For 2020 I committed to a No Spend Challenge.
I’ve been working since I was 16 and at the time of me writing this I am $49,000 in debt and have <$10,000 in savings/investments.
As I reflect on my past spending habits I can’t help but think how much more money I would have right now if I actually thought about my purchases.
I’ve spent so much on clothes that I ended up getting rid of within a year, I purchased unnecessary amounts of skin care and beauty products, I’ve purchased things that I can’t even think of but I know I didn’t need them.
Had I saved just 10% of what I’ve earned since the beginning, I would probably have at least $30-$40,000 and obviously much more had I invested it.
In recent years I definitely decreased my spending in order to pay off more debt. I wouldn’t say I had a spending problem going into 2020, but I wanted to do a No Spend Year because I have enough.
Buying more things only gave me temporary joy and I really have all I need.
Will I shop in the future? Of course. But I’ve learned to consider what I’m actually purchasing first.
Consumerism is a huge problem in society, especially in the US.
Not because consumerism itself is bad, but because most consumers literally do it mindlessly and cannot afford it.
Consumers go into credit card debt to buy a new wardrobe. People take out a loan worth half their yearly income to drive a brand new car. People live paycheck to paycheck yet buy lunch and dinner out every day.
All without batting an eye.
Have you ever considered the TRUE cost of your purchases?
How much even a $10 item could cost you in the long-run?
Let’s look into it.
First I want to touch on why consumerism is so common in the first place.
- We are bombarded with products to purchase ALL. DAY. LONG.
You can’t drive down the road without seeing a billboard, every website has ads for items they know you are interested in (including my blog!), we see social media influencers sharing their latest hauls and cute outfits. You can’t escape it.
- Sales and FOMO
Haven’t you heard that when you buy something on sale you’re not really saving any money at all?
If you buy an item for $100 but it usually costs $200, you didn’t save $100…you spent $100.
We see a sale and think we MUST buy it before it’s too late. We don’t want to miss out on such a great deal.
People are addicted to shopping because it triggers dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.
The excitement you feel when you are about to purchase an item is a dopamine rush. You get that instant gratification and it feels good to the brain so you keep going for me.
However, you may feel guilt later and/or you won’t feel that same excitement for the item you purchased in a few days.
- To fit in/Easily influences
With social media there has been an increase in people sharing their purchases and belongings.
In general, it’s common for one to want a nice new car, a beautiful home, nice clothes, etc. especially.
This desire increases even more when people see other people with bigger and better things.
Humans are easily influenced by what other people do and think of them.
Let’s look at some statistics:
Total student loan debt in America is now over $1.5 trillion and the average student loan debt per person is about $32,000.
43% of Americans carry over a credit card balance every month. Meaning they have revolving debt that they are paying interest on.
In 2019 the average credit card balance was over $6,000. And what’s interesting is that people who make MORE money also have more credit card debt.
Auto loan debt makes up 9.5% of American consumer debt and the average monthly car payment is $550 for an average of 69 months for new cars.
Which is interesting because the median household income is about $66,000.
I didn’t even include mortgage, personal loans or medical bills in these statistics. But you can imagine that the minimum monthly payment for all these things will really eat up that income.
Yet, people are still continuing to spend above their means and purchase unnecessary things.
The true cost of your purchases
When you spend $50, $100 or any amount, are you really only spending that amount? No.
Hours of Your Life
First let’s look at how much you actually make an hour.
Think about your hourly wage. Maybe you make $15 an hour, $25 or $100, but that’s not accurate.
If you make $25 an hour and work 40 hours a week you make about $4,000 a month. After taxes you probably make roughly $19-$20 an hour.
But we also need to consider your commute (time and gas), the time it takes you to get ready, and any of the clothing you may need to buy for your job.
Let’s just say your ACTUAL hourly rate is $15.
So the next time you go to make a purchase, consider if that purchase is worth your TIME.
If you buy some new shoes for $150, is that worth 10 hours of your time?
If you make a big purchase or if your total unnecessary spending each month totals $600 or more, you’re spending a whole work week of your life.
Do that every month and you spend 3 MONTHS of your work in a year.
This is your life in weeks by the way:
This is how many weeks I’ve already lived:
So before you swipe your card, ask yourself if you’re willing to spend that amount of your time.
If you didn’t spend that money, how much time could you reduce working in the future?
