Do you have mounting credit card debt? Maybe an emergency savings fund that is closer to zero than the recommended six months’ worth of expenses? No matter your financial situation, if you are looking to get a handle on your finances, pay off debt, or save for the future, one way to jump-start your journey is to do a no-buy year or low-buy year.
Simply telling yourself that you will cut back on your spending doesn’t usually accomplish much. To really spend less, most of us need some guidance, and that’s where a no-buy year or low-buy year comes in. If you follow the steps laid out below, by the end of the year, you’ll be wondering where all your extra money came from (hint: it came from not shopping!).
No-buy year vs low-buy year? What’s the difference?
The no-buy year, and its cousin, the low-buy year, are both ways to eliminate excessive spending from your budget. With a no-buy year, you pledge to only use what you already own and cut out all spending for the entire year. You truly limit yourself to buying the bare necessities, such as groceries and necessary personal hygiene products (toothpaste, for example, would be allowed, but mascara would not).
A low-buy year is a less-restrictive version of the no-buy year. Instead of cutting out all spending, you allow yourself to do some shopping throughout the year. You create specific rules for yourself, which you must follow, but allow you some more flexibility. For example, you might allow yourself to spend $100 on clothing over the year or eat out once a month during a low-buy year. During a strict, no-buy year, these purchases wouldn’t be allowed.
Are you thinking about trying a no-buy year or low-buy year? If so, you’re going to need to put in place some rules. The no-buy rules are simple: you don’t buy anything other than the necessities. The low-buy year is a little more complicated, so we’re going to talk about how to do it successfully.
We’ll discuss how to create your own rules, arm you with some success tips, and offer some alternatives to a low-buy year. If you’re not quite ready to commit to a whole year just yet, there are other ways to do a version of the low-buy year, which we’ll touch upon, too.
Creating your low-buy rules
Once you’ve decided you’re going to do a low-buy year, it’s time to get down to business and create your rules. The number one key to a successful low-buy year is to come up with your own rules. Here are some tips on how to create rules that fit your life and that you’ll actually be able to follow:
1. Take inventory of your spending
First, take stock of what you currently spend your money on. Go through your credit card statements and cash expenses and add them all up. By knowing what you spend money on, you’ll see what you need to cut back on.
For example, if you have a habit of ordering take-out three times a week, you will probably want to create a rule limiting that. For others, ordering take-out might not be a spending problem, so a rule limiting it wouldn’t be very helpful. Maybe (like me!) those people would benefit more from spending rules limiting clothing purchases. Everyone will be different, so knowing what you tend to spend the most on will be beneficial to creating the best rules for you.
2. Choose your categories
Once you’ve figured out what you tend to spend on, decide on the categories you will create rules around. Will you place limits on clothes shopping, fancy groceries, delivery orders, miscellaneous Target purchases, beauty supplies, or maybe all of the above? Again, these categories will be different for everyone, so it’s best to get a clear picture of your own spending so you can create your rules.
3. Anticipate future spending
Looking at your past spending is a great place to start. But you need to look at your future spending, too, in order to have a successful low-buy year. Take out your calendar and look at all of the upcoming holidays and events. Which of these events typically involve spending money? Things like birthdays, weddings, and Christmas are all events that usually involve some costs.
Whether it’s a holiday present or a new outfit for yourself, estimate all of the events you anticipate spending money on. By arming yourself with that information, you’ll be able to create rules around those events. For example, if you usually buy Christmas presents for all of your nieces and nephews, and never have a budget for it, perhaps a good low-buy rule this year would be to spend just $10 on each kid. Or, you could decide that this will be the year that you will send homemade cards only. There are so many ways to celebrate holidays and events that don't involve blowing your budget. You just have to think ahead and get a little bit more creative.
4. Create simple, clear rules
This is the most important step of all. If you want to do a successful low-buy year, don’t make any of your rules overly complicated or confusing. Make sure they are crystal clear and don’t leave you any wiggle room for extra purchases. You want to go into your low-buy year knowing exactly what you can and cannot spend money on,
Some low-buy year rules to get you started
Now that you’ve gotten the idea of how to create your own low-buy rules, it’s your turn to put these tips into practice. Your rules will be tailored to your own needs, but if you are looking for some inspiration, here are some great low-buy year rules that many others have had success with:
No new clothes purchases for the entire year. This is a strict rule, but most of us have enough clothes to last a year without setting foot in a store or an online shop. If you want, you can allow yourself one or two purchases for very specific items you need to replace. Other than that, a great start to a low-buy year is to restrict all clothing purchases.
