The best rule I’ve adopted for my no-buy (so far)

Even now, only ten days into my no-buy as I write this, I am starting to see some of the positive changes that getting control of my bad money habits can bring. Nothing major, yet, but sometimes even a little change, tossed into the stagnant pond of bad habits, can have a ripple effect.

Take for example, what is probably my favorite rule of my no-buy so far: don’t buy treats disguised as groceries. I found this rule while I was reading through other people’s posted rules lists, and I am glad I did, because I probably never would have articulated it on my own. It was definitely one I needed, though.

I have a really bad habit of treating myself to some sort of snack every time I go into a grocery store or gas station. It’s usually a junk food and drink combo, like beef jerky and a Monster, or a Dr. Pepper and a couple items off the gas stations rollers (Cheesy Pepper Jack Tornados are a particular weakness). These purchases are never on my shopping list, nor are they purchased with any sort of meal in mind. They are literally mindless snacks consumed in the car within ten minutes of me pulling out.

Even worse, I was mentally writing them off as part of the cost of buying groceries or gasoline, so during those times in the past when I was trying to budget, they were hidden in the overall cost. As such, I couldn’t tell you exactly how much I have been spending in a given week on these on-the-go treats. If I had to guess, I would say maybe $12 to $15 a week, assuming I was doing it three times a week, on average.

As such, the “no treats disguised as groceries” rule has had an immediate impact on my budget. If I’m not buying a snack and a drink when I go to the store, then that’s maybe $4 I just saved each trip. And while that may not seem like a lot in the long run, even an extra $12 a week not spent on chocolate and energy drinks means $48 extra at the end of the month.

It’s not just about money, though. By foregoing my grocery-run snacks, I’m doing less mindless eating in the car, which is helping my food goals. Those snacks could easily add up to 500+ calories each time, all consumed outside of the normal cycle of meals. 1500+ extra calories a week was certainly contributing to my weight gain, and so eliminating them is an easy way to reduce my daily caloric intake.

Not to mention that, applied more generally, “no treats as groceries” has an impact on everything I put in my shopping cart and in my mouth. Junk food is something that often lands in my cart, from seasonally-flavored cookies to bags of Flamin’ Hot Cheetoes — not to serve with meals or pack as lunches, but just for mindless eating in front of the television or the computer. Those snacks not only added to my weekly grocery bill, but they also add a lot of extra calories into my diet, calories that I would never keep track of.

As part of my food goals, however, I am really stressing meal planning. As such, when I grocery shop I make a list and try to stick to it; and that list is paired to a meal plan, which means I am trying to limit myself to food that has an actual use in the week to come. While that doesn’t mean that I buy zero junk food, it does mean that any junk food I do buy must be assigned a role like “after dinner snack”, which means I’m consciously thinking about what I’m buying and when I will eat it. The result is I have been buying less junk food (saves money) and eating it a lot less often (saves calories).

But wait, there’s more! From a self-improvement perspective, I’m breaking a bad habit. Picking up a treat for myself whenever I was shopping was an unnecessary indulgence, mentally justified by telling myself I’d had a long day at work, or that I hadn’t eaten in awhile, or just that damnit I deserved it. Now, I have concrete reasons to say “no” to myself. The craving is still there, but being able to remind myself of my goals makes it a lot easier to leave the treats on the shelf.

So one little rule ripples into three of my midlife makeover goals: I save on the grocery bill {money); I improve my diet (food); and I break a bad habit (self). I’m sure I could take any of the rules of my no-buy month and demonstrate something similar, but I like how this one illustrates the point pretty succinctly. Small changes can beget other small changes, which themselves reinforce other changes, which can, over time, lead to big improvements in the way I live my life … which is the whole point of doing this in the first place.


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