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shadows of echoes of memories of songs
Don't shop me now
Today was Buy Nothing Day, a kind of general holiday from consumerism. I was going to say that I didn't "succeed" in spending nothing, but to say that makes it sound like a test of "willpower" rather than a choice; as if it was physically impossible to prevent me picking my own pocket, lifting my wallet out and handing over cash in return for something I'd deliberately picked up in a shop and taken to the counter.

To be fair, I did refrain from acquiring any more stuff, and at the moment I'm more concerned about reducing the amount of things kicking around than not spending money. So, in the interests of full disclosure, today I paid money for: several cups of herbal tea; a spicy muffin; a stilton and mushroom bagel, and a waffle with ice cream (the latter two were our evening meal, at G&Ds); and a concert by the Cherwell Singers of Catholic music from Latin America (which, incidentally, was very good. I had reserved the tickets for the concert before realising it was Buy Nothing Day, but had to pay on the door, so there was no getting around that one; the rest of my expenditure was just the result of trying to make the best use of the time between things. I had a choir rehearsal from 2:00-4:15pm, and then had to be back in more or less the same place (20 minutes' bike ride from home) for 7:30, and didn't want to spend 20% of the time between the two cycling to and fro in the cold. And if you want to find somewhere to sit and write in central Oxford in winter (in warmer weather I'd've been happy to sit on a park bench somewhere with my bottle of water) then you pretty much have to pay for it. I could have gone into work (and did, briefly, to pick up some stuff) but I knew that if I was in the office then I'd've got distracted by the internet.

I've found it's surprising how much I can get written if I don't have an internet connection there to hoover up all my concentration. To be honest, it doesn't seem unreasonable to me to pay £1.50 or so (the approximate cost of a cup of herbal tea) for a convenient, warm place to sit for an hour and for the distance-from-distractions necessary to get things done. I know that reasonableness or otherwise of expenditure isn't the point of Buy Nothing Day; I'm just making an observation on the usefulness or otherwise of spending money in cafés.

Cafés always seem to be one of the first targets selected in the ubiquitous "how to save money" articles. There's always something along the lines of "cut out that coffee-and-croissant on the way into work, you'll be surprised how much money you save!" -- which is infuriating if you already don't do that, in much the same way that the Motley Fool's endless maundering about how to save money by driving more carefully, driving a slightly smaller car, driving an extra 50 miles to get the cheaper petrol, etc. is infuriating to those of us who don't own a car and would like suggestions on how to save more money. (I did actually write to them suggesting that they write an article about how much money you'd save by not owning a car at all, but they ignored my email.) While we're on the subject of irritating money-saving tips... a survey I filled in recently (prize draw, natch) about the Cr*d*t Cr*nch included the following question: "Will you be doing any of the following to save money on alcohol purposes for drinking at home this Christmas?" with possible multiple-choice answers including "Having sparkling wine instead of champagne" (because obviously normally everybody buys champagne at Christmas), "Going to a hypermarket in Europe to buy my alcohol" (because as we know, flights don't cost anything except the continued existence of the human race) and "Making my own home-brew" (as if making your own wine was actually cheaper than buying a £2.99 bottle of Bulgarian cabernet sauvignon from Tesco ... though admittedly you've got more choice of flavours if you brew your own).

Saving money is a curious thing, though. verbal_tea recently mentioned a conversation on the Money Saving Expert forum where apparently
The posters have reacted to the news that Woolworths is in trouble by sharing tips as to how they can continue to buy from Woolworths, circumventing the stock problems in the shops and the website’s usability failures.
and says
Bear in mind that this conversation is taking place on a money-saving forum where people are supposed to be helping each other buy less unnecessary crap.
Unfortunately the Money Saving Expert site is, as far as I can tell (I didn't get much beyond the first eye-watering page) -- like most other money-saving tips sites, articles and books -- absolutely nothing to do with buying less stuff: quite the reverse! They're all about buying as much stuff as you possibly can for as little money as possible. And it's all about competition: beating the banks, beating the shops, beating the other shoppers, getting something for nothing. If you get nothing for nothing, how can you prove you've won? Compare these two anecdotes: "I went to M&S and I bought this fantastic skirt for £9.99, reduced from £40!" versus "I went to M&S, looked around a bit, and I decided I didn't really need another skirt." How can you tell how much money you've "saved" unless the shop tells you that you got that amount "off"? How can you tell the difference between not buying a £9.99 skirt and not buying a £59.99 skirt? I didn't buy the amazing metallic balldress I saw in the window of Karen Millen; did I "save" the hundreds of pounds it probably cost (I didn't dare look at the price-tag)?

