A ‘buy nothing’ week might seem trivial, but even curbing your spending for a short time can mean wins that go well beyond the savings.
By Celina Siriyos
My full-time job pays me once a month, which means twelve times a year I get to feel like a high roller. Suddenly I have the means to recreate pretty much any music video that’s set in a limousine or nightclub. As you do.
However, it can also mean 33 days between pay packets, and those last few days are not pretty.
Last month was one of those looooong months.
So, after reading about a pair of roommates who had a ‘buy nothing’ year and saved $55,000, I’ve taken it upon myself to throw in a ‘buy nothing week’ as a kind of diet for my debit card.
It’s fairly self-explanatory: buy nothing except essentials for a week.
For me ‘essentials’ means basic groceries (no pre-packaged snacks), public transport and anything to do with my health. In other words, I wasn’t prepared to cancel my Pilates membership for a week. Plus in the event that I needed some kind of life-saving surgery, I would drop cash on it.
Yes, voluntary poverty assumes a certain level of privilege. But the point isn’t to spend as little as possible, but rather to spend mindfully.
Day 0: Monday
I decide to start on a Tuesday because a long weekend is a terrible time to start any lifestyle experiment.
For this buy nothing week I happen to be living alone, which means I can’t pick at other people’s food.
My fridge contains the royal spoils of: several iterations of mayonnaise, two eggs, butter and ginger beer.
I buy $45 worth of groceries in preparation; it’s sensible stuff like carrots, kale, toothpaste, more eggs, a loaf of nice bread and — ostensibly because protein is what keeps you fuller for longer — a huge tub of cottage cheese.
Day 1: Tuesday
I have coffee and breakfast at home, throw some carrots and dip into my bag and head out the door. So far so good.
At work the strap of my (old) sandal comes apart from the sole. I attempt to glue it back down, making a mental note to buy a new pair when the week is over.
My colleague then tells me that the café across the road is doing $2 coffees all week.
I spend the next five hours wondering whether to buy a coffee. I hold fast and console myself with the leftover Easter chocolate in my desk. I buy some ~artisanal~ olive bread to keep on hand. It costs $6.20 and is the only thing I buy all day.
I eat kale and eggs for dinner and this is pretty much what happens until Friday. I try some cottage cheese and realise I’ve made a horrible mistake; cottage cheese has the texture of remorse.
Day 2: Wednesday
I cave and buy a discount coffee, adding an extra shot for the grand sum of $2.50.
I try to savour the coffee by drinking it on the couch rather than mindlessly drinking it at my desk. I still feel the all-too familiar twinge of failure.
I attend a Pilates class after work to justify the cost of my membership. Then I spend some of the evening window shopping the internet, which is not something I’ve done in a long time. Clearly the allure of the forbidden has already kicked in.
I try more cottage cheese with an excessive amount of salt and kind of like it.
Day 3: Thursday
In the morning I have two coffees at home to curb the urge later in the day.
A farewell lunch for a colleague awaits at a dumpling empire you may know if you like queuing for things. It’s a pay-for-yourself situation, not the on-the-company-card situation I thought it would be.
Saying ‘no’ feels like it costs more than the cash. Instead I and another colleague, who I’ve co-opted into the buy nothing week, elect to share some dumplings. That way, we’re not being unsociable, but we are being thrifty.
We each chip in $5.80 and the illicit dumplings are possibly even more delicious than usual. We come back to the office and I eat too much goodbye cake because the thought of it being free is too much for me.
Day 4: Friday
Two coffees again before I’m even out the door. My heart can hack it.
Over the course of the day I finish up my olive bread. At lunch I browse through some stores, but knowing I can’t buy anything means I mentally file away anything that catches my eye.
I make a point of fleeing the office for a Pilates class before anyone suggests post-work drinks. I buy $5 worth of vegetables on my way home and have a quiet night on my own making dinner and trying to read the entire internet.
Day 5: Saturday
The day I have dreaded most: no-spend Saturday.
Typically I’d go to the markets for a browse and grab a drink and dinner with a friend.
But having fled the city for the last two weekends, I have little desire to socialise. Also, my domestic life has been heavily neglected in that time.
I do a plethora of laundry and clean my house and it’s the most satisfying thing I’ve done all week. I have time to kill, so go for a run, which is not a thing I do that often.
Then I buy $30 worth of groceries for dinner and work lunches in the week ahead. I cook, chat to some friends on the phone, study Byron Baes, and have an early night.
Day 6: Sunday
This is possibly the most productive Sunday I have ever had in my life. I go to Pilates and feel as virtuous and adult as one can when wearing leggings in public.
I buy a new bag of coffee beans ($16). I spend the day ruthlessly sorting my unwanted clothes, haul a carry-on bag’s worth to Vinnies, and come back to photograph the rest. All my clothes: coming to an eBay near you!
Then I wander over to Chinatown and go a little bit nuts in an Asian grocer buying pantry stuff that I’ve procrastinated buying. Things like spices, salt, vinegar and Sriracha. This is just a ‘essentials’ excuse for me to feel the joy of spending, but it actually feels objectionable to hand over $20 after spending so little for the week.
Afterwards I go to the fruit market which is a crazy hellhole where personal space can and will be compromised in every way imaginable. But it turns out that the last hour of the fruit market is where the good times are at because small baskets of vegetables go on sale for $1.
I vow to return every weekend for the rest of my life. I spend $4 buying all the things I need to try a new dish tonight and manage to make my lunches for the rest of the week too.
Day 7: Monday
The final day and I got this on lock.
I am prepared: I bring a flask of coffee to work, my lunch is made and I bring carrot sticks as a snack. I go back home to cook dinner, chat on the phone and enjoy my weirdly clean house.
The next day I’m confronted with the overwhelming freedom to buy what I want. I plan to get a take-away coffee in honour of my most-favoured vice. I add almond milk, because it’s the most non-essential addition I can think of. After tasting it I realise I’ve made another horrible mistake – it’s not as good as the stuff I’ve been making at home. For the rest of the week I bring coffee from home in a flask.
I don’t end up buying any of the things I browsed through earlier in the week because by now I’ve already forgotten what they were.
Productive, active, sober… fulfilled
Ultimately I was more productive, physically active, sober and fulfilled by taking a week off from spending money because I gained so much time.
Buying food on a social occasion was worth it, as it was fundamentally different to having a string of nights out and rare enough in the week to be a relished experience.
I thought I’d miss not being able to go out for dinner on Saturday, but it wasn’t a big deal at all.
It’s since been harder to spend money on items that aren’t ‘essential’ because they are by definition unnecessary. I’m sure to break eventually, but going through a period of no-spending felt less like a restrictive diet and more of a chance to re-consider what I actually enjoy spending money on.