Cold Turkey for One Year: A “Won’t Buy Anything Except Food and Make-Up” Family Spending Plan

Gary North

This Redbook story seems incredible. The family stopped buying anything.

Both adults were “gotta have it” spenders. Finally, the wife wised up. She persuaded her husband to go along with the plan. They would buy almost nothing for one year.

If you had peeked into my closet or taken a gander at my credit card statements a couple of years ago, you would have quickly figured out how I spent not only my money but also my time. I was consumed with the latest trendy items and loved to shop online; plastic was my ticket to fulfillment. I liked things, got a high from finding the perfect outfit, and could smell a great sale from miles away. When someone in my family wanted something new, whether we truly needed it or not, we simply bought it. I was happy, my husband, Jon, was happy, and our two daughters, Zoe, 9, and Avi, 6, were happy. Life was good.

They were addicted. Then the addiction’s highs began to fade. “Then one day, I woke up to the realization that shopping wasn’t as enjoyable for me as it had once been.”

It was like the old Peggy Lee song, “Is That All There Is?”

We were spending too much time thinking about what to buy, buying whatever it was we thought we needed, and not appreciating what we had just acquired. I found myself wondering, When is enough going to be enough?

She developed a plan.

RULE 1: Jon and I wouldn’t purchase anything for one year. No clothing, shoes, adorable pocketbooks, or gadgets. Nada.RULE 2: The girls would be allowed to get clothing only at the beginning of the school year or if they outgrew something they needed. New toys and games were off-limits.

RULE 3: All gifts would be in the form of books, gift cards, or homemade items.

RULE 4: Broken items would not be replaced.

RULE 5: Purchasing makeup was allowed. (A girl can only sacrifice so much!)

RULE 6: Any form of family entertainment was allowed — and encouraged.

Her article describes the close family relationships the plan produced.

Abstaining from shopping changed more than just our monthly credit card statements. Not being consumed with the latest hip items allowed me time to think about what I really valued in my life, and I started making bigger changes. I realized there were many external distractions besides materialism that took time away from my family life. I reduced the clutter in our house, planned errands in batches to save time and gas, and said no to social engagements I didn’t truly want to attend. And a family trip spent camping in the mountains of North Carolina, about two hours from our home, was about making memories, not buying mementoes.

The experience changed their lives.

I’m proud to say we successfully completed our shopping fast. The one-year mark came and went, and we aren’t bound by the rules anymore. But we’ve internalized the lessons and the benefits: Zoe will question the necessity of a potential purchase, both kids are more appreciative when they receive something, and we all prioritize and value our family time together above all else. I have a clear understanding that the way we lived our life before the shopping fast was excessive — and that the way we lived our life during the shopping fast was extreme. So we’ve found a healthy balance that works for our family.

It is not necessary to go cold turkey on this scale to get out of debt. But this story provides evidence that people can do this if the stakes are high enough.

How high are the stakes in your life?

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