I’ve been hearing a lot about low buy/no buy challenges since the beginning of the year.
I first came across this concept when I read Michelle McGagh’s book The No Spend Year. In this, financial journalist McGagh decides to cut her unnecessary spending for a whole year, challenging herself to buy less and save more. Her results make for an interesting read, and she also recorded a Ted Talk about it.
The no spend year that McGagh went on was based on the fact that, aside from her essential commitments including rent/mortgage, food and bills, she often found herself wondering where the rest of her money went.
I can definitely relate.
Interested in this idea, and always wanting to spend a little less and save a little more (and generally failing), I have been reading a few blog posts on this concept and watching some videos about it, and what strikes me most is the uncomfortable ideas around privilege this brings up.
For many, just meeting the essentials is difficult, particularly given the rise in energy, fuel and food costs lately (to name a few). I’ve certainly noticed an increase in the cost of my family’s grocery bill each week, and the demand at local food banks has risen sharply.
Whilst I admire Michelle McGagh’s commitment to spending only on the essentials for a whole year, I also appreciate that she lives in one of the most accessible cities in the world (London) with access to free museums, galleries and events, and has a good circle of close friends and family who are supportive of her challenge. She is also physically fit enough to have relied solely on her bike to get her around for the year, to avoid spending any money on transport costs.
So whilst I have enjoyed learning more about the concept of a no buy year, I definitely wouldn’t be willing or able to commit to a total spending ban! Although I consider myself to be a minimalist, and don’t buy a lot of physical items, I do enjoy things such as eating out with my family and attending regular Yoga classes at my local gym.
Doing a low buy challenge feels like a much easier and more beneficial concept to attempt, particularly at this time of rising living costs and over consumption. From my research, it seems that there are various ways to have a go at low buy challenges. In an effort to improve my own spending and savings goals, as well as inspire any readers who might be considering trying a low buy challenge, I thought it might be useful to put together a checklist of how to make this idea doable for the average person. Read on for some of my own ideas for a low buy challenge!
Decide Your Why
Most people agree that it helps to have a reason why you are wanting to undertake a low buy challenge. For me, I agree with Michelle McGagh’s original questioning of where her money was going every month, other than the everyday essentials we all need. I have often popped into Tesco on the way home from work to pick up some milk and ended up spending several pounds on goodness knows what! Grocery stores are designed to ‘help’ you pick up more than you need, so being aware of what you really need is a good start!
My second ‘why’ is that I would also like to save more for the future. Having savings is a luxury we can’t always afford when we’re just getting by, but these can give us a sense of freedom and security when things go wrong.
Decide Your ‘Rules’
I’m not great at following rules, but I think in any low buy challenge, it seems to me that you need to be honest with yourself about what you are and are not willing to give up (even on a temporary basis).
Obviously, the essentials must be covered first, but after this it is really up to you. What do you really value, and what is just a frivolous expense? For example, it might be that like me you want to be able to buy lunch or coffee out with your family or friends. If you make a rule that you won’t eat out at all for the designated time of your challenge then you are more likely to fail, because you value that part of your life.
We might, however, decide that buying a coffee every morning on the way to work because we are too rushed to make our own before we leave could be cut out with just a little bit more planning. Make sure you make rules that fit your own lifestyle, but do also be aware of convincing yourself that everything is valuable.
Decide How Long
How long do you want to do the low buy challenge for? It might be worth starting small (say a week or a month). Most people tend to be paid monthly, so I think a month is a good time period to see a difference in your pocket. You can always extend this on a month by month basis, adjusting any rules as you go.
I saw a lot of information online advocating a low buy year, but I think that for me, that feels too intense. I know there will be more likelihood of slipping up on that timescale, plus there are bound to be pieces of clothing or household items that will need replacing in that time.
I think with any kind of challenge, it’s important to have fun with it! If we make something too difficult, we are more likely to fail at it.
With your low buy challenge, try to come up with inventive ways to save money such as free events you can attend, creative days out or new ways to wear the clothes in your wardrobe. If you are trying to spend less on nights out, for example, maybe try hosting a night in with friends where everybody brings a course of a meal and you crack open the board games! Some of the best nights can be spent in these ways, and it can actually be fun to challenge yourself to spend as little as possible.
At the end of your low buy week, month, or even year, you can look at what you’ve saved towards whatever it is that is important to you. And that has to be worth foregoing those non-essential little ‘treats’ or pick-me-ups you might otherwise have indulged in!
I’d love to know if you have tried a low buy or no buy challenge, or if you are planning to start one this year : )
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