Not shopping-2021: Crushing our financial goals and avoiding lifestyle creep

In 2021, we are not shopping!

2020 was a relatively calm year for us. After years of grad school and a year of illness and recuperation, we were finally stable. The Dude and I have jobs, everyone has been healthy, and we could pay off debt and start up a nest egg.

Like so many others, we spent much of the year in the house. And it led to a little bit of boredom. Which led to some redecorating. And then more redecorating. Possibly the purchase of a plant or two…

It is safe to say that in 2020, the Amazon fairy was a frequent flyer to our house. Dex even learned to listen for the truck, so he could let us know.

Chihuahua in a raincoat
He wasn’t exactly thrilled with everything Amazon brought to the door

I had a great time redecorating, with lots of DIY and thrift shop finds. I will be sharing pictures and inspiration in upcoming blog posts. After decades of making do and doing without, it was nice to be able to just indulge.

Lemon shaped honey jar
One of my favorite thrift finds of 2020, sadly it did not make it to 2021. RIP

However, I do not want lifestyle creep to become a way of life. And we have some significant savings goals, for a house, emergency savings, and a comfortable retirement.

In order to break the spending spree, we decided to do a hard reset. We will not spend on any extras for the year. Of course, we will continue to pay for bills, student loans, and donations as usual.

We also have some subscriptions for watching and reading: HBO Max and  Hulu for views; NY Times and Washington Post for news. And Medium for commentary. We are letting our Netflix subscription go as of this month, in favor of HBO Max.

Wilma and Betty from the Flintstones sitting on a couch watching TV

In addition, we have an Amazon Prime membership that we pay out of our sinking fund for annual fees.

When you do something hard, you have to know your WHY. Why do you want to do this? What outcomes are you hoping for by doing the thing?

For us, it is twofold.

The consumer reset

I don’t like how easy it is to spend money now. One click. Maybe two or three. Everything is saved: address, credit card info. All I have to do is search for something (or even think something!) and the item will show up on my screen, as well as many items that are similar that I might like. Then those things show up in my news and social media feeds because so many sites made me turn off Ad Blocker that I finally gave up using it. The ads are now so personalized it is terrifying.

Online shopping is a double dopamine hit, once when you have the thrill of the hunt and find the perfect thing, and then again a few days later when your much-anticipated thing arrives. Or when you had forgotten you ordered it and then when it shows up, it is a surprise and much more like a present!

Target lady saying
Target lady has her own dopamine hits.

I want to change that relationship to buying and spending.

*Not shopping* as a step towards financial freedom

The other reason is much more mundane and practical. We want to build up our savings. In addition to saving up for a house, we need to bulk up our retirement savings like nobody’s business. And I want to do some of the travel that I haven’t yet been able to. But more than anything, after decades of hoping that a costly emergency wouldn’t set us up for financial ruin, I want to have some breathing space. Money brings a certain level of security.

Chihuahua in a blanket
Dex is a firm believer in security

In 2020, we built up about $10,000 in savings. We also spent about $16,500 on stuff for the home and personal spending. Not all of that was fun spending, but a lot of it was. As I said, I don’t regret these decisions. It was the first time in a very long time that we could spend without worry. But for 2021, I want to funnel much of that spending back to us and into our larger dreams.

I have spent enough time living in poverty and studying sociology and economics to know that the “latte factor” is a myth. When people are struggling to pay bills, they aren’t spending $5 a day in fancy drinks.

Barista preparing coffee drink
Photo by Chevanon Photography from Pexels

I think it is counter productive to shame consumer purchasing. The ad industry spent $24 billion trying to convince us to spend and buy in 2019. And we expect tired, stressed, and overworked folks to just ignore those messages?

While I am not here for poverty shaming and I don’t think that skipping a coffee a day will make anyone rich, I do see a lot of places where I can trim. And I am willing to fight against the marketing machine in order to reclaim my income.

We have done a summer of Not Shopping in the past, and I even blogged about it. Now we are going to expand it to a full year.

In the next section, I will tell you all about our “Not shopping” plan.

Our main *not shopping* categories are:

Plants (except basil) Fast food Coffee shops Books Clothes Make Up Entertainment (except travel-related) Hair cuts Pens Ink Notebooks

What we will spend on:

Discretionary spending


I buy meat in bulk once every few months. For meat, I shop at Cash & Carry (now it has yet another new name, but it will always be Cash & Carry to me!), Safeway, and WINCO. We have a big portioning and bagging session. This is the second time we have done bulk shopping for meat. The first time, I placed everything in the freezer by category: chicken in one section, beef in another. But it was very hard to grab a variety.

So this time, I created weekly bags. There is a variety of meat that adds up to 5-7 days worth of dinner. Each meat product is bagged in a freezer bag, and then the 5-7 freezer bags are placed in a larger grocery bag, and the grocery bag is placed in the freezer. We have an inventory as well as a bag count to check off when one gets removed.

