Monday, February 18

Shopping Ban Update: Day 60

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This post is already weird for me to write. I hadn’t expected anything to be dramatically different after Day 30 of my shopping ban. You get into a routine of not-buying, and then you just stay with it. I really thought every day after the first month would be routine. But I felt differently in month 2, in spite of myself. Before we get into that, I do want to get one thing out of the way:

I did break the shopping ban once in September. After a particularly stressful day at work, I caved and bought the year subscription to Headspace, the guided meditation app I’ve been using for a few weeks. It was $100, which is not cheap, but I was about to run out of my 10-day trial and not entirely certain I could go back to my regular life without it. I never thought I was the type of person that would be able to do, let alone enjoy, meditation but it’s become a daily necessity. I am sorry-not-sorry. If it’s any consolation I missed 2 of the weekly drinks & dinner get togethers with my MBA classmates this past month, so that spared me some cash.

Other than that, the month was a huge success, and had bigger impact on my perspectives of spending and materialism than I expected.

I don’t want anything anymore.

In a 30-day shopping ban, most of your efforts are devoted to postponing purchases. Even if you’re only a week in, if you see something nice in a store, you tell yourself “I’ll just come back in 3 weeks”. Everything gets added to a mental list so you can go on a spree once your ban is over, and there you can feel both proud that you curbed your spending for a month AND still managed to get everything you wanted.

In 90-day shopping ban, the term is too long to delay purchases. Any piece of clothing or decor I want will likely be gone in 3 months, so there’s no use putting it on a to-buy list. Even the items that won’t be gone — like songs to download from iTunes — 3 months is long enough to forget about them entirely. There were a lot of items I was thinking I would buy when my shopping ban was over, but I can’t remember them now. It just wasn’t worth the mental energy to anguish over when I could buy random knick-knacks again. Better to forget about it entirely and just enjoy what I have.

This all I have, and this is enough.

I’ve spent a significant amount of time during my shopping ban simply pondering the need and use for material things. Our apartment is sparsely furnished. There’s virtually no decor hung on the walls. I’ve been saying I would get a rug for the living room for more than 6 months. But — game changing thought here — what if we never bought more? What if home always looked a tad empty? What’s the worst that would happen? The answer is obvious but it surprises you anyway: nothing.

Absolutely nothing would happen.

And that’s what makes you wonder why you cared so much about collecting things to make your home or your wardrobe or your life look a certain way — the impact of these objects is as superficial as they are.

The game has changed.

Last month, I said I kept playing a game with myself, imagining what I would have if I had only a certain amount of money. The game has changed from “what would I buy with $X?” to

“what if I could never buy anything ever again?”

This is powerful mind exercise. Think about it: if you could never buy anything ever again, how much would you value what you currently have? How carefully would you treat your possessions? Would you be happy, or would you waste time pining over things you could never get your hands on? These questions took me out of my own head. I’ve been guilty for as long as I can remember of working to afford certain objects and status symbols, of playing that game of “I won’t need anything once I get XYZ” — a list that got progressively longer the more I learned was there to want. But now I tell myself that I’m already at my destination, that I already have acquired everything I’ve ever wanted.

I even broke the Starbucks habit I swore I would never get over. Turns out I don’t need a 2pm coffee, I just need a 2pm break. If I get up from my desk and take a stroll around the block, I feel refreshed enough to tackle the rest of the day without a dose of caffeine. This is not to say I’ll never set foot in a Starbucks again (hello? Pumpkin Spice lattes are coming back!) but daily? Never. Weekly? Doubtful. Who even am I anymore? I don’t recognize myself!

I don’t care about the money.

I was never in the shopping ban for the money. Many people don’t get that, since it seems the token tactic for shopaholic rehab. People told me to “save all the money” I didn’t spend and put it in a designated account to treat myself at the end of the shopping ban. I hate this idea, because it still operates from the perspective of deprivation. Just so we’re perfectly clear: I am not depriving myself by refraining from non-essential spending for 3 months (and you wouldn’t be either, if you dared try it).

It’s hard to wrap your head around this because we’re all stuck on the dopamine drip that comes from spending absolutely everything they earn. I get it. The high you receive from hitting “buy” on your online shopping cart or coming home from the mall with another bag is one of my favorite personal playgrounds. It’s hard to get off that hamster wheel, because in order to do so, we have to acknowledge is money has absolutely no power unless you spend it. If you don’t trade it for goods or services, it doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t matter if you put it in an investment account and it quadruples, that’s just more of nothing unless you trade it for something else. That’s money’s whole power. So when you choose not to spend it, you take away its power.

Did you ever think you could get to a place where you take away the power of money? I didn’t, and yet here we are. I can no sit in my bare apartment in my ratty old clothes without my Starbucks and think, “I don’t need you money!” and I am suddenly in the most powerful position I’ve ever been. Because I know if I can go months without spending on wants, then I only need to worry about my needs —  and my needs are small.

