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Debt, money, spending, and diving head-first into a “No-Buy Year.”
After a financial scare, I’m focusing on changing my behavior around shopping, money, and stuff. (Again.)
I broke down while telling my therapist about how terrified I was, thinking we’d owe far more tax money than we accounted for. Thankfully, it was $1,000 more than usual, and not the quadruple+ our normal payout we feared it might be.
(To note: Outside of my entrepreneurial income streams that require a tax pay-out annually, roughly half of Brian’s annual income is paid in stocks. When we use the stock income, we have to pay additional fees on top of taxes. Last year’s medical bills, and me going a little nuts with gifting and with visitors left us needing to dig into stock compensation, unfortunately. So, here we are.)
However, in less than four weeks I spent almost $14,000 on medical debt and medications, but also due to my impulsivity.
Although a good chunk of the debt was medical, parting with some folks’ annual income in less than a month’s time feels like the start of a major financial crisis if I/we don’t get a handle on it.
It’s not just me, but my relationship with money is the least healthy between Brian and I. He may make larger purchases (like technology, etc.), but my “little impulse buys” add up. And at the end of the year, my repeated, smaller purchases far outweigh Brian’s larger-item purchases.
It’s not a competition or a comparison. I’m making an observation.
Moreover, his larger purchases are well thought out. He’s done lots of research and planned to spend on a higher priced item.
I don’t think about it. An item pops into my head, I search for it, and add it to cart. If a new item (meaning: a non-recurring purchase) is under $50—depending on what the item is—I tend to immediately checkout, frequently without seeking alternatives or even just giving it a little time before purchasing. That may not sound too bad to some, but when you do the same thing sometimes multiple times a day, and, at times, almost every day of the week, it’s a serious problem.
So, I’ve embarked on a 12-month “No-Buy” period.
In a nutshell, becoming minimalist describes a No-Buy (or No-Spend) Year “as a whole year dedicated to cutting out extraneous purchases to reset your spending habits.”
My goal is to pay off my most recent medical and impulse-buys debt. But foundation-ally to retrain myself, and further educate myself about money.
Join me on my rove toward financial wisdom and stability.
I grew up poor and broke, with parents who spent money like it grew on the (skimpy) tree in the fenced-in backyard.
We were the “poor, white trash” living in a wealthy beach community in St. Pete Beach, Florida. My dad’s dad bought the house in the 70s after the elderly owner who built it died in it. (Meaning: My grandfather was able to mortgage it for less than many of the existing homes on the island at $30,000.) Soon after he bought the house, the neighborhood took off around their modest home that received decent upgrades in the 90s, but never again in the almost forty years that it was in my family.
As far back as I can remember, we always had multiple (older) vehicles. When my brother and I hit double-digits, my dad bought a boat. Because of all the possessions and “toys” and large items, plus living in a wealthy beach community, my brother and I thought we were rich.
I had no idea my family was drowning in credit card debt, and lived paycheck to paycheck based on how much my parents owned, as well as their spending habits.
What made things worse from my young perspective was when my mom got sick with inoperable lung cancer—she smoked for 32 years, however, her doctor knew about the tumor and did nothing. It was inoperable a year later. And when my mom had to collect her medical records for Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, she found the radiology report noting the mass, which was signed off on by the radiologist and by her doctor almost one year prior to the date of her diagnosis. And it had just been filed away without her ever getting notified.
The doctor(s)’s negligence essentially condemned her to death.
My parents sued separately and both won a good deal of money. (This was just before the medical malpractice (damage) lawsuit capin Florida.)
My parents spent and spent and spent that money. It seemed like an endless amount to my brother and I—they never divulged how much it was, and had to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs)about many of the details, so we didn't press.
During a time that my family might’ve normally been solemn and depressed, we were going out to eat almost daily, buying new stuff constantly—I saw how good it felt to drown your sorrows in new and exciting things, and in those experiences.
That, plus growing up poor yet still living like we had an infinite supply of income really distorts one’s respect for and understanding of money and financial responsibility.
Within 6 years of her diagnosis, my mom died; my lifelong live-in grandmother had multiple strokes and needed repeated rehabilitation; I found out I was 5-months pregnant, having had a mock period (mild bleeding every month) for 8 months of the pregnancy; and my dad lost their paid-for house on a defaulted land-lease discrepancy because he was broke and hadn’t paid property taxes in two years, but also because he couldn’t pay two years of the land leaseeither. (There’s a lot more to it, but I’ll leave it there for this.)
My brother and I never got the guidance needed to grow into fully functioning, financially sound and responsible adults. And we both still act like money is in limitless supply, even to the detriment of our families.
