Learn how to do a low-buy year successfully. If you want to shop less and take back control of your spending, follow these tips to help you create rules for your low-buy year and stick to the challenge.
Over the past several years, I’ve been learning more about minimalism, sustainable living, and how to want less. As a former shopaholic, this journey has been a game-changer for my finances as I reconsidered my relationship with materialism and focused on what I truly value in life.
Today I’m sharing tips on how to stick to a low-buy year. This can be a great way to save money or pay off debt, while offering a little more flexibility than a no-buy month. If you want to start 2022 off on the right foot, follow these tips to set yourself up for success.
- Why it’s SO hard to stop shopping and how to fix it
- How to stop impulse buying for good
- What I learned from not buying clothes for a year
No-buy year vs. low-buy year: What’s the difference?
A no-buy year and a low-buy year are both strategic ways to reduce excessive spending from your budget. This forces you to re-examine your shopping habits and identify any spending leaks that need to be fixed.
With a no-buy year, you’ll make a commitment to use what you already have and eliminate all spending for the entire year. This means you’ll only be spending money on essential costs, such as your living costs (rent / mortgage, utilities, and other monthly bills), transportation costs (gas, car payments, and public transit), and food (groceries).
A low-buy year is more flexible and a less restrictive version of the no-buy year. Here, you’ll cut back on any unnecessary spending from your budget. This means you’ll be making more conscious and mindful decisions whenever you choose to buy anything. You’ll also set rules for yourself to follow when shopping, which offers you more flexibility.
Are you thinking about doing a no-buy year or a low-buy year? If you’re not ready to commit to a full year, you can start by trying a low-buy weekend, a week, or a no-buy month challenge.
Personal finance IS personal, so you get to set the rules and see what works best for you and your goals. Below are some tips on how to create your rules for a low-buy year and actually be successful with it.
How to create your low buy rules
The key to being successful with your low-buy year is to set clear rules for yourself to follow. Here are some tips to help you create your own rules that are aligned with your goals and fit your lifestyle.
Identify your biggest area(s) of spending
First, you need to find out where your money is going. You can do this by checking your budget (if you have one) or going through your credit card statements and cash spending for the past month.
As you do this, you’ll see your biggest expenses such as rent or mortgage, insurance, and groceries. But what other spending do you notice? Make a note of the main categories you see on your statements, such as subscriptions, travel, home décor, clothing, restaurants, kid stuff, and so on.
Pay attention to your biggest non-essential spending categories and see what you find. For example, when I had a shopping problem, my biggest non-essential spending categories were clothing, beauty products, and take-out food.
Perhaps you have similar spending habits to me, or maybe you’re paying for monthly memberships or streaming services that you’re not using as much as you thought you would. Go through each of your expenses to really understand where your money is going.
This step can make anyone feel uncomfortable, but it’s essential if you want to improve your finances. If you need more guidance on how to dig deep and shop more intenitonally, check out my new e-book, The Intentional Spender: Why We Buy So Much Stuff and How to Stop.
Identify spending categories to cut back on
The next step is to look at your biggest spending categories and decide which ones you’ll like to cut back on or eliminate for a certain period of time. These are the spending categories that you’ll create your low-buy year rules around.
To simplify the process, I recommend separating your essential spending from your non-essential spending categories. Just focus on creating rules around your non-essential categories for now. You can choose to revisit your essential spending later if you wish.
For example, are you planning to limit your spending on clothing, Amazon shopping, take-out food, makeup and beauty, or groceries? You can choose to place limits on one spending category or several, depending on your goals.
The spending categories will look different for everyone, which is why it’s important to get a good understanding of where your money is going and identify any spending leaks that need to be fixed.
Make a list of “approved purchases” and purchases you’ll abstain from buying
To help determine your rules, make a list of all the approved purchases that you can make during your low-buy year. This may include things such as:
- Gas or public transportation
- Experiences, such as vacations or concerts
- Replacement items
Then make a list of purchases you won’t buy or limit during your low-buy year. This may include things such as:
- Clothing and shoes
- Dining out
- Home décor
- Makeup and beauty products
Your no-buy list may include items on your approved list, or vice versa. For example, you may give yourself permission to eat out once a month during your low-buy year instead of every week. The best part about this low buy challenge is that you get to set your own rules and create a plan tailored to your goals.
When creating your rules, make sure they are crystal clear. Vague or confusing rules can leave wiggle room that will allow you to justify any extra purchases. Keep it simple and concise.
Think about future costs
After you’ve assessed your spending and identified the non-essential categories that you’d like to set rules around, now it’s time think ahead and evaluate future costs. Do any of your non-essential spending categories contain any potential future costs?
You may find it helpful to take out your calendar and look at all the upcoming holidays and events. Some of these events may involve spending money, such as birthdays, weddings, Christmas, work functions, summer long weekends, and so on. Planning ahead and being prepared can help set yourself up for success.
