Cait Flanders · Jan 25, 2016

The Ultimate Shopping Ban Guide: Part 2

This is Part 2 of a two-part series on how to start and successfully complete a shopping ban. In Part 1, I shared five things you can do to prepare for it, from decluttering and taking stock of what you already own, to opening a separate savings account you can put all the money you save by not shopping. Once you’ve completed those steps (especially writing the three lists you’ll need!), you can start your ban.

Today, I’m going to cover some of the things you’ll experience and need to work through, as you’re in the midst of it. The toughest time period for me to get through was the first 30-60 days, but there are still challenges and temptations I face today – 18 months into my own two-year ban! The truth is, setting yourself up to start a shopping ban is easy, compared to what you’ll have to do during it.

Here are my suggestions for what you can expect and how to deal with it, starting with outside sources (a.k.a. the people in your life)…

How to Successfully Complete a Shopping Ban

6. Tell Everyone You Know

When I decided to first do a one-year shopping ban, I published a post and essentially shared the news with anyone who visited this blog – you don’t have to go quite that far (unless you want a few more accountability partners, which a blog can surely provide). However, it would be in your best interest to tell everyone you see on an even semi-regular basis.

Start by telling your family, partner and/or kids – especially anyone who lives in the same household as you, and who is part of your family budget. Based on those conversations, you’ll need to decide together if it’s something you want everyone to participate in, or if you’re going to start with leading by example. There might be some resistance from others, if you want everyone to get on board, so don’t push the idea. The most important thing, for now, is to make sure they know about your intentions to not shop for anything besides the essentials for a period of time. Explain what your goals are, how you think it can help you and your family, and even set some goals for what you’ll do with all the money you save.

Extra Reading: Shopping vs. Buying by Seth Godin

After that, tell the people you spend the most time with. You could either have some fun with it, and say it loud and proud right from the start, or wait until friends invite you to do things that would cause you to break your ban. Either way, I would suggest making sure you have at least one accountability partner who you can call/text whenever you get the urge to shop, so they can stop you. And the more people you tell, the more likely it is that you’ll stick to your shopping ban, because you’ll feel the need to stay accountable to not only yourself but also them.

7. Replace Costly Habits with Free/Cheap Alternatives

One of the top concerns people who are considering doing shopping bans share with me is what they can replace their costly habits with – especially when it involves other people. Telling people “I can’t go shopping” or “I can’t go out for dinner and drinks” (if you’re cutting back on restaurant spending, as part of your ban) isn’t always a fun conversation to have. But if you’re willing to suggest other free/cheap activities, I think you’ll be surprised by how many people are more than happy to do something that will also save them a few dollars.

For example, instead of walking around a shopping mall or driving to the outlets, go hiking or take a daytrip to somewhere new. And instead of going out for dinner and drinks, take turns hosting potlucks where everyone brings something. You could even have everyone bring ingredients and cook the meal together. Some of the best things I’ve done with friends, since starting my own shopping ban, are going hiking and snowshoeing, visiting museums and art galleries, and cooking dinners together. I did some of those things before, but not nearly as often when I was a big consumer.

Extra Reading: 50 Cheap, Creative Ways to Have Fun via Tiny Buddha

Now, when it comes to the personal spending habits you need to cut out during your shopping ban, make a plan and have everything you need ready to go. For example, to replace my (stupidly expensive) daily latte habit, I made sure my French press was on the counter next to my kettle at all times and that I never ran out of coffee beans. If you have to commute to work and like to take your coffee to go, I’d also suggest leaving your travel mug next to your coffeemaker, so there are no excuses or mornings where you can’t find it.

