How I bought less in 2020 – and loved it

How I bought less in 2020 – and loved it

As the year comes to a close, I am starting to… prepare my tax return. As part of the tidying and sorting out business side of Christmastide that I felt too mundane to mention. How does that lead to the very last post of the year being about how I bought less? It’s all about smart shopping and buying things you only need.

So I started going through all my purchases today and, apart from buying a bicycle, found that a lot of my purchases were work related: doctor bag,  fancy stethoscope, software… and this is how I bought less this year.

Anja making notes in a little black book, how I bought less
The end of year account of… whatever. Excuse the old photo and surroundings, it’s the only one I have with a little black book…

It felt like in 2020 the whole Christmas cheer started yearly.  In mid-November, I started seeing Christmas trees and decorations on  social media, and it seemed gift guides popped up online even earlier than usual.

In “normal” times, on  first Advent Sunday, I am  like “what, am I supposed to get festive already??? “This year, come first Advent Sunday, I had decorated, bought most Christmas gifts and made a first batch of festive cookies. However, I have been pretty immune to the whole blog/social media “Advent Calendar” thing.

And looking back onto the past year, my main expenditure was aforementioned work essentials, books and investing into our home. And guess what? I saved a ton of money. Here is how I bought less!

The Small Print

I am going to put this here at the start of my post on how I bought less – none of the links are affiliate links, meaning you can click and no one plants a cookie. Well, not me anyway. All items I bought from my own money and they are personal recommendations.

We’re having a relatively stress-free festive season personally. We stayed  at home with a vat of mashed potatoes and sprouts and segregating ourselves from any potential virus sources. My only adventure out was a trip to the Turkish supermarket and picking up a chimney cake from my favourite cake shop on Christmas Eve.

Work is a different matter entirely. I consider myself extremely lucky having dodged the virus given the times I’ve been sneezed, coughed and retched at. I keep hoping I have developed some immunity but when I last checked in summer, no antibodies. I’m somewhat relieved work is going along despite the extra stress having to deal with an easily transmissable virus which has a 5% likelihood to kill you and to be honest, these slow COVID stories aren’t nice either. But let’s leave the virus stories at that for now.

It’s been a strange year. Yet, as this one ends and as much as I wish on New Years Eve it would just go “pouf” and be gone, including one fast-travelling deadly virus, it ain’t gonna happen.

Shopping because or despite restrictions?

I wasn’t surprised that the annual shopping bonanza marked by Thanksgiving and lasting well to the end of the year seemed undaunted by what’s going on.  Save for the enthusiastic “Shop Small Businesses!” shouts from various online sources. However, the “Swipe up” and “Buy from … (insert huge online retailer here that pays me a provision)” seemed the same as last year. Also, seeing some travel bloggers I follow “diversify” into shilling tons of non-travel stuff made me feel really jaded about consuming and buying more in times when financial reserves make far more sense.

And to be honest, I love to shop. I have a decent enough income to buy what I need.  But my house is kinda filling up, I have stopped and as I take note what I actually, need, I have well slowed down. Also, losing some of my extra income earlier this year and the months of insecurity over income made me really check my expenditure.

My husband moving into my then flat with a tiny van filled mostly with books was a turning point. How could this guy in his late Forties have so little stuff?

I am yet far from that but I have considerably slowed down the past few years.

So here’s a good look on what I bought this year, and, whether I actually saved any money by using Black Friday/Special Offer anything.

How I bought less Clothes

I bought some black flat shoes and an Armorlux classic Breton shirt. And that’s it. You see how unfashionable I am, but I love these shirts. I tend to buy from either Saint JAmes or Armorlux, depending on which shop I happen to pass/whether they have a sale on.

I also replaced some underwear – some expensively by shopping in my favourite underwear store, the other cheaply by popping into Marks and Spencer on my only trip to England.

Yup, and that’s it. I do admit I have a rather lovely collection of clothes from 2008-2014 which I bought in the UK and which are such quality that they are still highly wearable – mostly Jigsaw, Margaret Howell and Marina Rinaldi.

The Breton Shirt 1.0 in 2013. Now safely confined to home wear

Smart Shopping: Home

A slightly larger spend, especially towards the end of the year when some of my newly secured locum work income arrived.