Perhaps you might need to replace your winter boots because your current ones have worn out. Or you have an annual gym membership that’s due soon. Or you’ll need to buy a present for an upcoming wedding in the summer.
Some of these costs can be avoided, such as you might realize that don’t go to the gym often and can exercise outdoors or at home instead to save money. Or you might choose to give only homemade gifts this year. Or you might create a “Gift Sinking Fund” where you’ll set aside money each month to help budget and pay for gifts throughout the year.
Examples of low buy rules:
Don’t think of your low-buy year as a punishment or that the only way to save money is to deprive yourself of the things you love. As soon as you start thinking that your low-buy year is too restrictive, it’s only a matter of time before your willpower will run out, because willpower is finite.
It’s important to get rid of the guilt mentality about how “bad” it is to spend money on certain things, such as clothing, beauty products, or take-out food. All these things can fit into a healthy zero-based budget, and they’ll always be available when you need to buy them. Instead, maintain a mentality of moderation.
This means that you don’t have to stop spending money on these things completely (unless it’s one of your rules for your low-buy year). Instead, you’ll become more mindful and intentional about these purchases and make sure they align with your budget and goals.
Below are some examples of low-buy rules that you may want to consider. Of course, you’ll create a customized plan for your own needs. Use this list to get ideas and inspiration for your own low-buy year or low spending month.
If you love fashion like me, you probably have more than enough clothes to last a year without having to buy anything new. Here you can decide which rules you’d like to create around fashion.
- No-buy: You’ll pledge to not buy any fashion purchases for the entire year. This includes clothing, shoes, and accessories.
- Low-buy: You’ll create a budget for clothing, such as $200 for the year. Or you can make a list of clothing purchases that you’ll need to buy during the year, such as a new pair of running shoes to replace your old ones. Try to shop second hand first if you need to buy something.
Limit dining out to only once a month. If you have a habit of getting coffee from your favorite café, limit this to once a month too. I used to have a bad habit of going to Starbucks multiple times per week, but now I only go a few times per year. After the pandemic started, I realized that I can easily make food and coffee at home for a fraction of the price.
If you want to catch up with friends, instead of going out for dinner and drinks, consider having a coffee date instead. This is usually cheaper and can be just as fun. Your rules might be different, but this works well for me.
I used to love browsing Pinterest for home inspiration. Unfortunately, this would lead to a lot of unnecessary home décor purchases. Once the pandemic started, I’ve grown to appreciate a more functional and minimally decorated home.
Decluttering and selling a lot of my old home décor was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I used the money I made to upgrade my mattress, which I value more than any home décor piece I had. Now when I feel like my apartment needs a bit of a refresh, I rearrange the furniture to make the place feel bigger and more inviting.
For your low-buy year, you may choose to either buy no new home décor items or set a budget for the year, such as $100.
I recommend only purchasing replacements for your most tried and true products when they run out. While it’s fun to try new products and experiment with different makeup styles, vow to do a low-buy this year.
This means don’t let yourself purchase any new makeup, skincare, or hair care products until every other product of that type has been used up. No new moisturizers until you use up all the ones you already have.
You can choose to do either a no-buy year for gifts, where you’ll give homemade gifts and cards, or offering your time and services as a gift instead of spending money. Or you can do a low-buy year for gifts, where you’ll set a budget for giving.
Doing a no-buy or low-buy year doesn’t mean that you have feel guilty about giving a homemade gift. Homemade gifts are thoughtful and always appreciated, especially consumable gifts like food.
Books and hobbies
You can choose to do a no-buy for paper books and only purchase e-books. I like to take advantage of the local library and borrow books, movies, and audiobooks for free. I sold most of my book collection last year and have no regrets.
For hobbies, you can choose to do a no-buy, where you’ll use hobby supplies you already have at home. You can also borrow stuff from family and friends. Or you can do a low-buy, where you’ll set a budget for hobby supplies for the year.
I used to get into the habit of thinking that I needed to buy ALL the things in order to pursue a new hobby. For example, buying tons of cake decorating and baking supplies. But this led to a lot of unnecessary purchases and items that I didn’t even use. Start by using things you already have or consider low-cost hobbies to do.
How to be successful with your low buy year
Figure out your WHY
Your WHY is the reason for doing this low buy challenge. Ask yourself, “What’s motivating me to do this?”.
Perhaps you’re doing a low-buy year because you want to reset your finances, save more money, and reduce the amount of clutter you bring into your home. Or maybe you’re doing this challenge because you want to become a more conscious consumer, align your spending with your values, and produce less waste.