Your personal habits will be different than mine. Maybe you buy new clothes every week (read about Project 333 and consider creating capsule wardrobes), new games and books every time they come out, or more arts and craft supplies than you could possibly have time to play with. Whatever you typically buy the most of, make sure your current stock is within range/sight, so you have no excuses to buy more. And whenever you get the urge to shop, pick up and start using what you already have, which we’ll talk more about next…

8. Pay Attention to Your Triggers (and Change Your Reactions)

Here’s where things will start to get tough: when you feel the urge to shop, sometimes texting a friend and asking them to stop you isn’t enough. You need to pause and consider everything that’s happening in your current environment. How do you feel? Did you have a bad day? Where are you (and what brought you there)? What are you doing? Who are you with? And what justifications are you telling yourself? Any/all of these things can be part of the trigger that urges you to buy something, and spotting them is extremely important so you can ultimately change your reactions.

Extra Reading: 7 Reasons We Buy Things We Don’t Need (and How to Avoid Them) via Simplicity Relished

Some of the triggers I identified for myself include: thinking of picking up a latte before going out to run errands for a few hours; considering putting a few extra items in my shopping basket when I’m out with friends; wanting to buy new and expensive things after a breakup; and basically adding any new book to an online shopping cart when it was released, simply because I wanted to read it “one day”. Before the shopping ban, I would’ve done all of these things as soon as I thought to. When shopping wasn’t an option, however, I was forced to face these triggers head on and change my reactions to them.

Extra Reading: Check Your Impulse Spending via Financial Planning Standards Council

Instead of picking up a latte, I start each day by making coffee in my French press (and fill up my travel mug before heading out to run errands). If I craved takeout coffee at home during the day, I used to make a cup and sit on my patio. (Remember this view? Sigh.) Rather than go shopping with friends, I basically always go alone now. (Sorry friends, we are all bad influences on each other.) Instead of buying new books, I add myself to the library waitlist. And when I really feel like buying more, I look at my shelves and count how many I still own that I’ve never read.

If you don’t replace bad habits with good habits, you’re more likely to “relapse” and go back to your old ways. When something triggers you, figure out what else you can do – besides spending money – and eventually it’ll become second nature.

9. Learn to Live Without / Become More Resourceful

Now, I can’t lie – if you’re doing a shopping ban for more than 3 months, there will be a few times where you’ll want to give up and the only way to push through it is to live without an item for a while. For example, last May, my only pair of TOMS (and the only shoes I owned besides runners and boots) did not make it home from a vacation alive. Did I want to run to the store and buy a new pair? Absolutely. Instead, I remembered it was sandal season and decided to live without them, until the shopping ban was over in July. Some might say that purchase was “essential”, because I would’ve been replacing something, but it wasn’t! I had other footwear options, so new TOMS were a non-essential item. Unless you really need something, try to live without it for a few weeks or months, and see how many times you actually miss it. If it becomes a daily annoyance, go ahead and replace it. But my guess is you won’t buy half of what you normally think you need, when you try this.

Extra Reading: 9 Things Shopping Can Never Deliver by Joshua Becker

Depending on what the item is that you’re currently living without, finding other ways to fix or source it (besides just swiping for a new one) may also be easier than you think. We live in a world where it’s all too convenient to throw out what’s “broken” and buy a replacement (and a cheap one at that) – but it’s usually cheaper to fix things yourself. For example, before the shopping ban, I’d never sewn or stitched up anything in my life. All the women in my family know how to sew. My mom and aunt even owned a fabric store on Lower Johnson Street in Victoria, when I was a newborn, where they also sold clothing items they’d made. But the running joke in my family was that if I needed a button replaced on a shirt, I’d travel home and get my mom to do it, lol. Last spring, however, the hem on my one and only pair of workout capris was starting to come undone, so I finally asked my aunt to teach me how to fix them. Since then, I’ve patched and fixed up 4 different clothing items; that’s a skill I’m sure I would’ve picked up at some point in life, but the shopping ban forced me to come up with a free solution now.

