customized plan to make the most out of your experience.
How to Prepare for a No-Buy Year
After you set your goals and chose your rules to help you accomplish your goals, there are a few things you can do to prepare financially, mentally, and physically.
Start a List For Purchases
Even though you set out to buy nothing, things will come up. By documenting your purchases, you’ll be able to see clearly where your experiment needed to account for exceptions.
Some things you may want to keep track of are:
- Date of purchase
- Name of store or online supplier
- Reason for purchase
- Whether or not this purchase broke your “rules”
A spreadsheet or a handwritten list will be fine.
Think About How You’ll Spend Your Time
A no-buy year requires some mental preparation.
One of the benefits of a spend-free year is that you’ll have more time to focus on other matters.
If you’re unprepared for these new blocks of time, it will be easy to slip into old shopping habits out of boredom. Or, you may fall into other unhealthy habits.
Will you declutter your home? Will you focus on self-improvement? Will you pick up a new hobby? Will you reconnect with old friends?
Setting goals for other areas of your life will help you stay committed to your no-buy year.
Start Small With A No-Spend Month
You don’t have to commit to 365 days of no shopping from the start.
With any new habit, it’s best to ease into it in order to see success.
2021 is around the corner, but that doesn’t mean your no-buy year has to start on January 1st. You can start with a no-spend month, and then start your no-buy year whenever you’re ready.
Below are several examples of people who took on the challenge of a no-buy year. Their stories can help inspire you to see what approach will work best.
8 No-Buy Year Examples
The Happy Philosopher: No Clothes For One Year Turned Into a Complete No-Buy Year
The Happy Philosopher realized in January 2018 that important moments were being squashed by consumerism.
For the blogger, the “experiment is about getting rid of one more distraction (shopping), about discomfort, about fear. It is about doing something just to see if I can do it. It is about consuming less and throwing away less.” He was looking for a simple and uncomplicated life.
His no-buy year rules included things like:
- Consumables like personal goods, household products, and of course food, are ok to purchase.
- Eating at restaurants is ok.
- He will prioritize maintaining or repairing what he already owns.
- Replacement items, experiences, travel, and necessary repairs are allowed.
- Gifts, greeting cards, and stuff in general are banned.
- His wife isn’t allowed to make purchases for him.
Throughout the year, The Happy Philosopher made a few necessary purchases, but gave up. He said he “learned what he needed to know” and decided to move on.
Aimee Rebecca: A No-Buy 2020 Challenge
Aimee made a lot of personal changes, like reading self-help books, becoming vegetarian, shopping less, and meditating. However, she admitted, “I still feel like I’m trapped in the quicksand of consumerism,” and decided to adopt a no-spend year for her 2020 New Year’s Resolution.
Her rules included restricting normal “stuff” purchases like clothes, decor, and books. Other items were limited, like takeout, beauty products, and alcoholic drinks.
Halfway through the year, she realized she saved a lot of money and used up hundreds of dollars worth of products she already owned.
She made an important discovery: “Before you go out and buy something, try to borrow it or get it for free first.” Thus, freebies and borrowing items were approved for Aimee’s journey.
So far, her journey hasn’t been purchase-free, but she intends to stick to her no-buy challenge for the rest of 2020 and to continue implementing intentional living daily.
TEDx: Lucia Gonzales Schuett
Lucia Gonzales Schuett shared the details of her year without buying on the TEDx stage. She started because she came from a childhood of abundance, and then found herself in a career in fast fashion, and knew something needed to change.
In 2018, she decided only to buy food in her no-buy year.
She missed shopping as a means of entertainment. She missed the pleasure of opening a new product for the very first time.
However, she found joy in reusing old items or making the most out of free product samples. Decluttering and donating became a rewarding activity.
By the time Black Friday came, she found she didn’t desire anything that was advertised to her. She prioritized repairing clothes, shoes, and household appliances, and borrowing once-in-a-while items from neighbors.
Lucia’s no-buy year was insightful and rewarding. She uncovered new physical space, and saved time and money. And most importantly, she refocused her energy toward things that really matter.
Dr. McFrugal Accepted The No-Buy Challenge
In response to The Happy Philosopher’s year-long experiment, Dr. McFrugal joined the challenge in 2019. Even though him and his wife were already frugal and minimalist, they know they could improve.
