couple planning a year without spending using laptop

Could You Go a Year Without Spending?

A few years back, Eric and Donna Reed shopped for groceries and household products only once a year. How on earth? I know. That was my reaction, too.

The Reeds got the idea after reading a column in USA Today, wherein the writer confessed to his weakness when it came to buying clothes. So driven to buy new sweaters, slacks or shoes every time he stepped inside a clothing store, publicly he announced he was giving up buying anything for one full year.

couple planning a year without spending using laptopEric and Donna wondered if they could do the same. Their minds went to the grocery and discount stores, the mall, and Amazon. And what about restaurants and home improvement stores, they pondered. How would they handle gifts and seasonal items every household needs through the course of a year?

The Reeds, like most of us, don’t simply stop into the store to pick up milk. Or eggs. No, they buy the milk—along with a basket of other stuff, too. It’s expensive to be a frequent-buying consumer. But could they plan ahead well enough to make it through a whole year without spending?

They decided to see if they were up to it by trying it for one month. One month with no exceptions. Not even gifts. Could they do it? They bought supplies for the month and then gritted their teeth.

Donna reported that the first two weeks were smooth sailing. It was exciting to approach life like pioneers. They were self-sufficient and resourceful. But by week three they were drinking powdered milk and making very creative meals from the food they had. Salads became odd, but truly delicious, once the lettuce was gone. They made do and used up what they had.

In week four Donna ruined her last pair of pantyhose and opted to wear pants for work attire to finish out the month. Instead of giving up, they made lists of all the things they would buy as soon as they could let themselves out of their self-imposed jail.

Just when they were ready to give up on this crazy notion, they tallied the results. They’d spent less than half of what they normally spent in a month’s time.

Wow! Imagine that: They cut their expenses overall in half! Could they expand this way of life to three months? They could, and they would. But not without some strategic planning.

The Reeds calculated how much toilet tissue, cleaning supplies, dry goods, meat, and other food staples they would need for three months based on past usage. And then they contemplated what you’ve been wondering: What about milk and produce? Gasoline? And what if they really wanted a meal out or a drive-thru experience? Their compromise: Gift Cards. They bought a strategically-planned number of $10 gift cards for their favorite drive-thru, gas station, and supermarket, and then put the cards in a safe place.

Making it for three months was not nearly as difficult as they worried it would be—even with Thanksgiving landing in the middle of that time period. They’d planned ahead with a turkey in the freezer.

By the time the three month period was ending, they were asking themselves “Can we make it a year?” Soon they were plotting a big, one-time-only buying spree for the week after Christmas when lots of things are on sale.

The Reeds did complete a full year without spending and the fringe benefits were astounding. They did put the initial purchase on a credit card but paid it off within three months.

Over the next nine months, with the money they were not spending they were able to pay off all of their unsecured debts. They finished the year with only their mortgage debt.

All because they went a year without buying anything.


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  1. Cathy says:

    I found it amusing that, when reading this article, on the right side of the screen is an ad for “20 Gadgets We Really Love”. 20 ways to waste money!

  2. Kim says:

    That is impressive, especially paying off their debt, thanks for sharing, Mary! I don’t think I could do this though, I eat too much fresh produce. What does work is just staying out of stores, so I’m not tempted. I’m not as tempted by online shopping, because the quality is so unknown. Having to stay home has definitely helped me save. But this has me thinking about it, maybe I can go a week, and keep repeating that. Or maybe only buy the bare necessities, like fresh produce.

  3. Catherine says:

    I would like to do 3 months, but I wouldn’t include groceries. I’d just spend my regular groceries budget. I’ve cut way down on the gift giving.

  4. MaryJo says:

    I was a real Amazon shopper for 10 years with multiple weekly purchases. Last year an expensive purchase turn into a nightmare. I was devastated and gave myself the old quit the pity speech and started to shop elsewhere until we cooled down. Wow, did not realize how much I was spending! The credit card charges were $800.00 less! Have shopped locally with no frivolous purchases and have maintained the savings for a year and plan on continuing.

