If you know your money and always stretch your pennies enough to live a decent life and save a little every month, congratulations! That’s a truly important life skill and you can close this tab. If, on the other hand, you ever find yourself struggling with your paycheck or occasionally questioning your spending habits, read on. I know the struggle too well!
About a year ago, I noticed several things. Firstly, like many women, I always felt like I had nothing to wear, even though I was shopping for clothes at least once a month. An inspection of my closet revealed that almost every item is less than two years old—which basically meant that was the expiration date of my clothing items. Well, if that means buying a lot of cheap clothes and throwing them away after two years—it’s not cheap at all.
Secondly, even though my income was pretty sizeable, I had zero savings, which was a shame. A look at my expenses revealed that I could have easily saved if I had wanted to. Instead, I opted for owning lovely coffee mugs, buying glossy magazines in languages I didn’t speak, buying tons of clothes and accessories, eating out every night… you get the idea. I was a reckless spender.
And I didn’t want to be. So I decided drastic measures needed to be taken: I banned myself from shopping for six months.
Honestly, even I thought I wouldn’t make it. But I did, and I ended up with an impressive savings account. And if I did it, so can anyone. But I won’t lie to you: it’s not as easy as a pie.
A shopping ban is for you if you have tried cutting your expenses multiple times but never succeeded; if you don’t have a plan when you go shopping, whether it be H&M or grocery shopping; if you’re nonchalant with money at the beginning of the month and don’t worry too much about the end.
A shopping ban is not for you if you’re a boss lady with your budget and/or if you aren’t into shopping at all.
So, are you in? There are a few things you need to know to start (and continue!):
Define your goal
Most of the time people are looking for a way to save money, and, like me, were unable to do so by being smarter about their shopping, so they cut it out completely. Maybe you want to turn into a smarter shopper and bring fewer things into your house, and feel like this is the only way. Usually it’s a combination of the two.
Define the (bigger) goal
Saving itself is a good goal, but if you’re saving for something, or at least trick yourself into thinking so, it will be easier. Any saving is easier if you put things into perspective and actually save for a designated goal. The same goes for shopping bans as well. Yes, it’s only $5 for a coffee and it’s not much—but it’s $20 to $50 a month, and it’s a night in a hotel in, say, Shanghai, if you’re saving for a trip. Or it’s a step closer to a new car. Whatever works!
Examine your spending habits
Take a look at your spending on your online bank account, or—better yet—track your spending for a few weeks. What’s your weak spot? Fast fashion? Books? Magazines? Makeup? It’s important to find the main culprit. If you feel you’re buying too much, you probably are. But sometimes careful inspection of the transactions can reveal you’ve been spending too much on something that didn’t even cross your mind…vanilla latte, anyone?
Define the rules
OK, now for the hard part. What will your shopping ban look like? For example, I started with ban on clothes shopping, but soon expanded it to literally everything I didn’t need, as I figured that most of my purchases are ‘wants’ and not ‘needs’. So I gave up buying new clothes; books; magazines; jewelry; makeup; nail polishes; stuff for the apartment, such as mugs, candles, flowers, shoes, and that was pretty much it. I also banned myself from going to Starbucks and eating out on my own: only social gatherings allowed!
Define the period
For me, it was six months, but that might seem drastic. As I said before, even I was like, “well, it’s six months, but if I cannot possibly make it—well, that’s fine too.” I think this attitude was what kept me going, because I kind of knew that I could break it if I just could not hold on—which was exactly why I kept on moving. You can try with a month, that shouldn’t be too hard. If you make it, it’s quite possible you’ll want to expand it! Cait Flanders, the blogger behind Blonde on a Budget, is currently on a two-year long shopping ban. Wow!
Define the rules 2: what can you buy?
Obviously, it’s impossible to not spend any money entirely, because you have to live somewhere, eat and so on. What can you buy? Will your ban also apply to things like cravings you get out of the blue (because that’s not something you need), or not? When you are out of your red nail polish, will you buy another one, or will you just stick to the shades you already own? If your phone breaks, will you spend the money for a new one, or opt for an old but working one? If you’re dead tired, will you order food or make a sandwich out of the ingredients you have in your fridge? And so on and so on.
Important: sometimes the best way to keep on track is to actually commit a shopping-ban sin. Think of it as a cheat day during a diet. But keep it simple: when dieting, you don’t have three cheat days in a week—that just makes things pointless.
Look for alternatives
OK, now that you won’t go to the mall once a week, so what do you do? If you’re used to browsing magazines, browse the Internet instead. The same goes for books—there are so many free resources online, and have you swung by your local free public library lately? Always keep your goal in mind. The said vanilla latte? Why, the coffee you make at home is the next best thing.
A shopping ban is hard, but oh so rewarding! And not just in terms of money. Other great things inevitably come along—but you should discover this on your own. It’s much more exciting. Good luck!