Janet (j4) wrote,

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.
Tags: nablopomo, shopping
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