Money Saving Tips
How to Complete Your Own Shopping Ban or No Spend Challenge
Recently, we’ve found ourselves totally infatuated with the idea of a personal shopping ban, or “no spend” challenge. Whether it’s Cait Flanders’ year-long (well, make that TWO year long) ban from making pretty much any purchases, or something you try and incorporate into your life once a week, there’s something revolutionary about the idea of temporarily cutting yourself off from paying cash or credit.
The thing is, a no spend challenge is a GREAT way exercise your self-discipline, achieve a financial goal more quickly, and gain a better handle on your cash flow. Don’t let Cait’s story scare you off: a shopping ban doesn’t have to be a life-consuming initiative to have a positive effect on your budget! If this is somewhat new territory for you, we’ve created a fun infographic to guide you through what a shopping ban/no spend challenge really is; the many benefits of doing one yourself; and the steps you won’t wanna miss when you begin!
What is it?
A shopping ban / no spend challenge is a personal experiment that challenges you to completely stop all spending on the non-essentials of your choosing. Important: “OF YOUR CHOOSING” means YOU CHOOSE THE RULES. And they can be as strict or flexible as you need them to be. But we’ll get into that a little more below.
Why do I need it?
We found that no-spend queen Sarah Lazarovic put it best when she said, “People don’t trust themselves enough to say, ‘I’m going to be better at this.’ They need a hard-and-fast rule.” (Business Insider)
We can say, from personal experience, that this is absolutely true. How many times have you said, “Ugh, I neeeed to stop spending so much on x,” only to spend even more dough on x the following month? Or how many times have you asked yourself, “UH, WHEREEE is all my money going? I swore I just got paid the other day…” We feel you. A budget isn’t the only way to fix that issue!
Sometimes, it’s more effective to go cold turkey than to try and wean yourself off of something or slowly change a bad habit. Cue the no spend challenge.
A few examples of what a shopping ban can look like:
I tacked my own shopping ban story onto the end of this post because I wound up writing a novel. So there’s that, if you’re interested! But here are a couple of ideas for no spend challenges you/you and your partner/family may want to consider trying…
- No spending money on weekends for two months.
- No buying junk food for the rest of the month.
- Commit to a spending fast for one week.
- Make one day out of each week a no spend day, and try it for a month.
- Cancel your cable for a whole year.
- Cancel your Amazon Prime subscription for the rest of the year (and don’t buy anything off Amazon, even without Prime!)
- Commit 3 months to a no spending fast.
- No spending money on new or used books for 6 months.
You get the idea.
What are the benefits?
GUYS, there are so many! And I think the coolest thing is that the majority of benefits aren’t just financial. Here are just a few we’ve read about from other bloggers and their comments on posts related to the subject:
- Mindfulness – Making a deliberate choice to halt spending, no matter how long or for what products, helps to raise overall awareness in a big way.
- Resourcefulness – Cait Flanders learned how to repair her own jeans once they ripped, because she wasn’t allowed to buy herself new clothing during her year-long shopping ban. You’ll find there are a lot of things you already own or have the ability to learn how to do in order to help yourself that don’t require a swipe of your credit card!
- Productivity – For those of us who spend a lot of time shopping in store or online, this perk is for you.
- Pay debt faster – All of that money you aren’t spending has to go somewhere, and the rules of finance say that either that money is spent elsewhere or saved. If spent, you can easily put it towards a student loan, mortgage payment, or credit card bill.
- Save faster – Conversely, a shopping ban is a great way to put more money towards your savings goals! Could be an emergency fund, cash cushion, retirement, or upcoming vacation.
- Gain control of your money – The sense of control is hard to describe, but you totally know when you want/need it and don’t have it. A no spend challenge could be just what the doctor ordered to make you feel much more capable and on top of shit.
- Build good habits – Just like my shopping ban helped me to eat healthier in the mornings (when that totally wasn’t my goal at all) or Cait Flanders’ shopping ban helped her to learn interesting and resourceful skills, a no spend challenge will absolutely change your habits in positive ways. Some you may plan for, and others you may not even realize yet!
- Kick bad habits – Same deal, but in reverse. A no spend challenge can help to address your impulse purchases, credit card debt, or other stressful money-related issues you’re having.
