If you want to spend less, save more or just stop consuming so much, then it helps to stop shopping.
If money is tight, or you have debts to clear, spending less can buy breathing space and chip away at the total. If you are saving for something special, from a holiday to a home, cutting back on shopping will help stash more cash.
Alternatively, perhaps it’s less about money, and more a concern about scarce resources and the desire to lead a simpler, less cluttered life.
Either way, stopping shopping can make a lot of sense.
Don’t worry – I’m not talking about stopping shopping forever. This isn’t a crusade to halt all consumption, knit your own yogurt and trigger the collapse of global capitalism. Everyone needs to eat and pay their bills.
But a short, sharp ban on extra spending will free up some cash, and can help break habits that whip money out of your wallet.
Since moving to the country, we live on a lower income. Nowadays, my default position is “spend nothing”, so any purchase becomes a conscious decision that yes, we do actually need that. Ever heard of a No Spend Day? Sometimes I think I lead a No Spend Life. I bang on about small changes making a big difference, but boy, if you cut out lots of small daily spending, it really does add up.
Deciding to stop shopping sounds so simple. “Got debts? Stop spending”. “Want to save more? Stop shopping”.
In practice, every day we’re surrounded by prompts to buy. Marketing and advertising shout as us from shops, billboards, websites, magazines, newspapers, TV and radio, let alone pressure from friends and family to join in, to treat ourselves, not to miss out on bargains.
So here are some practical tips to stop shopping.
I’ve divided them into:
- Get started
- Stay away from shops
- Bolster your willpower
- Remove temptation
- Use what you already have
- Survive shopping for essentials
1. Give yourself a goal
Be clear about exactly why you want to shop shopping. Think in positive terms about how you will benefit from extra cash. Imagine being free from debt worries, or enjoying a much-needed holiday. Can you make it more real? Stick a picture on the fridge? Set a photo as your phone wallpaper? Write it down, and pop the piece of paper in your purse?
A clear reason to stop shopping will help resist the temptation to spend, even if you’re tired, bored, pestered by the kids or faced with an absolute bargain.
2. Keep a spending diary
My one big money management tip is to write down everything you spend. (Post with top tips here)
Pen and paper, whizzy spreadsheet, memo on your phone – I don’t mind. Just track every last penny. If you’ve never tried before, it will shed light on black holes where much of your money disappears, and make you more aware of how small purchases add up. If you’re trying to stop shopping, writing down what you spend on essentials will help prevent straying into non-essentials.
3. Even small amounts add up
Taking of small purchases, if you want to stop shopping, that includes the quick cup of coffee on the way to work, bar of chocolate when peckish or magazine if you’re bored. Few quid on a sandwich. Bottle of water from the corner shop. Couple of ice creams for the kids. Coins in the collection box. Suddenly all that teeny tiny spending can leave us with too much month for our money.
I know talking about coffee is a money-saving cliché. But it’s a cliché for a reason.
Sure, one cup of coffee might only cost £2.50. But over a working week, that’s £12.50. A year later, and you’ve suddenly spent £600 with nothing to show for it, apart from a slight tremour if you go cold turkey from caffeine.
4. Plan ahead
It’s possible to cut a lot of small extra spending with advance planning. Think about the day and week ahead. What do you usually pay for, and how can you avoid it?
If you spend time making your own coffee, filling a water bottle, rustling up packed lunches or stashing snacks in your bag, you’ll spend less cash later. Facing a crazy week when you’ll be too tired to cook? Make double quantities so you can eat half another day, or buy a frozen pizza to avoid takeaway temptation. There’s often a trade off between cost and convenience.
STAY AWAY FROM SHOPS
5. Don’t go shopping
At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, if you want to stop shopping, don’t go into shops. Nipping in “just to have a look” is a slippery slope to spending. I mention this after making the same mistake on many occasions. For example, I had the best intentions about cutting food spending, then ended up with half a pig (slight exaggeration) after a quick trip to the Co-op.
So delay trips to the supermarket by a day or two. Steer clear of your favourite shopping street. Walk straight through the gift shop at the end of family outings. Step way from the shops.
6. Don’t go shopping online either
Steer clear of your favourite shopping websites too, no point torturing yourself with glossy pictures of loads of things you’re not meant to be buying. With online shopping, there’s also the danger of adding extra items to qualify for discounts or free delivery, so before you know it, spending has spiralled. Even if you intend to send stuff back, you may not get round to it, or have to pay extra for postage.
