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My Year of Buying Nothing

That time I saved money while saving myself

By Lee Simpson

I didn’t undertake my Year of Buying Nothing (YBN) as a cost-savings measure. That is one of the happy consequences of keeping my hands off of my wallet. For the mathematically minded, the net impact is a savings of approximately 15 to 21 percent compared to our average annual expenditure. For the downright persnickety, the range is offered because I opted out of a vacation that would have represented an expenditure over the average. Although we could have afforded a trip to Sicily, which isn’t the norm, we decided against it in the ethos of my YBN.

So where did I tally the biggest savings? Oddly enough, it appeared in previous years’ budgets as “walking-around money.” In the past, I routinely withdrew $50 every week and proceeded to blow it on, well, nothing much at all. Apparently, for some time, I used to fling cash at chocolate bars, nail polish, fancy soaps and impulse gift items, like that crystal bear for my grandson on Valentine’s Day. I was oblivious to the lack of walking-around money this year, however, although I still walked around. Of course, I still purchased bus tickets because that “walking around” translated into “bussing around” on occasion, and I had to take taxis a couple of times. But basically, I didn’t spent $2,000, and I didn’t even notice.

Not purchasing clothing, shoes, beauty products and limiting salon visits added another $1,500 to the savings. Admittedly, I was the recipient of thoughtful gifts from friends and family — things like manicures and beauty products — but not nearly at the level of my former impulse buying. Let’s just say that my toiletry drawer will no longer hide 21 eyeliners!

What I hankered for most was my monthly assignation with the magazine racks. My rule of “no books” was easy as I renewed my love affair with libraries. But printers’ ink courses through my veins, so going cold turkey on periodicals was simply killer. I bullied my husband into picking up F1 Magazine. Vogue’s September issue taunted me, though. And I wept when my daughter cancelled her subscription to Martha Stewart Living, denying my domestic décor fix. I stopped just short of haunting waiting rooms, gorging on ancient copies of Reader’s Digest. But I saved $1,000.

Eking out my craft supplies and raiding the kitchen for gift-giving was fun: baking bread and making candy, embroidering pillowcases, knitting scarves and painting — all savings of nearly $1,000.

A funny thing happened on the way to the grocery store early in my YBN. The first few weeks saw our weekly food expenditure actually shoot up. I thought it through and realized that despite not buying paper or plastic products, I had pantry-loaded food luxuries: bacon jam and triple crème cheese inflated both my waistline and budget.

In retrospect, I see that I was so accustomed to the “shopaholic” high that I substituted gourmet nibbles for paperbacks and perfume. Could this be satisfying some hard-wired hunter-gatherer craving?

So the bottom line is that our family bottom line is better. We can help the kids, take a trip or buy 300 magazines. Or not!


Rev. Lee Simpson is a writer in Lunenburg, N.S. New posts of YBN will appear every other Friday. You can also check out a short documentary about Lee at http://www.ucobserver.org/video/2014/04/ybn/.
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