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A Buy-Nothing Year: The Highs, The Lows, The Balance Sheet

April 29, 2020

I still can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that I just went a whole year without buying. At this time last year, I decided to give myself this gift for my birthday and I can tell you I have no regrets today.

It’s not all roses

As I shared with you mid-year, on several occasions this challenge led me to question myself and to better define what’s essential for me. I’ve had great victories, but also moments when I felt that I had failed.

I rarely allow myself to make mistakes and when I stray from the path I’ve set for myself, I see it as failure. The hardest part of this challenge for me was the clothes. I love to buy them, wear my new purchases, follow trends and discover new creators. Seeing my loved ones and my colleagues renew their wardrobe every season was therefore a real torment of Tantalus (I know, I’m dramatizing).

I had the opportunity to travel to New York last November with two friends ready to refrain from entering stores to help me avoid temptation. I didn’t want to spoil their experience and I love shopping. So I decided that this typical New York attraction wouldn’t be excluded from our trip. Well, what had to happen happened. On site, I bought three pieces of clothing: a coat that I fell in love with, a sweater from a company that favours eco-friendly production and sustainable fabrics, as well as a skirt that I had wanted for several months (ah, self-justification).

I was so happy in that moment, but when I got back the guilt really sunk in. I dared not wear my new clothes for fear of being “unmasked”. Don't get me wrong, this really wasn’t that point of this challenge and it was out of the question that transforming my relationship towards the material be done through guilt. Ultimately, it's not healthy! So I decided to take this experience for what it is: an experience. I am happy with the choices I’ve made; I don’t hide them anymore and I don’t associate these purchases with failure, but rather with learning.

Making room for what really matters

At the end of this challenge, the positive significantly outweighs the negative. You can’t imagine the pride I felt the day I had saved the symbolic three months' salary, or when I kept my credit card balance at zero every month, or when throughout the year I realized that I inspired those around me. Many people have told me that they started reflecting on their spending habits or have challenged themselves to a buy-nothing month just to see (including my daughter's father). Some of them have even started a year-long challenge!

The most valuable lesson I’ve learned from this adventure is to make room for what really matters to me, and to be open to opportunities that arise (sometimes surprisingly and strangely) along the way. For instance, this year:

  • I shared memorable moments with my loved ones and tried activities that I wouldn’t have under normal circumstances.
  • I was invited to CBC Radio One to talk about my challenge.
  • I started the certification process of the KonMari method by going to a seminar in New York—yes, I admit I'm a fan of Marie Kondo and I confirm she’s as energetic in person as on screen.
  • I completed professional training in space organization.
  • I launched my business as an professional organizer.

You have to admit, it’s all a little crazy!

The final assessment

I promised to be candid when sharing my experience with you, so here is my final balance sheet detailing my expenses and the portion of my income they took up:

Percentage of my income dedicated to each budget item

Category

Start of year status

January to December 2018

Challenge Report

January 2019 to January 2020

Difference

2018 vs. 2019

Savings and insurance

5.97%

24.62%

+18.65%

Food

29.13%

21.59.%

-7.71%

Housing

22.26%

16.03%

-6.23%

Daycare/school and RESP

2.04%

11.48%

+9.44%

Hobbies and vacation

11.88%

11.84%

-0.04%

Transportation

4.45%

5.26%

+0.81%

Telecom

4.37%

3.81%

-0.56%

Retail Stores

13.52%

5.37%

-14.53%

Health

4.28%

Various

2.10%

 

I’m very proud to have successfully increased my savings and reduced my food expenses (cutting back on restaurants). I renegotiated my home insurance and reduced my cell phone plan to really reflect my usage. On the other hand, my daughter left daycare to start elementary school. This involved several expenses including day camp in the summer, hence the increase in this budget item.

I had the goal to increase my leisure and vacation budget, but I didn’t succeed; this is a beautiful problem that I will continue to work on. My transportation costs increased slightly since I made more trips to visit my loved ones.

Finally, my greatest pride (and the ultimate objective of this challenge): I reduced my expenses for material purchases (clothing, accessories, furniture/decoration, make-up, etc.) by almost 19%.

Full disclosure, here’s a list of my purchases in the last six months:

  • Mascara: It’s recommended to change it regularly.
  • Fall clothing for my daughter: Once again, I stuck to the basics while involving my daughter in the choice of colours and patterns. After all, she’s the one who wears them!
  • Three pairs of black pants: At the end of 2018, I bought four pairs of black jeans. Only a few months later, they were all completely washed out and faded despite all my precautions when doing laundry. I decided to invest in new pairs of black pants made of technical, durable fabrics produced in an eco-friendly manner.
  • Hair Dye: After sharing my insecurities with collogues from marketing (who were super understanding), I decided this was essential.
  • Three pieces of clothing in New York.
  • One bra: It was time to replace an old dead bra.

Also, I can’t wrap up this challenge without mentioning the immense moral support of my friends, colleagues and family, who were very puzzled that I embark on this somewhat crazy adventure, but also very curious about its progress.

If you feel like taking on this kind of challenge for a year, for six months or only for a month, don't hesitate any longer: do it! It is a valuable personal growth experience that pays off from a financial standpoint, but also long-term in all areas of your life.

 

Finally, if you’re curious like me and want to learn more about minimalism, the zero waste movement, the KonMari method or the different ways to simplify your daily life and make room for what really matters, come chat with me on Instagram at @joelleorganisation.

It was a real pleasure to share this experience with you!

Joëlle Cloutier

 

See also

A “Buy Nothing” Year as a Mom? Challenge Accepted!

A Buy-Nothing Year: Halfway Point Already (Finally)!

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