What's a ‘no-buy year’, and is it as drastic as it sounds? We ask a chartered financial planner who tried it herself…

What's a ‘no-buy year’, and is it as drastic as it sounds? We ask a chartered financial planner who tried it herself…

Last month a post in a money-related Facebook group got me thinking. It was a confession from a member of the group that she was considering whether she was a “compulsive shopper”.

Reading the comments was fascinating (and sadly, I guess, not surprising): she is not alone. The feeling that we’re spending in an automatic and unthinking fashion is not unusual because it’s easier to spend than ever. When all it takes is to wave a card or watch over a reader we DO spend less time thinking about how much money is coming out of our accounts and whether it’s worth it.

There must be so many ways to spend less. Why don’t we just do it? I decided I’d better put my money where my mouth is, so to speak, and put some money tips and tricks to the test.

A group of us in the MoneyLens team are genuinely excited about sharing our money-saving missions this year. As Neha wrote for MoneyLens last year, money-saving can be addictive. Watch this space!

But first…

What’s a “no-buy year”?

A “no-buy year”, “buy nothing year”, “no spend year” - they are all terms that reflect a resolution to cut out all unnecessary expenditure for 12 months. It is what was suggested to the original poster in the Facebook group.

Personal finance journalist Michelle McGagh was so strict with hers in 2016 that she limited herself to zero budget for transport (she cycled everywhere) and cooked in batches to stick to a tight budget. She saved £22,000 as a result. YouTubers including Hailey Evans are also taking it to the extreme (Hailey kicked off her “no-buy year” on December 17 last year).

But does it have to be that drastic? Our colleague Claire Walsh, a chartered financial adviser, has done a “no-buy year” herself and thinks not. I asked Claire how hers went. You can read her responses below… 

What made you consider a “no-buy year”?

I felt concerned about the ethics of the increasingly disposable nature of clothes and household goods.

I decided I wanted a bit of a detox from it and I came up with the idea of challenging myself - so except for consumables (e.g. food, obviously, and toiletries) I would only buy secondhand goods.

What rules did you set yourself - how strict were you?

I was pretty strict! I moved house that year too and I remember enjoying the challenge of finding vintage furniture to complement my 60s flat. However I did make some compromises - for example having fitted wardrobes built in. Given the bespoke nature of this and its clear longevity I felt ok making this decision.

Presents could potentially have been a tricky one, but given that I was partly motivated by realising that we often buy and receive things which are unwanted I saw this as a good opportunity to ensure that I only bought people things that were genuinely wanted. Or I played it safe with flowers, champagne or edible things which I knew would be appreciated. I didn’t have any complaints!

Did it have an impact on your finances? In what way?

I certainly did spend less… but I also just thought more carefully about how I spent my money and I became a much savvier shopper.

How easy or difficult did you find it?

I was actually surprised how easy I found it. I think for many people shopping is part-hobby-part-habit and we often buy things because we are bored or feel we need a treat rather than because we really need or even want the item in question.

By making the “no-buy” rule it just stopped and there were very few pangs over things I wanted.

Towards the end of the year my gym gear was quite tatty and that isn’t something which I would want or is easy to come by secondhand! I also remember eagerly looking forward to the new bed linen set I’d requested as a housewarming gift from my parents!

Are there any habits you have stuck with?

I actually found it quite hard to return to buying new things. Even now I never buy things on impulse, I’ve got to be sure that I really want it and even then I generally shop around on eBay to see if I can find something secondhand first.

Would you recommend it or are there other less drastic things people can do to cut their spending (and reduce waste)?

I would highly recommend it, particularly if you feel you’ve got some sort of problem in that area. I really don’t think the way I did it was that drastic.

Substituting secondhand for new means that you’re not really having to go without, but it should curb some of those unnecessary splurges. I didn’t really feel deprived, I didn’t cut back on experiences (and I had more money to spend on them!).

Michelle McGagh took it a bit further than me in trying to spend no money at all for a year and wrote a book which might inspire you: “The No Spend Year”.

For further reading, you might also want to try this book just out: “The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings and Discovered Life is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store”.

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