One of my personal goals is to make 2021 a low-buy year. You may have heard of a no-buy year or a low-buy year on Instagram or Youtube, as it has been a popular trend.
What is a low-buy year? It's a year where you purchase minimally and only according to rules you set for yourself. Many people want to embark on a low-buy journey to improve their personal finances and save money. I mean, who doesn't want to save more money? Many of us who care about the environment also want to re-evaluate our spending habits and ensure that we are not partaking in the endless cycle of extraction, production, and consumption. Did you know that in the US, the two main activities are to watch TV and shop? In fact, in America we spend 3-4 times as many hours shopping as do our European counterparts. As much as I love binging on some Netflix as much as the next person, I want to do more with my life than watch TV and shop until I drop. I also want to appreciate the stuff in my life more. This goes for relationships, hobbies, interests, and also my personal belongings. It's hard to appreciate a new pair of shoes when I've already got 30+ pairs in my closet.
If you do, too, you might consider also joining me in a low-buy period of time. It could be a few weeks, a month, a quarter, or even a year. After having read many inspirational stories of people all over the world who have successfully experienced low-buy years, I'm confident that all of us will feel the positive impacts and learn something along the way.
2021 Low-Buy Rules
Here are my rules for my low-buy year. You might choose to use some of these or come up with your own that meet your individual/household needs.
1. Don't buy any new products until what I already have is used up.
2. Purchase things only on the pre-determined purchase list (below). Be conscious of the categories on the "do not purchase" list.
3. 1 unrestricted quarterly purchase up to $250 is allowed (not multiple purchases adding up to $250 is not allowed). I can also save this "splurge" money to make a larger purchase at the end of the year (up to $1,000).
4. No impulse purchases. I must come back to the item at least after 2 weeks.
5. Donate/recycle at least 25% of my wardrobe that I do not use.
6. If I must replace something, e.g., because it breaks, look out for reusable, sustainably made products that will last a long time.
Things I Can Purchase:
- Obvious basic necessities, including rent and utilities, cell phone bill, insurance.
- Basic toiletries and supplies: shampoo, toothpaste, soap, face wash, etc. (only once they've run out).
- Food: unrestricted. [Many people have strict limits on how many times they can eat out or order in, but given my current living situation, this does not make sense for me at the time. That being said, I want to commit to eating vegetarian 80% of the time.]
- Entertainment: New York Times Subscription, Spotify monthly subscription, Apple storage subscription, etc.
- Transportation: Metrocard, gas, etc. I have not been using Lyft or other ride-sharing apps since the pandemic, but if things return to a semi-normal state of living, I want to limit to 4 Lyft rides per month max.
- Gifts for other people and donations to nonprofits.
- Tuition and academic expenses. As a graduate student, this is an expense I can't avoid. Notebooks are included in this category.
- Books: I love audiobooks and so I will allow myself to purchase one if I've thought about it for two weeks and still would like to listen to it.
- Health and wellness: Vitamins and supplements once they have run out. [These are critical for my health and I view these as a necessity rather than a luxury.]
- Experiences: while I have not been going to any concerts, museums, or events during the pandemic, in the case that things change before the end of 2021, I am limited to one per month.
Things I Cannot Purchase:
- Clothes: any clothing items are off limits for me. I have way more than I will ever wear.
- Shoes: all shoes are again off limits for me. I have way too many.
- Home goods: this is a category where I do not want to buy anything new this year. However, I will likely buy a Nespresso machine once I move to a new apartment, so this will have to count as one of my quarterly purchases if I choose to buy it. I also have one too many candles and am purposely noting that I will not buy any more until I have used all the ones I have up.
- Jewelry: all jewelry is off limits for me. Personally, I love supporting small businesses that make all kinds of cool jewelry, but I really want to be more conscious about my shopping in this category this year.
- Makeup: all makeup is not allowed, unless I run out of a product I consistently use and do not have any other backups already.
Categories I must be most conscientious about not purchasing:
Low Buy Year Tips
Upon doing some internet research to see what others found to be most helpful in making their low-buy year successful, I came across some good ideas that I'm listing below. Depending on your preferences, you might even make some of these part of your officials "rules."
- When I have an impulse to buy something, move that amount of money to my savings account.
- Creating savings goals with the money you'll save. Maybe you want to plan for a down payment on a house or create a trip savings goal. I can't wait to travel once the pandemic has subsided and plan on taking a trip to Korea.
- Get a friend to join you. In general, it's motivating to have an accountability buddy, and even more so in a low-buy year so that you have someone to share tips and tricks with.
- Clean out your closet, medicine cabinet, the draw underneath the sink and you'll probably find a bunch of things you forgot you had. I found two bottles of mouthwash and three extra shampoos that I totally forgot about in the linen closet and will be using those up first before purchasing any more.
- Donate and recycle items you have not used and do not plan on using. Clean up the clutter!
I'll likely be editing this post as I begin my low-buy year and come across situations I hadn't thought of or don't fit neatly into any of the buckets described above - I'll make changes in blue text. Let me know if you decide to try a low/no buy year, too. I'm hoping to share more about my journey over the course of the year on our Instagram @sustainabilitylab.co.