In the last few years, there have been a number of high-profile proponents of the full-on, no- holds-barred shopping ban.
A whole year of buying nothing
One of the most well-known is Cait Flanders who wrote about her year of buying nothing in her best-selling memoir, The Year of Less. I discussed Cait’s book when I compared the idea of a shopping ban to a written budget in a previous blog post here.
Writer Ann Patchett also had a year of no spending, which she wrote about in The New York Times. Patchett’s year without shopping enabled her to learn to live with “…the startling abundance that had become glaringly obvious when I stopped trying to get more.” She realised that she already had more than enough and was startled to realise how much time she could save by not actually shopping at all.
A shopping ban can be a really useful way to curb your spending, whilst helping you appreciate what you already have. If you’re paying down your debt Dave Ramsey style, it’s also an excellent way to throw extra money at Baby Step 2.
The “Allowed” list
When you decide to instigate a shopping ban, it helps to devise a set of rules. London-based journalist, Michelle McGagh, bought nothing in a 12 month period: no coffee, no cinema, no clothes and even no transport costs. She pressed her bicycle into service and lived on next to nothing for an entire year.
Writer Gretchen Rubin famously abstains from eating carbohydrates; if she doesn’t eat carbs, she doesn’t have to think about them. A little bit of something in moderation isn’t her style.
So, if you go down the road of a complete ban, you decide your own rules in terms of what is permissible and what is banned from your spending list.
All or nothing
If you’re someone who needs to take an ‘all or nothing’ approach, a shopping ban might help if you’re trying to be more intentional with your spending.
If you can’t go out shopping without returning home laden with bags of merchandise you hadn’t planned to buy, the ‘all or nothing’ approach might be beneficial. Even better, by announcing your intention, you can also get accountability for your goals: your supporters will spur you on and help keep you on track.
What goes on your essential list is up to you, but it may provide a structured framework to your shopping ban if you decide to give it a go. Cait Flanders decided to allow herself to buy some useful (and very practical) things, including – in the second year of her experiment – replacement items, essential toiletries and gifts for others.
No spend drawbacks
Initiating a shopping ban for such a lengthy time might bring some drawbacks, however, as Cait discovered during her year of less.
For example, so-called well-meaning ‘friends’ would try and tempt Cait to buy something she didn’t need, or which wasn’t on The Approved List. They reasoned that ‘she deserved it’ or that a little retail therapy was no bad thing. In fact, this was tantamount to offering a reformed smoker a cigarette, a dieter a wedge of chocolate fudge cake, or an alcoholic ‘just one’ drink. Happily for her, a handful of true friends were on hand to help keep Cait on track.
Another potential drawback of a shopping ban is that you also have to deal with situations that could send you off course. That is, if you’re working to achieve a specific financial goal, you’d need to avoid putting yourself in situations where you might blow your budget. For an abstainer, it has to be all or nothing.
As Cait writes, “The toughest part… was having to confront my triggers and change my reaction to them. It always felt like the minute I forgot about the shopping ban was the same minute I felt like shopping again.”
The no spend weekend
Is there another way, though?
You could try a ‘No Spend Day’ where you literally spend nothing, apart from essentials that are already in your budget. That may be relatively easy to do. But many of us, like me, are at their most spendthrift at the weekend.
As Hilly Janes admits in her book Latte or Cappuccino: 125 Decisions That Will Change Your Life, “We spend all week earning our crust so there’s nothing like a bit of retail therapy at the weekend to make those hours spent toiling at work seem worthwhile.”
Even if you’re not buying ‘stuff’ it’s still possible to fritter away your hard-earned cash if you’re not being intentional. So, I propose a ‘No Spend Weekend’ (which has a nice ring to it).
What happens on a ‘spendy’ weekend
Imagine that time period between Friday evening and Monday morning. What might you spend, if you weren’t being deliberate and intentional with your money?
At the end of a busy week, will you get dinner out or maybe purchase a meal deal from M&S or Waitrose? That’s at least £10 (or more) gone.
Saturday sees you nipping into town, where you pick up a few things you need. Oh, and there’s that coffee stop and the parking charges. Before you know it, you’ve spent a few more (tens of) pounds. You see where I’m going with this.
Sunday is probably the day when you go online at some point. It might be the day when you do your weekly food shop online or when you list things on eBay. But there’s always the risk that you’ll also ‘add to basket’ something that you see as you go about your business.
What a ‘no spend weekend’ could look like
Assuming you work a regular Monday – Friday week (sorry if you don’t), Friday evening could be a very good time to unwind at home, particularly if the weather is good and you can enjoy a meal al fresco. Historically, we always cleaned the house on a Friday evening, but have since resolved to bring this forward to Thursday, leaving Friday night for a more gentle slide into the weekend.
Saturday could therefore be a day to take things a little easier. We typically do a reasonably long dog walk, receive our online food shopping and enjoy some cooking (Enchiladas or Burritos are our favourite Saturday lunch these days). Every other week, I also volunteer with our little dog when we visit our local nursing home (we are Pets as Therapy volunteers). After all that, we usually chill out in the afternoon. See – no room for shopping!
On Sundays, my thoughts turn towards the working week. It’s great to get ahead with preparation for the days ahead but Sundays are also great for family time. And, depending on when your Sabbath falls, using a ‘no shopping on the Sabbath’ rule could support this initiative. And stay away from online shopping sites!!!
If you are going to spend
Remember that buying something or buying an experience will both give you a lift, but it’s the experience whose happy memories will stay with you long after you’ve forgotten anything you could have bought along the way. Buying something for someone else will also promote greater feelings of happiness than if you spent the money on yourself (great news if you’re not looking to bring more stuff into the home). And stick to a shopping list. That way, you’ll avoid impulse purchases.
Paying by cash is also a much better way to curb your spending. Going back to Hilly Janes’ Latte or Cappuccino, Janes reminds us that our brains register fewer negative feelings when using a card than when parting with physical cash. That’s why the envelope system for budgeting works well for people: you can literally see and feel how much you have left.
So, as you head towards this weekend (and I’m hoping you’re not going to be stuck in holiday getaway traffic this ‘frantic Friday’), will you consider a No Spend Weekend?
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