We are renovating our house step by step and this year decided the years of cheap Ikea lighting are over. I found a opal glass pendant I had bought in 2003 but never managed to hang, put that in our hallway and bought vintage Louis Poulsen lights for my office, kitchen and staircase. At about 500-1000 Euro for its new equivalent, I bought them second hand, of course. I see it as an investment in our home, And if we get bored of them, we can just sell them at a similar price, as they are modern classics and unlikely to depreciate in value.

Anja holding a vintage Royal Poulsen lamp
The kind of lamp gracing the Arne Jacobsen-designed Royal Hotel now graces my home

Then, my account bolstered by extra work income, I upgraded bedlinen as well. A lot of my duvets and pillows are UK size, which don’t go well with German custom of single matttresses and single duvets. After searching organic and fair trade bed linen and finding nothing fitting an English King duvet, I reverted to Bassetti linen. At least they will last 20+ years – or at least this is how long my previous set from my single living days has been going.

Smart Shopping: Books

Much much guilty here. I love books,and I love to read actual paper books. I was a pretty good Amazon customer until March. Amazon raked it in, yet their working conditions remained the same. Paradoxically, they also drastically reduced their affiliate commissions. Having never depended on any affiliate income, I was still pretty pissed off at their business practice and decided to minimise my spending on that company. And guess what?

I made 12 orders up to 25 April. A mixture of books but also soapmaking supplies, software, office goods, bicycle parts the odd bottle of rum and whisky and the odd prime movie. Since then, absolutely nothing until very recently. In 2019, I made 39 Amazon orders, and five years before that, averaged 50 orders. That’s some cold turkey done good.

But… I still cannot live without books. As I love to read books in English, the local library is useless. So I buy all my books secondhand now. The site I buy from, Medimops, is still not ideal, but better.

Once a book fiend… with one of my vintage treasures, a Patrick Hamilton novel


Having just about managed a trip to France this year to see family, I bought most of my cosmetics  as well as some essential oils and cosmetic supplies on that trip. On my trip to London, I picked up a bottle of scent at Liberty.

And I made an order of about 50 dollars for organic shampoo from iherb. They are a pretty big shop, and there’s a bit of mileage as they ship from the US, but I saw they had Himalaya AND Alba Botanica products. And I order once a year – and strictly only when my stuff is used up.

Normally I buy a bottle of perfume a year. I did, in August. It was after my friends funeral, I felt really low, and had taken myself on the bus to SoHo. I walked through an eerily empty Liberty department store. I do like that store, so I walked out with a bottle of Keiko Mecheri “Ume” after liberally spraying it on my wrists and walking around Soho for an hour first.

An attempt to “train my nose” just resulted in liking a lot of pricey niche scent…

I also have asked for a miniature bottle of Phi-Une Rose de Kandahar from Tauer Perfumes. I have had their classic L’Air du Desert Marocain since 2012 and it’s one of my favourite scents. They produce in small batches in Switzerland and as far as I can see don’t sell in Mainland China, so chances are they are cruelty-free, too. Although they do not carry a certification but this is often the case with smaller perfume houses. You can usually find their perfumes in nice perfumeries worldwide, but if you buy from their online store, the price is somewhat lower than in a store.

'Air du Desert Marocain scent by Tauer PErfumes
The fabled classy L’Air du Desert Marocain. Still over half full, smelling gorgeous like on Day One

If I don’t spend much on clothes, the reason is that I try to sew and therefore spend money on fabric. Most of it is good quality, and I will eventually use it… maybe. So 60% of what I buy ends up in a stash but well, I have actually sewn things from my fabric stash this year, but I still consider it a luxury until I turn every piece of fabric into a needed garment or furnishing.

Last not least, the biggest luxury was a new bicycle. I consider it a luxury, because I already have  a few bicycles and did not strictly need one. I think a few months in I may not have bought it, but I had a freshly acquired pay rise and a vintage handmade classic bicycle ladies touring frame in my size finaly  came my way? Anyway, I bought it and six months later it arrived, all shiny and beautiful, and I cannot wait to ride it… on carefully selected cycling routes.

Food and Cooking

So any foodstuff counts as “Essentials” in our household, which includes pricier items like coffee beans or chocolate. I normally take turns shopping at different types of shops.