This sort of "saving by spending" makes sense (kind of) if it's something you were going to buy anyway; if you'd already decided to buy that thing no matter what, and there's a special offer today where you get 10p off that particular thing, then hey, yeah, you saved 10p. But if you're only buying it because of the "saving", then it's not a saving, it's a spending. The problem is that without any concrete commitment to buy it's easy to delude yourself that you were going to buy something anyway -- whether to convince yourself that you're saving money by buying it ("I'd've had to buy one eventually so if I buy it now when the special offer is on, I'll have saved money") or that you're saving money by not buying it ("I really wanted it and I didn't buy it, so I've saved the amount that I would have spent on it"). The latter, of course, is fine until you use it as the basis for convincing yourself "therefore I'm richer by that amount than I would have been otherwise, so I can spend that amount now without guilt".

The logical conclusion of all this self-delusion is that only way you can be sure you've made a saving without buying things is by putting money in a separate account or otherwise earmarking it as "savings": by putting a value on your non-spending. "I saved 150 pounds this month [by putting it in my savings account]" is somehow much more convincing than "I didn't buy loads of stuff this month" (after all, how can you tell what you might have bought if you'd been feeling irresponsible?). Fortunately, despite being the logical extension of illogical thoughts, it's a fairly sensible approach to the problem of saving: I certainly find it helps a lot to set up a regular payment into a savings account. And, in the interests of cutting down on the amount of stuff in my life, it takes up less space in an ISA than it would in a box under the bed.

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the_elyan From: the_elyan Date: November 30th, 2008 12:28 am (UTC) (Link)
You are ansolutely right - people are obsessed with "keeping score" in these things, not least because money is the biggest scorecard ever invented. And the assumption that you always have to buy stuff rather than not buy stuff is a corrosive one.

I have a terrible habit of using the big things I don't buy as an excuse for the small things I do, which is a head-trick, and utterly useless.

All I can say in defence of my intermittent profligacy is that it usually involves cheap things (eg individual CD's or books), and tyou can buy a lot of those for one big electronic Shiny.
beingjdc From: beingjdc Date: November 30th, 2008 04:44 am (UTC) (Link)
j4 From: j4 Date: November 30th, 2008 11:16 am (UTC) (Link)
It's just there's not that much to say about saving by not buying stuff. I mean, that's it really

Well yes. Sorry for spinning such a boring truth out into a blog post longer than that one line.
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truecatachresis From: truecatachresis Date: November 30th, 2008 10:19 am (UTC) (Link)
truecatachresis From: truecatachresis Date: November 30th, 2008 10:23 am (UTC) (Link)
I am genuinely intending to save money by spending money, while simultaneously DEPLETING my savings, and INCREASING my credit card debt and gaining nothing. Am I crazy?

Given the drop in interest rates and the rise in inflation, I am currently earning less money on my ISA than my student loan (of which I still have several years left...) is costing me. So, on Monday, I'm paying off my student loan on my credit card, and then paying off the credit card bill at the end of the month with money taken out of my ISA.

I bought some food on buy nothing day. I don't feel guilty.
lnr From: lnr Date: November 30th, 2008 11:02 am (UTC) (Link)
Do you get cashback on the credit card?

The only disadvantage of this approach is that the limits on how much tax free investment you can have each year mean that you've got a much smaller pot of tax efficient savings in future if and when rates go back up, so you've got to try and take that into account somehow. But it sounds like you probably don't have many year's worth of full allowance saved up already, unless your student loan is several times bigger than mine, so not so much of a consideration.

I bought food. And curtains online :-)

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crazyscot From: crazyscot Date: November 30th, 2008 10:29 am (UTC) (Link)
People are stupid. The idea of saving money by spending works, when applied to Joe Public, and don't the marketers know it.
bopeepsheep From: bopeepsheep Date: November 30th, 2008 11:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Taking a flight to a European hypermarket to buy alcohol doesn't seem terribly practical even without the environmental cost, given the restrictions on luggage. ITYM ferry, and I'm not sure what the impact of their crossings are but I suspect it's significantly less than flights, even with the added petrol usage of the cars on board.

