This is one of many True Story interviews, in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things. This is the story of Holly and her one-year shopping ban. Nothing new! For 365 days! Impressive, no?
What was your relationship with money/consumerism before you took on this challenge?
Before the challenge my relationship with money was nuts! I spent most of my money within a week of getting paid, I had no savings, I paid off credit cards and store cards only to spend on them a few days later. I shopped without even thinking about it, just wandering about aimlessly and coming home with stuff I just didn't need. I didn't know anything about a budget and even though I have a well paid job I was always complaining about being broke.
What made you want to go on a shopping ban?
In the personal finance community we talk about what's called a "Lightbulb Moment". That's the moment that you suddenly think "Uh oh, I need to change my ways or else." For me it wasn't really one moment but several over a couple of months. I wore something new every day, I was always having packages delivered (I spent up to £50/$75 a month on books from Amazon), I had dinner out twice a week and eventually I realized that all these seemingly insignificant expenses were adding up to about £500/$740 per month. No wonder I was broke!
How did people in your life react to your decision?
At first some people laughed, they knew what I was like and didn't think I'd be able to last a month! Someone even told me they could only go a year without shopping if they were in a coma! I'm glad they were doubtful though, it just spurred me on. Having a blog and writing about the challenge was great. I didn't think anyone would care but the fact that complete strangers were taking the time to read and leave encouraging comments kept me motivated to finish the year. I didn't want to let anyone down.
So tell us about your year! How did you make do with the things that you already had? Did you alter them? Do lots of borrowing and bartering?
I used to have mending days where I would sit and fix all the clothes that I didn't wear because they were damaged (missing buttons, dropped hems etc.) then they'd be all lovely and new again. I didn't need to borrow any clothes because I had so much stuff it was unreal. One day I took everything out of my wardrobes (you call them closets!) and donated anything I didn't need to charity. Having less stuff became a bit of a thrill and now I like to declutter as much as possible. I sold books, CDs and DVDs on Amazon, I donated things, held car boot sales (like a yard sale) and put all that money towards the debt. Instead of spending money partying I had friends over for games nights or movie nights which were so much more fun.
What were the biggest challenges? How did you get around those?
I didn't miss clothes, shoes, bags or accessories as much as I thought I would. What I really missed was reading the Sunday papers in bed (newspapers and magazines were banned too) but luckily I had a subscription to my favorite magazine and I would look forward to it every month. I'd set aside an evening to read it in bed and truly take it all in as opposed to flick through and chuck it on the floor (I used to buy about 20 magazines a month). The worst part though was when I accidentally spilled bleach down my favorite jeans with about 2 months of the challenge. It sounds so trivial but at the time I was distraught, I cried for about an hour. I just had to suck it up and get on with it though.
Did you ever cheat?
I personally didn't buy a single thing on my banned items list during my year without shopping. I did however allow my parents to buy me a ski jacket despite the fact that people weren't supposed to buy me things...very naughty! However, we were going on a ski trip and I didn't have a proper jacket so it was really a necessity and I don't feel too bad about it. Oh, and it was my Christmas present too!
How much money did you save? Are you going to put that money towards anything special?
By the end of the year I had saved about £5000/$7400. I built up an Emergency Fund of £3000/$4445 which is enough to cover my expenses if I was unemployed for six months. I've really come to realize how important it is to have some savings tucked away, it's a real comfort knowing that it's there. I bought my first digital SLR camera and now I'm saving to buy a house. I also have a travel fund which I add money to every month so that whenever I fancy a trip away I already have the funds in place.
What was the first things that you bought when the ban was over?
I wanted to choose something really special that would be a symbol of the whole challenge so the first thing I bought was a gorgeous Nest Egg Necklace from the All Those Threes etsy shop. It's absolutely beautiful and I'm so glad I bought something handmade from a unique designer. I always get compliments on it.
Do you feel that the shopping ban has permanently changed your shopping behavior?
Definitely! I'm way less frivolous and, even though I am allowed to shop again, I always think my purchases through. Savings comes first so as soon as I get paid I transfer money to my different savings accounts and then budget the rest so that I don't go overboard. I try to stretch my money as far as possible so I walk everywhere and cook at home to save money.
Would you recommend trying a shopping ban? What advice would you give to someone who wanted to stop shopping?
If you want to get debt then I would absolutely recommend a shopping ban. Once you start only spending on necessities you'll be amazed to find how much money you actually have. It's important to sit down and make a budget, figure out what you owe, what has the highest interest and tackle that first. If you've never saved before, put a little aside each month and watch it quickly add up. Cutting out small "treats" like a daily coffee, magazines, new lip gloss, takeout food saves money straight away. And remember, no matter how poor you feel, you are probably one of the richest people in the world. Check out Global Rich List to see how rich you really are - I'm in the top 5%, it's a good reminder that we can survive with a lot less money than we think.
Have any of you ever put yourself on a shopping diet? Any questions for Holly?