I buy coffee, some organic chocolate and some high quality spices online. The rest, local supermarkets, local discount supermarket, Turkish supermarket in Berlin and an organic food market. As vegetarians, our food budget could be low but then we spend more because we try to buy organic produce where available and reasonably priced.

2020 was a year of bulk shopping and cooking as restaurants were shut for nearly half the year

I’d only online shop for groceries if  we both were sick or had to be quarantined.

And last not least, I finally replaced a knackered saute pan with a shiny new one. I have a weakness for Le Creuset cookware. It is expensive but the few cast iron dishes I have so far have lasted 20 years and show no sign of breaking.  This is the full-price item and I think I bought its end-of line predecessor. It is steel because the cast iron pan of this size would be over 200Euro and be too heavy.

Pasta alla Norma ingredients to cook at home
Cooking is the new going out – this last year

Trying to buy safely and from local shops

I was a pretty good Amazon customer until March. Amazon raked it in, yet their working conditions remained the same. Paradoxically, they also drastically reduced their affiliate commissions. Having never depended on any affiliate income, I was still pretty pissed off at their business practice and decided to minimise my spending on that company. And guess what?

I made 12 orders up to 25 April. A mixture of books but also soapmaking supplies, software, office goods, bicycle parts the odd bottle of rum and whisky and the odd prime movie. Since then, absolutely nothing until very recently. In 2019, I made 39 Amazon orders, and five years before that, averaged 50 orders. That’s some cold turkey done good.

However, I did buy something recently as I could not buy it easily anywhere else. This includes a protective bag for my yet to come stethoscope, Welch-Allyn Ear speculums (uncommon in Germany but I ain’t gonna throw my nice otoscope away). Add to that two bottles of quality but reasonably priced rum of all these Mai Tais we are planning to drink over the holidays. Also, I bought “The Guest Cat” from a MArketplace seller. Four out of five items arrived promptly and

I also have a lemon zester and  LED bulbs with a UK bayonet in my basket which I will probably end up buying. As well as some lino plates and printing ink. We’re in the middle of a second open-end lockdown. Retail shops are shut so online shopping is the only way.   I do miss shopping on Amazon if I’m honest. If only they respected their staff, I would return. Instead, I use my shopping basket like a big wish list and then search the internet for some smaller shop selling the same item.


Here is the only item where I broke my rules of only buying cruelty-free products. My mother loves Shiseido Skin Care, and of course they are not cruelty-free. I bought her Dr Hauschka, but it didn’t work on her skin, so we’re back to the Shiseido. Ten years ago, I was a sworn Shiseido fan myself, and I think their skincare is excellent. But not  for me now.

I fare better with the husband, who says he is totally non-materialist. But he has things that fall apart, too. So I bought him a new man bag the Brooks “Paddington” shoulder bag. We’ve been through the vegan leather and the previous bag fell apart within three years so I hope the Brooks quality ( my bike saddles are second hand Brooks)  will ensure a longer enjoyment (and thus more sustainability). There is some minimal leather holding straps and bag together, but other than that it is made from cotton canvas.

With the big expense of the bag, I didn’t splurge on my favoured Sunspel or Hanro for the much needed pyjamas but went for a German brand, Schiesser. They used to be high-end, but now they are moderately priced. From the few items I had I would say the quality is probably comparable to Marks &. Spencer – not amazing, with some bobbling and fading to be expected but not falling apart.

How to resist the pull to buy

When I read blogs or go on Social Media, it’s 90% fluff to wind down after a busy day or to look for travel inspiration. I guess having had great real-life retail shops at my doorstep when I lived in the UK made me a bit resistant to the internet pull of the swipe up and affiliate link purchase.

Ask yourself whether you really need something before you buy it. Make a note or put it in your virtual basket and sleep over it. Keep a small wish list of luxuries and just buy one or two when you can absolutely afford it and pay it in full.

Learn to question the sales and discount codes. If there are repetitive discount codes churned out by influencers, the item is too expensive in the first place. If something goes on sale mid-season, likewise.

Find your style and build a wardrobe in timeless classics. I found that reading sewing blogs really helped me to assess quality and timeless style.

My initially “expensive” Ghost shirt really worn to death for 10 years. Yes it is pretty dead here already

Question whether you want to support someone who makes a living shilling stuff online while you may work your balls off. Agreed – some people may not be able to have a full-time job. I am not talking about mums or housewives selling a bit of stuff on the side. I am talking about influencers who put a advertisement /swipe up/ affiliate link every ten seconds.  When I have the spare money, I rather give a larger tip to a waiter/delivery person/hairdresser etc. or donate the money.