And lastly, but still very importantly, I can’t sit here and tell you to give up extraneous spending in order to pay off your debt or save 30%+ of your income if I’m not willing to do it myself. My income and lack of debt are a distraction, they makes people think I have it “easier”, especially if they don’t poke around in the archives and see my hard years. I do have it easier, because it is always easier to make the choice to go without something than it is to be forced into doing so. My shopping ban is self-imposed, and that is a tremendous privilege. But I still feel an obligation to practice what I preach. If I’m going to ask you to go three months without buying new clothes so you can make an extra debt payment, then I should be ready, willing, and able to do the same. I am, I can, and I do.

I still have a lot more to share about the shopping ban, but this post is already 1,300 words (thanks for listening!) so I’ll save it for another post. In the meantime, I encourage you to consider giving a shopping ban a go. You never know what you’ll find out about yourself, and your relationship with spending and stuff.


About Author

Student debt killer, super saver, and stock market addict. BSc. in Chemistry from the University of Alberta, MBA in Finance from the University of Calgary, and PhD from the school of life in being a badass. Currently residing in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, but hooked on travelling.


  1. While I haven’t been on a shopping ban per se, I haven’t bought new clothes, shoes, etc., in months – mostly because I have so much of it and am currently in the midst of trying to get rid of it. Boy, did that open my eyes! I love how you realized you need an afternoon break, not an afternoon coffee. Getting to the bottom of why we create our habits and routines is really helpful.

  2. I love this post! You are so right that you desire for an object or thing disappears over time. I used to keep a wishlist of anything I wanted and I noticed that when I would look at it six months later, everything on this list seemed very strange to me. Like, did I really want that? LOL

  3. Great post .Thanks for the afternoon walk at work tip. I’ve never been a big spender, but I have become even less of a spender over the last few year. But occasionally I get the urge to spend money. I know clothes and hair care products won’t help, so I make a donation to a charity. Satisfies my urge to spend money, and gives me a good feeling which actually lasts, plus I never regret it.
    Best wishes on your journey

    • YES! I have donated more to charity in the past 2 months of my shopping ban than in the 7 months leading up to it! It has made such a difference. You get to spend money plus the warm & fuzzies for helping out a good cause. It’s awesome.

  4. Incredible points about furnishing your apartment! My fiance and I just moved to a new apartment and we downsized. Downsizing required a lot of donating & selling items we currently had from the old place. It’s amazing how moving to a new place instantly sparks the questions from others such as: “did you get a new couch?” “how are you going to decorate the rooms?” “where are you going to put the new (insert household item here)?” When I think about…I just envision the entire cyclical event of potentially moving again in 1-2 years, purging items (that were probably bought new), and starting from scratch (shudder). As you brought up, even if you don’t buy that new item (or items) for the apartment…absolutely nothing happens! We still enjoy and value our time together, I can still read the same on our old, hand-me down couch, we sleep just as well without a new comforter, and even if our towels sometimes don’t match our shower curtain nothing goes awry. Reframing that mindset is what’s important, because the idea of a “new place” doesn’t need to require the purchase of “new items.” It may take discipline at first, but it is SO refreshing when you combat those shopping habits. 🙂

  5. Great point about not wanting anything anymore.

    For me, I first experienced this feeling when I began traveling for a month or more at a time. I would leave home with one suitcase at its maximum weight, and realize that I just didn’t have room for anything else, so I would need to make do with what I had brought with me. When I was gone, I wasn’t dreaming about clothes that I had back home, but I would instead be thinking “of the things I packed, what worked best in this situation?” I ended up getting good at making do with what I had brought with me. The weirdest thing is, when I would come home from one of these trips, I realized that I didn’t even need or miss so many of the things that I had in my closet at home.

    I don’t think this is the deprivation mindset you’re talking about, but more that it’s learning how to be resourceful and to realize that you already have way more than anything you could ever want or need!

  6. Glad the shopping ban is going well and you’re learning lots about yourself. I not on a full on shopping ban but more of a mindful spending plan. I am trying to make sure what I purchase I truly need, so far it is working and I have not purchased anything clothes or home decor related so we will see where it goes from here.

    • Sometimes that’s all it takes!

      I generally find we think we “need” more than we really do, and once we take a step back to be more mindful of our consumption, we can get by on a lot less.

  7. I love shopping ban stories and how empowering it makes one feel! It is great that you can continue your shopping ban while planning your wedding. Wedding planning is tough to do shopping ban. I went nuts on my wedding purchases, hence shopping ban is not easy for me. So i am doing mini-shopping ban. 1/2 weeks at a time, and see how far i can push myself not to spend any money on random things (Lululemon WMTM site is addictive).

    But love hearing your stories on your “shopping itches” :).

    • haha well I said “wedding shit” was exempt from the shopping ban — but since most of it was purchased before the ban, it’s been largely a non-issue. Since the ban started I’ve had to buy our wedding rings, wedding license, and I bought false eyelashes to wear on the big day, but other than that there hasn’t been any spending.

      I think the worst of the wedding bill will hit after the day lol

  8. I have been living more mindfully these past six months and without a doubt, minimalism is working for me (and my family.) Yesterday, I donated yet another pile of clothes and goods to Syria refugees. Great stuff that we do not need.
    What’s next? A shopping ban. I will start with one month and see how that goes. I am confident and excited.

