You may remember that one reason we wanted to try our 2014 Buy Nothing Challenge (BNC) is that we felt our spending was getting out of control, even though we already bought most of our stuff used. We wrote that "during garage sale season we still look at shopping as a form of entertainment, and we go a bit crazy impulse buying more than we need (because it only costs $1!). Then some of our new purchases clutter our house for weeks before we find a use or a place for it all.”
This weekend was the Mt. Horeb Village Wide Garage Sale days, which we've been going to for over a decade, and we found that, in spite of our BNC, we couldn't resist going this year either. Even though it's true that we overbuy at garage sales, it is also our only opportunity to get some really useful things at prices we can afford. For us, it’s often either buy it used or we're not able to afford it at all.
So our compromise was this: we would go to the garage sales, but anything we bought would have to come out of our $300 allowances. Since I'm holding tight to what's left of my $300, this made me feel confident that I wouldn't buy anything that I didn't really need, or that at least I wouldn't purchase a lot of unimportant little things that were cheap individually, but added up to a lot of money at the end of the weekend.
I took Friday off, picked Bear up from work at 1 pm, and we headed to the more than 100 garage sales that were being held in Mt. Horeb. We both realized that we weren’t nearly as excited about it this year since our spending was limited. This year would be more about getting things we needed, which is not as fun as feeling the thrill of impulse buying (why exactly is that thrilling?). We also found that as we drove around town we were much more selective about which sales we were willing to get out of the car for. There is certainly a lot of stuff at garage sales that we do not want and that likely nobody wants, and finding the good stuff is like a treasure hunt. So unlike previous years, we only stopped at sales that looked like they had a lot of stuff to choose from, and that weren’t the houses that held a sale every year (how much good stuff can they have to get rid of year after year?). Bear says that after working 8 hours (and because of the BNC restrictions) the sale had to look very interesting for him to drag his tired butt out of the car.
Friday Total for Theresa: $20.75 Friday Total for Bear: $33.50
We were both pretty happy at the end of the day Friday. We hadn’t spent too much, but we had both found something that gave us that triumphant consumer feeling that we had hunted and gathered successfully. For Bear, this was his DVDs that he couldn't find anywhere else for $1. He was done shopping for the weekend.
For me, it was the pizza book. Even though it was only $1, I did debate with myself about whether or not I needed it. I was introduced to this particular style of pizza when I went to college in Chicago. We thought we were in heaven if we could afford to buy a stuffed pizza on the weekend. I’d unsuccessfully tried making it myself before, and the book had procedures I hadn't tried, so I got it. To prove to myself further that it was not a wasted purchase, I went home that night and made a stuffed pizza. It did not taste like I remembered from college, but it was the closest I'd come so far, and I can work on adjusting the flavor to match what I remember.
We weren’t supposed to go to garage sales on Saturday, but I managed to talk myself (and Bear) into it. It was supposed to rain on Sunday, so I planned to stay home and garden on Saturday. But there was a really chill breeze in the morning, and I was really tired because the cats had woken me up early, so I convinced myself I should wait until the afternoon, when it would be warmer, to work in the yard. After all our analyzing of reasons to go or not go to garage sales, I remembered that last year during garage sale weekends I had bought a weather station that we had never installed. I pulled it out and found that I needed some pvc and lithium batteries to install it. This necessitated going to the hardware store in Mt. Horeb, so naturally I decided we might as well stop at some garage sales at the same time. So I used this as an excuse to wake up Bear (at 9 am), and we were off again.
Bear here: What Theresa didn't know was that I was watching dumb but entertaining videos on YouTube Friday night and didn't fall asleep until after 3 am. So... on little sleep I could choose to do garden work in the cold or drive around and treasure hunt most of the morning. I would rather drive around, but I coudn't really build up too much enthusiasm about shopping because I already got what I wanted on Friday (those DVDs).
Saturday there were a lot of "might be useful later" opportunities I passed up because I did not want to use up my $300 allowance. Chances are I will find a use for the stuff I didn't buy and kick myself later. For now, I'm not kicking myself because this is how a lot of money gets wasted without really understanding it's been wasted.
Bear's question: There's so much stuff that could be useful at garage sales that is easy to store, it's hard to resist buying it. But is it frugal to buy something you might use because it's cheap now, or is it more frugal to not buy it and take a chance of having to pay full price for it it when you need it in the future?
From Theresa: Overall, I don't feel bad about our garage sale weekend. I don't think we bought so much this time that it won't get put to use- I did sleep on the futon chair last night and am already learning how to use the pressure cooker. And we got some amazing deals, which is ultimately the reason we garage sale. I did some quick checking online to see how much we probably saved.