Anyone who does paid promotion is entering a business relationship with whatever they are promoting for financial gain. How they can stay impartial and say “But I really love this product and personally recommend it” when I never see them using it after 10 minutes is beyond me.

Things and Services worth Spending on


Degree course, professional training, something you enjoy, books… the list is endless. I realise I have been very lucky to have enjoyed a fairly decent (socialist) state education, followed by a free university course which led into a skilled profession, topped off with a graduate degree through a scholarship. I still spend thousands a year on conituing education in order to maintian my license but have also looked into considering unpaid leave to pursue some other interests, be it though a few weeks of training abroad, an elective or actually studying a completely different subject! Not all will lead to promotion or monre income but all are rewarding.

Classical music education in a budget in St. Petersburg at the Mikhailovsky Theatre

Skilled Labour

In general, I like to delegate all kinds of work that I am not skilled enough to do myself. Funny wiring in the house? I ask my electrician. No need to electrocute myself. Hedges a bit bristly? I do a lot of gardening myself, but when it comes to stepping on the top tier of a ladder with a hedgetrimmer or deliberating what kind of apple tree to plant and where to buy it,  I draw the line. Money on a great gardener is well spent – and he ain’t get commission for his recommendation.


No, I am not a fan of the two-tier German health system AT ALL. In theory, I truly believe the United Kingdom has one of the best health systems in the world. In practice, the way it is run bears further discussion. However, having the the choice, I much rather pay for private health insurance and the enhanced service is comes with. This summer I was mugged outside my house which I found really traumatic. After I had gotten over the initial shock, it took my only about five calls to find a psychotherapist for some intervention. On public healthcare alone? A few months waiting time.

When I lived in Britain I was insured by the NHS like everyone but I had some money saved for “emergencies” such as dental work, the osteopath or medications. No, it should not be like this in a “social system” but the reality is different.

I probably add decent eyeglasses here, too. Not designer frames, but durable well-made frames made and quality light non-scratch antireflective lenses, both produced locally. And dental care. My teeth are not great, and this is where the extra money really pays off on the long term by helping to restore my teeth and keeping them for longer.

Sensible Insurance Policies

I was sold a lot of insurance as a fresh graduate that I would eventually benefit from in old age! Well, turns out with the way these were invested, they were not such a great deal. However, never scrimp on insurance which will cover your health and living expenses should you become unable to work. The younger you start, the better the conditions. I have a combination of accident and occupational disability insurance. If you have dependents, a life insurance policy is sensible, too. Some years ago, I also bought legal protection insurance, which was  reassuring to have this year after the mugging.

Good Food

Organic, local and fresh wherever possible! We never eat ready meals and I cook pretty much every day, even when I am really busy. It means we buy a lot of the raw material but it has great health benefits. LASt year when I became a sugar-free, teetotal vegan for 40 days, I felt so much healthier.


Our three cats are great company – regardless of a lockdown  or not. We adopted all three from various rescues, which is not cheap but every cent is well spent and will benefit other rescued animals. Here, the life of luxury continues with having a nice garden to run, cat door, cat furniture, premium grain-free cat food and regular vet checkups and budget to treat any potential conditions. After a sometwhat rough start in life, these cats live the life of Riley, and we are glad we can provide them with it. With our last cat, I ended up flying to Spain at short notice to get her as the arrangementes fell apart, and yup, didn; tneed to think twice to just fly over and pick up our girl.

Leia our "first-born" rescue cat
Leia 2.0 was the first of our current cat family,  abandoned when pregnant but now living a life of luxury



Of course! I am putting this last because 2020 obviously wasn’t a great year for travel.

Despite it being a terrible year for travel, this relatively exclusive island was one of our destinations

Normally, a considerable chunk goes on travelling, of which I managed a fair bit this year, despite the virus. When it was possible I visited Jordan, Southern France and Sicily. As I still travel pretty low budget within the leave allowance of my employment and organise all our trips myself, the travel usually is not that expensive.

