Over the past couple of months, I’ve received countless comments, emails, tweets, and messages telling me you’re ready to make 2016 the year of the shopping ban. Whether you’re doing one for 30 days, 90 days, 6 months or 1 year, my first response is always HECK YES!
I just crossed the 18-month mark of my own two-year shopping ban and it’s truly changed the way I think about money and stuff. I am now fully aware of what I value in life, which means I’m wasting less money on stuff I don’t, spending (some of) it on the things I do and keeping more of it in the bank. I went from saving 5-10% of my income each month, to saving 20-30% and still getting to do what I love (travel). I’ve also kicked a few bad spending habits, some of which I’d had for over a decade. And I no longer feel like I’m depriving myself of anything, because I have finally accepted myself for who I am, and know I can’t buy anything that will make me or my life better than it already is.
So, when someone tells me they want to do a shopping ban, I think HECK YES, because I wish everyone could change their spending habits, become conscious consumers, get to do more of what they love and feel the way I do…
Of course, I know that wanting to start a shopping a ban and successfully completing one are two very different things. There are lots of what-if situations to prepare for, personal goals and rules you want to set, and even other people to consider. I get it. You may have job interviews that require a new outfit, kids that seem to grow and change sizes every few months, or a partner who thinks the idea is flat out crazy. I get it. Sure, I’m single and I live alone and don’t have anyone at home to worry about but myself. But I am still a daughter, a big sister, an auntie, a travel partner and a friend. I have other people to consider in all kinds of situations. So yes, I get it.
What I get even more is that no two shopping bans will be the same. The same way I always say that personal finance is personal, every shopping ban will be unique. We all spend money on different things, which means our goals and rules have to be different. However, there is one thing that will always be the same: breaking a bad habit isn’t easy. And when you try to break a bad habit, you will inevitably come up against triggers that will open your eyes and even knock your socks off. You may realize things about yourself that were always present but hid securely behind your spending power. And if you do a ban for long enough, I bet you’ll become more resourceful than you knew you could be.
I want you to get to that point. I don’t want any of the what-if situations to hold you back or cause you to relapse or even give up on your shopping ban altogether. I want you to push through each and every one, so you can discover more about yourself and find creative ways to get through this world without pulling out your credit cards. Your goals might be to spend less, save more money in general, save for something specific, use up the stockpile of stuff you already have or simply become a more conscious consumer. My goal with this two-part series is to help you get organized and push through all the what-if situations, so you can reach your goal – whatever it may be.
In Part 1, I want to help you set yourself up for success. Don’t worry about the what-ifs or the possible distractions, just yet… let’s just focus on how to get started.
How to Start a Shopping Ban
1. Declutter Your Home
Before you embark on a shopping ban for any length of time, I would suggest going through your home and getting rid of as much stuff as you can. Don’t just organize all of your stuff – really analyze it, figure out what you need to keep and let go of all the rest. I’m sure that sounds counterintuitive, to some degree. You’re not going to be allowed to shop for 3 months, 6 months, a year… and you’re also going to get rid of the things you currently have!? But decluttering first can open your eyes to how much stuff you’ve wasted money on in the past, which can serve as motivation to not waste more money during your shopping ban. It’ll also give you a visual reminder of how much stuff you’re keeping…
2. Take Inventory of What You Keep
It’s really easy to forget how much stuff you own, when it lives inside cupboards, drawers, closets and boxes. When you’re done decluttering, I would suggest taking inventory of the items you own the most of. You don’t have to be as exact as I was, where I literally wrote down things like how many pens I owned. Instead, try this.
Step 1: Go through each room of your home and write down the 1-5 items you have the most of. For example, you might have lots of shampoo, conditioner and lotion in your bathroom; t-shirts and pants in your bedroom; and books, magazines, DVDs and games in your living room. To start, write the names of the most popular items.
Step 2: Take inventory of those items. Whether you have 4 bottles of shampoo or 17 t-shirts – add up everything you currently have “in stock” and write the number next to it. These are some of the things you will not be allowed to buy during your shopping ban – at least not until you run out of them and need more.
3. Write Three Lists
While you were decluttering, noticing the types of things you were getting rid of and taking stock of what you were keeping, two things probably started to become clear: there are things in your home you definitely don’t need to buy more of, and there are probably also a few things you will, in fact, need to buy during your shopping ban. At this point, it’s time to write three lists.
#1 – The Essentials List*: One of the most frequently asked questions I get about my own shopping ban is how I decided what I was allowed to buy. The answer is simple: everything you use on a daily basis can be purchased when you run out of it. Groceries, toiletries, gas or bus passes, gardening supplies and other items you use to make things – when you run out, you can buy more. The easiest way to create this list is to walk around your home and look at what you use in each room every day.
