How I Saved $600 in a Month With a Shopping Ban — and How You Can, Too

shopping ban

I never thought of myself as a shopping addict. But if I’m honest with myself, I’m pulled into sales gimmicks easier than I’d like to admit.

It’s hard to resist those “Free Gift With Purchase” items. There’s always a promo code you can use. Coupons make things less expensive. I’m basically saving myself money, right?

Wrong.

But I know I’m not alone. In 2010, the average American household spent over $700 on shopping, according to CreditLoan.

It was time to take charge of my spending; after reading about the benefits of a shopping ban, I decided to try one of my own. A no-spend month seemed easy enough — but it was a lot harder than I thought.

8 shopping ban tips to get you started

A shopping ban can be a great experiment — even if, like me, you don’t think you have a spending problem. But diving in without knowing what you’re getting into could set you up for failure.

The point of a shopping ban is to save money, but also to track your spending and notice patterns so you can learn from them. If you’re thinking about trying one yourself, here are some shopping ban dos and don’ts to help set you up for success.

1. Make a list of approved items

It’s easy to forget the difference between needs and wants — and that can get you into trouble.

Your first step is to create a list of approved items you’re allowed to purchase during your shopping ban. Here’s what mine looked like:

  • Bills and utilities
  • Food
  • Toiletries and cleaning supplies (that I’m absolutely out of)
  • Anything bought with a soon-to-expire gift card that I already have
  • Items needed for an upcoming trip (not clothes or bags, but real necessities)
  • Work expenses (only if I’m reimbursed for item in full)

I was pretty general in my list. If I were to do it over again, I would be more specific (and add more rules).

For example, I could have included “sunscreen” on the list instead of “items needed for an upcoming trip.” That way, I wouldn’t put myself in a position where I try to justify a purchase I shouldn’t be making.

Keep your needs in mind and don’t deprive yourself of the basics, such as bills, food, toiletries, cleaning supplies, and clothes you must replace. (If you have holes in your socks, don’t go without — buy some new socks!)

2. Set realistic goals

Some people successfully complete year-long shopping bans, but you don’t want to burn out right at the start. Start with a month-long ban. After you successfully complete one and feel motivated enough to do another, you can move on to a 90-day ban, 120-day ban, and so on.

The month you decide to do it matters, too. I missed out on Record Store Day in April because I failed to realize it was during my shopping ban.

Don’t pick a month where it will be too difficult for you to abstain — if you have a vacation planned or out-of-town guests visiting, for example, it may be harder to meet your goals. Set yourself up for success by carefully choosing your no-spend month.

3. Tell your friends and family

Let everyone know that you’re doing a shopping ban. Tell your mom, your spouse, your sister, your best friends, your kids, your neighbor, your co-workers — everyone you interact with regularly.

This is helpful for a couple of reasons:

  • You’ll be held accountable. This will ensure you’re sticking to the ban and not giving up.
  • Your friends and family will know not to invite you on shopping sprees while you’re doing the ban.

Who knows? Maybe someone will even want to take part in the ban with you. The buddy system works wonders when it comes to accountability.

4. Watch out for triggers

Quitting shopping is similar to quitting smoking. Your shopping habit may be an addiction, so pay attention to what triggers you to shop.

One of the triggers I discovered during my spending freeze was that bored shopping is a problem for me. I was working at a cafe one day that happened to be right next to a Target and TJ Maxx. I wanted so badly to “just go look around” — but, luckily, I didn’t. An innocent trip to simply browse could have easily resulted in me blowing $200.

Avoid putting yourself in a position to be triggered. Whether that means staying away from your favorite mall or avoiding Amazon altogether, a simple change in routine can help you fight the urge to needlessly shop.

5. Unsubscribe from store emails

You probably receive tons of emails sent to you daily from your favorite stores. It’s great to know when those stores have special sales or when that item on your wishlist is finally 50 percent off — but it’s also dangerous.

Even social media can be detrimental. Don’t let Instagram pull you in with their ads or with what your friends or celebrities have. If you’re trying to save money — or, in this case, not spend any at all — these reminders will only sabotage your efforts.

Unsubscribe from all of those emails before you begin your shopping ban. You’ll be glad you did.

6. Find a new hobby

I soon noticed shopping was a vice of mine: I shopped when I was bored, I shopped as a social activity with friends, and sometimes I even shopped online at two in the morning after a couple glasses of wine.

Instead of shopping, pick a new habit. When I did my shopping ban in April, I started walking a lot more. Maybe you decide to take a cooking class or take up knitting. Perhaps you take your kids to the park or plan a Netflix night with your friends.

Ditching your old habit for a healthier one will help you successfully survive a shopping ban.

7. Don’t go into a spending frenzy once it’s over

I cannot stress this enough: Don’t let all your hard work go to waste. After your shopping ban is over, don’t immediately buy everything in sight to make up for lost time. You’ll ruin the point of the whole exercise.

Think of it this way: If you lost a bunch of weight, you might want to reward yourself by adding certain foods back into your diet. But if you’re not strategic about it, the next thing you know, you’re sitting in your car in the Whole Foods parking lot, eating an entire cheesecake.

Same goes for spending money. Once your spending freeze is over, it’s OK to make some purchases now and then, but don’t go overboard.

8. Put what you would have spent in savings

I saved about $600 just by doing a shopping ban for 30 days. That surprised — and embarrassed — me. Little things add up.

During your spending freeze, every time you have the urge to spend money or see something you wish you could buy, write it down. Document what it is, how much it would cost you, and why you have the urge to buy it. Then, put the money you would have spent into a separate savings account.

This way, you’ll have something to show for all your effort. After resisting the urge to buy everything you want, it will feel amazing to have that extra money in the bank — proof that you worked your butt off and overcame temptation.

A successful shopping ban

By sticking to your budget and saving more money than you spend, you can ignore the tricks retailers use to try and make you spend more.

Although I might never go a whole year without spending, what matters most is what I got out of my first shopping ban. I realized the key to spending less wasn’t promo codes or the deals — it was shopping less and saving more.

Sure, it’s easier said than done. But I think everyone should try a shopping ban once, just to learn more about their spending habits. I saved $600 in a month — and you can, too. Just think about what that could mean for your savings account.

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