Not Buying It

July 12, 2008 at 5:35 am | Posted in Memoir, Nonfiction, Personal Finance | Leave a comment

(July 10, 2006)

I just finished reading a book called Not Buying It, by Judith Levine.  It’s an account of the author’s decision to stop buying anything except absolute necessities for an entire year.  Those of you who know me have probably realized what a bone-deep tightwad I am, and thus will instantly understand why I was so eager to read this book.

I’ve read other books along these lines, including Your Money or Your Life and all three volumes of the Tightwad Gazette. I was raised by a man who once carved sporks out of driftwood, and a woman who actually knew how to darn socks.  Pinching pennies is old hat to me.  In fact, I was so excited to read a review of this book that I did a “Buy Nothing” all through January in anticipation.  (I did succumb at one point, over a $0.69 kitchen sponge).

I went through a bit of angst over reading the book.  Do you buy a copy of a book called Not Buying It?  Is it like buying Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book?  I, like, never buy hardcover books, and $25 is still a lot of money to me.  Yet I really wanted to read the book, and I did believe in supporting the author.  I looked in the library catalogue, but my county doesn’t have a copy.  I found the book at my local Barnes & Noble (buried in the upstairs back corner in Memoirs, not exactly in a dazzling table display).  I sat on the floor and read the first three chapters.  Then I felt too guilty and left.  Finally Matthew checked it out from his library and mailed it to me.  (Total cost: $8.80 for combined postage).

Not Buying It is a fascinating and intellectual treatise, written by an astute and learned lady.  Yet I did not find the kindred tightwad spirit I had assumed I would.  She and her man divide their time between Manhattan and Vermont. They actually own property.  During their experiment, they manage to pay off over $8,000 in credit card debt in six months.  I barely earn that much in six months!  Right from here, we know we’re dealing with dilettantes.

The most interesting question in the book, the one that intrigues the author’s friends, is, what counts as a necessity?  What do you have to buy?  Well, okay, let’s start with food.  Do you have to make your own bread?  Can you count something like, say, bananas, that you could not obtain locally?  Our heroes give up pre-mixed salad greens.  They argue over whether wine counts, and when they finally run out (around fall) he has to learn to make his own beer to compensate.  Hmm.  This is one that escapes me – I think I’ve bought one bottle of wine in my life, and it was a little half-size picnic type bottle.  It doesn’t make my list.  Gives me a headache – and then I would have to decide whether to splurge on OTC meds, right?

Get this – they run out of Q-tips and don’t buy any more for the rest of the year.  Yet, they buy the newspaper every day.  Ya know, you could skip the paper for one week and save enough to buy a small box of Q-tips.  I personally would skip a meal before skipping Q-tips…

The author caves in and buys a pair of lime green pants for a special event.  In a boutique.  They cost $100.  I’m not sure I know where to find a boutique that sells pants that cost that much. Not to mention my feelings about the color lime green.  (I often pray that the color will fall out of fashion soon, for many many years, and it can take that ugly olive green with it).  Of course I could be being unfair, since I can sew and I’m famous for my thrift store spelunking abilities.  Not everybody has tightwad chops.

I sigh.  This book may prove worthy of perusal and discussion by elite East Coast intellectuals, some of whom may examine their own consumption habits.  Probably not, though.  People who see fine wines and artisan breads as absolute necessities are probably not going to make lifelong commitments to living lower on the hog.  A book of this nature aimed at the highest of the upper crust, however, probably would have no readership at all.  The rest of us can go back to the Tightwad Gazette.

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