- Better relationship with money and with yourself – Over time, a shopping ban can really open your eyes to the emotions and motivations behind why you’re buying particular items. The revealing of those truths can be scary, but it can also be liberating. If you haven’t by this point, read Cait Flanders’ posts about her year-long bans. And take a look at what these others have said about their own personal victories:
“When we learn to live on what we have, life is so much sweeter. I never have to worry about how I’m going to get the money to pay the minimum on my credit card bill.” – Cynthia C on Believe in a Budget
“…[A no spend challenge is] a pretty good idea to help you find money short term, or push you out of your comfort zone enough that you find new ways to do things on the cheap.” – Stephanie on Frugal Beautiful
“My family has one more week left of a no spend month… We have actually enjoyed it immensely and are seriously considering doing it next month too!! We are pretty frugal by nature but we found even more ways to save, recycle, make do and do without. We have been content!” – Christie on Frugal Beautiful
“I am amazed at what one month can do! I feel like a weight has been lifted and my sanity has been restored. I feel that I was able to regain my peace, in my spirit and in my mind. I feel like I can breathe again and stop hanging my head in shame… I feel whole!” – LaShanna on Living Well Spending Less
[post continues below the infographic!]
How do I start?
Listen, this doesn’t have to be a BIG, HUGE, SCARY production. If you want to do a yearlong shopping ban, knock yourself out. But there are plenty of meaningful ways that you and your family/partner can take baby steps, too. If you’d like a little advice on the ins and outs of creating your own no spend challenge, read on!
- Choose the duration – Is this a short-term or long-term challenge? The length and frequency are up to you to decide.
- Decide what’s allowed and what isn’t – Are ALL non-essentials off the table? Or can you still buy yourself new clothes, keep your magazine or Netflix subscriptions, etc.? Maybe you want to veto just one particular purchase (fitness apparel) or business (Starbucks) to pinpoint a specific bad spending habit.
- Have a contingency plan – Not that you’ll need it 😉 But we all know goals aren’t easy to stick to! So say you break your own rules… just like a diet, having one cheat day doesn’t mean you fall off the wagon for good! So what will you do if you slip up to ensure you get back on track?
- Clue in important people – Depending on the terms of your no spend challenge, it may or may not affect those around you like friends, family members, and your S.O. Make sure that you talk to them about your plans. If they’ll be affected by your new decisions, you may want to plan this challenge with them!
- Pick your start date – This one’s easy. Once you have everything planned out, mark your calendar!
How to be successful
- Define your ‘why’ – A challenge without a motivator is DOA. You need to have a clear, personal reason for wanting to give up some purchase or habit. Figure out what that is! Get deep, get personal. Why do you want to complete your first no spend challenge. What’s your motivation to start and to succeed?
- Track your progress – Whether you use some sort of financial app, spreadsheets, a bullet journal, regular journal, or just keep notes in the Google Keep app… we definitely recommend keeping tabs on how the changes you make affect:
- Your wallet
- Your health
- Your happiness
- And monitor how well you’re sticking to those goals!
- Update your budget – If you’re good at keeping a budget, you’ll probably notice some differences in your spending at the end of the week/month/year. If you don’t have a budget, make sure you have a definitive idea of how much you’re saving! Where will you invest all that money you won’t be spending?
My real-life example
I was inspired to start my no spend challenge after I realized that I was needlessly spending way too much money on breakfast in the morning. Working in the city, it was essential that I stop by a coffee shop every day and grab my morning brew and a breakfast sandwich, bagel, scone, etc. Breakfast would typically cost me $8. I was a slave to Starbucks. And worse, once I identified the issue, I found that I couldn’t stop!
I tried telling myself I would go only once a week. Okay, twice a week. Maybe I’ll make coffee at home and bring it with me to work. What if I went somewhere other than Starbucks? (That was better, but going local can sometimes be even more expensive. Also then I spent a whole lot of time each morning obsessively debating over which coffee shop I wanted to go to for which coffee/food. I may or may not have stopped at two different shops some mornings, because I was deadset on the iced coffee at this place, but the bagels are so much better at that other place. Yep, suuuper had a problem.)
After months of feeling guilty and stuck in this shitty routine, I changed my thinking. I told myself, “I am no longer allowed to buy breakfast food out.”
And like flipping a switch, my daily habits totally changed. I started baking more breakfast items at home. I started buying frozen breakfast foods when at the grocery store. I went from noshing on sugary, chocolate-filled croissants to opting for oatmeal. From calorie crazed Sbux breakfast sandwiches (oh, you knowww I got the ones with bacon) to tofu-filled breakfast burritos stuffed with with egg whites and kale.
The thing is, I didn’t even ban myself from coffee shops in general – I still stopped for a hot or iced coffee every morning for a few months after my no spend challenge began. But once I put my foot down 100% on the food that accompanied those purchases, there were no excuses to be made. I either committed to my personal challenge, or I didn’t.
After a while, I found even that desire to buy coffee out, which was totally kosher says me and my no spend rules, started to give way to buying La Colombe cans from Target on my weekly grocery run, or even just giving opting for the free coffee at the office. My personal shopping ban from buying breakfast foods out changed a daily habit that had been ingrained in me for YEARS. One that easily cost me $160+ per month. And I want you to experience the same type of freedom I did.
Have you ever tried a personal shopping ban? What was your challenge? We’d love to hear about your experience and how it affected you personally and financially!