Why and HOW I started a 6 month shopping ban (and why it completely saved my finances).

Since March, I have been on a six-month shopping ban. That means, other than necessities, I have forbidden myself from shopping.

For me, shopping means buying clothes, shoes, jewelry or makeup, but for another girl it could be books, crafts supplies, cooking gadgets, sports gear, etc. This all started when I was packing up my life to move out of my parents’ house and into my own apartment for the first time. I was thinking a lot about expenses and budgeting and I realized, as I packed my life into duffle bags and boxes, how many clothes and shoes I actually had. Some of which, I rarely wore either because I didn’t have the occasion to, or I just didn’t know how to wear them.

That’s when I realized I needed to be a smarter shopper. I’ve always loved shopping, even when I wasn’t purchasing anything. Growing up, my mom and I would spend rainy Saturdays at the mall, browsing the shoe department or looking for the perfect jeans.

I decided, as I lugged my packing boxes up three flights of stairs, that I would use what I have. Carrying all of your belongings up multiple flights of stairs and across cities puts things into perspective. As I unpacked, I looked around and discovered many shirts I never wore, and a few pairs of shoes I had purchased years ago that weren’t quite in style anymore but never really got much use. I’m a packrat by nature, carefully saving things for sentimental reasons or “just in case.” You know, just in case I decide I really do want to wear navy blue pants with zippers up the sides, that I got for free from a friend even though they’re not my style. Or just in case I need high heels in various heights and colors, even though I wear sandals or Converse for every occasion.

To help curb my appetite for acquiring new clothes, shoes and jewelry for my collection, I put a ban on my spending habits and vowed for six months that I would only buy what I needed. That means other than things I needed for my apartment (shower curtain, bath mat, trashcan) or necessities (groceries, Subway passes, chocolate – hey every girl has her kryptonite), I would not whip out my wallet unless I had extremely good reason to. I figured at the end of the ban I would have a better understanding of my spending habits, a better sense of my own style, a better grasp of the true want versus need, and I would have fewer things that just took up space.

I am five months into my shopping ban, and with one month left to go, I am feeling pretty content with my experiment. Becoming self sufficient and financially independent is hard and can be overwhelming at times. Slowly, through trial and error and tips from the internet, I am finding the best way to track my spending, and creating habits for myself (that may not be the best for every one) to become a smart saver and spender.

Now, when I reach for my wallet to pay for something, I think of what I’ve roughly what I’ve purchased so far and am able to decide if I can go for that cupcake during my coffee break or if I need to hold off until next week because I’ve reached my limit. I also feel free knowing that once I’ve paid rent, and other bills, I still have some savings left over for my future, which at twenty-three I’ve already started planning for.

While shopping bans may not work for everyone, it’s a good idea to step outside your self, even if it’s just for a week or a month, to catalog where you really spend most of your money. Are you grabbing extra cups of coffee in the morning at Starbucks that cost you an extra $100 every month? You can invest in a coffee maker that has a timer and set it before you go to bed to brew fresh pots of coffee that will be ready for you when you wake up – and what a way to wake up!

Are you spending extra money out to eat or grabbing lunch during the work week? Then maybe you need to map out your lunches or dinners for the week and do grocery shopping and some cooking on Sundays. Or maybe, like me, you love clothes and accessories, and lust after trends and fashions, only to purchase something, wear it once, and have buyer’s remorse. Then, you may need to roll up your sleeves and dig deep into your closet to find hidden gems that deserve their time to shine. Invite a friend over to survey your closet, because the best friends are honest friends who will help you air your skeletons and donate last years’ too-long maxi dress to a better cause.

Consider The No Spend Week Challenge if a six month ban seems crazy to you. Everyone has areas of their budget that they can cut their spending in, think about these Five Everyday Things You’re Wasting Your Money On if you’re struggling to finding expenses to eliminate.

Ultimately, five months into my new life in New York, I am still learning how to budget and watch my spending. This shopping ban has really helped me build good habits and break bad ones, and I have confidence in my ability to make good financial decisions while still having room for fun. A few weeks ago my friend invited me down to DC for a visit, and thanks to my careful spending habits I had enough to treat myself to bus tickets and I shared my new found wisdom with my dear friend while sitting in front of the Washington Monument.

In this case, this shopping ban was definitely a valuable one.

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