The other way to be more resourceful is to figure out if you can rent the item in question (so you’re not bringing something new into your home that you’ll only use once) or borrow it from someone you know. Again, that’s not possible for everything – but it’s true for a lot of things! Heck, I just borrowed crutches from my friend Paul, for my post-surgery recovery next month…

10. Appreciate What You Have

Finally, as time goes on, you’ll start to feel grateful for everything that is currently in your life. From the clothes in your closet to the books on your shelves, using what you keep will serve as a reminder that money has already bought you everything you need. Your relationships, and the happiness and health of family and friends, will take top priority. And if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere even half as beautiful as where I live, a walk outside will go a long way to brighten your day.

Extra Reading: What We Appreciate Appreciates

The most important thing I’ve realized, in all of this, is that the success of your shopping ban will depend on the stories you tell yourself. During the two years I was paying off my debt, I was essentially doing a shopping ban but I often felt deprived; this is part of why I think I went back to spending 95% of my income, when I became debt-free. If you tell yourself, “ugh, I can’t spend money, this sucks,” then you’ll probably end up going on a binge. But if you tell yourself, “I truly don’t need it,” and choose to appreciate what you already have, my guess is you’ll never go back for the items you pass up on.

The success of a shopping ban depends on the stories you tell yourself.
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When You Really Need to Buy Something…

Now, after writing 4,000 words about how to NOT shop, I do know there will come a time during your shopping ban when you will, in fact, probably have to buy something that’s not on your approved shopping list. The only pair of jeans I owned ripped in the inner thigh 200-something days into my first year and, despite my best attempt to patch them up, I eventually had to replace them. And my cell phone also stopped working; like literally wouldn’t turn on, no matter what I tried. Life happens… things come up… it’s ok! I get a lot of emails from people asking me how to handle situations like this, and I think the answer is simple: YOU BUY IT! You don’t need permission to buy things you REALLY and TRULY need. You just don’t. If you need it, buy it. End of discussion.

Let’s go back to the definition of what a shopping ban is: a period of time where you choose not to buy any of the “non-essentials” in life. That’s it! Was a cell phone a non-essential? If I’d just felt like upgrading, sure… but not when I didn’t have one! You’ll find yourself in lots of situations where you’ll potentially need to buy something. When you get to one, ask yourself questions like this:

Note: You don’t always need to buy quality pieces. For example, if your kids are young and need new clothes, go for used/cheap wherever possible, since they’ll grow out of it soon! But if you’re replacing something for yourself that you use often, don’t always opt to cheap out. I’ve made the mistake of buying cheap clothes from Old Navy too many times, and they always need to be replaced within 1-6 months.

Now, if you’re buying something from your approved shopping list, be sure to shop around and make the best purchase possible – because you only get to buy it once! I was allowed to buy a new hoodie in my first year, and I tried on dozens before I finally found one that fit right. It took 10 months to find it and I’m glad I waited because it’s something I wear 3-4 days/week.

Extra Reading: 3 Questions to Ask Before Making Any Purchase by Joshua Becker

One final thing to consider is the topic of gifts – both gifts (or specifically gift cards) you’re given and gifts you give during your shopping ban. Again, a lot of people ask what they should do with gift cards during their shopping ban. My suggestion would be to use them to buy things you NEED, not just something you want; that way, it helps your budget and you’re not adding clutter to your home. As for gifts, take the same approach: gift things that will actually be used, not collect dust. (And your time is the best gift of all, but you already know that.)

Ok, I think we’ve covered everything, friends! I just want to reiterate that a shopping ban isn’t meant to leave you feeling deprived. I’ve read blog posts that call shopping bans stupid, claim they are only for people who don’t like spending money (clearly I have no problem spending on travel, lol) and are bad because they’ll cause people to binge right after. But if you set yourself up and make smart decisions throughout it, you have the potential to SERIOUSLY change your relationship with both your money and stuff. Remember: The success of your shopping ban depends on the stories you tell yourself throughout it. If you tell yourself it sucks, you’ll fail and binge after. But if you appreciate what you have and only buy what you need, the results could be life-changing. My shopping ban coupled with the massive declutter/purge of stuff I did have taught me what I value most in life, and none of it can be bought from a store. I hope you finish your own ban with the same understanding and revelations.

Good luck! xo

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