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Have you heard of the “no-buy challenge”? In 2019, Prosperity Economics Movement co-founder Kim Butler declared a “no buy year” for clothing and skincare products. At the time, she was unaware of the growing no-buy trend. She was just very aware that she had plenty of clothes and a whole drawer of barely used skin products!

One year later, Kim declared it a success. Not only did she not spend a penny on clothes or skincare, she shared, “It felt even better to actually USE what I already had rather than buy what I didn’t really need!”

Many thousands of people have designed their own no-buy challenge. Some participate for a week or a month, vowing to stop spending in certain categories or on anything deemed “unnecessary.” Others declare a no-buy year or make it an ongoing way of life, embracing a simpler lifestyle. Many people embrace a “low-buy” challenge in which they set budget limits.

Could a no-buy or low-buy year (or perhaps a no-buy month) make a difference for you? Let’s look at the trend helping thousands of consumers free themselves from patterns of overspending!

Table of Contents

A Life-Changing Decision

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Hailey Evans was trapped in a job that was making her miserable. She longed to leave her 9 to 5 to have more time to travel and pursue freelance projects. Yet—as Hailey confessed in a very personal-yet-public YouTube video—she had created a financial trap for herself. Trapped in a cycle of “work, spend, debt, repeat,” she needed the job she didn’t like to pay for things she didn’t actually need.

Hailey’s job fueled a sense of dissatisfaction and frustration, and that unhappiness fed a desire to overspend. The spending made her feel better—temporarily—but it only made leaving the job seemingly impossible. Something had to change!

In 2019, something did change. Hailey declared it a “no-buy year.” Following the inspiration of others who had gone before, she decided on her no-buy rules and committed to a year of extreme frugality. Hailey decided what she would spend money on (groceries and other acknowledged necessities), and what she would not spend money on (eating out, clothes, cosmetics, and all unnecessary shopping).

A couple of months later, Hailey quit her job and didn’t look back. As she neared the completion of her no-buy year in December of 2019, she realized her life had completely changed. Without the job, Hailey found time to grow her business as a make-up artist. Her side job became her main gig. She spent a month backpacking in Europe, volunteering, and making friends in Greece. She spent far less and lived more richly.

Hailey’s life had observably changed, and Hailey herself had changed, too. She was more grounded. More confident. Visibly happier and more comfortable in her own skin.

“I’ve managed to determine the difference between something I want, something I like, and something I need,” Hailey confessed to her YouTube audience. “And those are all three very different things with very different feelings attached to them.”

Hailey’s spending is now focused on what she needs and what she loves. Her time and energy are spent on what matters to her—not what the consumer culture expects of her. She wore the same dress at several weddings and events one year (and didn’t care when someone noticed). She let her boots wear out rather than replacing them at the first signs of wear. She has saved up for travel, experiences, and relationships rather than clothing, cosmetics, and cocktails.

Hailey displays a new, simpler style that reflects her true values. She has discovered a new-found freedom and found herself a co-leader in a growing movement.

The No-Buy Challenge Movement

“No Buy,” “Low Buy” and “No Spend” trends abound in videos, Facebook pages, and Reddit forums. The Makeup Rehab Reddit forum has grown to over 75,000 members seeking support in dramatically scaling back their purchases of make-up and skincare. So far, the no-buy movement has primarily captured the imaginations of North American or European women who are Millennials or Gen Xers—although no-buy adherents can be of any age, gender and background.

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“No buy challenge” is a misnomer, as extremely few adherents actually attempt to stop spending altogether. The challenge is really about learning to spend consciously, in alignment with one’s values, rather than compulsively. The path to get there just happens to be going “cold turkey” on consumer purchases through a month-long or year-long period that functions as a “spending detox.”

An online search for “no buy year” reveals numerous heroines of the frugal kind, such as Christine of Style Apotheca, poet and clothing designer Hannah Louise Poston, and Cinzia DuBois, a freelance writer and “Personal Philosophy Project” YouTuber based in Scotland. They each found themselves spending too much, too automatically. All of them proclaim their no-buy challenge has changed their lives—a sentiment heard often in no-buy circles.

Don’t Let Spending Control You

While at first glance the movement appears to be driven by anti-consumerism, it’s really a move towards intentionality and sustainability. While some no-buy adherents might display rigid legality or judge differing views on what is a “necessity,” the true spirit of the movement is characterized by personal freedom, self-reflection, emotional mastery, and greater personal growth. 

It’s not that buying retail is bad—it’s that the compulsion to engage in retail therapy should not drive our spending.

Victories of no-buy periods are often expressed in emotional and behavioral terms. Fashion-beauty entrepreneur Ingrid Nilsen says her low-buy year allowed her to face the fact that she was using shopping as a way to avoid feelings of boredom, loneliness, and the pressure of keeping up with the Joneses on social media.

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According to published research, about 5 percent of the population struggle with addictive or compulsive spending. Compulsive buying is more prevalent among younger populations, especially students. The impact of compulsive buying includes large debts (58%), guilt (46%), inability to meet payments (42%), criticism from acquaintances (33%), and in extreme cases, legal consequences (about 8%). Although compulsive buying tends to decrease with age and maturity, the problem is on the rise in market-driven societies where young people are unprepared to properly manage cash and credit in a consumer culture.

