dollars and sense: one month of low-spend

My relationship with consumerism has changed drastically in the past year. Forever 21, for example, used to give me thrills. Family vacations, school trips, any chance I got, I’d spend roaming the clothes racks for hours and undoubtedly leave the store with a good-sized bright yellow, plastic bag. At the time, consumerism was skin deep, a mechanism I could use to keep up with classmates or the latest trend dubbed by fashion magazines. So you better believe that when I read those Forever 21 price tags, worker conditions, environmental damage, and wearability were far from my mind. All I saw was, “5.99”.

It wasn’t until college when I scrolled upon publications like The Good Trade and Youtubbers like Kristen Leo that I started to wake up to my less-than-conscious ways. These sources, god bless them, presented sustainability to me in a way that felt applicable, appealing, and, most important, feasible.

Ironically enough, during these same years, I was also starting my journey into advertising, an industry notorious for, as Andy from The Devil Wears Prada says, “sell(ing) people things, they don’t need”. From weight loss supplements to makeup to clothing, every day, my newsfeed, your newsfeeds, they’re all filled with brands trying to make themselves a mainstay of our lives. They encourage us to “upgrade”, “boost”, “cleanse” and so many more coded ways of telling each and every one of us that what we have—even who we are—isn’t good enough and that to reach our peaks, we need what they’re selling. It’s what makes us pick up that new makeup brand, even though our current makeup is perfectly fine. Or upgrade to a brand new phone when we’ve only had our current one for a few years. That’s the power of the shiny and new, how easily it makes us forget that new really only last a few hours or days before the latest hit becomes yesterday’s news.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my field. I think there are great opportunities to use advertising to connect people to companies and services that can do more good than harm. But in order to become a tool for change, consumers have to expect more from brands. I know that’s placing a lot of responsibility on our shoulders but unfortunately, most companies don’t do things out of the kindness of their hearts as much as they do out of concern for their wallets.

With each one of these realizations, I’m happy to say I have changed the way I spend. When it comes to clothes, I rarely buy new and if I do, I seek out local and sustainable brands. I’ve also skinnied down my skin and hair routine to save money and reduce the number of products I use. But even with those changes, I know there’s more I can do to think critically about how and where I’m spending my money. So this month, I’ve decided to do a low-spend challenge.

I got the idea from Sustainably Vegan. Although call it a “no-spend” challenge, in a capitalistic society, I think that name sets unreasonable expectations. You have to spend to survive—that’s just how it is and I don’t the cashiers at Stop and Shop would appreciate me trying to barter with them over some oat milk and bananas. So instead, I’m being realistic: I know I’m going to spend, there’s no way around it. But I can control what I spend on.

Here’s everything I’m avoiding purchasing during the month of April:

·       Clothes and shoes

·       Makeup and beauty

·       Accessories

·       Nick Nacks (notebooks, pens, etc.)

·       Furniture and other household accessories

·       Appliances / Technology

Here’s what I can buy (Notice this list includes items I can’t physically accumulate):

·       Gifts for other people

·       Travel-related expenses

·       Dining out

·       Concerts or experiences

For the next four weeks, I’ll be checking in to share updates and realizations about my low-spend month. It definitely won’t be without its challenges but I’m hoping that with a little space from my wallet, I’ll come out of the experience more grateful for what I have and more conscious of what I buy.

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