one month of low-spend: a reflection

One month has come and gone. And so ends my low-spend challenge. It’s been a good period of reflection for me, a time to think about my consumer habits and ways to improve where and how I shop.

As I mentioned in my initial post, I chose to do a low-spend month, as opposed to a more ambitious no-spend variation, because the option made the most sense for my lifestyle and where I live. Without sufficient options for trading or growing my own food, a no-spend month would frankly be unrealistic. Instead, I framed the premise of this month around realistic expectations that would help me to stay motivated throughout the next 30 days and offer me a more sustainable target to aim for.

So, the real question—how’d I do? Overall in April, I actually spent significantly less on many of the things I was allowed to spend on (i.e. dining, entertainment, and travel). However, where I did end up spending more money than anticipated was in the clothing category.

There are many reasons why I had hoped to avoid buying any clothing during the challenge. First and foremost, I wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of self-discipline. I’ve always had a weakness for clothing and although I’ve gotten better at being selective, my closet often reminds me of the private school I went to in upstate New York, where I can walk around and see a bunch of familiar faces but every so often, I’ll run into a piece I’ve completely forgotten existed. My second reason for avoiding clothing purchases was to lessen the amount of pressure I personally impose on the manufacturing industry. With nearly 85% of garmets ending up in landfills and incinerators annually, there’s more than enough clothing already produced and yet still so many people walking to their closets and exclaiming that they, “have nothing to wear.”

Although unnecessary, what I will say about my shopping this month is that I was very selective about where I made purchases. With few exceptions, all the products I bought came from ethical and socially sustainable brands. For example, I finally got the pair of Girlfriend Collective leggings I’d been pining over for months. On top of their ecological impacts—every product is made using recycled waterbottles—Girlfriend Collective also promotes positive body image and body diversity, which gives them additional brownie points in my book.

Another new item I bought in April was Causebox, a seasonal subscription box (you get four a year, each for about $55) of curated items from ethical and sustainable brands. This, I figured, would be a great way to learn about new change-makers, not to mention an easy way to ensure I had quality gifts on-hand for any upcoming birthdays and holidays.

Other things I bought this month include:

Item: HDMI Cable

Excuse: I thought I was going to get a TV, then decided I didn’t want the extra clutter. I figure it’ll come in handy at some point but in retrospect, I should have waited and found one used.

Item: Hydroflask

Justification/Excuse: There’s a cafe by my work where I go every so often for an almond milk latte. I don’t always anticipate wanting to stop in so I bought a hydroflask to keep at my office. Truly, it was a little excessive of me to not just carry the one I keep at home to and from the office. That said, I do appreciate knowing I won’t have to rely on one-use cups during any subsequent trips.  

Item: Dress for wedding (not mine)

Justification/Excuse: One of my pals is getting married this Fall. The wedding is religious so it was important my outfit air on the conservative side. She also had a color palette set that I needed to take into account as well. When I started looking, I searched Poshmark as well as ethically-made clothing sites to find the look I wanted. But in the end, the garments I found were either a.) out of my price range or b.) something I would never wear again. I run into these double-edged swords a lot actually. Buy the locally-grown sprouts from the farmers market that come in a plastic bag or get the non-local and non-organic one’s from the supermarket without plastic? Get a generic boxed soap or one made by a small business even though it comes wrapped in plastic? In these situations, I’ve found making the sustainable choice is best reached with thoughtful consideration of the social and environmental pros and cons of your purchase. In this particular case, I went to TJMaxx and found a $20 jumpsuit. I know it is not an ethically-made piece and I truly wish I could have found a better option. That said, I do still have the receipt and tags on just in case I find an alternative. And regardless, I do like the piece enough to wear it after the event is over, even though I likely wouldn’t have purchased it otherwise.

Items: Conditioner & Lip balm

Justification: Needed both. The conditioner is from Avalon Cosmetics, a cruelty-free cosmetic brand. The lip balm is Doctor Bronners. ‘Nough said.

Item: Chapter One backing on Kickstarter

Freakin’ justified: I realize that physical books use resources and many end up in the trash. It’s just for me, the experience of holding a book is irreplaceable and not something I’ll ever be willing to part with. Instead, I love my books to death, and when I’m done, I pass them off to friends, donate them to a book sale, or sell them to a bookshop.

Item: Knickey panties

Justification: As I get more into sustainable brands, I find myself trying to spread the word and give people the chance to experience the products for themselves. That’s why, for a friend’s recent birthday, I ordered some Knickey underwear. But—or should I say, “Butt”—because of the cost of shipping, I also purchased two pairs for myself. Did I need them? Not really, but now when I get to that scary point in the week when undies are in high demand and low supply, all will be fresh and well.

Item: Various thrifted pieces

Justification: Over the course of the month, I spent $15 on 5-6 thrifted items. They are unique pieces, most of which I’ve already worn, so I feel fairly guilt-free about the purchases.

After this low-spend experience, I see how important mental preparation is in creating discipline and learning to live with less want. So rather than feel guilty for this month’s downfalls, I’m trying to be patient with the process as a whole. After all, the switches I’m making are more than behavioral—they’re active lifestyle changes where I’m breaking unconscious habits and putting new, more intentional ones in their place. I remember just a year ago when the idea of not being able to go into a Zara seemed so discouraging—that is until I found out I could pay the same price for a garment made ethically and designed to last more than four washes. But even so, the transition has been and will continue to be slow, both mentally and financially. That’s why it’s essential for me to always refer back to the essence of the sustainability movement, remembering it has nothing to do with perfection. Rather sustainability at its core is about everyone doing what they can to make small changes that, in the long-term, will come to benefit us all collectively.  

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