Several years back I read an article that completely changed the way I spend money, the way I buy items I need and it changed the relationship I have with the stuff I currently own. It was life changing, …..really. I could not find the article today to give it credit, but I believe I read about it in Parade Magazine back in 2007 or 2008. It was about a group of people in California that made a pact to not buy anything new for one full year. They exempted obvious things like food and underwear, but any other tangible consumer good was included in the pact. You were allowed to buy “used” goods or barter and trade with people, but you were not allowed to purchase any new, as in brand new, item for 12 months.
I was intrigued by the idea, but could not commit to a full year. I had a young daughter and was a little intimidated by the prospect of a full 12 months. So I commuted the time to 6 months and exempted a couple of additional items to my list. I allowed myself to buy anything new for my daughter that I could not find used and I added major appliances to the list in case my stove or washing machine, which was already ancient, broke down during the 6 months. I started on January 1st of probably 2008.
The week before my start date, my daughter and I house sat my Aunt and Uncle’s house in the mountains. It had been snowing in Colorado and we packed our snow shovel because I did not know if I could get down their driveway when I got to their house. We did not need the shovel after all and I put it in their garage while we were there. When we headed home to Denver, I realized that I had left the shovel in their garage.
That following Tuesday as I left a client’s location, it started to snow and the forecast was for a decent amount of snow over the next couple of days. I had no snow shovel and I had just committed to not buying anything new. As I left my client’s office, I was trying to figure out what to do about not having a snow shovel. It was early January and we would need a shovel several times over the next few months. I remembered thinking…” Does Goodwill have snow shovels? What are the chances that they would have one, especially now that it has started to snow? Where does someone get a used snow shovel?”
As I pondered my problem and my commitment to the pact, I noticed that traffic was really moving slowly. All of the cars in front of me were getting backed up, though I could not see any kind of accident in front of them. As we were creeping along, I saw that most of the cars in my lane were changing lanes ahead. I finally got to the front of the line and there in the middle of the road was……..a snow shovel!! I looked all around me to see if someone was making a U-turn to come back for the shovel, but there was no one showing any interest in retrieving it, so I stopped my car and put the shovel in the back. I swear to you, this is a true story and I own that shovel still today, 7 or so years later.
When I read the article, it did mention that the people participating were surprised at how the things they needed and would have purchased before the pact found their way to them. Mention to a friend that your blender broke and they say….I have a couple of blenders, you can have one of mine. And so on. I did find that to be true and I also found all kinds of ways to deal with needing to acquire something that was not brand new. Initially, it was a real challenge. It was the impulse buying that caught me off guard initially. I would without thinking pick up something that I liked the looks of and then would remember that I could not buy it.
My friends were truly confounded by the prospect and questioned me for months as to how I was doing and how was I doing it. Really, their questions were a constant in my life. They simply could not imagine how I could go for 6 months and not buy a single new item. I grew to love the challenge and I learned a great deal about myself in the process.
At the time, I had a small wallet that was attached to a key chain. I loved that little wallet because I have not carried a purse for decades and it had everything I needed in it; money, credit card, lip gloss, etc. During the first couple of months of the pact, it broke…the leather piece that held the wallet to the key chain came apart. In the past, I would have immediately headed to the store to replace the wallet, but alas, I could not. As I looked at the wallet, I saw that what it really needed was just to be sewn together again. No problem, so easy to do I could do it myself and I did just that.
As the months progressed, it got easier. I got more creative and I determined that it was such a worthwhile process that I would continue it after a fashion even once the initial 6 months were over. For several years after the initial pact, I would not buy anything new except during 2 months of the year; January and July. Choosing those 2 months allowed for a couple of things. 1) If I truly needed something, I told myself I only had to wait until January or July came around. It was surprising how when a buying month came around, I could not remember what it was that I thought I needed to buy. 2) In January and July, everything is on sale! So what I did need to buy was almost always cheaper than if I had bought it at the moment I thought I needed it.
The change in my spending habits was significant. The change in the relationship I have with my current stuff was significant. I take better care of what I own and I value it more. I discovered Goodwill and other used/consignment shops at which I would never have otherwise shopped. Literally, every time I have really needed Goodwill to have something I really needed….it did. I had a Cuisinart coffee maker that I had never seen anyone else have (fairly expensive, one cup at a time) and it broke. One day in Goodwill, there it was…a fully functional replacement of the exact one I wanted. I had gone to Goodwill to buy some raggedy old maker to get me by. For $9 I replaced my exact one. We shop there all the time now. More than half my daughter’s clothing come from Goodwill.
My disposable income became something I treasured. I had so much more money left over every month that it completely changed the way and the degree to which I saved money toward really large expenditures that had eluded me in the past.
It has been a couple of years since I exercised the discipline of that pact, but my sister and brother-in-law are in a small group that is trying it as of Jan 1 and I have decided to be a believer again. As of January 1st, I will be back on the “Nothing New” pact for 2015…or at least until July. Try your own version of this and stick with it long enough to really learn from and benefit from the process. It is the very difficult times; times when you really think you need that new thing that you will learn the most and get the most out of the process. I think you will be amazed at what you discover about yourself and what you can live without or acquire in a different manner.