Why Garage Sales Can Be Good
From Theresa: Village wide garage sales are wonderful places to shop for deals if you don’t get out of control. Obviously, you can save a lot of money and buy things that are in perfect or near-perfect condition, and often still in the unopened original box. Each town in our area holds theirs on a specific weekend each summer (see their village or chamber of commerce websites for dates).
We met someone this weekend from Arizona who was quite amazed at the village wide phenomena and wondered if it was a Mid-West thing. She seemed very excited, but also overwhelmed by the opportunity. There are so many sales taking place at a time that there are often several near each other on a street so you can park and walk to them. It’s sort of the used shopper’s version of a mall. Here's the map of the 100 official sales in Mt. Horeb (with a few in nearby Blue Mounds), and there are many more unofficial ones not listed:
I also think of garage sales as our culture’s system of wealth redistribution, like a potlatch, if you’re familiar with that cultural anthropology concept. It’s the richer people who have amassed more goods than they can use, redistributing their wealth by making it available to those of us who can’t buy it in the real mall.
Some people might find shopping for used items beneath them, but I’m good with it. I'd rather other people's unwanted items end up in my house than in the garbage. It's a great form of recycling.
Bear notes that garage sales are also good because it gives our cats new stuff to sniff.
Like many things, garage sales are good in moderation. We got some great deals, and we didn't use up the $300 allowance we each have for the year. Here's where we currently stand with our Buy Nothing Challenge- the year is more than one third over and we've spent:
Theresa $ 117.40
Bear $ 145.53
In the excitement of posting all the other information on the website, we’ve been a bit remiss about posting updates on our Buy Nothing challenge (BNC), although we have been keeping the BNC page updated with what we’ve spent so far from our $300 annual allowances and what we’ve decided to add to our list of exceptions.
Generally, the challenge has been going really well. I do continue to feel relieved when I realize we aren’t wasting money in small increments on things that aren’t really necessary. This has made me feel much better about the big purchases we’ve made, including a new computer.
New Computer: Our old computer used the XP operating system, which is no longer supported, so I could no longer remote connect to my job. We spent $750 on a new computer and printer, which we had to put on the credit card, but I know it will get paid off soon because we aren’t spending money on anything else. We’ve been using hand me down computers from our friends for the last twenty years, and it’s been a bit of a revelation to buy a new one, which are no longer as expensive as they used to be. Once I get everything set up and working, it will remove much frustration from our lives.
Conference Registration: Our other big splurge was the registration fee for me to attend the Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference in June. Like a new computer, event registration fees are something we’ve never had the money for before. A friend invited me to the conference, which will cost us $300 instead of $400 because we can stay at her house instead of lodging at the event. Bear was kind enough to approve this big expenditure. At first he wanted me to use my entire allowance for it, which I wouldn’t do because I knew there would be projects for which I would need to buy supplies. But then he decided we could list it as an exception, because he knows it will be a good time for me to experience the energy that is raised when like minded women come together, something I haven’t been able to do much of over the last decade.
Gardening Allowance: I am having trouble with the $130 limit Bear has imposed on my gardening supplies, which is almost all spent. I talked to him about changing it, but he seemed really angry about how much I have spent on new plants in the past, so I tried to listen to his opinion. I have spent a lot of money on plants that did not survive, although a certain amount of trial and error in gardening is necessary, especially around walnut trees, but I do also sometimes go a little crazy in the Spring and buy more plants than I have time to plant or end up having room for. It would be good to stop that. It’s always hard, since I concentrate on planting perennials, which take 3 years to get established, or longer to provide fruit, so I always want to get them in the ground as soon as possible and sometimes take on more than I should at one time.
Bear wanted me to concentrate on what is already here, rather than buy new stuff. So that’s what I’m doing this year. On the one hand, this bothers me, because we sheet mulched a large section of the yard last year which I will now not be able to plant anything in, but on the other hand, I am also excited about being able to pay more attention to what is here- because it does need more attention- especially more weeding while the perennials are getting established. There are also many edible and useful plants in the yard which I have not had time to taste or utilize because I’ve been too busy establishing new sections of the garden.
