Could You Commit To a No-Buy Year? Here’s How It Works

Cropped shot of an unrecognizable woman out shopping in the city.
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If you found yourself doing more online shopping in 2020 than ever before, you’re not alone. Research firm eMarketer predicted that U.S. e-commerce sales will increase 18% to $710 billion by the end of this year, CNN reported.

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Although that’s a big boost, this stat is pretty unsurprising. It’s all too easy to make mindless purchases on Amazon and other retailer sites, and with many of us spending more time at home, online shopping could have become a form of entertainment for you this year. After all, who doesn’t love the thrill of opening up a package, even if it’s filled with something you probably don’t need? But if it’s gotten to the point where you’re receiving so many deliveries, you can’t even remember what it is that you ordered, it might be time to consider making a drastic change. Enter: the no-buy year.

What Exactly a No-Buy Year Entails

Also called a no-spend year, a no-buy year involves cutting out unnecessary purchases in order to reset your spending habits — and with 2021 coming up, now could be the perfect time for that reset. The exact rules you stick to will depend on your own goals, as well as what you consider to be a necessary expense.

Make Your Money Work for You

Other Options: 25 Ways To Save 20% More of Your Paycheck Without Even Trying

To start, make a list of what purchases you will allow. This should include things like food and replacements for items you currently have and use, but can also include things like experiences and vacations if you deem these to be essential to your happiness. You want to be smart about your purchases, but you don’t have to deprive yourself all year.

Next, make a list of purchases you will not allow yourself to make. This could include things like clothes, home decor, Amazon purchases and fast food.

Once you’ve created your two lists, begin documenting all your purchases. Even if you end up breaking a “rule,” at least you will be mindful of it and may not make the same misstep again.

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Benefits of a No-Buy Year

You’ll Save Money

The biggest benefit of your no-buy year will likely be financial. All those little, unnecessary purchases you make throughout the year can really add up — and that’s money that can likely be put to better use, such as paying down debt, adding to your emergency fund, going toward a retirement fund, or being put toward a big purchase like a vacation, car or home down payment.

You’ll Become a More Mindful Consumer

A no-buy year will also make you more mindful of your spending. It can help you get into good spending habits that you can stick with after the year is over, such as making fewer impulse purchases and wasting less time browsing online shopping sites.

It’s Good for the Environment

Consumerism, while good for the economy, is terrible for the environment. A 2015 study conducted by the Journal of Industrial Economy found that household consumption contributes to more than 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions and between 50% and 80% of total land, material and water use. So essentially, the less you consume, the less of a negative impact you will have on the environment.

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Tips for Surviving a No-Buy Year

Cutting out entire spending categories can be daunting, but it is doable. MarketWatch gathered tips from people who made it through this spending experiment, and here are some of their best pieces of advice:

Make Your Money Work for You

1. Start With a Smaller Goal

Committing to a no-buy year can be daunting, especially if you’re used to buying whatever you want, whenever you want. Start by committing to a no-buy week, then a no-buy month, and keep adding months on once you get into the swing of things.

Get Going: 50 Easy Things You Should Do To Save Money

2. Remind Yourself Why You Are Committing To This Challenge

There are a number of reasons you might want to do a no-buy year. Perhaps you are saving for a larger goal or you want to get out of debt. Maybe you want to declutter your life and lead a more minimalist lifestyle. You might simply want to consume less after making too many mindless purchases in 2020. Or maybe you’ve decided to embark on this challenge for environmental reasons. Whatever your ultimate goal is, keep this in the back of your mind every time you are tempted to make a purchase that breaks your rules.

3. Set Clear Rules

Make sure you are being clear — and realistic — about what you can or cannot spend money on. For example, novelist Ann Patchett wrote in a New York Times article about her own no-buy year that she made a rule that she was free to purchase anything sold at a grocery store, even if it was not something essential.

“I wanted a plan that was serious but not so draconian that I would bail out in February, so while I couldn’t buy clothing or speakers, I could buy anything in the grocery store, including flowers,” she wrote.

Helpful Tips: 16 Effective Ways To Trick Yourself Into Saving Money

4. Connect With Other People Living a No-Buy Lifestyle

Connecting with other people who are also doing this challenge is a great way to stay accountable and share tips on how they are making it work. Recruit a friend or family member to do the challenge with you, or connect with people in Facebook or Reddit communities dedicated to no-buy challenges.

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About the Author

Gabrielle joined GOBankingRates in 2017 and brings with her a decade of experience in the journalism industry. Before joining the team, she was a staff writer-reporter for People Magazine and People.com. Her work has also appeared on E! Online, Us Weekly, Patch, Sweety High and Discover Los Angeles, and she has been featured on “Good Morning America” as a celebrity news expert. 

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