I've made a couple half-hearted attempts to do a "Buy Nothing" month: a month where I am only "allowed" to buy necessities, nothing for myself. September was at one time planned to be a Buy Nothing month, as was October (neither panned out). Actually, I've never gotten past the planning stages.
Often, people who plan "Buy Nothing" periods for themselves (be it a month, a year, or whatever period of time) will give themselves an allowed list: "I'll buy nothing, except for groceries, bills, mascara when mine runs out, and I already know I need a new frying pan so that's okay." Whenever I started making my list of "exceptions," it always grew to such an absurd length that I felt it necessary to switch the title in my mind from "Buy Nothing Month" to "Buy With Intention" month: after all, I wasn't planning to buy nothing, but to buy only the things I'd already planned and thought of. Then I realized that the month boundary was artificial, and this was something I was already trying to do in a larger sense: not make impulse purchases, but buy off a pre-planned list.
I always called it my "wish list," but I changed the name to "Buy With Intention List" and I like the way it sounds. Less grabby, more thoughtful.
Using a wish list, whatever you call it, has been a remarkably helpful strategy for me in reducing the amount (and increasing the quality) of stuff I buy for myself. The purchases I regret the most are impulse purchases, things I didn't "know I wanted" until I saw them, bought them immediately, and then forgot all about them, often by the time I received them in the mail. Or, things I bought right away because seeing them reminded me that I needed "something like that," even if the thing in front of me was not the most optimal item. Putting an item on my list gives me a chance to think about it, plan, identify its relative priority versus other wants, and shop around efore pushing the "Buy" button.
It's really just about putting time and thought between "want" and "have." I make the worst shopping decisions in a hot state: fired up with desire and object-lust. Wish-listing the item is an action I can take in a hot state that has no ramifications. Then I can make actual purchasing decisions in a cool, rational state. That's why I see the value in wish lists even when I don't maintain any particular rules about how long an item has to stay on the list before it can be purchased. (I like to lie and claim that things have to be on the list for a month, but they don't. I make up rules like that, then I don't follow them. I find it works best to take things on a case-by-case basis. For example, if it gets cold and I realize I need new mittens, I probably want them right away. But if I come up with something I could use for camping next summer, there is absolutely no rush, unless I see a great sale in the meantime.)
My Buy With Intention List: Nuts and Bolts
My first wish list was on Amazon, but I moved it as I started to use them less and less (for frugality and ethical reasons--though they're still the best or only place to find certain types of items, especially when you don't have a car). Many online stores have wish lists, but they make it intentionally hard to wish-list items from other stores or non-specific items ("a sweater" not "this particular sweater here's the link"). So I find it's best to keep my list in a neutral location, not sponsored by any particular retailer. A plain old text document works fine.
I currently use Trello, just because I like to drag and drop items to re-order the priority and move them between different sub-lists. I can also click into the card to add details for a given item, like links to potential models, lists of features to look for, and so on.
My Buy With Intention list in its current form has four sub-lists:
- Coming Soon: Items I've already purchased, but they haven't come in the mail yet. I drag items from "On Deck" to "Coming Soon" after making the purchase. I find it's helpful to keep this list instead of simply deleting the card as soon as I buy the item. When buying online, the item that arrives often turns out not to suit my needs (shoes that don't fit, etc.), so there's a lot of returning. In that case, I can just drag the item from "Coming Soon" back to "On Deck," and I have all my original notes about it.
- On Deck: Items I plan to buy within the next month or so. I try to keep this in priority order, with the item I want most being on top. Knowing that my funds are limited for a given month, this gives me some direction as to where to spend my money. (Bargains and random opportunities frequently cause me to buy out of order, however.)
- For Later: Items that are lower-priority or that I don't need or want right away. When I come up with a new item that I want, unless it's seasonal or otherwise urgent, I try to put it on "For Later" instead of directly "On Deck." At the beginning of the month, when my budget refreshes, I can peruse my "For Later" items and see if there's anything I want in the next month. (That is, if I don't still have plenty of items "On Deck", which is frequently the case.) This is a chance to re-prioritize. Items that chronically stay on "For Later" and never get bumped to "On Deck" are usually items I don't really want all that much. It's satisfying to delete items off of "For Later" because I realize I'm perfectly happy without them. Ahhh, lack of desire.
- Restocking: Sometimes I make great notes for an item I'm looking for, and even when I fill the immediate need, I want to keep the notes for the next time I need to replace it. This could be a list of attributes of the perfect sweater, or a note about what model of ink cartridge my printer uses.
Maybe that's too complicated for you--a simple text list of items would be fine. Whatever form your wish list takes, it can be a great way to be more thoughtful about the things you buy.
I find that the list gets at the heart of the reason that I want to try to "Buy Nothing" month--being more intentional about my purchases--without the arbitrary, draconian, austerity-measures feeling of an outright shopping ban. I tend to buck against arbitrary and draconian, but planning and prioritizing in a list feels more logical and positive and fruitful, so it's something I actually do.