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My shopping ban challenge experience: why I failed and what I learned

Last December, I decided that one of my 2019 resolutions would be to do a shopping ban. I was inspired by Cait Flander’s book called “A Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store“.

The goal was to buy nothing for a full year. I was hoping that the shopping ban would result in significantly lowering my personal expenses and train me to live more mindfully with what I already had.

My rules of the No-Spend Challenge

  1. I can only buy replenishable products. Ex: you finish your shampoo; buy a new bottle.
  2. I can buy groceries and eat out.
  3. I can pay for entertainment.
  4. I can buy things on my pre-approved shopping list.

My pre-approved shopping list

This is the list of items I knew I would need to buy. I planned out these purchases ahead of time so they wouldn’t count as breaking the shopping ban.

  • My list included: Two Summer tops (I over Marie Kondo’d)
  • Books needed for my business development
  • Picture Frames for my wedding photos
  • Wedding Albums
  • Birthday Gifts for others

Starting the shopping ban

I decided that the challenge would start on January 1st… as all (soon to fail) new year’s resolutions start off. Since the idea came to me in early December, I set out to buy a few things I really wanted before going on this shopping diet. I bought a fancy gym bag and some Mejuri earrings. Both purchases were very unnecessary. As it turns out very often for me, the “high” of a new purchase wears off very fast.

January rolled around and I told a few friends about by grandiose plan. I was a bit embarrassed to admit that I would try this out for a full year. As the months went by, most of my small office team knew that I was planning to do this for a while, and that they should all get used to seeing me wear my favorite five sweaters all winter long. I love that my colleagues had a sense of humor and even tried to guess which exact skirt I would re-wear to a party we’d be all going to!

Not buying anything is not that hard

At first I spent a lot of time thinking about the fact that I was doing a no-spend challenge. After about a month, I got bored of giving this so much attention and resumed living normally – minus the shopping. I did get a kick out of finishing skin care products to the last drop before re-stocking.

Overall, it was not hard during the first few months. It helped that it was winter and I didn’t have any trips planned or fancy parties to dress up for.

I realized that I am content living week-to-week without any trips to Zara, nor any new purchases from Amazon. It turned out that I was lacking almost nothing. If something would come up, I’d simply borrow it from a friend.

Breaking the rules

My first slip happened around March. I was working on launching the Minori Blog and wanted to replace my Android phone with an iPhone so I could take better photos for the blog. I justified this as a business expense. Fine… technically acceptable.

The next slip was pretty unavoidable. Since it wasn’t on my pre-approved list, I still consider it a “break” from the rule. My husband and I finally decided to go on our honeymoon, exactly 360 days after getting married. We booked a last minute ticket to Columbia. We got travel vaccines and malaria pills, and headed to do a 4 day hike in the jungle to the Lost City. I am not a hiker… and the idea of spending 4 days hiking on difficult terrain in the jungle without the right clothes or gear gave me anxiety. I purchased a few essentials, all of which I ended up using the entire trip: a hiking backpack, hiking boots, long hiking pants that can turn into shorts (I have a thing for un-sexy green camo shorts).

Although I technically cheated and shopped for this trip, I decided to carry on with the challenge, but my resolve was definitely weaker after this.

Stress-induced shopping

In July, I found out that we will be moving out of New York and re-locating to San Francisco. Among the chaos of the move and emotional weight of leaving a city I loved, I paid less attention on my shopping ban project. Without making too much of a fuss about it, I eventually decided to end it on the 8th month. I knew that it would be unrealistic to not buy anything for the new apartment. I also was conscious that I would want to buy some new clothing more suited for SF weather. Thus, without much ceremony, the shopping ban ended. I didn’t feel any particular guilt, but also no sense of closure or accomplishment because I didn’t manage to make it through the full year.

What I would do differently

  1. Set a shorter duration for the shopping ban. Three months would’ve been a much easier target.
  2. Avoid planning the challenge during an upcoming period of transition (moves, job changes etc. ), notwithstanding that these changes can be unpredictable.
  3. Set a monthly savings goal appended to the challenge. Without one, I didn’t really see a major improvement in my finances.
  4. Incorporate stricter rules for the shopping ban: such as no eating out or not buying alcohol in bars and restaurants. Spending money on food and drinks is my weak spot and would be a lot harder and more rewarding as an experiment.
  5. If I were to do a year-long challenge again, I would make a much more extensive exemptions list and try to better anticipate things I might need.

Did the shopping ban change my long term habits?

The short answer is that it really did, despite not seeing the challenge completely through. I’m off the challenge now, but the discipline and habits I’ve consciously acquired during it have carried on, and I must say that most weeks I am not buying anything new. I have less shopping urges and rarely browse for clothing online. That feeling of “I have everything I need” really stayed with me.

I also realized that I unconsciously love the existing clothes in my wardrobe more. I grew to accept everything I own, vs. always thinking that “I have nothing to wear” as an excuse to go shopping.

I wish mental strength and resilience to all of you who are considering giving the shopping ban challenge a go. Even if you don’t succeed to seeing it through for the entire duration you set out to, you will not regret trying. If you have have any questions or need any encouragement write me a note in the comment section!

4 Comments

  1. This was such a great read and kudos to you for attempting this for one full year!
    I tried something very similar in the past, but it only lasted 3 months. I think to my surprise, it made me realize that unwanted expenditure can almost become inevitable if you don’t really try hard and be assertive towards sticking to the plan! Really enjoyed this blog post. Thanks for sharing xox

    1. Samantha thank you so much for writing. I agree, if we’re not careful it’s so easy to buy a few things here and there, that at the end of the year add up! I think 3 months is a great amount of time. I should try to do this in the fall again, which seems to be the time when I’m most tempted to spend.

  2. I did something similar last year. It did not last very long before I purchased a piece of clothing. I found it hard to reimagine my existing clothes in a way that didn’t make me feel like the me of three years ago. Something more realistic would have been to have an allowance by category and set a budget for each of those. Like 1 pair of shoes for the summer, less than $100. 1 clothing article per month less than $80 etc. Without specificity I just found that I gave up thinking “what’s the point I already failed”. But overall what helps me buy less is spending less time on social media. I so easily fall into the trap of a fantasy like, “ooo I would be so cool if I wore those leggings with this outfit. It’s the perfect sitting by the fire in the ski village outfit!”

    Beauty is a major weakness category because I see so many products through my research and instagram…

    1. Hi Karen! Thank you so much for sharing. I really like the idea of a pre-specified monthly budget. I’m actually wondering if it would be more economical to sign up to rent the runway clothing subscription box or something similar. Btw if you feel like you have clothing in your wardrobe that make you feel like the you from 3 years ago and don’t excite you anymore, you should really consider to Marie Kondo as much of it as possible. I regularly go through my stuff and donate what I don’t wear. It’s better for it to not be in your closet (for the small chance you’ll one day wear it) than to distract you every day as you are trying to figure out an outfit. Try it! xox

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