No Buy Challenge: What You Need to Know

For Grace Nevitt, the new year started with a no-buy challenge.

“I feel like my money is just leaking out. I … looked at my statement like, ‘OK, where is all this money going?’” he said, adding that it was “time to start from scratch and try something really crazy.”

Nevitt, a New York City-based swing or stunt performer for Broadway shows’ wardrobe departments, only bought items that were “absolute necessities” in January. Apart from allowing himself two meals a week, he would only spend his money on essentials like groceries, toilet paper, and bills, and would only replace his daily necessities when they ran out.

Nevitt is one of many people who have tried a no-purchase or spending-restrictive month. If you’ve been on TikTok lately, you’ve probably seen people talking about their “No Shopping January,” and thousands of people have watched their journey.

Rebecca Sowden, a commission analyst in Corona, California, is one of those TikTokers. After Christmas, Sowden said she realized that she was “shopping and thinking about shopping most of my free time.” He’s had successful shopping bans before; once she started using her credit card again, she knew “it was time for another shopping ban.”

“I use it to get comfortable living without it and to practice saying ‘no’ to myself,” Sowden says.

Talk News spoke with Nevitt, Sowden, and two others who got caught up in the no-buy, no-spend personal challenge about what they learned – and their tips for anyone looking to do the same.

1. Breaking the habit of online shopping can be the most difficult challenge.

For Sowden, her month-long challenge is to stick to a weekly budget of $175 for food, transportation and other necessities, and not buy new clothes, shoes or accessories.

However, the toughest challenge is the “rules of conduct”. She was not allowed to do in-person or online shopping to “pass the time or deal with emotions.”

“It’s no wonder people have difficulty not consuming too much. Targeted advertising is really in their game; we have to say ‘no’ over and over again – eventually you get tired,” says Sowden. “There were a few TikTok ads that almost pissed me off, and just the threat of having to admit my mistake made me empty my basket.”

2. Spending FOMO is real.

FOMO, or “fear of missing out,” can be the main reason someone makes compulsive purchases. Thirty-nine percent of millennials admit to spending money they don’t have and going into debt to keep up with their peers, according to a 2018 Credit Karma/Qualtrics survey.

For Julianna Simmons, a higher education professional in Austin, Texas, breaking her desire to spend FOMO was her most difficult challenge.

“When something new comes out, I always want to be the first to have it. “For no reason at all, right — maybe to satisfy the ego,” he said.

Simmons, above, explains it "register for later" he saved it for the month of January without spending on TikTok.Simmons, above, explains the “for later list” she kept during her no-shopping January on TikTok.

To combat this, Simmons keeps a “for later list” of everything he wants to buy during the challenge. By the end of January, Simmons had at least 75 items on his list, including mahjong tiles, joggers and Birkenstocks that totaled several hundred dollars. This was her “biggest eye opener” regarding her spending habits.

“Do I really need or want these items or will I use them, or will they benefit me and my family? And then from there, I can say, ‘Okay, I can delete this. I don’t really want that,’” Simmons said. “Many times, I find myself forgetting what I wanted to put on the list.”

Similarly, Savanah Cuevas, a Massachusetts-based IT project manager, documented her January shopping ban on TikTok and realized that the hardest part was “facing the reality of my completely unreasonable spending habits.”

“I always want the newest stuff even if the stuff I own is similar it doesn’t matter,” Cuevas said. “I will sometimes buy new things with money I don’t have, because it’s so easy to throw it on a credit card.”

3. Set rules that are realistic for you.

A successful money saving challenge isn’t just about what you cut out.

Cuevas says an “all or nothing” mindset is unsustainable, so he purposely made an exception for the no-spend challenge.

“For me, I like going out to eat with my friends or having breakfast with my boyfriend on weekends, so I call those things exceptions. “But there’s no exception for take-out food because I’m too lazy to cook,” he said. “That way, I don’t miss out on my social life, which is important, and still reduce my spending.”

In her TikTok video, Sowden, above, shares how she tracks her budget during her no-spend challenge.In her TikTok video, Sowden, above, shares how she tracks her budget during her no-spend challenge.

There are also entire categories that you can leave out of this challenge. Sowden, for example, says that he deliberately doesn’t make “straightforward rules about food because of my complicated relationship with it.”

Simmons said if he did this challenge again, he would ease up on his rule of not eating out when he’s alone. On one day of the challenge, Simmons found himself starving when he had been out of the house for six hours.

“You have to be able to get food… like grab something to eat. That’s the only thing I think that would make me happy that it’s over,” Simmons said.

Seeing how people who don’t buy and don’t spend money do these challenges can be helpful, but you don’t need to do your own challenges in exactly the same way.

“Sometimes people have different rules because they are disabled or have a chronic illness and they have to cover more medical bills,” Nevitt said. “Having a universal buying ban is really inaccessible to a lot of people. And I think that’s why a lot of people have felt intimidated when taking on these challenges in the past.”

4. When you want to give up, go back to your ‘why’.

Nevitt said in January that he was determined to buy himself a new $30 Kindle box that he could no longer afford under the no-buy rule.

“It was just me realizing that since I couldn’t spend money, I wanted to spend money,” Nevitt said. “I was like, ‘Oh OK, now I don’t like the way it looks or it seems clunky.’”

He held strong by returning to the “why” question.

“My whole goal in life is to live on a homestead and live a very slow life,” Nevitt said. “If I work really hard now, then I know I can make it happen, and building good habits and sustainable financial choices is key.”

Once you discover your own “why,” you can remember it the next time you are tempted.

“If you know the reason why you’re doing this challenge – whether it’s to save money, reduce clutter, buy a house, break a shopping addiction, whatever – then all the questions that arise when you feel that urge to buy can be filtered through a ‘why’ guide, and why you’re doing the challenge,” Nevitt said.

5. What you learn about yourself may surprise you.

To replace the dopamine rush she usually gets from shopping, Nevitt says it has helped her return to the comforting escape of reading a book. Instead of shopping, she now checks out books from the library and reads them on her Kindle.

“I’ve read like a book a week so far (January),” Nevitt said. “And they are also very large books. I have read almost 2,000 pages.”

Sowden ends her shopping ban at the end of the month, but her learning continues.

“I’m going to stick to the budget and that’s the real goal for me,” he said. For him, “a truly successful shopping ban is a shopping ban that follows.”

In this way, a challenge without spending any money can be a reset for long-term lifestyle changes. Cuevas, who entered the challenge to save on her expenses and deal with “huge student loans,” discovered that she often shopped out of boredom. He now plans to implement a no-shopping policy on weekdays after January.

Nevitt, above, documents the challenges of a year-long buy ban on YouTube. Nevitt, above, documents the challenges of a year-long buy ban on YouTube.

In some cases, completing a month according to your budgeting and spending rules can be the push you need to keep going after the month is over. For Nevitt, January was just the beginning of the no-buy challenge he plans to undertake and document for this year.

“My shopping problem is worse than I thought and my brain is still desperate to buy things,” she said. “And I think that’s why I wanted to do it for the whole year versus just a month, because I knew that my spending problem was really bad. So I want to give my brain a full year to really reset and fix all my habits.”

For those who can relate, Nevitt suggests starting a year-long no-buy challenge.

“If you can survive, I would say try challenging yourself to do another month, because one month is amazing. But if you can keep going, why not?” he says.

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