In previous years, I have pretty much travelled everywhere I wanted, with only my annual leave being somewhat restrictive. A fancy meal or a night in an upmarket hotel? Sure, why not. Not having to take the red-eye flight with three transfers because it is the cheapest. Renting a car. Going away on a whim because I could. This will come back, if not this year, then the next year, and I am happy to afford to travel.

Istanbul, Turkey, Pera Palace Hotel
Moving on up from our usual sensible mid-range accommodation to the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul in 2019


If not shopping, what am I doing with the money?

I work a nearly full-time job  which pays my bills and leaves some extra for saving.

All income from my additional freelance jobs is saved/invested, with varying success. In the future, I hope to save larger chunks of my income  in order to be less dependent on my job. I like my job but this year has taught me nothing is secure.  But not actually having to work is one of the greatest luxuries I can imagine. With a bit of good planning, I might be able to reduce my working days and fulfil a dream of going back to university in the next few years without having to worry whether what I want to study will actually get me a well-paid job.

Try to be debt-free

Financially, I reached a low point in 2014-2017 where I even bought a refrigerator on credit once. That sucked, having a fixed amount leaving my account for something I already took for granted. Never again. I use a credit card for business and one privately which are paid in full by direct debit every month so nothing accumulates. When my old car literally burst, I bought a used one that I could afford and when that was up for replacement, I bought the cheapest new car I had saved money for – so I drive  what is considered a “budget brand” car but it has served me well the past three years.

Now I don’t have debts except my mortgage. I started investing in funds and shares three years ago and have slowly built this up by investing a little whenever I had some spare cash. The return has beaten any savings account I  have ever had and apart from my rainy day short-term savings that I am in the process of building up, this will be my main savings strategy.


I first read a book about investing using ETFs by the German Investment Banker Gerd Kommer. Unfortunately his books are not available in English. What really stuck in my mind was how would I entrust large sums of money to a traditional bank by way of an unsecured loan. Wow, that really stuck. So, a lot of my savings are now tied in stock funds. About 90% are considered ethical, meaning no arms, no tobacco, no meat-processing and some other personal no-no’s. I also have a few biotech and pharmaceutical shares  – they’re more risky and basically for me to learn about markets.

Of the English language books I read /started reading, there really isn’t any where I could say “yes, that’s the book”. If you know one that is no-nonsense and not too specific to the US tax/banking system, please let me know.

I read personal finance blogs like Personal Finance Club  or Financial Samurai . The bottom line basically is “open your own trading account, invest in index funds, buy and hold within reason”. Nomad Capitalist also has some very interesting ideas – no way I am their target customer but the international investment ideas are pretty offbeat and often inspiring. And I am slowly but determinedly wading through my home countries tax system, partially voluntarily but also because I had to file returns for deceased people recently and THAT was pretty intimidating.


While the old “money breeds money” is probably correct, I believe you can attract money in giving away part of what you have – be it income, labour or emotional support. Give to causes you believe in, and give directly to the organisations instead of using transfer services which will take away a percentage of your donation. In many countries, charitable donations are tax-free and can be deducted from your income tax bill.

A few years ago, I dabbled in wedding photography and asked my couples to donate the arranged fee directly to Medecins sans Frontiers. I also support about five animal rescues and we give away four-figure sum every year.  It’s not about how much, though – any amount you wish to give will make adifference. While giving money is the easiest way to help,  it isn’t always about money. When I started working with a local cat rescue, I was unemployed and broke and started out building and maintaining their website and building the actual shelter. We want to see how our donations are used, so we tend to give to charities we know.  I totally believe that by sharing your wealth, at some point, the wealth will return to you.


Close to starting my UK 2.0 period where I became serious about money, in my early 30s

Final Thoughts

So in terms of making sense with finances, this has been  a good year. Not really much spending on things, having resisted the social media and advertising fairly well. It’s how I bought less – not that I want to preach minimalism or extreme frugality as I continue to have a fair bit of stuff, but thinking whether I really need something.

I hasten to add that work picked up towards the last quarter.  I am closer to working fifty hours a week again, which was pretty much my minimum working hours from my Twenties to Mid-Forties.  However, the extra work will help towards a significant step to being mortgage-free earlier than anticipated.

Buying less has definitely paid off for me. And while I sit here all tucked up in our safe warm home on New Years Eve with my champagne and Netflix (another Lockdown 2.0 luxury) I hope you are well where you are and have a great start into 2021!

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