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My Year of Buying Nothing

That time I treated myself to a small rant

By Lee Simpson

Wits far braver and brighter than I often debate the folly of buying without being able to pay for it. So I break no ground here. Like most, I held a mortgage, fished the aisles of Home Depot with a line of credit and have gone out on a financial limb for education as I built my life. I displayed normative behaviour as I calculated the limits of what I could afford at any given moment and then the following year. I subtracted the difference and then ate a lot of rice and beans until I bridged the gap. Mostly, it worked out for me, as it does for countless others.

It doesn’t work out well for everyone, however: Canada has become one of the most heavily indebted countries in the world. Not national debt; it’s actually less horrendous these days relatively speaking (At least I think that’s right; when economists speak in trillions of debt instead of billions, I tend to zone out.). No, what I’m addressing is personal debt: how much we, as individuals, owe. We are at all-time high levels of indebtedness.

But you sure as heck wouldn’t know it by the participants in the weird sports event known as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. What is this game? Who invented — or more accurately — imported this abomination? How on earth has Canada justified the adoption of a celebration, in which folks give abundant thanks for what they have and then morph straight into a gorge-fest of purchasing every single, shiny thing they haven’t? It’s not even OUR holiday! It has become, however, a profitable annual event for our mass retailers apparently, as they glory in counting up our hard-earned loonies and toonies on Tallying-Up Tuesday.

My Year of Buying Nothing (YBN) has made me acutely aware of my frivolous purchasing. You can’t justify ownership of 21 shades of lipstick. I could build a second home of books and magazines if I pulped them and added concrete. But, come on people: get a grip when it comes to those big ticket items — figuratively speaking, of course! Despite HGTV`s fondest dreams, there is no rule that a starter home must come with marble countertops. And because a certain wedding dress show describes a $1,500 gown as a “bargain” does not mean you should start at $5,000 when you budget for that day. It’s messed up logic to believe that we can save enough on bogo tops to justify a $40,000 automobile if you earn $40,000 per annum. And there is nothing healthy about low interest rates on an 84-month car loan. Just check the re-sale value of eight-year-old cars!

Yes, Black Friday is as much a plague as its namesake epidemic because it makes us feel we can save money by buying. That is flawed thinking, in my opinion, not to mention poor math. The only way to save money — now and ever — is simply by not buying.

And, Dear Reader, you have hung in with me during my YBN, so my next blog will divulge how much I did save this year. Budgeting was not the point but a nice bonus nonetheless.

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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