9. Go One Week Without Spending Money

My name is Colleen, and I am a Target-aholic. October 14, 2007 was among the best days of my life. It ranks right up there with my wedding day and giving birth. October 14, 2007 was the date that a Super Target opened near my house. It is possible that I visit that Super Target at least once (sometimes twice - and maybe on a rare but blissful occasion, three times) a day. Yes, a day. My two year-old sees that beautiful bulls eye and exclaims, "Mommy's happy place!" I may have taught him that. Target has such a hold on me, that I honestly think it's the only place that I can buy things, and that if Target doesn't carry it, then I must not need it. I am an impulse shopper in the very worst way. I am the one that they created those check out lane displays for. Of course I need some gum, a Tide To-Go pen, and some baseball cards. In fact, I probably won't be able to complete my day without them. The biggest challenge of this week is going to be avoiding Target's magnetic pull. I will have to find alternative routes to any and all destinations that usually require me to pass by a Target. Any Target. Any Target at all. Yes, it's that serious.

This challenge began with my husband emailing me a blog on the NY Times website called Diner's Journal. The blogger talks about the notion that middle-class Americans have very ample pantries that would allow us to survive a week eating only what we have available to us in our homes without introducing new ingredients. I had already decided on the challenge to make no unnecessary purchases, but could I include making no food purchases? This made the challenge more exciting to me, so of course with great confidence, I added the stipulation that I would not purchase any food.

I am slightly wary of saying what I'm about to say for fear that it might be read with a tone of superiority, please know that is not the intention, this is just the truth of my experience and part of my story. We have made some very large changes already in our lives due partly to the economy and partly to a vested interest in buying local (I highly recommend the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver to learn more about the global benefits of eating local). We bake our own bread, we belong to a crop share, and we use cloth diapers (for the most part, we still use disposables at night and when we're out and about). While our crop share only provides us locally grown vegetables in the summer, we process those vegetables in the form of soups, pestos, and other freezables that have left our freezer stocked. So, without having to worry about buying diapers (we are generally well stocked with disposables for rare use), and feeling confident that although it would take some creative planning, food was available, I had to wonder what in the heck I was always buying at Target.

Growing up, I was generally teased by my older (and more fiscally responsible) brother about my relationship to money. He called me, "the weigh station for money, " meaning money stopped long enough in my hands for me to count it, and then out it went to stimulate the economy (I am putting my own positive spin on it). When I went out on my own after college, I had a rude awakening. It turns out that debt is bad, but even though I knew it, I was rapidly finding myself acquainted more and more with it. After my husband and I purchased our first house, we had a couple of years of living paycheck to paycheck. I have always done the bulk of the grocery shopping, and at the time I was in charge of paying our bills. As a result, I had myself convinced that I was the "spender" in the family and thus the reason we were in such financial straits. I have a vivid memory of standing in our kitchen on a chair reaching deep into our cupboards to find anything that resembled food and crying about this "situation I had gotten us into." I ate peanut butter off a spoon for dinner that evening while I reflected on this long held belief that I had that I was simply "not good with money." The point here is that often we allow ourselves to be defined by the opinions of others. My brother (who incidentally probably still has the first dollar he earned and has probably somehow turned it into 3 gazillion dollars) was known by the family to be "good with money," and I was known to be "bad with money." I lived the majority of my life believing that this was the truth. In the past few years, I have begun to shift my personal belief about my relationship to money. I have begun to believe that I have the capability to be wise with money, to make money, and that as a result of this awareness and respect, I will always survive... and in fact can thrive.

Even through the gradual modification of my beliefs in regard to my relationship with money, I still had not confronted my relationship with shopping. I get a high from buying. I like gadgets, I like doo dads, and I like knickknacks. This is why I have difficulty browsing the aisles at Target without gaining one or two items that I not only had no intention of buying in the first place, but that I don't even need. If this exercise taught me anything of value, it was to be conscious of the concept of need. I also found that I could achieve the same high of buying just by looking. This was an ah-ha of epic proportions. I don't know if this will always work, but for now it does, and I'm just going to go with it.

We didn't starve, and I didn't spend a penny. In fact, this week went so surprisingly well, I am considering doing another week. Don't quote me on that. Honestly, I don't know that I want the pressure of "no-spending," but I certainly am implementing a "think really hard about spending" rule. Matt and I started asking ourselves the question "is this a necessary expense" when we were considering large ($100 or more) purchases. I intend to ask myself that question for all purchases. I understand that it seems pretty ridiculous that this is a new concept to me. It's not entirely. When we had lesser means, I didn't even have to ask that question because the differences between the wants and the needs were so clear. It's true though that there is a tendency to expand to meet means, and my life is evidence of this.

So often, we avoid trying new things because we have ourselves locked into a belief about who we are. We are either "good" at something or "bad" at something. Things either "come easily" or "are very hard" for us. We leave little to no room for growth, or more importantly change. To grow or change would challenge our personal theories about who we and others believe we are, and then what? When we subscribe with such certainty to our beliefs about ourselves and our abilities, we don't allow ourselves the opportunity to reach our full potential. I'll tell you what, I am not content to be sub-par, are you?

Next week, I am going to totally geek out and be in a parade.


  1. I loved this - great reminder that we are not our story (or other peoples' stories). However, I'm still glad you did the no-spending week and not me.

    - Your FMM

  2. I appreciate this blog... My mil always states that my husband is "not good with money" and since I do all the bills/shopping as a result I am percieved as being "not good with money". *sigh* I HATE being labeled with an almost gutteral response when I hear it. I do feel that I think hard about our purchases. After all, living paycheck to paycheck and sometimes not recieving a paycheck for months due to unemployment are pretty good reasons to be careful. It's frustrating though because for some reason my in-laws believe that I am the reason why we struggle, not the lack of income. I've tried hard to re-examine this concept. I do believe I've developed some poor habits with money. I go from 2 extremes. I either cannot get myself to purchase something I need, or I justify the purchase through some odd reasoning that rarely holds any truth. I admit to having a Starbucks addiction. Alas, after working at Starbucks (and thus recieving a discount and more than 50% of the time a free drink for stopping in), I am going to purchase a good espresso machine to help me get my fix. I know I can make better drinks at home with the right tool.
    Ok.. so you have just got me thinking... I'll stop now.


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