7. Yes, charity shops count too
Perhaps you’re a bargain hunter who’s never happier than when trawling charity shops and car boot sales. Personally, I’m a big fan of charity shops. Unfortunately, even small amounts that go to good causes all add up. Avoid while you’re on a shopping ban.
8. Do something else
If you normally spend a ton of time shopping, try to identify other activities you’ll enjoy instead.
Rather than browsing during my lunch hour, I used to walk round the block, head to the nearest park or library or sort out some admin. Take a different route home rather than nipping to the shops after work. Instead of meeting friends for a shopping spree, in the past I’ve suggested swimming trips, free gym passes, going for a country walk, visiting museums and galleries or inviting people over.
In the evenings, it may sound like a 1950s flashback, but if you’re knitting, sewing, cooking, playing cards or sorting out your home, your fingers are less likely to stray into internet shopping. Play board games, do jigsaws, get out gardening, do a drawing, dance round the kitchen, watch a (borrowed) box set, read a book – whatever floats your boat. Just focus on using stuff you already have, rather than buying up the whole of Hobbycraft.
9. Unsubscribe from email newsletters
Email newsletters from shops and brands are designed to encourage us to spend more, by promoting the latest shiny thing or dangling sales and money off codes. Recently, I’ve been on an “unsubscribe” spree, to shed newsletters from my inbox and remove the temptation to spend. Realistically, there will always be other sales and other bargains, so I don’t have to buy right now.
10. Turn off notifications from Facebook shopping groups
Member of Facebook groups that highlight big bargains, computer glitches and don’t-miss-it deals? Try turning off notifications or leaving the groups altogether. This removes prompts to spend, and also the peer pressure of people getting excited about deals and piling in with comments about what they’ve bought.
11. Stop reading magazines
Step away from the magazine shelves. Two benefits: save money on the magazine itself, and cut extra spending encouraged by the contents.
Most magazines thrive on the new, and make their money from advertising. I used to buy shedloads of magazines, and went from buying expensive glossy tomes to cheaper options to hardly any in attempts to save money. All those ‘gift guides’ and ‘wardrobe essentials’ and ‘latest must-haves’ are designed to make you lust after new stuff, and empty your pockets in pursuit of that lifestyle. If you don’t read about it, you won’t miss it.
12. Clean up your social media feeds
Social media can be inspiring, entertaining and a great way to stay in contact with friends. But it can also leave you unsettled, discontented and fearful of missing out.
If endless pics of beautiful homes, clothes, meals and holidays make you want to spend a mountain of money – steer clear. Hide people’s posts on your Facebook feed. Stop torturing yourself with Pinterest perfection. Unfollow Instagram profiles that make you unsatisfied. Ditch all the corporate accounts clamouring to take your cash. Then bung out some emails to keep in touch with your friends, or even – shock, horror – pick up the phone.
13. Cancel the catalogues
Again, if your letterbox is a hotbed of temptation, with brochures, vouchers and offers from favoured brands, it’s time to clear the catalogues. Ideal world, pop the envelopes straight back in the post with scribbled instructions to remove your address from their mailing list. Alternatively, put them straight into the recycling. Only you know if it’s a clothing company, bulb brand or Screwfix catalogue that is catnip to your credit card. Try and avoid getting added to mailing lists in future too.
BOLSTER YOUR WILLPOWER
14. Delete your card details from Amazon
Serious Amazon habit? Make it harder to indulge in instant gratification. I deleted my stored credit card details after some low-life ordered a couple of computer hard drives on my account, to be delivered to an industrial estate in North Wales. Since then, if I want to order anything, I have to find my bag, find my card, type in all the details, and have the time to think “maybe I don’t actually need to buy this right now”. Ignore any website prompts to save card details for later. If 1-Click ordering is emptying your bank account, turn it off.
15. Install Shopper Stopper
If you want help cutting back on internet shopping, consider Shopper Stopper. Tempted in the early hours? Tendency to make impulse buys you later regret? Shopper Stopper lets you set opening hours for specific shopping sites, so you can keep sites closed at times when you find shopping hard to resist. If you want to stop shopping for a specific time – eg a couple of No Spend Days or until you get paid – you could set them to stay closed until afterwards.
16. Freeze your credit card
This is a low tech alternative to Shopper Stopper, and a more hard-core version of just leaving your credit cards at home. Literally freeze your credit card – stick it in a plastic box of water, shove it in the freezer. If you don’t have your card in your wallet, it’s harder to make more expensive impulse purchases. If you have to wait for ice to melt before you can buy stuff, it creates the time to remember why you want to stop shopping. It’s less final than cutting up cards with scissors, and you can still retrieve your card inan emergency.
