Saturday, 2 January 2016

The Shopping Ban is BACK!

Back in 2008 I had a great job as a manager at a ski centre in Aberdeen, I lived in a cheap flat with my then boyfriend, I earned more than I had ever done to that point. Life was pretty good, except I was always broke. 

I didn't have a car, I rarely went on holiday, I didn't eat out every night, but I always ran out of money before payday, didn't have any savings, and was trapped in a cycle of paying off credit cards and storecards (remember those?!) every month, only to spend on them the next.

I was kind of in denial about where my money went - I spent it all shopping. I had overflowing wardrobes, loads of unworn clothes, and it wasn't uncommon to discover bags of items I'd forgotten I'd bought. I shopped out of boredom, I shopped without thinking, and this crap habit was making me feel pretty fed up financially.

In a moment of madness (or clarity, still not sure which) I decided to ban myself from shopping for a whole year starting on May 1st 2008. I was allowed to buy food (I didn't want to die), and everyday toiletries (I didn't want to smell or lose teeth) but the following items were banned:
  • Clothes (I could buy underwear if I ran out, but guess what, I didn't)
  • Shoes
  • Bags
  • Jewellery and accessories
  • Non-essential toiletries (make up, nailvarnish, fancy face creams)
  • Homewares
  • Books, newspapers, magazines
  • CDs and DVDs
I gave myself an allowance for 2 nights out per month, and I was still allowed to go to the cinema (I had a Cineworld card at £9.99 a month) and to gigs.

Oh, and I decided to write a blog about it called Holly is Stopping Shopping (since deleted because it's damn ugly). I wrote about ways I found to save money, ways I found to make extra money, and how my relationship with money was changing. I also fell madly in love with blogging and made some brilliant friends, many of whom I'm still in touch with today.

Flash forward to May 1st 2009 and I completed the challenge having paid off my credit cards, store cards and overdraft, and I'd built up savings of about £5000. I sold a lot of things (my entire CD collection), took babysitting jobs for extra cash, downsized my food budget, had friends over for dinner instead of going out.

There's no denying that the challenge completely changed my relationship with money, and my life:
  • Savings allowed me to quit my job and move to Glasgow (where unfortunately it took 5 months for me to find work, thus obliterating a large chunk of my savings)
  • Blogging helped my grow the digital skills I needed to move into a new career (8 years later I'm a Digital Project Manager for a major UK charity)
  • Not shopping gave me more time to read, to write, and to study (I started an Open Uni course in Health and Social Care, then I did another one in Death and Dying)
  • Downsizing my stuff made me understand the value of 'things' versus the value of 'space' and 'time'.
So eight years later, what is life like now? Well I live in London with my boyfriend, a different one, we've been together 4 years. I work full time and I've also started my own business as a wedding celebrant

We live in a lovely 2 bedroom flat in South London. My rent and bills costs 4 times as much as they did back in 2008 in Aberdeen.

I have a car, I learned to drive and passed my test in September 2015, then bought a £500 car and begrudgingly paid twice that for insurance.

I go on holidays now and in the past 4 years we've been to the US, Australia (my sisters live there) and a few European trips too. But we don't go mad, we use Airbnb, we get the cheapest flight options, and I rarely shop on holiday.

I eat out a few times a month. Food is one of the best things about London, it would be insane not to take advantage of it. However I'm pretty crap at taking lunch to work, and go through phases of buying coffee and croissants at Pret every day which adds up to a frankly embarrassing amount. I overspend in the supermarket because I don't plan and then I make decisions based on how I feel there and then.

I host a podcast called Bookish Blether, and I buy a lot of books. More books than I can realistically read. It's my worst habit.

I shop. I buy new clothes, make up, whatever I want really. I'm still a sucker for a bargain though so I tend to go mad in the ASOS sale and whenever Boots has a 3 for 2 on makeup. I buy fancy bath products because I tell myself I deserve it.

I also bought a house last year with my sister. We both really wanted to buy a place but London prices made that impossible to do here, and so we bought closer to home in Scotland. We have lovely tenants, we make a little bit of profit, but not enough to cover the increased tax bill so every January sees a hefty chunk of cash go to that.

And so although I'm in an incredibly fortunate position it feels like I'm repeating old, bad habits. I earn more than I've done before, yet my outgoings are much higher and I barely save any money. As soon as a little bit gets built up it's time to pay for something else. In the last couple of years I've fallen back into that cycle of putting things on credit cards, paying them off, putting more on. It doesn't feel great. It doesn't feel healthy.

In July 2015 I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo, which I highly recommend, and it made me realise how much stuff I have that I don't need. I donated a lot of things to charity shops, gave things away, but there's still a lot here.

So I've decided to do another shopping ban following the same rules. This time I won't be doing a full year, just January - April 2016. After that I'll see how I feel, but I know that four months will be the kick up the arse I need to get my finances back in order. I want to build up an emergency fund again (more on that soon!) and ditch those crappy shopping habits.

I feel really excited about it. I've uninstalled any shopping apps. I've unsubscribed from tempting emails. I've unfollowed shops on Twitter. It's a small start but I remember that removing temptation had a big impact last time.

Tomorrow I'm going to do a meal plan for the first week back at work and avoid Pret at all costs.

And I'm doing the #TBR20 challenge, a pledge to read 20 books I already own before buying any new ones. That should take me up to April anyway and lord knows I've got a lot of unread books. Probably about 80 based on a quick glance at my bookcase. 

January is a great time to make these changes, because there's not much happening socially anyway. If you are thinking about a break from shopping or trying to spend less/save more, leave a comment or say hi on Twitter so we can keep each other motivated!


  1. Bloody hell, was Stopping Shopping really that long ago? I feel old!! Best of luck with the shopping ban. PS I have over 180 unread books on my Kindle and another 100 in my bookcase. Just thought that might make you feel better!

  2. I definitely feel like I need to do this - I paid off all my debt last year and subsequently went into a perma 'treat yo self' mode, buying anything and everything just because I could.

    Thanks for the inspiration! :)

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