Be the Change, Without Spending Any

By Alexis Costello

Many of us have had the experience of a life-changing year.  Maybe it came along with getting married, having a baby, traveling abroad or losing someone you love.  Would you believe that you could change your life completely simply by not spending money? This is what Calgary roommates Geoffrey Szuszkiewicz and Julie Phillips did from the summer of 2013 to this past August as they embarked on an experiment they called Buy Nothing Year.

“It felt like a fast or an addiction program where you’re slowly changing your behaviors and patterns from something you’re addicted to or that’s habitual for you,” says Julie. Not being part of the mass consumer culture helped both to develop more mindfulness and more awareness, to slow down and pay more attention to where they actually are.  “It shows where you put your focus or attention. I used to constantly want things — more, better, nicer and cheaper. I haven’t done that in a year, so my life is richer. It’s a spiritual outcome, which I didn’t expect at all.”

Between the two of them, they saved over $55,000 in the year.  Biking and walking everywhere and not going out to eat improved overall health as well.

The message that emerges from reading their story is that you don’t have to be trapped in a rat-race or in a culture of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ if you don’t want to be.  Even if your income is limited, there are ways of changing your relationship with money and with a consumer culture.

In reading the Buy Nothing Year blog, it is clear that both Geoffrey and Julie had always had lofty goals but maybe some difficulty with follow-through.  The immediate media attention their experiment got helped them to get through the initial, most difficult part of the change as it kept them accountable.  At only a month in to the experiment however they both report a shift in how they look at time, relationships, life goals and priorities.  Like a New Years Resolution in overdrive!

For most people, a shift like this might be too extreme or difficult to consider, but could you try it on a smaller scale?  This might start with participating in a ‘Buy Nothing Day’ activity in your area, or something as simple as really looking at where you spend your money in the average month and trying to eliminate a couple of frivolous expenses ($5 coffees anyone?).  There is also the option to swap/trade services or products with others, meaning that you can still get what you’re looking for, but take money out of the equation.

Times magazine in an article entitled ‘What Comes First, Wealth or Health?’ points out that money issues cause stress which is the root of many health problems, but also that your health depends on feeling good about, and in control of, your finances, something that very few people are doing.  Maybe 2015 is your year to take your health and money into your own hands and change for the better.

Quotes taken from Forbes article published August 20, 2014 “The Buy Nothing Year: How Two Roommates Saved More Than $55,000”

Follow Geoffrey and Julie at