The no-buy challenge is a personal growth challenge that also has a HUGE positive impact on one’s personal finances. The desire to save is often the impetus for change—and the savings are substantial. British author Michelle McGagh, who wrote a book and did a TED talk on her No Spend Year, saved over 22,000 pounds in one year—approximately $26,000—a figure far beyond what she had ever saved previously. And although there were tough challenges, it wasn’t all drudgery. Michelle and her husband enjoyed their “no spend vacation” of cycling and camping so much, they decided to repeat it.

The Original “No-Buyers”

The original “buy nothing year” roommates, Geoffrey and Julie of Calgary, Canada, socked away a combined $55,000. For Geoffrey, the higher earner, his savings represented a whopping 65% of his take-home pay. Before their radical experiment? “I used to live paycheck-to-paycheck,” he confessed. “One of the biggest lessons I learned is that there is an alternative to being a consumer—which is to be a saver.”

And the no-buy movement isn’t just for high earners with lots of disposable income. Cinzia of The Personal Philosophy Project describes herself as a minimum wage earner who has never made even close to $20,000 per year. Yet she was able to save an impressive 45% of her income during her 2019 no-buy year.

One of Cinzia’s money-saving tricks? Re-focusing her time and energy on free activities she enjoys. In response to viewer questions on what to DO when not spending money, Cinzia gave many options, including:

  • Reading (Cinzia spent a year reading the books she had already purchased but never read, although borrowing books from libraries or friends would also work).
  • Listening to podcasts.
  • Potlucking with others.
  • Having company or visiting friends.
  • Playing board games or card games.
  • Walking, cycling, and exercising outdoors.
  • Spending time in parks and nature.
  • Taking advantage of museum “free days.”
  • Decluttering and organizing. (Cinzia says this activity is key, because it will remind you of how much you already have that you don’t use!)

Cinzia did not spend money on: clothes, accessories, books, sugar, alcohol, home décor, apps, new technology, or dining out. Rather than focusing on restriction or deprivation, she urges people to think of a no-buy challenge as a time of personal investment over material investment. And remember—you make your own rules! Cinzia classified fitness and education as essentials in her no-buy year. Therefore, she had no spending restrictions on dance or fitness classes and learning experiences—things she enjoyed immensely and found even more fulfilling.

How to Use a No-Buy Challenge to Limit Impulse Purchasing

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Like Kim, Hailey, and Cinzia, you can use a no-buy challenge to limit impulse buying, reframe your shopping mindset, and enact long-lasting lifestyle changes. No-buy challenges can be especially helpful for managing your personal finances in these post-COVID times, especially if you’ve been negatively impacted by job loss or reduced hours.

Even if you haven’t experienced a financial setback as a result of COVID-19, a no-buy challenge can help you stay on track with good spending habits. When the stimulus check was distributed in April 2020, many Americans used the funds to go on shopping sprees for unnecessary purchases. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 20.5%, or approximately 51 million households, reported spending stimulus money on clothing, while 8.1%, or approximately 20 million households, reported buying TVs, electronics, furniture, or other recreational goods.

5 Tips for No-Buy (or low-buy) Success

1. Know WHY you are taking on the challenge 

Know why you want to change your spending habits in the first place. Is it to save money for a home down payment? Pay off your student loans? Save for travel? A specific dream will help keep you motivated!

2. Determine your own rules

What will you spend money on? How long will the challenge last? Will you choose to cap your spending, or even cut it out entirely for certain items? How will you handle special challenges or situations?

The more clarity you have on what “success” looks like for you, the more success you will have.

3. Expect resistance

No-buy challenges are life-changing precisely because they force us to re-think our spending patterns and choose new habits. This process can be uncomfortable at times, and it may cause you to question past assumptions and choices or even redefine your own identity. Re-aligning your spending with your values isn’t always easy, yet it IS worthwhile.

4. Make a list of things to do instead of shopping/spending

Most people find they have MORE time when they cut back on shopping or other forms of spending. What would you like to spend more time doing? Being intentional with your time will help you be intentional with your money, too!

5. Have a structure for accountability and support

This could include enlisting friends and family, joining an online group, getting a no-spend accountability buddy, or starting your own YouTube channel and declaring to the world your intention. Just make sure you’ve got someone/somewhere to go for support, especially when the challenge becomes challenging!

Are you ready for a No-Buy Challenge?

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We like the phrase, “Start small, go slow.” A cold-turkey no-buy year might be setting yourself up for failure. However, you can get some of the same benefits by starting with a no-buy week or month or opting for a low-buy period by choosing a few no-buy categories or setting spending caps.

Have you had no-buy successes? Will you take on a similar challenge in the future? We’d love to hear about it in the comments! 

And if we can help you automate your savings with whole life insurance (or you’re curious HOW to do so), please contact us at welcome@partners4prosperity.com.