True Story: I Didn’t Buy Anything New for One Year

True Story: I didn't buy anything new for one year //
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?
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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 within 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 necklace from an 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 out of 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?

P.S. I got laid off 3 times in 5 years & My house burned down + I lost 90% of my belongings

photo by clark street mercantile // cc

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  1. Heather C

    I think this post has been my 'lightbulb moment'… I've been thinking about doing this for a long time but have always made excuses for myself like "I'll start saving when I've got a new job", "I really need to get that cardigan/book/*insert random object* while it's half price…" or the worst, denial: "I don't really spend that much, it'll be OK (and fix itself too)". I'm very guilty of the sin of buying craft materials for a new craft only to never use them, and have only recently began to use up my collection of impulse-buy eBay yarn :s It's about time I started using up the rest of the crap in my flat too!

    Thanks for the interview, it's been an eye-opener and inspiration.

    Heather C, UK

  2. Bloggin in PA

    Very interesting! A good idea of a way to pay off your debts too! She must have a lot of will power!

  3. Penny Dreadful

    Oh I read Holly's blog at the time – it was really inspiring. I have never done this myself as I tend to shop within my limits, but I agree that it is a good feeling to keep on top of your clutter, and I love having a savings account.

  4. Josslynn Nicole

    This was really inspiring… and I was wondering if she would be able to tell us what was on her "ban list" and what about birthdays and christmas gifts, was she allowed to buy for other people?
    josslynn nicole

  5. Jess P

    I did this for a year also! Granted, I too accepted Christmas presents and I did have a breakdown and bought a sweater for $7 about 6 months in. However! the greatest thing about it was that I learned to enter a store and not feel the urge to buy everything I saw. I could look at clothes in the shop window and appreciate them, but not have the urge in my stomach to buy it. right. now. Even though it has been two years after, window shopping makes me so happy. And I agree, I totally think much harder about every purchase I make now (no matter if it is new, thrifted or on clearance).

  6. Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

    I am about to move to a new city and start a new job, all while my student loans are coming into repayment. I think a shopping ban is definitely in order and it's inspiring to hear how someone else was able to do this successfully and grow from it!

    Question for Holly: Did you also not spend money out (like at dinners, bars, concerts, festivals) or just not on purchasing THINGS?

  7. Han

    Even my part time job as a student still comes in the top 15% of the rich list – thats mad!

    Even though I get all meh I can't go on a nice holiday outside of Europe in the real world I am actually really well off – shopping diet sounds like a good idea!

    Holly: Did you go cold turkey or did you ween yourself onto your shopping diet?

  8. Holly @ Shopaholly

    @Josslynn Nicole – Thanks for your comment! You can read my banned list here:

    For birthdays and Christmas I was allowed to buy gifts but I always made sure I bought something the person really wanted/needed rather than a gift with no thought behind it. I made a lot of gifts myself too which was great. It's nice to see people still using them 2 years on!

    @Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul – I drastically reduced the amount I was spending on social activities. I cut down on drinking and only ate out (at a restaurant, cafe or takeout) twice a month whereas before the challenge it was at least twice a week. I still have friends over for dinner and movie nights instead of going out to expensive restaurants – it saves us all a lot of money.

  9. Chrissy

    Wow – that is really great! Awesome that you were able to pull this through!! Congratulations!!

    It is very interesting to see that, if you only spend money on things you really need – how much money is left by the end of the month!

  10. Fajr | Stylish Thought

    This interview is beyond fascinating and I applaud Holly at her will-power. I don't know if I could ever stop shopping entirely (which is probably why I should try it) but the results of a shopping ban are evident and putting importance on saving is key.

    Thanks for this!

  11. Kate

    I went through something very similar! It's actually kind of thrilling to pare down all of your possessions and see what you REALLY need to be happy. I feel much happier without the possessions but WITH the knowledge that I can control my finances. At first I felt jealous when I would see other people freely spending their money on clothes or gadgets but I now feel like a much stronger person.

    Awesome article, props to Holly! 🙂

  12. Laura

    One question. Did you purchase household cleaning products/ personal care products?