It’s important to get clear on your “WHY” before starting your journey. This can help you stay motivated, especially on the tough days. Whenever you feel the urge to make an impulse purchase, ask yourself if this aligns with your WHY, or will it set you back from reaching your goals.
Think about how you’ll spend your time (instead of shopping)
Many of us use shopping to fill a void or because it gives us a rush of excitement (that quick pick-me-up after a long day). Think of other things that you can do instead of shopping or spending money.
Some of my favorite ideas include revisiting an old hobby (or learning a new one), reading a book, catching up with friends, watching a good movie, journaling, exercising, going for a walk, planning a trip, writing a bucket list for the year, trying a new recipe, decluttering and organizing, or listening to a podcast.
Find an accountability buddy
Having a strong support system can go a long way in helping you stay accountable during your low-buy year. While it’s not always easy to find someone to participate in this challenge with you, it can still be helpful to let them know about your goals so they can encourage you to stay motivated.
Practice gratitude each day
Sometimes we get so busy chasing after things we don’t have, that we forget to appreciate all the things we already have. Practicing gratitude each day is essential to having a successful low-buy year. When you’re grateful for the things you already own, this can help limit the urge to impulse buy.
I like using a daily gratitude journal that I write in each morning while sipping my coffee. It really makes a difference in setting a positive tone for the day. Then at the end of your low-buy year, you can look back at your journal and remember all the wonderful things that happened.
Avoid the temptation to shop
The easiest way to stick to your low-buy year is to remove the temptation to shop. If you feel yourself “just browsing” or getting the urge to shop whenever a store email lands in your inbox, then you need to unsubscribe.
During my no-buy year, I also deleted all shopping apps off my phone and unfollowed anyone on social media that encouraged me to buy things I don’t need. Remember, these places will still be around after your low-buy challenge is over and you can always resubscribe.
Below are some more helpful ways to avoid the temptation to shop:
- Shop your wardrobe – If you want to practice living a more sustainable life, a good place to start is by shopping your wardrobe. To make it more fun, consider trying my 30-Day Shop Your Closet Challenge. This can help you put together new outfit combinations and wear everything in your wardrobe.
- Shop your home before buying anything – Take inventory of what you already have at home before buying something new. If you really need to buy something, consider asking a friend or family member if you can borrow it. When I went to a friend’s wedding, I borrowed one of my sister’s dresses. This prevented me from having to buy a new outfit that I would only wear once.
- Wait 24 hours before making a purchase – This doesn’t include essential purchases, such as car maintenance or buying groceries. Instead, whenever you want to purchase something non-essential, pause and wait 24 hours before buying it. This can help create a “cooling off” period where you can think through if the purchase is necessary and aligns with your budget and goals.
- Keep your budget in mind – If you don’t already have a budget, take a few minutes to make a budget right now. This will help you create a plan for your money. You can even set aside some “fun money” to spend guilt-free whenever you wish. This could be $10 or $100 a month, depending on your goals. When you feel the urge to buy something non-essential, you can look at your budget to see if it makes sense.
- Declutter and organize – When I was doing my no-buy year, I realized that I had a lot of stuff that I rarely used anymore. I used this as an opportunity to declutter and organize my stuff. Once I removed the things that didn’t bring me joy, I was able to appreciate and fully use the items that I loved. If you’re surrounded by things you don’t like, sell or donate them. I made over $2,000 in one month selling my old stuff on Facebook Marketplace.
- Take care of what you already have – A good way to practice more gratitude is to take good care of what you already own. This helped to extend the lifespan of my clothes and save money. For more tips, check out: 20 Ways to Make Your Clothes Last Longer
Keep a “wish list” of items you want to buy
During your no-buy or low-buy year, that will be things that you’ll want to buy. But not everything will fit into your rules or make sense for your budget right now. When you want to buy something that’s not a need, but something you “want”, put it on your wish list. Your wish list is for things that you’ll wait to buy once the challenge is over.
You might find that you’ve forgotten about the item and no longer want to buy it later. If so, cross the item off your list. If you still want to buy the item when your low-buy year is over, then consider the most cost-effective way to get it. This also gives you a chance to save up for the item you’ll wait to purchase so you can pay for it using cash.
Give yourself grace
Nobody’s low-buy year is going be perfect. And to be honest – this challenge isn’t about being perfect. It’s about being better than you were yesterday. If you slip, that’s okay. Remember to give yourself some grace and try again. Even if you do a full-blown shopping haul, tomorrow is another chance to start fresh and try again.
You can always return the items you bought for a refund. There’s no point in beating yourself up because that won’t help you make progress. Forgive yourself and try again. If you can, pay attention to what emotion or event made you feel like shopping. Pick something on your list of things to do instead of shopping to help cope with that emotion next time. For more tips on how to manage emotional spending, check out my new e-book, The Intentional Spender: Why We Buy So Much Stuff and How to Stop.