The “Year Without A Purchase”

Last night, Gabby and I settled into bed.  The kids were sleeping, and the Holiday hustle had subsided.  Finally time to exhale.   I set my book on the nightstand.  Optimistic, I was wondering what the first night of 2013 might hold for this husband.  Would we begin with some romance?  Half-smiling, Gabby turned her head toward me and looked into my eyes.

Definitely romance.

Then she spoke up.  Our first “pillow talk” of the New Year.  Her lips parted and she let loose the phrase,

“It’s only January 1st and I’m already irritated with you.”


“This year is going to be a lot harder for me than it is for you.”

And thus begins our “Year Without A Purchase.” 

Several months ago, our Sunday school class did a study on giving the firstfruits of your labor, and “The Power of Enough.”  The book wasn’t exactly a page-turner, but it reminded us of our year in Guatemala. 

Back in 2003, we lived with a beautiful Mayan family, made $130/month, and experienced an indescribable level of purpose and fulfillment.  When we returned home, we were what Southerners call a “hot mess,” arguing over whether or not we truly needed Scotch tape, and curling into the fetal position at the overwhelming choices available in the cereal aisle of the neighborhood groceryplex.

Since then, we have adapted back into life in the USA as our definition of needs vs. wants has slowly morphed into something suburban.

“I need a new pair of dress pants,” I say.

Am I naked from the waist down?

“We need to renovate our bathroom,” we say.

Are we allergic to linoleum?  Have people died from exposure to 20-year-old squeaky toilet seats?

I don’t think Mirriam Webster would agree with our new definition of needs and wants.  So, a few months ago, Gabby posed the hypothetical question, “What if we didn’t buy anything for a year?”

“Are we talking hunting and gathering?  Don’t think I could do it.  I have terrible aim with a staple gun (our family’s only weapon) and can only grow tomatoes.”

“No, I mean the essentials.  I don’t know what essentials are, but it’s less than what we buy now.”

So, we mulled it over during the fall and winter, and agreed we would try to go a year without buying anything.  And now Gabby is irritated with me.  And rightfully so.  It will be harder for her.  Last night she caught a glimpse of my swiss cheese boxer briefs and realized that men tend to buy big ticket items and avoid the everyday needs such as soap and underwear.  Women, on the other hand, make small purchases to make life easier and to nurture their children, but can live without the full-size recreational vehicle converted to backyard smoker capable of turning a full-grown buffalo into 34,000 tasty Beefalo burgers.  Perhaps this paradigm will shift once my underwear slowly disintegrates into the world’s first boxer brief thong.  Until then, my crazy business travel schedule will make her life as a “single mom” much less convenient during this experiment. 

And, we do realize how elitist our challenge is.  The majority of the world faces this same challenge year-after-year out of necessity.  The fact that we are talking about it outwardly is downright offensive.  Still, we think it will be a worthwhile venture to see if a recalibration is possible.  We’ll be posting every week or two to keep you up to date on our lunacy.  Will this truly be the “Year Without a Purchase?”  Or will it simply be “The Year Preceding Our Divorce?”

Tune in to find out.

Meantime, help us out.  How would you define needs vs. wants?



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17 responses to “The “Year Without A Purchase”

  1. Bridgett

    So does this mean you are doing away with cell phones and cable tv?

    • Good question! We’re mostly focused on material stuff, though the services are still up for discussion. We’re thinking cell phones will stay (even the traditional Mayans in Guatemala used them), but cable could get the axe.

  2. Lida

    Need more info on what you can and can’t buy

  3. Tiz

    Luckily, you have conveniently redone your bathroom and carpet before this next adventure.

    Goffs want to join you. Like a support system. I need rules…so I will await further instruction.

    Pete initiated this…he thinks misery loves company…

  4. impchucker

    Good luck with your marriage! I have a question about what this means for the kids, though. Do they not get birthday or Christmas presents this year? Just not from mom and dad? And if they get invited to other kids’ birthday parties, will they not be allowed to buy a gift for their friends?

  5. Oh my Scott, this made both Chuck and I laugh hard. We have been thinking about cutting back on spending…but a year without a purchase? In my mind, it would be broken down into fixed and variable costs. I would budget out all fixed costs and stick to that. Now what is fixed? Home, phone, high speed cable (you have to work), car, food, hygiene (New underwear would fall into this category) health, beauty and edutainment. That would mean you would need PBS. That’s all I’ve got for now. Good luck and I can think of right now. Keep up the writing and update us soon. This is a great project and could be an awesome book. You have a real talent for writing.

