If you have been reading this blog for awhile then perhaps you have also been articulating your own values, doing some soul-searching, or working to align your spending with your values. If so, I’d like to introduce you to an interesting strategy that can help with all three - the shopping ban. In the last few years, shopping bans have grown in prominence within the frugality/minimalism/simplicity world, as a way to realign one’s priorities on spending money and shopping.
A shopping ban is a challenge you set yourself to not buy certain things for a certain amount of time. On the extreme end, you could choose not to purchase any non-essential items for an entire year (food, gas, toiletries, etc. are all considered essential items). This means not buying new seasonal clothes that you don’t need, foregoing eating out or grabbing a coffee every day at Starbucks, and passing up new decor items, books, jewelry, kitchen gadgets, or hobby materials. Typically, people who complete these long-term shopping bans determine the things they foresee wearing out over the year (perhaps things like work shoes, jeans, phones, etc.) and create an “okay to buy” list so they can replace whatever wears out, as well as be flexible for emergency items. On the more moderate end, a shopping ban could be a challenge to not buy any new clothes for one month, not buy a cup of coffee out for a week, or limit one’s Amazon budget to $25 per month.
People start shopping bans for all kinds of reasons - they want to decrease their environmental footprint and consume less, save (lots of) money, break their dependence on excessive shopping, learn to live with what they have, build their gratitude muscles, limit their excess, or prioritize other values. Mrs. Frugalwoods’ clothes-buying ban has been going strong for over 2 1/2 years and she has found freedom in letting go of her need to have a perfect appearance. Cait Flanders’ one year ban on shopping of any kind recently extended past the second year mark as she continues to realign her priorities and get rid of the excess in her life. Another woman saved over $25,000 in one year by buying nothing but necessities!
I love reading these narratives, of course, because I am inspired by people who make the choice to live deliberately in order to prioritize their values. I think a shopping ban has a shockingly rebellious ring to it that fires my imagination and I think that doing a shopping ban is an excellent jumpstart for change, especially if you do it with a group of friends. However, I sometimes feel that those who write about their experience with shopping bans are not being totally transparent about the experience. They often talk about how hard/tempting/difficult the ban was, but they don’t always elaborate as to how or why the ban was so tough - and they rarely discuss their new attitudes toward shopping.
But I think I know why giving up shopping is so hard.
It’s hard because you are giving up something fun for something more meaningful to you. And “meaningful” never looks as shiny and new as “fun.” In my experience, you have to allow time for the grieving process to unfold. You don’t just forget the joys of shopping overnight.
I have neither started nor completed a full-on shopping ban (except for my books), but in my single-minded quest (obsession?) to spend my values a good number of former shopping habits have fallen by the wayside. I was a regular visitor to Target, Dollar Tree, and the thrift store. I was a big fan of seasonal, colorful shoes (the kind that only match two outfits and wear out after six months). I shopped for fun with my mom and my friends and never missed a Black Friday sale. I loved finding a great deal on something I liked and was an expert sale shopper.
Now, none of these purchases or shopping experiences were or are wrong. However, even though I was having fun, the money I was spending didn’t align with my long-term financial goals, and the things I was purchasing were only creating enjoyment for a short time. My home (and closet) ended up being filled with things that collected dust, didn’t fit quite right, or that I got tired of after a month or two.
So once I began developing a new perspective on saving and spending, over time I slowly stopped shopping for “fun,” stopped buying things “just because,” and stopped buying things I knew would only last a short time. As with my books, it has been (and continues to be) a very transformative process. I feel confident that I can reach my savings goals and I feel calmer, happier, and more focused in a house with less stuff. I feel like a better version of myself. I gave up my excessive shopping habits willingly because I was so excited about my long-term financial goal. But let me tell you - it was painful to stop buying all those extra things and try to change my shopping habits. It still hurts and I still miss shopping for fun and I still feel sad when I remember that I don’t buy impulsively anymore.
But that’s okay! It’s okay to grieve a bit as your priorities change and your paradigm shifts and you begin to align your spending and your values. It’s okay to go through the full grieving process (as adapted for shopping).
In my experience, one will rotate through these steps at regular intervals...
The Five Stages of Grief of Giving Up Shopping
Denial - In this stage, the subject devises elaborate justifications for her shopping habits. Using phrases like “I don’t really shop that much” and “but I don’t spend that much money,” the subject appears to be constantly arguing with herself. She has already forgotten her own admonition - “if you have to justify it, then you don’t need it and you don’t really want it.”
Anger - Displaying a decided lack of self-perception, the subject appears to be upset (again) that she must undergo the sacrifice of not purchasing an adorable object. In her cultural context, she finds it frustrating, annoying, and unfair to forego the pleasure of shopping.