Vow to only purchase replacement beauty or personal care products. If you want to take it a step further, vow to use up all of your products and only buy a replacement if it is on a pre-approved (small) list.
Limit yourself to one take-out or restaurant meal a month. No exceptions. This means deleting the apps from your phone (and tablets) and even getting rid of those convenient restaurant menus in your kitchen drawers!
Make this the year of homemade gifts and cards (and only use supplies you already own). You could even offer your time as a gift instead of spending money. Babysitting, house sitting, pet sitting, helping with a home or business tasks are all ways you can gift your time.
How to be successful with your low-buy year
With your rules laid out, you’re now ready to begin your low-buy year! In the beginning, it’s exciting to think of how much money you’ll save. But, it can also be a little scary. What if it doesn’t work? What if you mess up or give up? Luckily, there are ways to guarantee a successful low-buy year, so don’t worry, you’ve got this!
1. Decide on your why
First, decide on your reason for doing this low-buy challenge. You’ll need the motivation to get you through the tough times when you want to cave in and just go shopping already. Are you super motivated to get out of debt so you can move to a new apartment? Are you concerned that all of the money you’re spending on fast fashion is harming not just your wallet but the environment? Whatever the reason, decide on your “why” for embarking on a low-buy year and turn to it whenever you need a little motivation.
2. Do it with a friend or partner
Get a friend, roommate, or partner on board to participate with you. Another person will help hold you accountable, encourage you, and it will be fun to do the challenge together. If your partner doesn’t want to participate themselves, try to get them on board with your rules. This is especially important if one of your low-buy rules involves cutting back on grocery spending or other joint household expenses.
3. Start a gratitude practice
If you don’t already have one, develop a gratitude practice. A daily gratitude practice will remind you of all the things you do have and will make you less likely to feel the need to go out and spend more to feel fulfilled. During a low-buy year, where your goal is to purchase less, limiting this urge to spend by being grateful for what you already have is a key element to success.
4. Eliminate temptations
Do you get email after email from your favorite stores, offering discounts and showing you the latest things to hit the shelves? If so, unsubscribe from every one of these. Don’t worry, these places will all be around when your low-buy year is over, so you can always re-subscribe then (but you might find yourself no longer feeling the urge to online shop after the year is over!). Likewise, if you have your credit card number memorized, cut it up and ask for a new one. Put up any roadblocks you can to prevent yourself from shopping for unnecessary things.
5. Fill your time with other things
Lastly, remind yourself of what you like to do that doesn’t involve shopping or spending money. Sometimes we use shopping to fill a void or because it gives us a rush. But there are tons of things that are just as fun and don’t cost anything. Reading, catching up with friends, baking, watching Netflix – all of these things are almost free, and you can still enjoy them all during your low-buy year.
Alternatives to a low-buy year
If a no-buy year sounded too daunting or intimidating to you, hopefully, a low-buy year sounds more achievable. If that, too, seems out of reach or like too big of a leap to take just yet, why not start small with a low-buy quarter, low-buy month, or even low-buy week? Sometimes it’s better to start small and build on that, especially if you’re a big spender or rely on retail therapy to soothe yourself.
By starting small, with just a low-buy week, low-buy month, or low-buy quarter, you can dip your toe into spending less without fully committing to a whole year. These alternatives also allow you to revisit your rules, revise them, and keep going for another week, month, or quarter. Who knows, by the time you end your first short challenge, you might be ready to go all-in on an entire low-buy year!
Are you ready to give a low-buy year (or week, month, or quarter) a try?
If a low-buy year (or no-buy year, if you’re really up for a challenge!) sounds like something that would benefit you and your budget, why not give it a try? Get out your pen and paper, spend some time coming up with your rules, and you’ll be ready to start your journey in no time. Good luck!