  6. I”m thinking some of the things we think of as ‘needs’ are truly wants. For example, dining out is 100% a want. That’d have to go. Also, every phone service outside of basic talk and text would need to go. I agree new, basic underwear should be included as a need, but not the fancy silk ones. Also, vacations, expensive cuts and color at the beauty shop, eyebrow (and eh hem, other) waxing…all out. Cable TV would be a definite out. I’m thinking that thrift store and garage sale shopping – aka recycling might be an acceptable trade for some things you really want/need…especially if you pay cash. I’m also thinking that I’d become the master of bartering and trading with others, and would also probably get really good at using the Craigslist free section.

    The whole idea is wicked Interesting. I’m glad we’ve already resolved to do Sugar Free 2013 because this one is very tempting. Frankly we’re way too materialistic to even go for this one. Maybe your posts will encourage me to buy less stuff and to continue my commitment to recycling via reuse (as compared to recycling corporately, which actually can sometimes be more costly to the environment than using materials that are not recycled…) OK, done. Good luck Dannemillers. You’re crazy and we can’t wait to see your posts!!! Hope this turns into a #1 NY Times BestSeller, you both get incredibly rich and go on to become motivational speakers!!!

  7. OK… I’m loving these comments. It gets us to thinking. So I have to have internet access and cell phone email for my business, and I office out of the home. We’ll have to see if it is actually a savings to remove cable TV from the bundle, or if that would cost just as much. As for birthday presents, we’re either going to do donations if the kid/parent has a favorite charity, or buy “experience gifts”… stuff that helps people connect to one another instead of to stuff. That’s the big motivation here… as we’re noticing ourselves focusing more on stuff than other people, so how can we break the cycle. We won’t be perfect, but hopefully we’ll learn something. And hopefully we’ll save some money in the process that we’ll be able to do something with.

  8. Ahhhh! Susan! Vacations? Hmmmmmm,. This one is interesting, as I get loads of free hotel nights with my travel, and, we won a silent auction back in October for a lake weekend getaway (money to a good cause). Is that cheating?

  9. Marcia Towers

    I’m looking forward to hearing more!!! Very inspiring and go YAV alumni!

  10. Lisa

    Geeze, like the economy isn’t hurting enough?????? Only kidding, think it’s a great idea and just think how much simplier and easier life would be. It’s a good thing your kids are still too young to really hate you and call you mean parents for not letting them have that happy meal.
    Good Luck with this adventure!

  11. When you were answering Susan I think you hit the nail on the head. Is this about money (as in realizing how you / we spend and how needlessly) or this is about people vs. things? Once you suss that out, I think it will be easier to answer questions like cable or no cable and vacation or no vacation. As for birthdays, a friend did this and it was brilliant. Every child invited to the party was asked to bring a book appropriate for the age group. Then they had a book swap (not sure how it was actually orchestrated). So instead of the birthday girl getting a pile of new stuff, every child went home with a book. Very cool.

    • I can’t wait to follow along! The heart behind this is very awesome. I guess there have to be “rules” but just the fact that you guys are taking a hard look makes this a great example to all if us. That said, how handy are you?? Maybe we can swap goods for services!!

  12. Jennifer

    I love this you guys! Jason and I are taking a course right now called Compass ministry and its managing money Gods way. It’s an entire 7 week bible study on money management. There are over 2400 scriptural referecences to money…WOW! I had no idea. We are being life changed in how we manage and use our money. The first realization that it’s not ours to begin with…are we managing our money the way God would want us to…it’s His money! We’ll be accountable for the way we spend/use it. It really is lifechanging and we are doing some things that you guys are doing. My favorite…if its broke we can fix it. We spend most of our money on eating out…so that is gone now except one nice outing on the weekend to a restaurant of our choice! I thought it was going to be hard but not as bad as I thought it would be and it’s fun to keep a high checking balance instead of watching it go down each month because of all the chick fil a drive thru stops! 🙂 Look forward to watching your journey!

  13. Cece Norris

    WOW! This is very inspiring! My mind is racing with ways/ideas on how to implement this in our home. I stumbled upon your post from your wife’s posts as I friended her sometime ago on Facebook as we went to High School together and lived in the same subdivision growing up. That being said I commend you guys for putting this into play. So much of what you have posted over the past couple of weeks is oh so familiar. I read the posts backwards as I saw the “Tale of Two Socks” post first which led me to your blog page. We have sattelite T.V. and we changed our package to the cheapiest one they offer which means no movie channels and I thought it would be difficult to just adjust to that but it’s not bad. To totally eliminate it would be something to strive for most definitely. I had an idea on what to do with the money saved…..we give to the Kingdom of God regularly but sometimes I feel we could give more than we do both in service and donation. For every item you come upon that might otherwise buy…write down the amount and keep a tally. at the end of the year take that amount and give it back to God either in a tithe to the church or buying a goat, etc…. Our church cummulatively bought Water Buffalo for a community in South Africa this past year so donating to a cause such as this would be awesome! These are just my thoughts. Keep the posts coming as I am now hooked and must agree with everyone else….write a book, book, book!!!!

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