Bargaining - When faced with a major shopping challenge, such as a handmade market or specialty shop, the subject stoops to overly complicated mental gymnastics to justify an inessential purchase. She attempts to make a series of exceptions to her own self-imposed shopping habits.
Depression - Succumbing to “moping” or “pouting,” the subject displays a comically sad face and dejected air when faced with a cute new shop or fun souvenir and chooses not to purchase something new. The subject has also been known to sigh dramatically as she puts the enchanting item back on the shelf.
Acceptance - After a series of successful efforts to not buy stuff, the subject is showing signs of contentment and happiness. She appears to have come to terms with her own efforts to avoid unnecessary spending. Huzzah!
Of course - I still buy stuff. I still buy unnecessary items that I like and I still go shopping with friends and family (and still love the hubbub of Black Friday). I also still make shopping mistakes and then hold on to the items in a desperate attempt to justify their purchase (see photos). However, (as with my new book buying rules) I am trying to approach shopping in a much different way - from a place of moderation.
My New Approach to Shopping
When I learn about something I want to buy, instead of rushing out and buying it I try to give it a few weeks and think it through. If I still want to buy it after a couple weeks then I do some research to see what is a good price for the item, if I can acquire the item secondhand, or if I can find it on sale. If I still want to buy the item after all that then I go for it. Sometimes, however, my interest will have waned and I don’t buy it.
For example, I usually keep a mental list of things that I want at any given time. At the moment, the top of the list includes a donut baking tin, candy molds, a pair of high top sneakers, and some black overall shorts (I know, I know - but I really miss this clothing item from the 90s). Here’s my thought process behind the purchase of each of these items:
Donut Baking Tin - Alex loves baked donuts and I got excited about trying out a bunch of recipes I found on Pinterest. I actually tried to buy one at Wal-Mart a few weeks ago, but they didn’t have any. I did my research on Amazon and found that they are fairly inexpensive, but then got lazy about getting together an entire order for Amazon. It’s been a couple months now since I first wanted this and I still want it so I am going to use some of my birthday money for the purchase. Note: I used this thought process because a donut baking tin is completely inessential to my life. However, I recently lost my muffin tin and bought another one the next week without thinking about it because a muffin tin is a more essential item for our cooking style.
Candy Molds - In an effort to curb my candy buying habits, I want to try making DIY gummy bears (I have absolutely no idea if this will work!). Again, candy molds are pretty cheap and even after a few months I still want these, so they’ll go in the Amazon order with the donut tin.
High-Top Sneakers - I saw some advertised online and really liked them (of course they were expensive). I’ve been thinking about them for months, and then recently saw the exact kind I wanted at Wal-Mart (meaning much cheaper). I intended to buy them, but the more I’ve thought about it the more I’ve backed off the purchase. I am increasingly uncomfortable with the ethical issues and environmental impact associated with purchasing new, cheap clothing (also known as “fast fashion”), so I am going to put this purchase to the side for awhile until I figure out my stance on all this.
Black Overall Shorts - I did a ton of research to find out where I can buy overalls (and overall shorts) in this day and age. There are some really cute ones out there, but again they are out of my price range and my same worries about fast fashion apply. Then I accidentally stumbled upon a YouTube video in which a woman transformed a black denim skirt into a short overall dress. Not exactly the same, but it got my creative synapses firing. I bought a pair of large black jeans at Goodwill this weekend and I’m going to try to make these overall shorts myself!! My enthusiasm is definitely high, even if my sewing skills are only average….
Try a Shopping Ban for Yourself
If you feel like your shopping habits are a bit out of whack or if you have a purchase you want to save up for or you want to focus on using the items you already own, then maybe a mini-shopping ban is for you! A shopping ban can help realign those priorities, get a jumpstart to your saving, and help you learn to love your own stuff again. If you can drag some friends in to join you it will be even more fun! Each of you can outline your own shopping rules, and compete against each other for a week or month.
If this sounds terrifying, I would encourage you to try just one thing and take just one step. Identify one non-essential item that you buy on a regular basis (lunch or coffee out, books, make-up, music, candy, decor, etc.) and stop buying it for one week. See how you feel and adjust your experiment accordingly. If you feel fine, then extend your ban to two weeks or one month. If you feel overwhelmed, then take a break and think about either trying to eliminate a different category of spending for a week or trying to eliminate the same category for one week the next month.
A shopping ban isn’t easy! It wasn’t easy for me, and it still isn’t easy - but it’s a worthwhile challenge and you may be surprised how much you learn about yourself, your spending choices, and your most important values.
What are your shopping hang-ups? What kind of shopping ban would you be interested in? Do you find yourself lingering in one of the five stages of grief of giving up shopping?
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