Earlier this month, I read a blog post from Miss Mustard Seed indicating she'd be attempting a spending diet for the month of February.
Inspired, I got on board with that. After tracking my spending earlier this year, I knew I had some work to do in terms of mindless consumption and making unnecessary purchases. So, this month, I decided not to purchase anything deemed 'unnecessary.'
Let me be clear that my definition of necessary is likely less rigid than others'. For example, my son's birthday gift was, for me, necessary. I didn't try to hold back on food, and we did eat out as a family once.
However, I didn't go to Starbucks. I didn't make little purchases at TJ Maxx. I didn't buy any clothing, furniture, skincare, makeup or books. I bought food, gas, a food thermos and gifts for my son's birthday.
I did make two unnecessary purchases; one was thoughtful. The other was not.
1. I bought a bar of soap. I was out of soap, and though we have mini travel soaps saved from hotel rooms, I bought myself a lovely bar of soap for $4.99 at TJ Maxx.
2. I bought a plastic microwave food cover to put over plates of food in the microwave. Ours cracked in the move and is unusable. It was also $4.99.
1. Buying that soap felt so intentional and good. I needed the soap. I thought about it before I went to the store, and while I was in TJ Maxx, I really focused on the soap. I wasn't pulled in by any other items because I was clear on my mission. I would only buy the soap. Let me say: it took a lot of the 'high' of shopping out of the whole experience, which felt strangely good. I didn't feel compelled, at all, to walk the aisles, picking up anything that might strike me as remotely useful or cute. I was done in twenty minutes (I smelled a lot of soap), and I've really enjoyed that soap each day since. Though it may sound cheesy, I think I appreciate the soap and enjoy it more because the purchase was so intentional.
2. The microwave cover just happened. I was in Bed, Bath and Beyond looking for a thermos for my son's lunch. I saw the microwave cover, grabbed it and thought: we need one of these. I'd just cleaned the microwave the day before, so it was fresh in my mind, all that angled scrubbing. It wasn't until I was in the car that it hit me: this isn't a necessary purchase. But I let it stand. I don't know that being fanatical about things is actually helpful, and the point was made.
For the remainder of the month, I just didn't shop. At first, it was out-of-habit. I'd go onto a website (Jcrew, Ebay, Nordstrom, Amazon) and begin looking around. Then, I'd remember the Frugal February oath, and suddenly the whole experience was dumbed-down and flat. It wasn't fun to dig through Ebay's list of Ace & Jig dresses if I wasn't going to bid on one. In fact, it would be tedious to find the 'perfect' dress only to have to watch it slip through my fingers.
After three or four days, I didn't shop online at all.
I also didn't hit TJ Maxx or any other stores during the month. I went to Target once, an hour away, and the knowledge that I wasn't going to be buying anything but tampons killed any thrill there might be of making the rounds. I went to TJ Maxx once with my daughter, and while she shopped, I merely wandered a bit but felt, again, flat.
I use the word flat, but perhaps the better word is neutral. My little dopamine neurons weren't firing anymore in anticipation of making a purchase. It was like going to a bar and not drinking. After a while, it's just more fun to stay at home and watch Friends.
I learned 5 Lessons from Frugal February:
1. I waste a lot of time shopping. In person or online (mostly online), I can waste hours just looking at stuff I don't need. Then I purchase it and have to find a place to put it or in some other way keep up with it. But just not looking in the first place saved me heaps of time. Readers, I read 6 books this month. SIX. Those hours not filtering through Jcrew's sales page add up.
2. It's not about the money. I don't feel I saved any money this month. Maybe I spent $100 less than I might otherwise have spent, but I don't actually spend a ton of money. I just waste a lot of time. So, even though I can afford to shop a bit financially, what I can't afford is the lost time.
3. I'm bored. I shop because I'm bored, which I knew, but I didn't realize how bored I am until I stopped shopping. I have few friends here, and the friends I do have are busy. We're all so busy...all the time. So, I shop to keep myself occupied and to give off little feel-good hits each day. Shopping and sugar are my best friends.
4. My entire family shops for fun. We often don't know what to do with each other on weekends if we're not consuming something: Starbucks, sports gear, food, etc. We somehow always end up shopping for something as a way to kill time, which I noticed this month. I've passed on this mindless consumption to my kids, who will now have to deal with this tendency themselves.
5. Mindless consumption has its own hangover. Like drinking just another glass of wine or cocktail, it's easy to tip over the edge. It's fun while it's fun, chatting it up merrily at a dinner party, but the next day, you've got to deal with the consequences. Shopping feels the same for me. I didn't realize it until I went a few weeks without it, but not shopping is like not having to wake up with the hangover. Without shopping, there was no regret. There were no bags to unpack or items to store. There was no underlying sense that I'd done something not necessarily wrong but maybe not entirely right. I don't have many adult drinking hangovers. I learned in my twenties that over drinking did me no favors. I'm learning the same lesson here, with shopping.
Finally, the one bit of shopping that was hard for me to avoid was buying books. I love books. I hoard books. I buy books and read the first chapter and then buy more. Not buying books, again, made my reading so much more intentional. I got books at the library or read books already in my possession. I'd purchased Lincoln in the Bardo, for example, on Audible a few months ago and finally finished it this month.
The library. Readers, how could I have forgotten about the magic of the library? I went three times this month. I dug through their catalogue and wandered through the shelves. It was like seeing an old friend again. I am smitten.
As I write this, my son is talking to my husband about spending his new Amazon gift card he received for his birthday.
My husband just said, "Son, it seems like every time you get something, you want something else."
It's true. Our kids make purchases and enjoy them for a short period before they need to make more purchases. They sit and wait for the Amazon truck (UPS), and if their packages are delayed, they become incensed.
I'll write more this month about a book I read that speaks directly to this subject and explains, in scientific terms, what is going on in our brains when we receive these dopamine hits (shopping, drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc.).
For now, I realize the shopping ban has been enormously good for me and is something I want to continue. For the month of March, I will make a list of all necessary purchases and see how it pans out. I have several gifts this month, so I'll see how I manage with shopping.
No books. No clothes. No make-up. No trinkets. No household items. No Jcrew, Anthropologie, Sephora, Horchow or Ebay.
Just me, the grocery store and the library.
I hope everyone is having a beautiful, sunny, blue-skied Sunday. Our sky is that famous Carolina blue, which leaves me having all sorts of well feels.