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We made it! We’re officially through our Nothing New Year challenge and it’s been a wild ride. We were far from perfect, but that doesn’t mean that the challenge was a failure.
I consider it a success because it definitely made a positive impact on our finances and our environmental footprint - and we learned a ton!
Since we’re wrapping things up, I’ll have an abbreviated spending overview for December as well as a full-year summary of our 2018 spending and what we learned from the Nothing New Year Challenge.
December Spending Overview
We track our spending using a little tool I made called Thrifty. We’ve been using it for over 2 years and it’s really helped us get a handle on our finances. If you start your free trial by the end of January, you’ll get 50% off a subscription.
Here’s our spending summary from Thrifty for December 2017:
I’d consider it a fairly reasonable month - especially considering our purchases for Christmas and our upcoming Hawaii trip were all within this number.
Let’s dive into to the details of each category:
|Charity||$100.00||We continued our regular contributions to our church and The Hope Effect, one of our favorite charities.|
|Childcare||$0.00||We missed bible study this month because Jaime wasn’t feeling well, so we didn’t need a sitter.|
|Clothing/Shoes||$654.85||Yowza! This month was a tough one - we bought a mix of used and new. On the used side: a set of snow pants, shirts, pants. On the new side: a t-shirt and skort for each of our girls, a sweater for Chris, a tank top for Jaime, snowpants for Jaime and one of our girls, undershirts and socks for Chris, two sets of winter boots, and a swimsuit for Jaime. All told (and removing the exceptions), we bought 10 new clothing items this month.|
|Date Night||$0.00||We didn’t have any date nights this month. Oops!|
|Eating Out||$83.28||We had two convenience meals this month (getting take-out instead of our planned dinner) and bought quite a bit of ice cream. Is it crazy that we buy ice cream in the winter? It’s one of those things everyone in our family loves.|
|Education||$146.62||Our school had another fundraiser for new playground equipment, so we contributed to that. Also, we had to buy candy for the kids to make gingerbread houses in their classes. Finally, we got gift cards and thank you cards for our kids’ teachers to thank them for the amazing work they do.|
|Entertainment||$1.58||Aside from one Redbox rental, we got all of our movies and books from the library this month for!|
|Fitness||$0.00||We prepaid our gym membership earlier this year, so nothing this month.|
|Gifts & Celebrations||$388.17||We stayed well within our Christmas budget of $500, but did end up buying a fair amount new. We looked for used where we could, but ran out of luck for some purchases, buying 10 new items.|
|Groceries||$787.29||Once again, we did fairly well this month on groceries. I’m excited that this seems to be our new normal.|
|Healthcare||$732.19||Health insurance premiums, 5 chiropractic visits for Jaime, one prescription and 3 office visits. Jaime’s chiropractic schedule is down to one adjustment a week (from 2 before) so hopefully we’ll see this number drop in the coming months.|
|Hobbies||$0.00||Our art supplies from last month are holding out and the kids got some art stuff as Christmas presents from family as well.|
|Home Updates||$0.00||The rental life is treating us well here :)|
|Household Care||$412.31||Lots of standard stuff: toilet paper, surface cleaner, dish soap, hair clips, floss, chapstick, make up, candles, shampoo, conditioner, lip balm, and tissues. We also had five new purchases this month - three travel car seats, a corkscrew, and a handwoven basket to hold our family card games so they aren’t in the back of some drawer. Finally, we had to get replacement frames for our daughter’s glasses after the old ones broke. We’re considering this to be on the exception list as something we can’t get used.|
|Pizza & Movie Night||$106.01||With five pizza nights this month, we spent quite a bit. We used Papa Murphy’s three times to keep the cost down a bit, but have been craving our local favorite pizza shop.|
|Services||$109.72||Life insurance, printing a few pages at the library, and a deposit for family photos that we’ll be taking during our January trip to Hawaii.|
|Thrifty||$57.69||Hosting fees, email management tool, and source code storage for Thrifty this month.|
|Transportation||$128.20||With a bit of travel around the holidays, we needed extra gas this month, consuming three full tanks.|
|Travel||$755.91||We booked a rental car for our trip to Hawaii and prepaid for a hotel (and parking) the night before our flight in Chicago. In addition, we purchased travel insurance for our trip just in case something comes up.|
|Utilities||$149.46||Internet and gas and electric.|
|Total||$5,588.28||Total without Travel: $4,832.37|
Did We Buy Anything New?
When we kicked off the year, we defined our boundaries:
Used, refurbished, reclaimed, are all fair game, but “new” is to be avoided wherever possible.
Food and household consumable items (baking soda & vinegar for cleaning, soap, art supplies, etc.) are allowed new for obvious reasons.
