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

Man cutting credit card with scissors.
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It’s all too easy to overspend these days, whether you’re mindlessly clicking “add to cart” on Amazon, adding things that you don’t need to your physical cart at Target or racking up your credit card bill by ordering delivery on Postmates most nights. These little splurges can really add up, and if you’re not careful, you could end up in debt.

Sometimes, the best way to break a bad spending habit is 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 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.

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.

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:

1. Start With a Smaller Goal

Committing to a no-buy year can be intimidating, 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.

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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 the last year. 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.

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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