    I have enough. I am enough. Thanks for your encouragement and blogs!

    • One month is AMAZING. It’s even just like taking a breather when running a race. It feels good to pull yourself out of the consumptive cycle; totally reorients your spending and saving.

      You will love it! Good luck!

  9. “So when you choose not to spend it, you take away its power.”
    So simple, profound and true. I’m going to attempt a 30 day ban and shoot for longer. Inspiring and great article!

  10. While I am VERY careful about spending money and live by quality > quantity, I would argue this approach is a bit extreme. You don’t have to go out and furnish your condo with all sorts of knick knacks, but a few well placed pieces make a house a home. I know that I LOVE coming home to my pillows, art, etc. I bought most ages ago and they give me plenty of satisfaction. Also, while I save a lot, I splurge on a few well selected items: my watch, sunglasses, bag come to mind. Each was expensive, and after years of owning them, they still yield the same satisfaction as when they were brand new. I guess I found my balance: save some, spend well some. I think depriving yourself and being completely minimalistic is as bad as giving in to thoughtless consumerism. But to each his own I guess, whatever makes you happy.

    • As I mentioned in the post, it has nothing to do with deprivation. Likewise, I would hardly consider a 90-day stint “completely minimalistic”.

      I love stuff as much as anyone else. I only carry designer bags. I drive a luxury car. My life is pretty sweet, even if I haven’t gotten around to decorating the apartment yet. I’ve never had a problem with spending, or spending on quality items, but that doesn’t mean refraining for a bit doesn’t serve a purpose. I am not committing to an “extreme” approach. I fully intend to buy things once the shopping ban is over…. though undoubtedly less than I would have without it.

      Exercising control of your consumption is not an act of deprivation or extremism. It’s the opportunity to critically examine your relationship with your spending and your stuff, and refine as needed.

  11. I like this idea a lot. I already try to buy only things I need most of the time but sometimes I slip up and get something unnecessary because I want it. I keep complaining about my clothes and think I should get new ones to update from student to professional, and I guess that’s somewhere between a need and a want, but if I do get stuff I’ll make sure it’s good quality so it lasts and actually fits how I want to present myself. I have been actively trying to get rid of stuff I don’t need or use though, and working through my old half-used beauty products instead of getting new ones, which is saving me some money and clutter. Yay for minimalism and not wasting money!

  12. Isn’t it funny how quickly we adapt to new situations. Those habits that had been going strong for years get pushed aside pretty quickly for new ones.

    Congrats on getting a new perspective! One of the biggest benefits of an exercise like this removing some of the emotional weight attached to money. We often don’t realize it, but money-emotion is a huge drain on our emotional health. Good for you for trying something new!

  13. I’ve been experimenting with a “mindful shopping/very limited budget” approach for the past two months for some categories of expenditure (clothes, media, photography stuff, restaurant meals and takeout) . Like you, I’ve been finding that I often experience those sensations of “having enough/being enough” and the disappearance of money’s power over me.

    These sensations are also similar to what I’ve been going through over the past year as I’ve been converting to a vegan lifestyle. Initially, I spent a fair bit of time thinking about what I wasn’t going to eat, wear, or use anymore, but after a while the sense of deprivation was replaced (most of the time) by a sense of completeness. I don’t need Ben & Jerry’s to make myself feel better. I’d rather look at a photograph I took of my friend Bridget (a cow) instead.

    My increasingly vegan-ish lifestyle has also helped me stick with my commitments to spend less and live with less. I’m less tempted to shop when the options involve so much wool, leather and down, and I’m less tempted to go to a restaurant when so many dishes on the menu feature animals. I gave up my subscription to Vogue because so many of the products features in it don’t interest me anymore. It’s easy to give away clothes and other things made from animal products, so my apartment (especially my closets) are becoming decluttered.

    It’s not all smile-y faces and sheep kisses, though. I do find myself window-shopping (although not buying, at least not yet) a bit compulsively for a few things that are on my permitted purchase list – #1 on that list is a stylish and very warm vegan winter coat. And a close #2 is a comfortable pair of work-appropriate vegan shoes. And so it may be that I need to go one step further to a complete shopping ban, and see if that helps me let go of these cravings.

  14. Such good perspective gained! I read a blog post recently that was sort of anti-spending bans. But they didn’t see the big point that you explained here…it’s not about the money. It really isn’t. I’ve delved into minimalism lately and it has a lot of similarities to a spending ban and really…it’s about so much more than the money. All of the things you mentioned plus learning and accepting so much about myself. Powerful stuff.

  15. I loved reading this post. I feel like I’ve been reading a bunch about shopping bans lately. Some good, some bad. Your article seemed like a fresh perspective. Of course, I could totally use extra saving money or to pay down some debt, but after reading this article, I realized I’d like to be able to say “no” to unnecessary items in my life. Just another way that money buys you freedom.

  16. Jess @ Best Credit Cards Canada on

    I honestly thought that a shopping ban would just be a great way to save some money and take some time out from consumerism. It’s really cool how it has actually changed you and your spending habits. So exciting and inspiring 🙂 Well done. Excited to hear more about this journey.