2014 Resolution #1: The Big Freeze (or, stopping the shopping)
It’s January 5, pretty late for a post about New Year’s resolutions. What can I say? I got a late start to the new year. After all, I’m still working on my Christmas cards. So this will have to do. Better late than never.
I love resolutions. I try to make at least a couple every year. Some I accomplish, others I don’t. Either way, I’ve found the key to this, or any goal, really, is to make resolutions that are specific, concrete and measurable. For example, rather than “write more,” I’d make a resolution to “write five posts a month.” Then at the end of the month there is no question about whether or not I accomplished that goal. No wiggle room.
Writing more is not my goal for this month. In January, I have bigger fish to fry. And I am focusing all my energy on my one resolution: stop unnecessary spending.
Financially, December was an ugly month. We kept the present budget pretty small for our kids, but once we added in other family members, the kids’ teachers, our “adopted” family and other charity gifts, it added up. Then throw in Christmas cards, a few new decorations, meals out and Noah’s birthday on January 1. The budget started to burst at the seams. It didn’t help that every time I was shopping for others I kept playing Santa Claus for myself.
But this is more than just a financial resolution. A lot more. Shopping has become an emotional thing for me, too. Let me count the ways.
Shopping is a stress-reliever. When I was laid off and decided to stay home for the foreseeable future, I knew I’d face a dilemma of having more time to shop but less money to shop with.
Extra time is one thing. What I wasn’t prepared for were the days when I was stressed and bored and anxious in ways that eating cookies can only help so much. Drinking alcohol at 10 AM on a Wednesday is generally frowned upon. So shopping it is.
Shopping is a hobby I can easily squeeze into my short bursts of free time. Occasionally I’d make good use of Rory’s time at PMO by meeting a friend for coffee or going to a Bootcamp class at the Y. But more often I could be found standing outside HomeGoods at 9:15, wondering why they don’t open earlier.
Shopping gives me something to do with the kids. Rory is in a challenging stage. It’s stage of nonstop screaming and destruction that I’m sure Noah dabbled in, but never quite like this. On a cold winter morning, there’s only so much “Want Another Cheerio?” “What Did Rory Smash Now?” or “Name That Wound” I can play. There are only so many Music and Movement classes at the library. So off to the store we go.
At the store, Rory is confined to the (relatively) safe space of a shopping cart or stroller (though he has managed to destroy a pack of fruit cups and disfigure a tape dispenser in one single trip to Harris Teeter). And, as a bonus, I’m out of the house, eagerly making small talk with the cashier.
Shopping gives me a buzz. I would be lying if I said I don’t get a bit of a high from a good deal. It’s a good old-fashioned, still legal-to-drive buzz that comes with a cardigan from the clearance rack, or a slightly damaged (but adorable) lamp, or finally making a decision on a rug for the living room. (Yes, I finally made a decision on a rug for the living room.)
To be honest, I get a jolt of energy from almost anything new. I can’t be the only person who has felt peppier getting out of bed in the morning because she has new shampoo waiting for her in the shower. Can I?
But the creepy flip side of that high is that defeated feeling when I spend my precious time shopping and don’t find anything to buy. Or the guilt of buying something that I didn’t really need. Or the disappointment when I take the tags off that clearance rack cardigan only to find that it’s not so great after all.
And then I realize I might sort of have a little bit of a problem.
A problem that is confirmed when I see Pat reviewing the finances for the month and his hand is his hair and I notice some new lines in his forehead that could only be caused by the Target credit card statement.
And so, for the sake of myself and my marriage and my family, I’m going on a spending detox.
My January “no spending” resolution applies to the following:
- Apparel: clothes, shoes, accessories, etc. (for me, Pat and the boys)
- Housewares: decor, furniture, etc.
- Extras: make-up, pedicures, books, songs on iTunes, etc.
You’ll note that the freeze does not apply to eating out, entertainment, coffee, etc. Those things definitely make a difference in the budget. But right now, I want to focus on these specific areas.
I should note that the detox means not acquiring these things in any manner. So, say, even though I have some store credit at World Market and got a Target gift card from my aunt for Christmas, I am not allowed to spend those on any of these items. Because, as I mentioned above, this is as much about detoxing from consuming as it is about saving money.
Here’s my action plan.
1) Stay out of stores.
This is going to be a little tricky. This resolution is more like a dieter trying to cut back on calories than, say, a smoker giving up cigarettes cold turkey. Because just like a dieter can’t cut out all eating, I’m not going to completely stop making purchases. I still will be going into stores to buy groceries and diapers and razor blades and toilet paper.
But I might need to change where I do those things. The other day, I took the boys for a quick trip to Target. We needed thank you cards and bananas and baby wipes. I intended to be in and out. But as I pushed the cart from the produce aisle to the baby section, I felt my heart beat faster. I wished for a set of horse blinders to get me through the gauntlet of marked-down Threshold pillows and Gillian O’Malley nightgowns.
I made it out of the store without extra purchases that time, but I realized that to set myself up for success, I’ll need to be careful. Today, needing a bag of lettuce and an eggplant, I swapped my first instinct to go to Target with a stop at Food Lion. Needless to say, I will not see the inside of a T.J. Maxx, Macy’s or Classic Treasures before February 1.
2) Unsubscribe. Again.
Last January, under similar circumstances, I unsubscribed from every piece of email marketing I received. Goodbye, Old Navy sale notices and Joss and Main limited time only! announcements. When cashiers at Loft would ask for my email address at the checkout counter, I would politely decline, explaining that I had just taken myself off their list because I am powerless against sales.
And then I started softening.
When we moved into the new house in October, my feverish hunt for furniture included putting myself on the email list of every flash sale and home goods site. Now I’m probably receiving twice as many emails as I was a year ago, when I first went through my inbox purge.
So here I go again.
I will do one thing differently this time. Yes, I will completely unsubscribe from most emails. But for a few retailers, I will take the suggestion a friend made the last time I did this, and simply divert their messages to a specific folder, a holding tank of sorts. That way, if AFTER JANUARY I do need something specific, I will still be able to take advantage of whatever coupon or discount code they’ve sent me. But they will not be in my face singing their siren song every time I open my Inbox.
3) Ask to be held accountable.
Pat already knows about my January spending freeze. I’m sure he’s thrilled, though probably skeptical. Now I’m asking you to help: imagine me wearing a “Ask me about my spending freeze” button. And then do it.
So that’s my January. What am I forgetting for my spending freeze? And who wants to join me?