A young couple from Canada decided not to go shopping and saved more than $ 55 000. How did they manage it?
A little over a year ago, Geoffrey Szuszkiewicz, a 31-year-old accountant in Calgary, began analyzing his monthly spending. He was surprised: “I was spending so much every month, no matter how much I made it never seemed like I was getting ahead.”
Around the same time, his friend Julie Phillips, a 29-year-old communications advisor at the University of Calgary, planned to move into a new apartment when it fell through. “Geoff said, ‘You can move in with me, but I only have a bedroom for you to rent,’” – she says, – “The rest was packed with his stuff. So I had to get rid of over 80% of my stuff within three days.” She was supposing she might move again in a year and if so, she’d have to get rid of many of her belongings then. But then she had regret. “I was terrified, ‘Oh my god. What did I do?’ And then I asked myself: Why do I need these things anyway?”
Having celebrated the start of their living together with a bottle of vine, they discussed their need for the objects that had drained their bank accounts. And in the long run, they decided to spend a no-shopping-year. The domain name “Buy Nothing Year”and Twitter were available. Within a week, the national television made a story about them. Then they suddenly realized that after their appearance on TV, they could not retreat.
In the first three months (August through October 2013) they phased out all consumer items, such as household objects, electronics and clothes. Then, they cut out different services, including public catering, hairdressers, and gas. Instead they began doing home dinners and biking or walking everywhere, even during long, cold Canadian winter.
It takes Geoff 35-minute walk to work, so he dressed thermal underwear, winter boots, scarf, mittens and a hat. Though he was already fit when the year began, he lost an additional 10 pounds. When he had to go especially far, he took the bus. They made their own laundry detergent and surface cleaners, but couldn’t cut out store-bought dish soap, as the homemade one left a gross film on their dishes.
During the last experiment phase started in July 2014, they intended to stop buying food and grow their own vegetables with their aquaponics system. But they couldn’t grow enough to feed themselves. Harvesting season begins in August, and their project ended on August 3. By then, as says Geoffrey, “the Buy Nothing Year” had already helped them to achieve a lot of what they wanted, which was to change their lifestyle.
Geoffrey saved $42,300 and Julie – $13,800. “As much as Geoff saved, I don’t make per year.” – Julie’s explanation as to why Geoffrey saved so much more.
What were your spending habits like before?
Geoffrey: I graduated in 2012 and I had euphoria feelings like “Now I can buy grownup stuff!” I bought a car, a cool couch, different fancy things for the house, was going on a lot of trips. I’ve been to Berlin, I went to Burning Man festival every year, I used to go to San Francisco or Vancouver, and took weekend trips to mountains.
Julie: I’ve always been pretty sociable and ready for anything, so I ate out a lot, went out for drinks, coffee with friends. $15 for drinks here, $40 for dinner there. I was never a super-spender, going out for hundred bottles of wine. It was just the frequency.
Geoffrey: A lot of money went out to cafés and restaurants, and I spent $150 on haircuts every month.
Julie: I used to spend $250 on my hair for cut and color every three months, so I saved over a grand in the last year just on hair. I would go into a drugstore to buy toothpaste or one simple thing and leave with $75 worth of stuff — makeup, a magazine, shampoo. I just wouldn’t think about it. Now, I don’t go into stores that much except to buy food.
What were your feelings at the beginning of the Year? Was there a transition period?
Julie: When we started, we were full of enthusiasm: we had a blog, we were invited for interviews.
Geoffrey: Then when you’re doing it, you think, “Damn, I didn’t know it was going to be like this.”
Julie: We had to get accustomed to the new conditions. We were living in the same house with the same people, but we suddenly understood we can’t do the same things we used to.
What were the hardest things to give up? What were the easiest things to give up?
Julie: I found clothes really easy to give up. What was hard to give up was eating out, going out with friends to cafés and restaurants. And not driving. I liked being busy and doing some things at a time, and not driving forced me to slow down. I couldn’t do as much into a day.
Geoffrey: I found clothes really easy to give up too. Giving up haircuts at first was hard. In first two or three months, I really suffered as I wanted a haircut — a real haircut. I just needed that feeling. I’ve been getting salon haircuts since I was 15. It was a huge part of my life to be able to go to a salon and to change my hair in a moment. I even thought about being a hair stylist at one point.
Not eating out was hard due to logistics: I get home at 10pm and then I make dinner, so I go to bed at 11pm, and I have to make lunch or wake up earlier. Giving up my car was easier than I thought it would be.
Did you lose your friends?
Geoffrey: That’s was the hardest part. There were times when I felt lonely, especially when summer set in. Calgary summer only lasts for a month, so everyone wants to go to the beach, to go out and drink.
