Monday, May 23, 2011

Daddy Says It's Only For Emergencies. This is Definitely an Emergency

It's May 23! Thus ends my self-imposed non-consumer store/shopping ban.

Last month I decided to celebrate Earth Day by saying that for one month, I could not buy anything new (besides food) from a store. The point was to take a stand against our out of control spending culture, help the earth, save money, and really try to value the things I buy. If I don't value it, if I don't NEED it, then don't buy it!

So here is my report:

What I didn't buy: 
A clothesline. I needed one right away. Instead, I did this. It was awesome. It was a good choice. Happy feelings, everyone!

A couch. We don't have one. We need one. We have abundant space for one. I can justify buying a couch. I will value a couch. Alas, I couldn't buy one new and I haven't found a used one I like. Also, at the moment, there just isn't money for a couch. If I could have bought one new, it would have gone on my credit card and right now I need the money than I need the couch. I'm glad I had my shopping ban. It saved me from a not-so-great credit card debt.  I will buy one, hopefully used, when I can afford it. Patience. I don't need everything right now.

An oven. Again, I need the money more than I need the item. I'm glad I had my shopping ban. It's so much more fun this way. Not buying an oven and not having a stove paved the way for a little creativity, and re-using other appliances. In fact, today I am learning how to make an entire meal in nothing but a crock pot. Necessity is the mother of invention. And from that invention, I'm thinking I can hold off buying an oven/stove for a few years at least.

Chalk. I'm not finding used chalk anywhere. I made Ash a chalkboard, and I want chalk to go along with it. It's a valid purchase. I've made up my mind about it and can justify the cost ( I'll scrounge some coins). Now that my month is up, I will go buy some new chalk from the dollar store.

Stuff off of Amazon. This may be the first month in over a year that I haven't bought anything off Amazon, Ebay, or Amazing!

Impulse stuff. It seems that every time I go to a store I impulse-buy something ridiculous. But, since I didn't go into the store, I didn't see anything I didn't need and I wasn't tempted to buy junk. Hooray!

What I did buy:
Food. I also bought the ingredients to make laundry soap, but I considered that part of my food shopping as I bought it in a grocery store.

Home repair stuff from Home Depot and Lowes. In my defence, I didn't buy it, Drek did. But we did make several trips and bought several things. Yes, it was cheating. Yes, I'm sure there were ways around it, but I didn't care that much and Drek really didn't care at all.

Clothes. I hit the jackpot on Saturday when I arrived (at 7am!) to a garage sale with baby clothes. The price: $1 a grocery bag and you could stuff in as much clothes into one bag as you liked. My only restriction was the amount of clothes she had available to buy. It was awesome. I only spent $2, but I got LOTS of clothes. At another garage sale I found two new dresses for me and some new shirts for Drek. $1 total. And that's why I love garage sales.

A toddler bed, a tricycle, ladders, cabinets, a garage work table,  a set of bath toy alphabet foam letters, school work books, cabinets, DVD's, horseshoes... All from yard sales. All for super, super cheap. All of them have some funny or happy story about the person I bought it from. All bring a smile to my face. Did I need all of that stuff? No. Actually, sometimes I only bought it because the price was so awesome ($1 for a  DVD! They had all the Harry Potter movies! It only cost me $6! I was going to spend that much renting them from RedBox when we had our Harry Potter movie marathon leading up to Harry Potter 7.5!) So, not so great on the "valuing what I buy" front, and terrible on the minimalism front, but I did buy them used, from a yard sale. The items are being loved and used rather than thrown in a landfill, and the money went to real people (awesome people) instead of  mean corporations. I paid in cash, so no debt was accrued, and like I said, each one was a great shopping experience.

Probably the best one was when Drek and I stopped at a yard sale a few blocks from our house. They were selling an extension ladder, which Drek had wanted to buy at Home Depot, but wasn't willing to pay the $175 for it. Drek asked how much, the guy said $50, and Drek said sold. He went home to get the cash and left me with instruction so see if I could also get the dolly (marked at $50), the horseshoes and the tricycle. I went into full haggling mode: I walked around the ladder, poked it, and said "it's really dirty. How old is it?" And the guy said "Old. It's old and dirty. Like me." And he laughed, his brother laughed and I laughed. It was pretty funny. The guy was pretty old. So we joked and haggled over the other items and by the time Drek came back it cost us $56 total for everything plus a few more things. And we had made a friend.

Lesson learned:
Not-buying things new from stores is great. It takes more time, more creativity, but it also saves money, is more rewarding and is way more fun. I'm so glad I did this. I consider it a highly successful endeavor. I strongly recommend it to everyone. Especially Americans living in America.

