Why I’ve Banned Shopping Bans

Many news stories are featuring families that follow shopping bans for a year or more. I applaud anyone who makes a major change to improve their finances, and the sentiment has strengthened my resolve to resist needless spending. I’ve encouraged those looking to break a recreational or therapeutic shopping habit to try this tool. That said, I’ve refused to jump on the shopping ban bandwagon. Shopping bans are banned from the Pretend to Be Poor household. Here’s why they aren’t for me:

  1. Rules are made to be broken. The very nature of the human heart rebels against rules, and imposing extra, unnecessary rules might not be the best way to stimulate financial self-improvement. As soon as I’m not allowed to have lattes, what am I thinking about? LATTE LATTE LATTE LATTE! But if you need to, ban lattes till the cows come home.
  1. Goals are more motivating than rules. Finding a positive motivation, like focusing on specific financial goals like debt payoff, saving for a major purchase, investing more aggressively, or giving to a charity can be a lot more effective than a big fat NO that ultimately incites rebellion.
  1. I want purpose and principles to order my life. I’m not interested in reducing spontaneity or socializing because I’m so controlled by an artificial constraint. For example, one of the principles that separates effective from faux frugality is counter-intuitive: instead of budgeting how much we should spend, we strive to see how little we can spend.  We don’t follow this to a tight-wad extreme, but make sure we meet our family’s needs, practice generosity, and prioritize relationships. To be ordered by purpose and principles means I’m not going to spend $4 a day on coffee because I know what that $4 a day could do in the stock market, or for an impoverished kid in a developing nation.
  1. The personality factor. I firmly believe there is an element of personality that affects our finances profoundly. I’m a saver, married a saver, and if anything, my tendency is to resist buying things when I should. For example, Neil has been threatening to throw out my beat-up shoes for six months now, and tries to find excuses, like the fact that I wore them when the toilet overflowed, as reasons to do so. (I sanitized them.) Small children and pets all seem drawn to my jeans’ growing knee holes, and Neil suggested I might be taking the PTBP thing a little too far. (I’m just protecting my nicer jeans from the harsh effects of motherhood.) I realize shopping bans allow for purchasing needs, but I’d rather decide what I need as I go than trying to make an all-inclusive list ahead of time. That’s just my personality though. For other temperaments, if the shoe fits, have a shoe-shopping ban.
  1. Having children inflicted an involuntary shopping ban on me. I remember rushing to the store to secure a “mom” bathing suit the day of a family pool party, since the (hand-me-down) string bikini top seemed downright dangerous with a nursing babe in arms. Bathing suit shopping with kids is a very relaxing experience. My son detached all the bikini straps and threw them in the aisle while yelling made-up words. Then he sneaked behind a mirror into a forbidden nook, and returned only to push said babe around in the stroller at breakneck speed.
  1. I’ve automated my spending to a large extent. People often imagine being frugal is super hard work. Sometimes it is (ask my husband who’s been fixing our cars), but mostly it’s easier to simply not go to stores and not buy things.
  1. Like certain forms of minimalism, shopping rules can be as materialistically focused as over-spending. For example, if I spend too much time thinking, talking, or writing about why I’m going to keep wearing my holey jeans till they rip right off my body, I might be just as focused on material goods or money as if I went out and shopped for new—even (gasp!) brand name—ones. I’m not saying all shopping bans are ill-focused; I’m just recognizing the extreme I’d be tempted toward.

To wrap up, I wouldn’t inflict my shopping-ban ban on anyone who needs a habit-breaking hiatus. Here are some questions to help you determine if this tool would help you:

  1. Do you know where your money goes each month? (I.e. do you follow a budget?)
  2. Do you shop or drive-thru when you’re emotional or bored? Is shopping or stopping for food/drink a hobby or habit for you?
  3. Have you tried to break the habit before, without much success?
  4. Are you saving and giving away money on a regular basis?
  5. Are you able to window shop or go to stores without buying anything?
  6. Are you able to enter a store and buy only what’s on your list?
  7. Do you have way more things than you need in a particular area (clothes, shoes, accessories, electronics, movies, books, tools, etc.)?
  8. Is your entertainment or restaurant spending significantly more than you want it to be?

If you answered yes to some of these questions, you might consider a shopping ban. If you’re not ready to go all in, here are some other ideas to try first:

My next post will reveal one of my best hacks for spending less when I do shop.

Have you tried a shopping ban? How did it help? Have you banned shopping bans? Why?

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24 Responses to “Why I’ve Banned Shopping Bans”

  1. DC YAM says :

    Honestly I think shopping bans can be good for some people, but I don’t think that I shop enough for it to make a material difference. I won’t try to argue that I only buy what I need, but I do try to buy practical things as opposed to “splurges.”

  2. Holly says :

    We haven’t done a shopping ban in a while. To be honest, I rarely shop to begin with. It’s usually only when I really *need* something. I hate shopping.

  3. Hannah says :

    Your swimsuit story is making me crack up right now. We’re going to Florida for Christmas, and my only bathing suit is one that more than just my belly pops out of now that I’m pregnant.

    I’m kind of hoping to find a cheap one at a tourist shop in Florida, because there are no reasonably priced suits here, and I’m certainly not about to order a $100 suit from Athleta that will never fit me again.