My friends and coworkers mocked at me like “I’ll do a Buy Everything Year instead of a Buy Nothing Year,” or “Why would you do that?” Now when they’ve seen the results of the project, a lot of them take it serious. Now when my coworkers or friends ask me about it, they’re more serious and interested in how much money I saved, so we convinced people this was worthwhile. But in the beginning, a lot of people distanced themselves from me or I distanced myself from them because our friendship was based around spending money and they didn’t want to change those behaviors.
I get it — that’s their choice.
In the course of the project, we also found a lot of friends in unexpected places. For example in the arts and downshifting community and among people involved with urban farming.
How did it feel to lose friends? Did it make you question doing the project?
Geoffrey: It definitely made me question it. I almost quit, actually. I almost quit when I fell off my bike and broke my tooth and it cost me $5,000. I came home and cried: “Julie, why are we doing this?”
Julie: I definitely changed the types of things I was doing with friends. A group of my friends that love to go camping and on trips and to concerts, and spend $150 for Coachella festival or go to Vegas, if there are cheap tickets. I haven’t seen them for six months. They’ve stopped calling. They are working corporate jobs and making probably twice as much as me. All this time I’ve been trying not to lag behind them. I’ve had these friends since I was young. But we’re in different categories.
I’m a maid of honor this summer, and I had to buy the dress and shoes before Buy Nothing Year ended. Since it was my best friend’s wedding, of course I wanted to be part of it, but it did make me think about the social pressures we have to spend.
Often we try to keep up a certain lifestyle due to the expectations of the other.
Geoffrey: or social obligations.
How has your life has changed?
Julie: I’ve got a more mindful approach to my life. I learned to get my priorities right. Lately I used to constantly want things — more, better, nicer and cheaper. I’ve spent a year without it, so my life is richer. It’s a spiritual outcome, which I didn’t expect at all.
I started perceiving better surrounding reality because I’m not in my car all the time. I’m riding my bike and walking, and it’s caused me to think about the bigger picture in our society — here are the flows of money, here’s the temptation. Calgary is a wealthy city. There’s an expectation that you go out for drinks after work and you have this certain lifestyle if you’re working at a corporation.
Geoffrey: The province here we live, (Alberta, is the economic engine of Canada. It’s got the highest wages in all of Canada, but also the highest debt position. People spend much here. Being a consumer is the default setting.
Before, if I had enough money to buy a thing, I bought it. As long as I wasn’t going over my paycheck every month, I was doing okay.
Now, I would rather save half of my wage, because money gives freedom and opportunities. If I save enough, I can look at other career possibilities not focused on money because I have this buffer and I know how to live on a lot less. This skill will serve me for the rest of my life. I won’t be afraid of making less money or to make choices that aren’t motivated by money. I‘ll be able to make spiritual, mental or community-oriented choices.
How would you recommend people get started?
Julie: Pay attention to what makes you feel good. Strike a balance every month. I’m sure there’s no need to be as extreme as Geoff and I were. Make it fun and do it with friends or family. We kept going because Geoff and I had each other.
I hope the project inspires people to revise their consumer habits and that they feel empowered to make changes in their personal financial lives. It’s unnecessary to trap yourself. A mindful approach to spending can bring you wonderful results. The benefits outweigh the challenges.
7 tips on how to save money on purchases
- Each month, pay attention to your spending.
The first step to control your money is to know on what it was spent. You’ll see how to distribute expenses in a best way or where you can save. If you find out that you spend $ 200 a monthly for a drink, but you want to travel more, reduce your costs in a half, and you’ll have $ 1,200 a year for vacation.
- “Do it yourself”.
If something broke down, try not to buy a new thing, but repair the old one. If you want to refresh the interior in the house, save money and look for some helpful tips in the network.
- Abstain from big purchases.
Rather than make a big purchase impulsively, think whether you can manage with what you have. Or, perhaps, it’s better to buy a used item, to wait for discounts or to rent it. Jeff and Julie found that a pause before a big purchase often helps to understand that actually it’s possible to do without it, or that the desired object can be found on the message boards. The same applies to small purchases, such as clothing.
- Cook at home.
If you usually eat out you can switch into homemade food and save a lot of money. Besides, it’s fun.
- Think about what you have, not about what you “need”.
One of unexpected bonuses from Jeff and Julie’s project was their spiritual growth. Having decided not to buy anything, they have become immune to the constant bombardment of advertising. Therefore, instead of the constant need for material objects their minds were filled with thoughts of what really enriches their lives.
- Grow vegetables and herbs on your own.
By the end of the year, Jeffrey and Julie went to the store only for food products. But if you try to grow vegetables yourself, the costs may be reduced even more, while you enjoy the connection with nature and enjoy the process in general. Working in your own garden, caring for it and reaping your own harvest may bring you a wonderful sense of satisfaction.
- Walk and ride a bike.
Firstly, it will help you save a lot of money on gas, loan payments for the car, insurance, parking, vehicle checkup and toll roads. Besides, thanks to the walks and bike rides, Julie could get more joy out of life and see more things around.