#2 – The Non-Essentials List*: When people ask what a shopping ban is, exactly, I say it’s a period of time where you choose not to buy any of the “non-essentials” in life. In my home, that includes things I might think I enjoy and (used to) buy often, but don’t need on a daily basis, like books, magazines, candles, nail polish, artwork and furniture. The non-essentials you like to buy will be different, so write those down – and don’t forget to add the inventory you took stock of, too.
*You’ll notice that I didn’t include any “experience” costs, like dining out or going on a trip. If you want to include that stuff, you can! Remember, your ban will be unique to you. I added takeout coffee to the list of things I wasn’t allowed to buy, because it was definitely my vice and I wasn’t happy about how much money I was spending on it, but I still dine out probably once/week.
#3 – The Approved Shopping List: Finally, one of the things that seems to trip people up the most is my approved shopping list. I’ve written two – one at the beginning of each yearlong shopping ban – and each one included things I knew I was going to need during the next year. The list for Year 1 was based on what I discovered when I was decluttering; like I only owned 1 hoodie and it was full of holes, so I needed to replace it.
When you declutter and take stock of what you own, think of what’s coming up during the timespan of your shopping ban and figure out what you need to add to this list. Note: Don’t include things like a new sweater when you already own 4, or 6 different outfits for the 6 weddings you’re attending. If you have 1-2 of something, that’s often enough. But if you can look ahead and see something will need to be purchased, add it to the list.
4. Unsubscribe From All Store/Coupon Newsletters
Now that you have your three lists of all the things you are and are not allowed to buy, it’s time to remove as many temptations as possible – starting with what gets delivered to your inbox. Before I started my shopping ban, I probably got at least 3 emails/day from stores claiming they were having an incredible sale I couldn’t miss because prices would never be that low again. Guess what? Prices were usually that low again within the next 45 days, but I never noticed. Instead, I saw that the stores I loved buying things from were having sales, went to their websites and made purchases – all within 5 minutes of receiving an email. If you’ve ever been guilty of doing the same, you need to start unsubscribing.
If you want to take this one step further, I would also suggest unfollowing and unliking all the stores on social media (don’t forget about Instagram!). Don’t feel bad about it, even if you know the person who runs the store. For the next 30 days to 1 year, you are actively choosing to NOT shop, and allowing yourself to see sales and promotional materials will only tempt you. Remember that stores aren’t loyal to you, and their sales aren’t real sales – they are just promotions to lure you into spending money you probably wouldn’t have otherwise.
If you want to take this one extra step further, I’d also suggest deleting ALL the bookmarks you have saved of things you want to buy one day. I used to have at least 50 Amazon pages bookmarked, mostly of books I wanted to read. With two clicks, I selected them all and deleted them. Now, I couldn’t even tell you what 1/10th of them were… out of sight, out of mind, friends.
5. Setup a Shopping Ban Savings Account
Finally, no matter what your ultimate goal is, you are going to save money by not shopping – I can guarantee it. What you do with that money is up to you, but I would suggest opening a new savings account (or renaming an existing one you don’t use) and making it your dedicated Shopping Ban Savings Account. How much money you decide to put it in each month is up to you. I started by putting $100/month in, because I knew I was saving that by not buying takeout coffee anymore.
A better idea might be to transfer over every penny you stop yourself from spending by NOT giving into impulse buys. For example, if you’re tempted to buy a few books, and even find yourself putting them into your online shopping cart, look at the total amount you almost spent and transfer that same amount of cash into your Shopping Ban Savings Account. I had nearly $3,000 in my account, after the first year, and had spent another $700 on a new bed (which was on my approved shopping list).
If you want an extra reminder to not spend money, print off a couple of these shopping ban cardholders (PDF), cut them out and fold them around the cards you use most often, and keep them like this in your wallet. You can write the last day of your shopping ban as the expiry date, and there’s also lots of white space on the back you could use to write down the things you are/are not allowed to buy.
At over 2,200 words, there’s not only a lot to read but a lot to work through here. I’ve intentionally chosen to break up this post into two, so you can look at it more like a course. Decluttering could take you days or even weeks, taking inventory and writing your lists shouldn’t be rushed, and the best way to set yourself up for success is to remove all temptations. Creating a plan for what you’ll do with all the money you save is icing on the cake. On Monday, I’ll share my thoughts on how to deal with the what-if situations that could come up, and how to maneuver your way around them so you can successfully complete your shopping ban.
Are there any specific concerns you want me to address?