I shop at Costco once a month. We have a Google sheet that has all our usual suspects, and we check off what we need. Beyond that, I do a weekly curbside pick up at Safeway and fill in with occasional trips to Grocery Outlet and WINCO. In January, we spent a few dollars less than the $960 allotted, even though it was our big meat purchase month! In Feb, we underspent by $300. We will see how March goes. I am a little nervous because the Costco list is long!!


Gas is way down because we are remote working. We do not currently spend $80 a month in gas, but we leave it in the account so that we have gas money for day trips.


Household is for decoration, maintenance, and repairs. I thought it would be health and beauty as well, but that seems to be covered in groceries. We have a flex spending account through my work and we use that to cover medical bills, prescriptions, and eligible over the counter stuff. One of the provisions made during the pandemic is that you do not need a prescription to cover OTC products, so that makes life a lot easier.

Professional Development

Professional development is for things like finance courses or books (this is a place that a book could be allowed if it can’t be found at the library and is professional dev related) or software.


Mail is self-explanatory. We don’t do a lot of mailing these days.

We are not shopping for extras, but we still do a lot of spending!

While the term “no-spend” is a common phrase these days, it feels disingenuous in our situation. We are still spending in many categories, and saving up for certain things.

We are currently contributing to the following sinking funds:

Sinking funds

Sinking funds are like the old holiday saver accounts that banks would offer. Instead of waiting to deal with a big purchase all at once, you save up a set amount each paycheck to take the sting out of the big thing.

Given that they are based on the old Christmas Club accounts, it seems appropriate that our first category is our own Christmas account. This covers gifts, decorations, and holiday-related meals. In other years, we also have a special occasion account that covers birthdays and other holidays, but this year we are not shopping.

Car stuff is maintenance and any surprise repairs. We currently have one car, a 2004 Honda Civic. Rin has his own car and we do let him use the fund as well. None of us are driving very much these days! Eventually, we will also have a car replacement fund but it is not a priority right now.

Business costs-we don’t put a lot into this. It covers my blog costs, and if we want to invest in any side gigs, we are building up a reserve for it.

Car tabs and taxes-boring, but necessary and annual.

Pet care-Dex’s food, vet care, treats.

Travel-one of my goals is to travel more, so we will continue to contribute to a travel fund and will do some outdoor, regional travel this year and bigger travel when we can.

Fees-annual things like AAA, membership dues, park passes. Amazon Prime gets covered here as well.

Sailor-if the Navy boy wants to come home, we have a fund to help him cover a ticket. And we use money from this account to send him occasional care packages.

Taxes-this got left out of my table, and I don’t want to mess up my symmetry, but we do also set money aside to cover income taxes. As our income increases and our dependents move away, the amount owed shifts, so we want to be prepared for it.

Some fine print

I can buy seeds if needed, but no new plants. I bought a big bag of flower seeds that I will plant in my containers. I can get soil and amendments as needed.

We are trying to get the garage organized and will pay for costs associated with that (extra garbage, rental truck, support person). I will continue to buy stocks and index funds.

I originally budgeted $30 a month for the household category. Now that it is March and I am seeing our needs more clearly, I am planning to bump this up to $50. The asterisk by the home decor category is that I have a few home projects I am still tackling and I can buy things for those projects as long as we stay within the $50.

Not Shopping: The big picture

This video does a great job of explaining why we shop and what the issues are. I appreciate the recognition that individual responses will not solve the problem. We need real, systemic changes.

I am doing my Not Shopping year for me and to adjust my personal relationship with money and consumerism. While I cannot change the big picture, I can adjust my reactions to that picture. Through that adjustment, I can improve my outlook and my outcomes.

We are currently in the 3rd month of our Not Shopping year. So far, it is going well! More about that later.

Are you interested in a week, a month, or a year of Not Shopping?

Set yourself up for success:

  1. Know your why
    • What is the purpose of not shopping: mindset shift? saving for a big thing? getting finances in order?
  2. Figure out how much you spend
    • It is good to know the starting point! This gives you an idea of how much you can save.
  3. Decide which spending categories to focus on
    • This is your challenge, so you can design it any way you want. Maybe you want to cut out everything but bills and groceries. Or maybe you just want to rein in your clothing budget. Whatever it is, define the categories and allowable expenditures clearly.
  4. Track your spending
    • For 2 years, we have been faithfully creating a budget every month, but we never reconciled it!! I finally found a straightforward way to wrangle my spending using my bank’s records. I will share my methods in another blog post. When you track your spending, you can learn how you are doing on your Not Shopping challenge.
  5. Tell others about it
    • Accountability is key! You may even inspire others to do the same!
  6. Do not beat yourself up when you slip.
    • This is a marathon, not a sprint. We are trying to subvert the basic underlying structures of our economy by opting out. It is not easy and you will fail sometimes. It is okay. Dust yourself off and get back into the game.
  7. Celebrate your successes!
    • When you avoid an impulse purchase, pat yourself on the back. When you have a good week, call a friend who will cheer you on. Try to gamify the process as much as you can to keep it fun.

Who wants to join me in Not Shopping??