January Buying Break

Our Christmas was fairly modest by American standards, but boy, did I buy a lot of things in December. Christmas presents. A roasting pan. Christmas presents on other people’s behalf. (Since we did not go East for Christmas, several generous relatives sent holiday checks. And since we’ve never stayed home before, I lacked key supplies like a roasting pan.) Cookie cutters. Ornament making supplies. Preschool teacher gift cards. Wreath. Wreath hanger. Christmas tree.

Everything I bought has a purpose, and I didn’t even come close to spending all those Christmas checks. (We’re stashing some for filling wants* as they arise and/or for experiences.) But it was much more spending, especially buying new, than I normally do. (Both boys got brand-new coats and brand-new jeans, plus a brand-new kid-sized table and chairs, a level of newness unprecedented in our household since we were preparing for Big Brother’s arrival five years ago.)

Packable, washable down jackets from Costco, approximately $23 each. Thanks, Grandma FP!

Packable, washable down jackets from Costco, approximately $23 each. Thanks, Grandma FP!

Now, there’s no way January is going to be an uber-frugal month. The dishwasher is broken** and my car is making alarming knocking noises when I turn corners (no more putting off that axle replacement). And Mr. FP and I have a weekend getaway planned for just the two of us.

Still, it’s time to recalibrate. I have major buying fatigue and don’t even want to think about walking up and down aisles or researching products on Amazon. Besides that, all that shopping has started to seem like normal behavior, something to do every few days. For me, it’s not, and it can’t be.

So… I’m not going to buy anything in January. Not for me, not for the house, and not for the boys. There are only two exceptions: I will buy whatever I need to fix the dishwasher, and I will buy Big Brother one or two birthday presents and some balloons. (Not his fault he got stuck with a January birthday.)

Now, last year I decided there was too much going on in January and I would just wait for February to do a proper uber-frugal month. This year, I’ve reminded myself that the perfect is the enemy of the good and decided that the time to start is now.

Does anyone else feel the need to do a bit of a January spending detox?

*We need a word for in between “want” and “need.” Something along the lines of, Little Brother’s uniform pants are wearable but short and I buy him new ones. He doesn’t NEED new ones, exactly, but it’s more than a passing fancy.

**Technically, I broke it while trying to clean it.


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About frugalparagon

I'm a part-time librarian and mom to two small boys. I blog about striving for the long-term goal of financial independence while running a tight ship at home.

8 responses to “January Buying Break”

  1. mrsssc says :

    We have done a good job cutting out expenses by asking ourselves if we ‘want’ or ‘need’ something – but you make a good point – there should be a good word in-between. Maybe require? Hmmm.. that may be too like ‘need’. That is a hard one!

    • frugalparagon says :

      Right! I mean, most modern Americans cannot reasonably be said to NEED anything. We have enough food in our house to last for days if we ate it all, we have more clothes than we could wear out in several years, we own multiple pairs of shoes.

  2. David says :

    Instead of looking for a new word between need and want, just realize that the whole personal finance “needs versus wants” is a false binary. Jacob pokes a huge hole in this in his book Early Retirement Extreme. Not sure if that particular section has a blog treatment or if it was just in the book.

    From memory, he talks about something like shelter. Imagine various shelters: cave, lean-to, primitive cabin, small house, big house, etc. It’s difficult to point to a precise ‘aha!’ where need magically turns into want. Instead, just accept that there’s a continuum and the question ‘but do I need this?’ is harder to answer than with a simple yes or no.

    I may have completely botched that explanation but hope that helps.

    • frugalparagon says :

      No, the idea of a continuum makes perfect sense–thanks!

      Probably more sensible to admit that damn near everything is a “want” and think more in terms about its impact on your life vs. the hours of your time you’ll be trading for it (with a side thought for the environmental impact while you’re at it).

  3. Mrs PoP says :

    Ha! I feel like I could use a break from spending on our house, but that would only prolong the renovation even further and I’m getting antsy about wanting it over with. =P

    As for the wants and needs, I’ve always leaned toward that pretty much everything is a want since bare survival requires so very little. But for our every day lexicon, “need” has generally become a measure of whether something will maintain our standard of living whereas a want generally increases it. “Needs” are often repairs or replacements of things we use all the time (so I’d put pants that fit correctly in this category). “Wants” are often new experiences or items – like my Scooba – which definitely increased my standard of living.

    • frugalparagon says :

      Another nice way of looking at it! Tricky issue with kids, of course, because their needs change as they grow so that you’re always asking what they “need.”

      I do think that it’s worth asking at every stage whether you really do need an item to maintain your standard of living. I’ve been working certain categories of my wardrobe down through attrition, trying to wear things out and then discard, rather than replace.

  4. Leah says :

    I’m doing a January spending break. It is SO HARD. We like to hike with our little, and she needs warmer gloves. I just want to go buy them. Instead, I will follow a friend’s recommendation and just put several pairs of my thick socks on my little’s hands. Other than that, it’s mostly passing things I want to get that I’m putting off.

    But I’m doing the break for good reason — I feel like my spending has been “out of control” (for me) recently. Maybe it’s having a toddler and always feeling like I need to get her something new. But my bills, while manageable, have been higher than I like. So, I’m taking a break and trying to let my bank account build back up before we take a vacation in early March.

    • frugalparagon says :

      Socks on hands sounds brilliant! They grow so fast; why invest in fancy gloves? I know what you mean, though–it seems like they always “need” something. Markers! Snow boots! Those swim shirts that no one had when we were kids but are required now! Preschool supply list, underpants, new socks, new shoes, on and on!

      I did have a nice save recently. The kids ripped one of their fitted sheets–it was usable, but only kind of–and I wanted to replace it. Then I realized, they never use the FLAT sheets, so why not put those on the bottom? Little Brother’s mattress is right on top of the carpet and he has a terry mattress pad; it’s not going to slide around. Problem solved for free and now I am getting use out of something that was just sitting in the closet!

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