A year without shopping

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TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Lisa Napoli: About four years ago some people in the Bay Area started something they call "The Compact." They vowed not to buy anything new for six months.

Well, six months turned into a year and now some of them have a goal of never buying anything new ... ever. With the exception, of course, of food and other necessities like toilet paper.

Tess Vigeland has been following one of these families. It's part of American Public Media's "Consumed" special coming up in a couple of weeks.
Today she introduces us to the Mullen family.


Tess Vigeland: I first spoke with Angelique Mullen on January 3 of this year. She's 36 years old and lives in Daly City, California with her husband Terry, who's 38. They have a 5-year-old daughter Daphne and their son Henry was just 9 months old when we talked in January. He joined his mom in the studio, sippy cup in hand and ready to hit on the table.

I started by asking Angie how she describes her own consumer habits.

Angelique Mullen: I think I'm a conscious consumer, or at least I try to be, but, I do have my moments of weakness. I go crazy in a yarn store or craft supplies. I'm definitely not a clothes horse or I'm not a shoe-a-holic or anything like that, so I don't go to the mall and go shopping but I will tend to sometimes go to Target or a store like that and spend more than I need to on things that I shouldn't be buying.

Vigeland: Well, let me ask you to kind of put yourself on the couch. Where do you think that comes from in terms of how you grew up, how you entered adulthood, how you became a consumer? How do you think your spending habits evolved?

Mullen: Well, you know, I grew up with a single mother and we didn't have a whole lot of money growing up. In fact, there were times in our childhood when we really had no money. And, you know, as I got older and I started earning my own money, it took a long time to become responsible, I think. I took out a lot of student loans when I was younger -- still paying them off. It wasn't until after I got married and my husband and I started sitting down and figuring out how to take care of our finances. He's much better about it than I am; he didn't come into our marriage with debt. We are trying now to be very conscious about how we spend our money and where it goes. That's part of why we've decided to do this compact.

Vigeland: Let's talk a little bit about this compact. What is it?

Mullen: My husband and I have decided to spend the whole year not buying any brand new consumer items, aside from the essentials like food and sundries. There are a couple of exceptions, but we're basically trying to take -- we think of it as a fast. We're doing a consumer fast for a year.

Vigeland: When you say you're not going to buy any new consumer goods, how do you decide what is a necessity and what is an extra?

Mullen: Well, my husband and I sat down on New Year's Eve and tried to make a list of what we thought was essential. We have two cats, so in my view, cat litter is kind of an essential. You know, toilet paper and shampoo and soap are essentials. He thinks razors are essential, they're not to me. So, he's going to probably buy razors to shave. I have enough that I can make do, you know. Food is obviously, anything related to food. I'm just not even going to argue about it. We can't starve ourselves. And we have made a couple of exceptions and that is socks and underwear and brand new shoes for our family because actually all four of us are going to need brand new shoes this year, especially Henry because he'll start walking.

Vigeland: Yeah, well, in Henry's case, I mean, as a 9-month-old, he's going to be growing leaps and bounds over the next 12 months. How do you not buy new things for him?

Mullen: Clothes can be purchased used. We actually have two boxes of boy clothes that were given to me by a few friends and if he needs anything, we'll take it on a case-by-case basis, but I do think we plan to try to get everything used.

Vigeland: Well, if you're really really honest with yourself, how do you feel about the prospect of doing this for the next 12 months?

Mullen: I feel really good about it. I feel excited about it. It's a challenge and I think that's one of the things that appeals to me about it. I know there are a lot of people I know and friends and family who probably think we're nuts and for some reason, that makes me want to do it even more. I don't feel scared about it, I think because we've been working towards it for a long time. I mean, the idea took hold several years ago, actually, before I even heard of "The Compact" and it just kind of was growing in my head for a long time, the idea of it. Of course last year, I had a baby and that didn't seem like a good time to start it and we would go for a while, we'd do a month-long fast here and there. But, this time it seems like it's something I'm really ready for and I think my husband is to. So, it just seemed like the right time.

Vigeland: So how have the first couple of days been?

Mullen: Fine. I haven't gone to one store. I haven't even bought groceries, but I know I'm going to have to do that, actually, today, later, but I don't feel tempted in any way, shape or form.

Vigeland: How long do you think that's gonna last?

Mullen: You know, as long as I stay out of stores, I tend to be OK.


Napoli: That's Angelique Mullen talking with Tess back on January 3. Next week we find out how the Mullens were faring two months into their experiment.

About the author

Tess Vigeland is the host of Marketplace Money, where she takes a deep dive into why we do what we do with our money.

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