  13. Liz

    I did Kendi's 30 for 30 challenge (no shopping for clothes for a month and you mix and match the same 30 pieces. It was so interesting to learn that I don't need to spend money to feel good and actually after that I've tried to stay away from big box fast-fashion stores and primarily thrift things now! I think everyone would benefit from trying something similar!

  14. Diana

    I know I should do something like this also, but I have 100% confidence in myself that I would fail horribly.

    It's very inspiring though! I'd try going a month first before I even considered a year!

  15. Rachel

    I know I SHOULD do this. I'm a lot better at spending than I used to be. Once I experienced the thrill of having a few extra hundred dollars in my bank account one month, I thought twice about my gratuitous spending.

    Also, I want to bring your attention to the website It helps you calculate savings and combines your purchases into different groups so you can see how much you spend on different things, like going out to eat or shopping, etc. Great tool!

  16. tvo

    Question: how did you calculate your savings at the end? Was it simply based on things you chose not to buy?

  17. Rachael

    Amazing! I have a very limited amount of money and little bills at the moment but this is still something I'd like to challenge myself to – especially eating out. That's my big area of spending.

  18. Luinae

    Wow! I can see myself doing something like that for a month- two months, but a year is really tough!

    However, I do think I'm fairly responsible with my money already. Savings come first!

    Congrats on making it through, I am super impressed!

  19. Maureen

    I had a friend who did a year of no-buy.
    Yours sounds cooler than what she did though… I like that you allowed yourself to eat out occasionally. That was a real challenge with my friend because she alienated a lot of friends by saying that she'd only eat homecooked meals or she'd never meet up with anyone at a bar. As far as the clothes and material items though, I'm sure we all could be more discriminating about our purchases!

  20. Miss Peregrin

    Congrats on making it through your challenge! I've been casting a critical eye on my spending recently as well, although I am still too much of a wimp to do something like this.

  21. Davidikus

    Fascinating story. Although I manage to save quite a lot, I am not as frugal as I used to be. Perhaps I should go on bans like this. I am thinking of a shopping ban for a month & not eating out more than once a week…

    I used to be on permanent shopping bans, out of necessity while doing my PhD. I ended up having 9 pounds to pay for two months of food at some point. I do not wish this upon anyone, but it does feel good to be in control of what you are spending & never to buy on an impulse.

    I should hope a monthly ban on this or that would actually allow me to become more frugal in general again!

  22. Holly @ Shopaholly

    @ Laura – Thanks for your question about household/personal care products! My rules stated that I could only buy every day toiletries and cosmetics(as in, the stuff I use every day; shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, eyeliner) and only when they needed replaced. I used to spend a lot of money on makeup that never got worn so cutting back on all that stuff made a huge saving.

    As for household stuff, I found other eco friendly ways to clean my home and tried to use homemade cleaning solutions where possible. There's loads of information about this online so it's worth looking into.

    @tvo – The amount that I saved was the amount that I had in my bank account at the end of the year. Every pay day I calculated the amount I'd need for bills, budgeted for food and a little amount for emergencies and I sent the rest to a saving account that was hard to get at. I also put any extra money I made from ebay, bake sales, amazon etc to my savings too.

  23. Holly @ Shopaholly

    @ Maureen – obviously I could have saved a lot more if I cut out social activities but it is possible to save money and still have a life. Coincidentally, I did lose touch with some friends, the ones who wanted to go out and get drunk every weekend, but my friendships with the people I had over for dinner or games nights grew even better so it was a good balance.

    It's great to see so many people thinking of taking a no spend challenge – I'd definitely recommend it!

  24. Miss Diazepam

    Inspiring! This is about what I decided to do this Autumn…I had so many clothes already, and need to save for my upcoming travel, so I decided 2 months ago that this season I wouldn't buy *anything*, unless it was necessary for my trip. It's working great, and I finally get to wear some stuff I loved, but kind of forgot about.
    I have to admit though, that since last year I've been doing more or less the same anyway, because of a huge lack of money I had in the first half of 2010 (job troubles eh! never had debts, thank god ;), so it's not exactely new for me…

  25. brlracincwgrl

    Very fascinating story!

    I find myself these days cutting back tremendously on un necessary items. It's a great feeling.

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