Other than this, we only have a short list of exceptions we allow:
- Socks and shoes
- Photo prints (school pictures and for our road trip map)
- Stainless steel baking sheet (though we’ll look for used options if we can find them)
- Car maintenance parts (we know we need new tires next year)
- Home remodeling
We pretty much completely crashed this month with 25 new items - 10 clothing items, 10 gifts for Christmas, 3 travel car seats for our trip to Hawaii, a corkscrew, and a basket to hold the family card games we’ve accumulated (which otherwise always seem to end up under the couch or in the back of some closet).
I’ll forgive us the travel car seats - we went with MiFold seats, which end up being cheaper than renting seats from the car rental company and give us a great option to use at home and when the kids need to ride in a relative’s car.
How Did We Do Through the Year?
All told, we bought 90 new items in 2017.
I’ve got mixed feelings about the result. Here’s a chart to show how we did throughout the year:
It ain’t pretty, but it’s real. We had a lot of resolve early on, but as the year went on, we found ourselves buying more and more new every month.
Let’s take a look at where we struggled, where we succeeded, and what we learned.
What We Found the Hardest - Clothing
Over half of our new purchases were in the clothing category. We found a good number of items used from thrift stores (both in-person and online), but shopping thrift requires planning, patience, and persistence.
When you’ve got a hole in the knee of your only pair of jeans, you might not be able to find a suitable replacement pair that day at Goodwill.
In addition, kids clothes can be tough to get from thrift shops. More than once, we ended up with kids clothing that had holes we didn’t notice in the store. When we bought online, we ran into challenges with sizes.
That said, we still made a huge improvement in our clothing purchases this year. In 2016, 88% of the clothing we bought was purchased new. In 2017, that number dropped down to 47%.
The shift to used did help us financially as well - we spent $335.84 less on clothing in 2017 despite actually purchasing a higher quantity of items.
Note: all of these stats take the clothing items from the exceptions list out of the equation (i.e. shoes, underwear, etc)
Where We Made Great Progress
A picture is worth a thousand words:
Even though we were far above our goal of zero, our challenge did have a big impact on how much new stuff we bought. In 2016, we had purchased 153 new items by the end of the year. We cut that by 40% in 2017.
When we look at just the items off the exception list, we spent $1,144.49 less in 2017 than we did in 2016 by buying used instead of new.
We used other strategies, such as waiting for items to wear out fully, fixing broken items, using other items we already have instead of buying something specialized, and making our own items out of raw materials, saving us another $1500.
All told, we estimate our Nothing New Challenge saved us $2,500 in 2017!
Beyond the pure numbers, we had some genuine feel-good moments through the challenge that also contribute to me feeling the challenge was a success:
- Discovering FreeCycle and getting our Japanese roll-out futon mat (AKA our floor-sleeping bed) for FREE
- Getting thrifty with our wrapping paper for gifts - using newspaper and book order catalog sheets
- Resisting the urge to replace our pizza cutter and discovering we never really needed it in the first place
Finally, let me touch on the environmental side of our challenge, as that was a part of our motivation going in to this.
While we didn’t exactly measure our trash, qualitatively I can say that we definitely had a sizeable reduction on our waste.
For the last few years, we’ve specially requested the smallest garbage bin that our waste management company offers (31 gallon capacity vs the standard of 96 gallons.
We were pleased to make it through the whole year without ever feeling like it was overflowing.
What We Learned
We had two major takeaways from our Nothing New Year that I’d like to close with:
- We don’t know what we’re capable of until we try it. Leading up to the challenge, I wavered between believing we were totally going to nail it and that we were going to fail miserably. In the end, we didn’t know until we tried.
- We learned to value progress over perfection. We could have given up on the challenge altogether based on our early/mid-year slip-ups. Instead, our ongoing work on the challenge meant our savings continued throughout the year and we ended up having a great financial and environmental impact.
So, What’s Next?
Going into 2018, we don’t plan to continue the Nothing New Year Challenge, but we do hope to continue to carry many of the practices going forward.
We know we can be better stewards of our environment (and our bank accounts) by being selective about when we fork over money to bring something new into our lives.
I’m planning on putting together a 2017 spending summary post so you can see how all of these monthly spending reports roll up. In addition, we’ll continue to put out monthly spending reports in 2018 unless you tell us you’re sick of seeing them :)
While we’re on our trip to Hawaii this month, we’ll be looking at what family and financial goals we have for 2018 and will hopefully have some fun stuff to share in early February.
In the meantime, hoping you have a wonderfully happy new year!
What did you think of the Nothing New Year Challenge? Have you tried something similar?