Making a Purchase on a Revolving Credit Card
Next let’s consider that you make a purchase on a credit card and don’t pay it off. You actually decide just to pay the minimum payment due until it is paid off.
Your credit card has a 19% interest rate and you make a $500 purchase.
The minimum payment is usually about 2-3% of the total amount owed, so let’s say it’s about $12.50.
You will pay $12.50 every month for 64 months (over 5 years) and pay a total of $798.35 ($298.35 in interest).
Now imagine if that balance was larger or if the interest rate was higher. You’ll pay thousands in interest.
You can use this calculator to see.
So that $500 purchase is actually almost $800. Will you even be using it in 5 years? Would you even want it?
If You Invest it Instead
Now let’s consider that same $500 purchase.
This time we’ll see how much it would be worth if you invested it.
There are many investments options but we’ll keep it simple and modest.
You invest $500 with a return rate of 6%. In 1 year that $500 will be worth $530.
$895 in 10 years and over $2,100 in 25 years.
Again, you can imagine what more money would be worth with a higher interest rate or with even more time invested.
You can plug in numbers here.
Finances are the main cause of stress in America.
Think back to a time when you were financially struggling or were worried about a bill.
You probably lost sleep, you probably spent time worrying about it and going over numbers, you may have argued with your spouse and you probably felt on edge.
Obviously we have to spend money to survive, but when you buy above your means or purchase so many unnecessary things, you also add unnecessary stress.
The happiness from that purchase will only last so long and soon you’ll find yourself in tears because you have a bill due that you can’t cover.
Stress can also lead to a number of health problems, which leads to more financial stress and so on.
The things you are buying will not make you happier, it’s all a facade.
Imagine the peace you will feel when your debt is paid off, you have a large savings in place, you’re investing regularly and you have just what you need in life.
Production of goods is higher than ever.
We can buy brand new clothes, shoes, cars, furniture, beauty products, glassware, etc. for various prices and in any style you can imagine. It’s all available in-store or online.
And what happens when we replace something we own? We get rid of the old thing.
There are piles and piles of trash filling the environment. 1.3 billion tons of trash is generated per year, a number that is growing.
All these things we buy usually end up polluting the world and creating dirty drinking water and hazardous waste.
Not the mention the pollution created when creating and shipping those products.
Many items we frequently purchase are also created via slave labor. Meaning children and women around the world are forced to work with little to no pay and poor working conditions.
There was actually a recent documentary on this.
Obviously, it can be hard to avoid these things. I too am contributing to all of this, but we can reduce our impact by reducing the number of things we buy.
Wait 72 hours
The “72-hour Rule” was made popular by The Frugal Woods. The idea is to wait 72 hours before making a purchase you initially wanted to impulsively buy.
Usually what happens is you’ll realize you don’t really want/need it at all.
Buy used or borrow
You can find used items for less which is better for your wallet but also for the world. You’ll recycle an item and reduce waste overall.
For example, I almost never buy brand new books. I prefer to have physical books because I collect them and that is how I like to read, but I always find them used for half the price.
Another option is to borrow something, especially if you only need it for one thing.
A useful idea to point out here is CPU or “cost per use.”
When you purchase an item for $100 but only use it once, it costs you $100/use.
If you purchase an item for $100 and use it 200 times, it cost you $0.50/use.
This can help you determine whether that item is worth buying or renting/borrowing.
Feel abundance with what you already have
I encourage you to explore minimalism because the idea is to only keep/buy the things that add value to your life.
You don’t need to own only 10 items, but ask why you need 15 towels and 8 throw blankets.
I will buy dozens of books in my lifetime because they make me happy. Last year I purchased a beautiful living room table because I love it in my home.
If you look around at everything you have you’ll realize you have more than enough.
Instead of buying something brand new when the one you had broke, see if you can fix it instead. Usually you can.
If not, just consider whether or not you need the item replaced right away or if you could instead wait, save for it and find a deal later.
There are many things that are worth purchasing even if it costs weeks of our lives or thousands in the stock market.
My point of this post is to show you how many people are so quick to just purchase items without considering the impact on their life.
Then they question why they’re always struggling financially.
Sometimes you just really want to buy something or treat yourself, but by being more intentional with your money you can develop more discipline and happiness.
Intentionally saving up for something you truly, truly want is way more rewarding.