His reasoning? “Our primary motivation is to reduce the mindless consumption, destruction, and waste that our linear economy unfortunately creates. We want to inspire others to be more mindful, live more simply, contribute to a more circular economy, realize the benefits of minimalism, be less wasteful, and consume more consciously. In essence, we want to make the world a better place.”
Dr. McFrugal carefully documented each month on his blog. Throughout the year, he shared purchases he made, most of which were covered by exceptions to his rules, including a new car, a new bed, and some baby items.
As the year progressed, he notes how much they decluttered and how they got by during some months not buying items for their newborn.
In his last post, Dr. McFrugal says, “Overall, my wife and I didn’t buy a whole lot. The buy nothing challenge wasn’t particularly hard for us. Frugality and saving money is sort of fun (for us).” He was appreciative of the challenge because it caused them to become even more conscious in their spending.
Lara Joanna Jarvis’s No Spend Year Changed Her Life
YouTuber Lara Joanna Jarvis shared her 2019 no-buy journey with her subscribers, and in her summary video she talks about how the experience changed her life.
As a result, Lara is now:
- Financially free,
- Saving for her dream home,
- In control of her finances,
- Conscious of her consumerism,
- Aware of her impact on sustainability,
- More in tune with her emotions, and is
- Able to share her new knowledge with her children.
Hannah Louise Poston is a Recovering Shopping Addict
Hannah Louise Poston is another YouTuber who participated in a no-buy year in 2018. As a luxury makeup and skincare fan, a lot changed for her during her entire journey:
- Her sense of value: she now pays attention to the repercussions of products she buys.
- Budgeting: she budgets for her favorite items instead of shopping without thinking.
- Finances: Hannah stopped using a credit card (and paid hers off in the 9th month of her no-buy year).
- Identity: Her identity detached from her belongings and her compulsive consumerism, and she is more in touch with her emotions.
- Shopping: She no longer shops with the frantic energy she was used to.
- Her no-buy year brought her contentment and self-acceptance.
The Personal Philosophy Project Has a Renewed Sense of Self-Worth
YouTuber Cinzia Dubois cut out a lot of “stuff” in her 2019 no-buy year. Even takeout coffee and alcohol.
In her summary video, she says, “After 12 months, my life has totally transformed for the better and I still cannot believe how this casual challenge turned into such a huge life-changing experience for me. Not only have I overcome my shopping-addiction, but I've developed a new, healthy relationship with money, consumerism and self-worth.”
One Empty Shelf Did a Buy Nothing 2015
As one of the early-adopters, Sal of One Empty Shelf did a “buy-nothing 2015.” She experienced struggles, especially working in retail.
As her no-buy year progressed, she decided to relax her rules in order to make necessary purchases without feeling bad.
On changing her approach, Sal said:
“I wouldn’t look back on it as a failure. In fact, I feel like I’ve grown and changed more than any other year. learnt more, experienced more, and appreciate what I’ve got at a whole new level. I loved the freedom from consumerism of the first months, and am hoping to carry that forward on a smaller scale.”
A No-Buy Year Is Always Successful
Everyone’s experience with a no-buy year is different.
Even if you believe you’ve failed, I urge you to reconsider.
As outlined in the examples above, a no-buy year can:
- Change your relationship to shopping.
- Allow you to be more conscious of your choices.
- Give you a sense of personal growth.
As Sal said, “Don’t look upon it as a success/failure thing. Just view it as an adventure, as an experiment, and treasure the knowledge you gain as a result.”
Join The No-Buy Movement
There is value in discipline.
Participate in a no-buy challenge for a length of time that you determine.
You can abstain from anything using my guidelines:
- Choose the influence to fast from. Here, you would outline your own rules and approved purchases for your no-buy challenge.
- Choose a period of time for your experience. Attempt a day, a week, a month, or a year. The choice is yours.
- Make arrangements. Prepare adequately for your no-buy challenge.
- Embrace the discipline. Expect the beginning to be difficult.
- Find meaning in defeat. Don’t lose heart if you give in during your experiment. Examine your failure, and try again.
- Re-enter slowly. Reintroduce purchases into your life deliberately. Keep in mind the knowledge you gained during your process.