I see the roots of this problem.
I unsubscribed from everything that namely encourages money-spending.
No more BookBub’s weekly deals, even. (Those $1.99+ books that I don’t get to reading anyways add up.)
No more YouTubers who only review products or encourage trying new things constantly. (I have a rock-solid system that I’ll share eventually—I don’t need more.)
I need stability. I need to get back to a more minimalistic mindset and lifestyle, but without falling back down the minimalism hole that, initially, cost us similarly to when I was maximalistic. (Some minimalism influencers encouraged replacing items to fit an aesthetic, and spending on higher-dollar items for longevity as opposed to keeping what works until it breaks adds up fast, too.)
My No-Buy Year started in mid-April, and so far, I’ve done well with it. I’ve had two “mess ups,” but I’ve acknowledged them and found those two additional areas of struggle that I can now work on.
Moving forward, I plan to buy nothing outside of our regular-use, consumable items until May 2024. But, I have a feeling that when I make it through the first 12 months, that I’ll see no need in going back to the way things were and will want to stick with it.
I’ll share more about the journey, and allowances as we go, but for now, my one allowable “treat” that many may consider extraneous is dining out maybe twice a week. Dining out isn’t simply fulfilling a function for me—that can be done at home. Dining out is about the experience. It’s me dedicating attention to my dining partner, and nurturing that relationship. It’s my substitute for travel. It’s my I’m over-extended and I need to take one more action (cooking) off my plate.
It serves a valid purpose for me, and if I do it wisely (meaning: The swanky steak joint is a special occasion, not an everyday dining experience), I can afford this one thing.
I want more plants? Propagate what I’ve got.
I want to try a new eyeshadow? I wear eyeliner. Eyeshadow is maybe a once-monthly thing—I don’t need it. And so on.
But, between the damage I caused from over-spending, to the cost of keeping me alive, going out to eat is potentially the only “travel experience” I may ever get again. I’m coming to terms with this still, and I’m grateful for the access of safe dining experiences as someone with a complex food situation. To me, as long as I spend that time with someone I love, or I get some much-needed time to myself, it’s a worthwhile and well-chosen allowance.
So, I’ll give myself the one half-function-fulfilling, half-experiential weekly dining experience. And the potential second allotment will be on weeks that our housekeeper comes in, and we clear out for her. Or, if it’s spent as a family or as a couple doing something special together that all of us love to do: Eat.
Allowing these dining experiences is less of a cheat and more of a toe dipped into this new stability mindset. If I cut everything that genuinely gives me that necessary dopamine hit, where am I after that?
Would totally stripping my life of all of my particular, expenditure-joys be worth it?
With this allowance, there’s a sense of mortality involved, too: I’m sick. And with all my ailments and neurodivergences, I may not make it to retirement age—each day feels like a literal a gift for me (especially on the days when I have to go to bed with severe heart palpitations for one MCAS-trigger or another).
But, bringing in more crap never actually made me happy. There’s always that dopamine hit when I open an Amazon box, and the thrill I get when organizing my hoards of crap—okay, that activity does make me happy. But reducing stuff does too. Spending and having undistracted, dedicated time to spend with people I love makes me happy—time I have to spend because I’m not spending it opening boxes and organizing all my junk. Not stressing about money, and not stressing out my husband because of money all makes me happy too.
Knowing I can change and teach my children the valuable lessons that I didn’t get makes me incredibly happy, too. And the potential of leaving them with some financial cushion to fall back on when I’m gone, or when they need it might be the best motivator of all for me.
I understand where my problem started.
I see why and how I wound up where I am. I’m at a further disadvantage having an Autistic,ADHD brain—dopamine is the only thing keeping depression from leaving sediment in my head. Understanding how my neurology influences my decisions and actions might’ve been the piece I've been missing to finally solidify this new outlook and more financially responsible lifestyle. (We'll see.)
I’ll continue exploring ways to keep my brain busy when it normally wants to shop. I’ll continue discussing this with my therapist for accountability and advice. I’ll listen to podcasts like The Financial Confessions in lieu of podcasts on skincare and cosmetics (and politics). And I’ll continue talking to Brian about money because all those years of one of us thoughtlessly spending and the other passive and fearful about “rocking the boat” infused 12 more years of rarely checked spending behavior that now needs to be undone.
I know I can do this, though.
I have everything I need, as I told my therapist last month. And she encouraged me to remind myself of that every time I add something to my Amazon cart, or every time I’m tempted by something new and shiny.
I have everything I need.
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