17. Delay for a day
Seen something you really want? Sleep on it. Leave it a day or two, then see if you can still justify the purchase. Think back to the reasons you wanted to stop shopping, and you may find you don’t actually want to buy it so badly after all.
18. Choose your company
If you have particular friends who spend all their time talking about shopping, going shopping and then showing off everything they’re bought, you might want to steer clear just while you’re on a spending ban.
19. Seek support
If my resolve is wavering, I find it helpful reading other frugal and thrifty blogs for ideas and support. Some of my favourites when I’m trying to avoid spending include Frugal Queen, The Frugal Cottage, Shoestring Cottage, The Diary of a Frugal Family, Frugalwoods, Penny Golightly, Life After Money, The Cottage at the End of the Lane and Our New Life in the Country.
USE WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE
20. Shop from your cupboards
Next time something runs out – cornflakes, say, or shampoo – don’t rush to replace it. What else have you got already, that could be used instead? Could everyone eat a different kind of cereal, or have toast or eggs for a change? Maybe your favourite shampoo has run out, but is there a less loved version you could use up?
I’ve cut food costs with storecupboard challenges before (links to posts here), but this applies just as much to clothes, toys, books and other possessions. Go right through your wardrobe before splashing out on new clothes. Get out the games and toys from the back of the cupboard to keep the kids occupied. Look at what you already have with fresh eyes and dig out things you’ve forgotten, before buying new stuff.
21. Make do and mend
Rather than ditching stuff that needs mending, I try to extend the life of the stuff I already have. Sewing up holes in a favourite cardigan and running trousers meant I could delay buying replacements. Lopping off the end of too-short trousers created shorts for the kids, with a bit of hemming. Sadly the sofa has got ripped again, but it still staggers on.
22. Borrow before buying
Before buying something, consider whether you need to own it for ever, or just use it for a while. If you only need it for a short time, could you borrow it?
I used to have a big book-buying habit, but I’ve got better at borrowing books from the library, and reserving books I’ve heard about and would like to read. We borrowed a clothes rail and a wallpaper table to take part in a yard sale, rather than shelling out for something for a single afternoon. How about hiring a hedge trimmer or carpet cleaner, if you’ll only use it briefly?
23. Grappling with gifts
Presents can be a real problem if you’re trying to stop shopping. Can you make something instead, ideally using things you already have? Bake a cake, sew a bag, print out a photo collage, grow plants from seed? If you’re not feeling crafty, could you give time, for example vouchers for babysitting, gardening, cooking a meal or doing DIY?
SURVIVE SHOPPING FOR ESSENTIALS
24. Make a list
Depending on the length of your shopping ban, you may still need to buy essentials. (Pause for a moment to reflect on essentials – think bread and milk, rather than bargain handbag or cute cushions). Make a list before leaving, then stick to it, rather than letting lots of added extras fall into your basket. The other advantage of making a list is that you’re less likely to forget stuff, so avoiding extra shopping trips in future.
25. Order online
If being surrounded by extra items is too tempting, consider shopping online. It’s also easier to keep track of the total, and remove things if you’re spending more than expected.
26. Check your accounts
Before going out, check your bank account balances. If our main current account is looking low, it makes me rein in on spending. Updating our spending diary also reminds me what I’ve already spent, and whether we have any big bills just due to go out.
27. Check vouchers and loyalty points
If you need essentials but you’re trying to avoid spending cash, see if you’ve accumulated enough loyalty points to use instead. Money offer vouchers usually involve a minimum spend, which could be tricky, but it’s worth resurrecting gift vouchers from the back of the drawer.
28. Walk don’t drive
If you want to limit purchases, don’t take the car, and choose a basket rather than a trolley in the supermarket. Faced with carting everything home, you’ll find it easier to stick to buying essentials.
29. Don’t take the children
Pester power isn’t good for sticking to a budget. If possible, shop when child-free and potentially without your husband or partner either, if they’re likely to make the bill bigger.
30. Focus on right here, right now
If in doubt, remember there will be other sales, other bargains and other opportunities to buy. When money is really tight, I remind myself I will be able to buy stuff in future – just not right now. Focus on what’s needed for the next few days or to get through the weekend, rather than stocking up against a zombie apolcalypse. It definitely helps to have a clear goal – saving for a specific item, or stopping shopping for a specific time – so you have a deadline in sight.
Now over to you – ever tried a shopping ban or no spend day? What are your top tips to stop shopping? Bet you have some great ideas, so do share them in the comments.
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