a little experiment

The text of my column from the May 9, 2007 edition of the Greenhorn Valley View:

Do you spend too much? Do you have a nagging feeling that your spending habits will spell your financial ruin? Have you tried to change your habits, but been unsuccessful? In her book, Not Buying It, Judith Levine talks about an experiment she conducted. For an entire year, she purchased nothing except what was absolutely necessary. She gave up books, movies, lattes, and clothes, among other things. Instead of going out for dinner, for example, she did really weird things like – get this – inviting friends over for dinner! By the end of the year she had saved $8000, and she had learned a whole lot about consumerism in general, and her own spending habits in particular.

All of which got me thinking, why don’t we try something like that here? Us. Right here in the valley. Let’s just try it for a month to see how it works. For an entire month, buy nothing except what is absolutely necessary. If you are married, you’ll have to sit down with your spouse and decide together what is absolutely necessary. Be brutal with yourself. You know what necessary means. Do you absolutely need that new fly rod, or would one of the four you already own suffice? Will you fall over dead if you don’t get that new pair of shoes, or can you somehow limp through the month with just the dozen pairs in your closet? Is transportation a necessity? Of course. But do you need to run to the store right now! for that half gallon of ice cream? For that matter, do you need the half gallon of ice cream?

I’m looking for ten families to join my family and me in this experiment. We’ll all start on the same day and go for thirty days. We’ll keep track of how much (or little) money we’re spending. We’ll keep track of our struggles as we fight the inevitable cravings for the happiness fix that money can buy. If you’d like to take part, write to me at the paper. If you have any ideas for reducing spending, or ideas for filling the void that will be created by our lack of spending, share those as well. I’ll report on our progress each week in this column.

Let’s make a game of this. It’s only a month, let’s see how little we can spend. What is the absolute minimum we can get by on?

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