(But yes, it's hardly 'saving'.)
shermarama From: shermarama Date: November 30th, 2008 01:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
It'll mean by ferry, aye. In which case we can decry that tip for its London-centrism, since it's easy and cheap and a bit of a laugh to take you and your mates and a car to the hypermarkets of Calais if you're in the south east, and pointlessly expensive and long-distance if you're from almost anywhere else in the UK.
hatmandu From: hatmandu Date: November 30th, 2008 11:15 am (UTC) (Link)
Good points about MoneySavingExpert (including the abysmal design) - I have haunted it every now and then but am gradually giving up - thus saving time as well as money. The saving by spending stuff is rather like the doomed Richard Carstone in Bleak House, culture fans.
monkeyhands From: monkeyhands Date: November 30th, 2008 12:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you for this post, which pretty much says it all about the lies we tell ourselves and the lies the media tells us.

What especially cracked me up about the conversation on the Money Saving Expert forum was the guy who said that he wasn't sorry because Woolworths are shite and shopping there was a miserable experience anyway. He then ends his comment with the words: "Looks like argos are getting my money this year". Yeah! You tell 'em! Who said consumers don't have power?
classytart From: classytart Date: November 30th, 2008 01:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yesterday I finished my xmas shopping, got a few snacks, and my train ticket home for xmas. Not much reckless consumerism, and because we don't have Thanksgiving, thus Black Friday, I think it applies less here anyway.

In the evening I looked at the balances in my bank accounts various. I wish I hadn't. Doing the sums for the things I have left to pay for this pay month - new year party ticket, food, work xmas night out spending money, etc, I think I need about £140. I have about £130. Crap. May have to raid the savings account.

I'm always annoyed by the money savings tips, too. I don't buy a Starbucks coffee on the way to work because I know fine well that's about £300 a year I needn't spend (especially as I don't like coffee). And I don't own a car. But money does fly through my fingers. I am bad with money. The only way I can save money is by moving it directly into a savings account before I even see it, and I will be increasing the amount next year.

That said, I don't actually think savings are the moral good they are made out to be. They'll help if you have a lot of them and suddenly find yourself without job, but essentially it's dead money. Saving up for something is good, though.
cleanskies From: cleanskies Date: November 30th, 2008 01:42 pm (UTC) (Link)

I was too busy wondering what black friday is to notice buy nothing day

So I bought a tasty pie and some chinese food. But I did fail to get served in two pubs and one cafe, so someone was doing their bit for buy nothing day.

I also drank some wine I'd bought about a month ago, but I think that counts as stash-busting.
jiggery_pokery From: jiggery_pokery Date: November 30th, 2008 02:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
Another very fine post.

But if you're only buying it because of the "saving", then it's not a saving, it's a spending. The problem is that without any concrete commitment to buy it's easy to delude yourself that you were going to buy something anyway -- whether to convince yourself that you're saving money by buying it ("I'd've had to buy one eventually so if I buy it now when the special offer is on, I'll have saved money")

I would distinguish another case, at which you hint with you were going to buy something anyway; if something is temporarily reduced, it may become wise to purchase it as a substitute for what you were planning to buy, if you knew you were going to buy something. So, essentially, it's what you said, but distinguishing the case of something as a variable from the case of something as a constant.

Fortunately, despite being the logical extension of illogical thoughts, it's a fairly sensible approach to the problem of saving: I certainly find it helps a lot to set up a regular payment into a savings account.

We're great at this. We also look forward to the month where we do not have to clear out every single savings account we've set up in order to avoid exceeding our overdraft. This month, hopefully...
arnhem From: arnhem Date: November 30th, 2008 03:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
The main restriction on my desire to be a consumer is my unwillingness to dispose of stuff badly (or indeed, for many things, at all), and my awareness of the cost to me of being cluttered.

arnhem From: arnhem Date: November 30th, 2008 03:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
God that sounds holier-than-thou. I should probably point out that my difficulties surrounding disposal of things verge on the pathological. The brake it puts on my consumerism is probably the only positive spin I can put on it 8-)
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