I want to make this a permanent part of my life. Of course, there will have to be exceptions: It's ridiculous to take little things like chalk to an extreme, but the little things add up, so there still needs to be boundaries. As Krisling pointed out in the comments last month: I will need to buy some clothes brand new. And that is fine, as long as there are still boundaries. So I'm not quite sure how it will work: Do I get a certain number of exceptions per month? Should I have a shopping ban every other month? The sustainable answer is just to be cautious and wise about what I buy, but I don't think I'm that point yet. If I hadn't had a month long ban on shopping, I would have bought a clothesline, a couch, an oven, possibly a dryer, and I would have taken a few trips to Wal Mart and made several impulse-buys. That would NOT have been ok! We absolutely cannot afford that right now! The earth cannot handle that kind of consumerism. I cannot get everything I want right now, or I will only want more things right now and be forever miserable. So I need some rules. Suggestions are appreciated!


  1. You have so much more self-control than I do. I have definitely purchased at least one thing a month off of Amazon for the past 3 year. I have a major book buying addiction.

  2. It sounds like you were inspired to do this just when you did--a time when you would have otherwise shopped. Staying out of debt is wise. I wish we had done it. We're working Dave Ramsey's plan to get out. Meanwhile, how about using the envelope system for cash?

    We use Quicken to save for major purchases and expenses. Transfer the $$ to a savings account, and then when we record it, we also record a "hold" in the account, so the money doesn't show as part of the available balance. It is earmarked for car registration, a trip to see the grandchildren, etc. It takes time, but we got to go to see the fam for Easter and loved it! And we bought our tickets at a great price on

    It's true that the more we have the more we want. I've never gotten into the garage sale thing, though I keep meaning to try. I got a set of free food-storage shelves from work--they were throwing them out because one shelf is broken a little. At one garage sale last summer the lady gave me, free of charge, a silk bridal bouquet in exactly the right colors to rejuvenate mine. She even tried to get me to take the second one! And I hadn't even purchased a thing. We were just out for a walk.

  3. Perhaps inserting a week long delay on all non-vital purchases? When you see something you want and you don't need it (ie it's not food, medicine, or something that will save your life) see if you can get by without a week by using something you already own. If you can get by, re-evaluate how the purchase will help you/save you time and effort, and decide if it's really worth it. Chances are high you'll have forgotten about it anyway.

    Also perhaps avoid sales and things that will not be available by waiting that week. Try putting this delay in for a while so you can better evaluate the difference between "urgent" and "important."

    I know some people give it 24 hours, but I find that a day is too short for me. I have a lot of purchases that I need to get around to someday (like a portable hard drive), but I am finding that by waiting even a little while I'm saving myself a ton of money (I generally try to wait 2 days).

    Oh, and this might not work for you, but I unofficially give myself a "splurge" allowance. I have money set aside and I don't care what happens to it.* When I want to buy something on impulse, I use splurge money. For me, all cash I receive is splurge money. Cash doesn't feel real anyway, so it works nicely.

    *I got this idea from my sister. She uses PayPal for all non-essential purchases. There's a set allowance she puts in there and that's her fun money. If it's gone, it's gone.

    Whatever you find that works for you, let us know! You have some really great ideas on this blog, and I love reading about your latest adventures and thoughts.

  4. As a matter of fact, we already do use the envelope system for cash! We've been using it since the first of the year! I am a huge fan! I also really like Dave Ramsey.

    Balgram: I love the idea of a week long delay. What a fantastic regulation system! You are a genius. And, actually, MY paypal account is used for my non essential purchases. It's harder to spend paypal money (I don't have it linked to a bank account and I don't have a paypal credit card) so when I find a place that accepts paypal, I consider the purchase free! Too funny!

  5. Toshi says:

    Now here is my suggestion for sofa/couch. I just went to the craigslist. There are a few furnitures for free. If you want sofa, I would probably pick one for free whether you like the design or not. Make sure, no smoker and stuff... then if you do not like the color, go to WalMart, get some cloth for your sofa, measure how big the sofa is, and then make the cover for it, so that you can have your favorite color or something. May not look the best, but you can still have nice sofa for very small amount of money. I do not know if you have a sewing machin, but if you do not have it, I think Anna has one, so you can go and sew up easily:) Do you think it is a good idea?? Oh well, if it is, that's great. At least some free fanitures worse getting it:)
    By Toshi (edited for names and places)

    That is a great idea, Toshi! I do have a sewing machine! That is a great idea.


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