new year’s resolutions: buy nothing days

14 January 2007, 1:43 pm

I’m infuriated by the official U.S. Buy Nothing Day (read about it at Wikipedia, Adbusters). The organizers promote the day after Thanksgiving — i.e., one of the biggest shopping days of the year — as a good day to try to get people not to buy anything.

I think this is the same run-before-you-crawl error that the U.S. Green Party repeatedly makes in fielding presidential candidates before securing significant numbers of seats in the House, let alone the Senate. I’m in favor of providing challenges to the two-party system and making people more conscious of their consumerism. But I think it makes sense to start with modest, attainable goals which can serve as a foundation for expansion. I think “be given an inch, then ask for a mile,” is a pretty good model, and much more likely to succeed than “hey, give me a mile.”

I think almost any arbitrary day would be a better choice for Buy Nothing Day than “Black Friday.” I think there’s more value in encouraging people to think about the patterns of commerce in their lives (and the caveats necessary to make a “buy nothing day” possible at all) than making them miss out on a specific big sale at their local outlet malls.

One of my resolutions for 2007 is to rack up as many buy nothing days as I can. I’ll be updating this post throughout the year as I add to the list.

Here are the rules by which a day can qualify. I’ve decided to make intent to transfer funds from me to another entity the primary factor for determining when a purchase actually happens.

  • Monthly amortized amenities like rent, electricity, and telephone don’t count as “buying” except on the day that I pay the bill.
  • The handful of monthly expenses I have which are autobilled, like banking fees and ISP charges, don’t count as “buying.” (Because there’s no specific intent associated with each transaction, I don’t have any control over when they occur, and I’m often not aware of them until I review my bank statement.)
  • The day I write a check or confirm an online payment is the day on which the thing is “bought,” not the day on which the transaction clears my bank account.
  • Putting quarters into the basement washing machine doesn’t count as “buying.” This is a side effect of my personal accounting system: I round all cash transactions up to the next higher dollar, so any quarters I get in change already count as “spent” in my spreadsheet. Also, since we keep quarters as a common resource, I can’t tell whose quarters I’m using for any given load of laundry. When I get a roll of quarters from the bank, that definitely does count as a purchase for that day.
  • An unspecified obligation to pay at some future point is not a purchase per se. For example, when I drop my bike off for a tune-up, the day I buy that service is when I pick it up, not when I am given the estimate.
  • One consequence of these rules is that credit card purchases “double dip”: It counts as buying when I make the original purchase, and it counts as buying again when I pay the credit card bill. That may seem illogical to you, but I’m fine with it — it seems to me that any use of a credit card should count against one’s ability to have a buy nothing day in the first place.
  • Using non-cash value someone else purchased on my behalf (like a gift certificate or employer-funded transit pass) doesn’t count as “buying.” But if I purchase something and later return it for a cash refund, both the original expenditure and the use of the refund money do count as “buying.” This is the same sort of double dip effect that credit card purchases incur.
  • I haven’t traditionally tracked ATM withdrawal fees in my accounting spreadsheet, so right now, I haven’t decided what to do about them. (I think I should probably start tracking them; it might be instructive to see what they add up to over the course of a year.) But withdrawing money from a charge-free ATM is not itself “buying” anything (not transferring funds from me to another entity; just moving my funds between cash and non-cash formats).

Some (or all!) of these rules may sound like cheating to you. I’m fine with that. You can play by different ones if you like. I think it’s interesting and useful to think about exactly what rules are necessary in my life to play this game. It would take a lot of planning to have a zero-electricity use day, if I could even manage it at all.

Finally: The folks I work with tend to eat lunch out a lot. I really enjoy that social aspect of my worklife, and have little inclination to curb it much. (Also, my past experiments with bringing my own lunch have not been resounding financial successes.) But I should ‘fess up that the company buys us lunch every Friday, which makes a Friday BND much easier to achieve.

2007 Buy Nothing Days

  • 12 January
  • 13 January (did laundry, dropped off bike for repair)
  • 16 January
  • 26 January
  • 31 January
  • 02 February
  • 04 February
  • 10 February
  • 17 February
  • 18 February
  • 03 March
  • 04 March
  • 05 March
  • 10 March
  • 16 March
  • 31 March
  • 23 April
  • 04 May

2007 Should’ve kept better records days:

  • 05 January (I know I didn’t buy anything during the day, but we might’ve ordered in dinner and I might’ve forgotten to record it.)

6 comments on “new year’s resolutions: buy nothing days”

  1. Editrix

    These folks will go you one better.

  2. summervillain

    Yow. I think that’s a little more than one better!

  3. 2fs

    I’d suggest one more rule: any expenses incurred on an emergency basis do not count. One hopes this rule wouldn’t need to be invoked - but clearly, needing to buy emergency medication, say, shouldn’t count against the concept of reducing consumption.

    Good luck!

  4. Janet

    Dasm. I hit some key that I suppose was “enter”, while in the middle of editing my comment. Ah well, I guess I’ll wait to see if it shows up here, and then send a corrections & clarifications comment. Mostly wanted to applaud you for doing this, and to point out that Adbusters doesn’t bother to list any BND rules, as far as I can tell (granted, I didn’t look too hard).

  5. Janet

    OK, guess that other comment is lost for good. I was commenting on the article Trixie linked to, to note that given the rules “Only food and essentials such as toothpaste, soap, basic (”not sexy”) underwear and medicine would be allowed. Everything else would be borrowed, traded, home made or bought second hand.” (as stated in the article), I bet I could practically accomplish the all-year challenge. I’m sure I could, if I weren’t buying/consuming on behalf of a husband and children as well as myself (well, except the sexy underwear, and no funny comments about bartering or buying used).

    Of course, having a family didn’t stop the Compact co-founder quoted in the article. So - I’m going to take this thought home and discuss with the spouse and children! I’ll have to explore the Compact “guidelines” further - how to handle travel, obligatory gifts, services such as car repair and dry cleaning. But I’m so very intrigued - thanks Trix!

  6. Ezra

    I’ve stopped being infuriated by the Adbusters people, because I’ve stopped believing that they are anything other than evil, mean-spirited people. The more you look at what they do, the less you can believe they actually care about bringing their “anti-consumerist” message to the masses. They really just exist to preach to the converted in a most unbearably smug way. If they were actually interested in reaching the people that most ads were aimed at, there are so many things they’d do differently. Their goal is not to wake people up. It’s just to sneer at the sheep. If you look at what they do in that light, it all makes a lot more sense.

    As far as your resolution goes, I think the overall goal to be more mindful of consumption is a good one, and I applaud your efforts. All the rules you’ve come up with are a very you way to do it, too.

    But I only agree insofar as it’s a way to filter out all the messages we’re bombarded with telling you to buy things that you don’t actually need, or that tell you that buying x thing will make you feel y. But I don’t actually believe that commercial transactions are inherently bad; I like buying things.

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