Financial

Shopping Ban: Lessons Learned

One year ago today, I started down this strange road of a major change. I called it a shopping ban, but in reality, I was (and still am) working to change a behavior that wasn’t serving me well.

While I’m far from perfect, and I’ll never pretend to be, it was an enlightening experience and I feel like I learned a lot about myself–what was urging me to buy, why I was getting so frustrated with myself about my poor spending habits, and what I needed to focus on to make the change last.

Money is a good tool to enhance one’s enjoyment of life, but it’s not going to solve problems that are rooted in other issues.

So after 365 days, here’s what I learned:

What was easy for me to cut out:

  1. iTunes: other than purchasing one movie for the kids towards the end of my ban, I didn’t even think about it. I’ll break into it again to prepare for a long plane ride with kids coming up, but that’s just to make the other passengers less miserable.
  2. Perfume: I gave away several bottles I wasn’t using and I’m getting myself down to 2-4 scents. When I run out of those, I’ll replace them, but I like what I like and don’t feel the need to experiment anymore.
  3. Lotions & Candles: These things were so stock piled there was no need to buy anything. A year later and I still have plenty of both. Added bonus–Johnson & Johnson’s Shea and Cocoa Butter baby lotion is pretty awesome and it’s cheap. Whenever I do run out of lotion, that will be my replacement.
  4. Make Up: Turns out I was buying stuff I didn’t need to hit the minimum order for free shipping. I’ve since changed my habit to go to the store when I run out of something, and buy only that. It’s saved me at least a couple hundred so far.
  5. Scarves: winter was nonexistent, so I’m sure that helped, but I really do have a diverse selection and was never left without an accessory.
  6. Hats: I’m not going to the Royal Ascot any time soon. What I have is a good basic selection and I don’t need to branch out.

What took more effort:

  1. Clothes, Shoes, Handbags & Jewelry: determination is easy to have in the beginning. It’s tougher when you’re stressed out about something, up late at night, and only have yourself to keep you from clicking the buy button. There were times where I definitely slipped. I’d either justify keeping one or two things without really planning ahead for it, but most of the time, I’d have buyer’s remorse and return it.
  2. Books: Again, this more came down to the getting to the minimum order for free shipping. I’d buy a gift, be a few bucks short, and add a book from my wish list to get over that threshold. I’m back in a really good rhythm for my personal reading, and I still have a wish list 30+ books long. But they will still be there when I’ve finished the ones I have now. Plus, in most cases, shipping was cheaper than the book I added to get free shipping, so maybe it makes more sense to just get an Amazon Prime membership instead. An item worthy to add to my budget in the coming months.

On Saving & Spending Money:

  1. Figure out how much you REALLY need to get by each month–stash the rest of it away in savings at the beginning of the month instead of the end. It changes your perspective to live within that budget if the money’s not there as a buffer.
  2. Track every penny you spend and assign a budget amount after you get a feel for how much you NEED to spend on it each month–I have an Excel spreadsheet and an app on my phone. I have 25 categories… and yes, one of those categories is Starbucks. You don’t have to give up everything, you just need to enjoy it in moderation.
  3. Plan ahead. I’m now evaluating my closet to see what needs replacing–shoes can only be repaired so many times, clothes go out of style or no longer fit properly, etc. And is it more important to buy a new pair of shoes or to make sure your AC is running in top shape before summer hits? If you’re in Texas, it’s always the second one. Always.
  4. Pause before you buy – especially shopping online. Oh, how easy they’ve made it to separate you from your money! But you don’t have to buy right away. Put it in your wish list or shopping bag and walk away. Some sites will send you a promo code to get you to buy, but even if they don’t, a little clarity goes a long way.
  5. Do a monthly/quarterly summary or evaluation. Did you splurge in one category? Take some time to think about why. What can you do to get back in line going forward? Do you really need to adjust your budget?
  6. Unsubscribe from marketing emails. Seriously, it’s a constant “buy me” barrage. The less it’s in your face, the easier it is to ignore for at least a little while.

Final Thoughts:

In the end, I let myself get in a major rut and I stayed there for far too long. At first, I blamed external factors that “created” my problems. But it comes down to me. It came down to me seeking validation for my “poor me” feelings. It came down to being too much of a chicken to face my fears or get out of my comfort zone. And it came down to self-sabotaging some of the things I want in life because, deep down, I thought I didn’t deserve them. It came down to letting other people tell me what I wanted out of life instead of figuring it out for myself.

Seems pretty heavy for someone just trying to get a bad shopping habit under control, but that’s what happened. I was assigning value to stuff over life experiences. And now that I think about it, that’s a double whammy–miserable because I wasn’t getting the emotional fix out of the stuff AND I couldn’t afford to go have real fun.

I still want to look good and have fun with fashion – I’ve enjoyed it for years and I continue to enjoy it now. But there’s purchases that make sense, and those that don’t. And planning should be part of my shopping going forward.

It will be a longer process than this experiment – this was just to prove to myself it could be done. And it was. Now I have no excuses.

I’ve become more honest with myself. It was unintentional, but I would re-read my earlier posts and the truth revealed itself to me. Some of it was very uncomfortable and some of it was easy.

All I know is I’ve gone to more concerts with my husband in the past year than we ever did since we’ve had kids. I’ve saved more money and taken care of more things around the house than we ever have before. I’m a lot less stressed about how I’m going to get through to the next payday because I have buffer money in my checking account… while still saving. And I’m taking out fewer of my frustrations on people who care about me and I’m lashing out because they’re there and don’t want to admit I’m really upset with myself. The problem I brought myself, wasn’t the real problem. And now I know that.

This was one person’s experience–nothing more, nothing less. If you found something useful in it, great. If you think I’m crazy, that’s cool, too.

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