  5. Cynthia Briggs says:

    Throughout the years I’ve found myself in the bad habit of going to the store nearly every day. I love to bake and cook so there was always something I needed for a new recipe. Since my husband retired I put myself on stay-at-home days, which limits my trips to the store (basically leaving the house). I keep a detailed list, and decide ahead of time which days I stay at home according to other errands. Yes, I’m still going into the stores but I’m more focused on my list and that limits my impulse buying. It’s surprising how much money I save just staying out of the store(s). Also on my stay-at-home days I avoid spending online unless it’s a bill to pay. Every little savings helps!

  6. Sue says:

    I roll my eyes at stories like this. Yes, they saved a lot of money, and used less overall. But they did not go a year without spending, they simply pre-spent. Stocked up, bought it all at once. Gift cards? That is spending, the cash exchange just took place on another date.

    • Cheryl says:

      I hear what you’re saying but having read other writings about limiting shopping trips per week, etc. and having done the once a month shopping thing for a year, my husband and I can attest that less time in stores or online shopping equals less money spent overall. It has to do with impulse buying. Less time in the store means less opportunity to add things to the cart that aren’t needs (vs wants) and that aren’t on the list. We realized a great deal of savings this way. While Donna and Eric’s personal challenge was extreme when it got to doing it for a whole year at once, it did allow them to pay off all their consumer debt with the money they normally spent shopping in their previous way of doing things.

    • Sonia says:

      I agree with the eye roll as it certainly could have backfired if they had not stuck to it – also, did they eat anything fresh? I do believe that shutting down spending is eye opening though and staying out of stores is a big part of success.

  7. Sharon Wickline says:

    I’ve gone 2 months. We ate so much more healthier . I ran out of brown sugar and bartered with a friend and some homemade jam. Now i would just keep molasses on hand and make my brown sugar. I can easily go 2 months. I freeze and freeze dry milk. That along with canned, boxed and powdered I am just fine.

  8. Birgit M Nicolaisen says:

    I definitely could not go a full year without spending money, nor a month. Maybe a week with proper planning and definitely a day or two. Thinking about a year’s planning, to start with we would need about $1000 in gas cards, plus having 4 kids, 7 grandchildren, 4 siblings and spouses, 10 nieces/nephews and their 7 children, and our parents to buy Christmas and birthday gifts for would be outrageously expensive up front. I do try to buy gifts throughout the year so I’m not caught off guard and buying something more expensive and last minute. Plus gift cards to cover medications for the year. Monthly utilities and taxes. And the list goes on. No, it’s just not practical with my financial plan.

    • Don says:

      If you can afford to buy all those gifts, and not pay any finance charges, good for you!

      We decided years ago that we would only buy Christmas and birthday gifts for our kids, kids-in-law, and grandkids. That’s only 10 people. Our budget is $100 apiece for Christmas and $50 for birthdays (a total of $1500 per year). AND THAT’s A LOT. They can’t afford to buy us anything, and that’s fine with us. Occasionally I buy something for my mom. She’s self supported. (Our other parents have passed.)

      I encourage everyone to get real with themselves and not feel obligated to spend money on other people. You don’t owe them anything. Years ago, we spent every Christmas Eve at an uncle’s house. Everyone exchanged gifts. We finally told them that we couldn’t afford it, and would no longer be buying them gifts. We also asked that they not buy for us. Some of them continued to buy for us for several years until our annual holiday gatherings were discontinued. It was kind of awkward for us, but we didn’t cave in. We didn’t buy them gifts.

  9. Jean says:

    I will often try to do no-spend months where I only purchase gas to get to work! It is amazing how much you can save not shopping on a regular basis…I also have more than enough clothes to last years as well. I live off our pantry or fast. Of course I do stock a good pantry of basics and buy large in toilet paper, cleaning supplies and laundry soap! I have more time and money!

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