    Oh, and window shopping? Please tell me you don’t do that now that you have toddlers. The closest thing to window shopping for me is taking Kenny through the Christmas section at Home Depot to oggle over lights.

  4. Emily says :

    I’m in the middle of a shopping ban on clothing and I’ve found it really has helped me with my spending. There’s so many things I would have run out and bought by now if it weren’t for the ban. I agree that some personalities need it more than others though, and kids are a huge reason to stay home more. Internet shopping is still a real challenge. I find that deciding ahead of time what I’m not going to buy greatly reduces any stressful decisions in the moment.

  5. Kalie says :

    That’s great your ban is helping so much. I probably could’ve benefited from one about 10 years ago!

  6. Mark says :

    Faux frugality! I hadn’t heard that term before, but I love the idea. Future blog post?

  7. Prudence Debtfree says :

    Great post! My one big area of weakness involves eating at coffee shops and restaurants. In October, I imposed a coffee-shop & restaurant ban upon myself, and I almost stuck to it. Despite my imperfect ban, I was amazed at the difference it made. I have yet to achieve moderation in this area. It’s too much or nothing. I think I might have to go back to nothing for another month or more.

    • Kalie says :

      I agree that if moderation doesn’t work in a particular area for you, a ban is a great tool. It’s so helpful that you know your weakness (and that it’s only one thing)!

  8. Abigail says :

    Yep, I can’t do shopping bans. Our lives (okay, health) are too unpredictable to be able to plan for all the contingencies. And I don’t want to create a ban and then keep making all of these exceptions for unforeseen necessities.

    Also, the stress of any ultimate NO is bad for my depressive nature. And I have the same problem with you do inre: wanting whatever I’ve decided not to have.

    The only reason I do moderately well with the no-sugary-stuff diet is because I accept that I will break at times. Knowing that it’s okay keeps me honest whereas, if it were just a “No eating bad foods!” ban, I’d break in a matter of days.

    You do need to get new shoes, though. Not because of the toilet thing, though that’d motivate me. But because shoes will usually start to wear out within 6 months. It’s actually better to get two pairs of shoes and alternate them. This gives one pair a full day to dry out (because our feet are icky and moist), which extends the life of each pair.

    I currently have two of the exact same shoe. Both black, even. I just make sure that, after I take them off, I move them off to the side and put the other pair up front for the next time.

    • Kalie says :

      That’s a good idea to alternate shoes. Don’t worry, I have more shoes! These are just very tempting because they slip on.

  9. Luke Fitzgerald says :

    YES! “One of the principles that separates effective from faux frugality is counter-intuitive: instead of budgeting how much we should spend, we strive to see how little we can spend.”

    This is amazing. We are definitely on the same wavelength! My post on “Licensing” a couple weeks ago originally had a long rant about shopping bans but I took it out so I could rant on Prius drivers :). My thesis can be summed up with its title: The best way to overspend is to go on a Shopping Ban.

    It gets us in this mentality that we can always just stop…later. “It’s okay if I buy a lot of crap in right now (October). I just won’t buy anything in November”.

    “Nuh uh – I don’t spend a lot of money. See, for these 90 days I didn’t spend anything!!” (*spends more in 1 day than saved in those 90*)

    Shopping bans are anti-frugal; the opposite of managing money; an antonym to wise. 🙂

    • Kalie says :

      I liked your licensing post. I’m sure there are people who use shopping bans wisely to break a habit, but yeah, if you just buy a lot before or after that kinda defeats the point.

  10. Our Next Life says :

    Just since I’ve never said this to you guys before, let me just say: I love that you both are the real deal. And that makes me love reading what you write. I still think often about the notion of “pretending to be frugal,” instead of pretending to be poor.

    I think shopping bans can be powerful for a lot of people, just as diets can. And they can both be bad for others. I think I’d want to rebel from a shopping ban, or like you said, it might actually make me more focused on stuff. We find goals more motivating, as you do, and it’s the same reason we don’t budget — we keep as many things as possible automated, to remove the decision moment, and then we just generally stay conscious of our finances in all things.

    • Kalie says :

      Thanks, we certainly appreciate that coming from you. And we’re glad to know what we write is helpful to someone!

      I completely agree with your assessment of shopping bans and their usefulness and limitations.

  11. Cat says :

    I definitely don’t think shopping bans are the answer for everyone, but for some people they can be really good. Like you said though, rules are meant to be broken and whenever we deny ourselves something, we tend to want it even more.

  12. Tonya says :

    I don’t mind someone doing the challenge (although it’s not for me), what I do mind is people who are doing it but and say they didn’t buy anything for the month, then you see what they bought, and they most certainly did buy something. And not food/rent/utilities, etc. But stuff. So I don’t really get that myself. Personally I prefer to be mindful, but I think everyone operates differently. Maybe some people need that hardcore restriction.

    • Kalie says :

      The faux shopping ban gets old pretty fast, I agree. Mindful spending is a good way to express what works for me, but I certainly see why others may benefit from bans. More power to them!

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. My Top Shopping Hack | Pretend to Be Poor - December 6, 2015
  2. Why We Don’t Budget | Pretend to Be Poor - January 4, 2016

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