As part of this I decided I should try to grow my annual vegetables from seed this year, because it’s supposed to be cheaper. I’ve tried to do this before with no success. I finally read some of my how to books and figured out what I’ve done wrong in the past. However, it’s taken most of my gardening allowance to buy the supplies I needed to start the seeds. Fortunately, a friend of mine shared a lot of her seeds with me, so that saved me a lot of money. I’m not sure this was a wise use of my allowance, because I grow so few annual plants that it doesn’t really cost much to buy them as plants from a nursery. But if I’m successful, it will be a new good skill to have. I’ve purchased some tomato seeds that are resistant to the blight, so we should get a lot more tomatoes this year if it works. I couldn’t buy these particular tomatoes at the garden center.
Not Shopping: I continue to be relieved that I don’t need to go shopping often. It still seems like such a waste of time. I needed 2 foot shop lights to use for the seed starting, but after going to five hardware stores, we could only find 4 foot ones (one store did sell a 2” plant light, but it was of course out of stock). In the end I had to buy one online, and it cost over $30, even though the 4’ versions in the hardware stores cost under $15. Very frustrating, bad for the budget, and a waste of a precious Saturday spent driving around.
Not Eating Out: The biggest problem I’ve having with the BNC is not being able to eat out. Some nights I really want to go somewhere where someone will serve me great tasting food and clean up after me. Bear is missing this too, and decided that during his birthday week he could ignore the BNC, so we ate out several times. What we learned is that some restaurant food really does suck, even at restaurants we’ve been going to happily for years. I think bad tasting food really stands out much more when you’ve been eating nothing but homemade for months. We did have really great meals at two of the restaurants, though, so can’t conclude that all restaurant food is terrible and unfortunately can’t break ourselves of the desire to eat out.
Improvement in Our Finances: Most importantly, I do feel like our finances have improved. Although our credit card debt is $500 higher than when we started at the beginning of the year, we are about to use our tax return to finally pay off my student loans (after 17 years), giving us $255 more a month, and I got a big raise at work, so I can envision us having everything but the mortgage paid off by the end of the year and having a decent amount of savings in the bank as back up (if I ignore that whole problem of needing a second car). Then maybe we can start paying down the mortgage. My fingers are crossed. I remain hopeful, because due to the BNC, I am much more certain that our extra monthly income will be spent exactly as we intend it to be, rather than on things we don’t even realize are draining our finances.
About the computer: Going more than 15 years without buying a computer is almost pure luck. The first two upgrades for our old computers cost me a 6-pack of beer, then it went up to a case of beer (ah… the old days.) A few years later we upgraded to a computer a friend no longer needed, which lasted many years. Last year I asked a friend for help to upgrade our computer and he let us have a better computer that was gathering dust in his basement. That lasted less than 6 months before problems started with it. Our computer karma was spent and now was the time to spend cash. Being new, our current computer had better last longer than the “upgraded for beer“ones did.
About Theresa's conference registration: Theresa needs time with her friends and going to something with them that is also spiritual and helpful is a big bonus. I have no problems spending money on that.
About the plants: One idea in the BNC is to curb cash spending in areas that we tend to overspend in. Theresa’s weakness is the garden. Lots of money gets spent on new gardens and the old gardens get neglected due to her getting worn out (mid to late season) and me being lazy (whenever I can get away with it season).
Rolling in to milking it: My weakness is buying snack food. I rediscovered how much on my birthday week, which was an exception to the BNC. I could eat out one time (which somehow got changed to whenever I wanted that week) and we came up with a reasonable cash amount I could use to buy stuff with, $25. The day I had off to go to Madison and shop I went to 4 book shops and ate out 3 times. Ironically, the only book I bought was The Skinny Rules by Bob Harper (a dieting book), after which I went to Culvers to get a large chocolate shake. For the rest of March I didn’t pay attention to the BNC when I snacked at work and bought extra gazingas drinks for the road. I think I spent around $20, but I am not sure. I have decided to take a $50 cover cost / penalty on my yearly allowance to make up for it. Sometimes being honest sucks, and I REALLY miss getting take home food when I am tired.
Back to the gardens and projects:
This is supposed to be the year of tending the old gardens and not having big new projects. Yeah right. If it is possible, we are going to expand the catio (a patio for cats) to most of the yard and have an area in it big enough for us to be in a hammock. Why, you ask? Frost is our adopted outdoor cat. We have a neighbor who does not like cats on their property and threatened to trap him. I do not want to take a chance of the neighbor killing Frost if trapping doesn’t work. So now Frost is an indoor cat, but we want more of the yard to be accessible to him since he's used to being free. The trick will be to find free or very cheap materials. Another project will be to build a new grilling station in the yard. Since I have a good grill now, this project will probably wait until next summer.
Buying Nothing: The Buy Nothing challenge is tough. I slipped a little, but now that I have to admit it in print, I am back on track.
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