My Year-Long Shopping Ban
Unless you're already familiar with Cait Flanders and her blog, you're probably wondering what on earth a shopping ban is and why I'd want to establish one. Simply put, a shopping ban is a moratorium on any and all unnecessary spending, though you're the one to establish your own rules. The key is to challenge yourself; it's not exactly a shopping ban if you're only putting things you rarely buy on the list. Basically, it's a promise to myself that I will only reduce, reuse, repair, or in very rare cases, replace what I absolutely need. As for the why, if you read my previous post, you know that I'm starting on a round-the-world trip at the end of 2017, and it's time for me to accelerate my savings. The ban isn't the only way I'm building up my savings cushion, but it's an important one, so I wanted to talk you all through it here.
I've wanted to try a shopping ban ever since I read Cait's first post about it several years ago. I've loved minimalist blogs since I was a teen, and the thought of paring down my needs seemed exciting and liberating. I came to find that a shopping ban is much easier said than done, and I've attempted and failed at the ban a couple of times in as many years. I think that the problem was that I didn't set a goal for which I was saving; I knew that I wanted to save money and minimize my spending, but I didn't have a good reason why. Similar to going vegan, I had to find my why first in order to commit to making any real changes, which is why I'm confident that the ban is going to stick this time around. I've never wanted anything as much as I've wanted to travel. The first trip I took outside the United States at age ten sparked a wanderlust in me that still hasn't settled down, and it's time to honor that. It's time to be where I need to be.
Now, I am by no means a shopaholic. I actually hate most shopping, the few exceptions being books, groceries, and vegan-themed t-shirts. I'm notoriously bad at shopping for clothes, even (especially) when I really need them. Were it not for my younger sister or my friend Katherine, I'd probably own four pieces of clothing. My anxiety overwhelms me in both brick-and-mortar stores and online, I'm acutely aware of the ethics of production, and I don't believe in capitalism. This isn't to say that I am an exceptionally good person but rather to explain that I am so bad at buying most things that my avoidance impedes my daily life. Case in point: I own two bras, a navy bralette and a nude bralette. I don't wear underwire bras anymore and I only use my sports bras for workouts. The navy bralette is for wearing under dark tops and the nude for light. My nude bralette broke a few weeks ago - one of the elastic straps broke - and I couldn't wear half of the six work-appropriate shirts in my closet. I actually walked into an Urban Outfitters to buy a new bralette, tried on about twenty, found one that fit and felt good, and then promptly dumped them all and ran out. I couldn't bring myself to support a company that doesn't share my values even though I really needed a damn bra and it was the only store that sold bralettes at affordable prices in my area. I really don't have a problem with excessive shopping. That said, for a long time I've felt a lack of control over my money. I don't have the discipline and the confidence I crave. I want to be a financial badass, and for me that transformation will require a challenge like this one.
It is crucial to note that being able to worry about consumer ethics is an incredible luxury, and the only reason I can engage in a shopping ban in the first place is because I have a lot of class privilege. After all, James Baldwin said, "Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor." Buying in bulk may be cheaper in the long run, but I can only buy in bulk because I have space to store the food, up-front capital to purchase a lot of it, and leisure time to prepare it. Eating vegan does save me money, but only because I have access to fresh produce and grocery stores. Being able to afford a shopping ban, ironically, requires time and energy that I only have because I don't have to work two or three jobs. And the only reason I can travel like this to begin with is because I have the safety net of my class privilege - I may go broke but I have a safety net that will keep me out of poverty.
So, with that important reflection in mind, let's get down to brass tacks. The rules of my shopping ban are simple and consist of three categories: what I am allowed to buy, what I'm not allowed to buy, and my approved shopping list. Read on for the details:
What I'm Allowed to Buy
- Groceries (includes food, vitamins/supplements, and alcohol)
- Toiletries and the ingredients to make them (though I should be set for a while)
- Replacements for basic cosmetics like concealer and mascara
- Ingredients to make cleaning products (I use vinegar, baking soda, and essential oils only)
- Gifts for others
- Anything made and sold by friends - I want to support them!
- Postcards and stamps
- Items on the approved shopping list
What I Am Not Allowed to Buy
- "Fun" cosmetics (nail polish, eye shadow, goth lipstick, etc.)
- Clothes, unless I need to replace an item that's falling apart
- Shoes and accessories
- Books and magazines
- Household items (candles, plants, decor, furniture, etc)
- Electronics and gadgets
- Takeaway coffee, tea, and kombucha (yes, even from the grocery store)
- Alcohol at the bar
Approved Shopping List
- Miscellaneous travel supplies: adapter, daypack, packing cubes, headlamp, water bottle, a few items of travel-specific clothing (thermal, new sneakers, one pair pants, underwear and socks)
- 1 pair of sneakers (RIP Vans)
- New headphones - my current ones are over-ear and made of leather, and I'd like to get a pair of earbuds instead
- New laptop - my trusty Mac Pro is seven years old and way too heavy to take with me on the trip. I need to find a lightweight and affordable alternative
- Mic and grip/tripod for vlogging on my iPhone
And there you have it - my current shopping ban. It's relatively straightforward, though a couple points merit explanation. I distinguish between takeaway coffee/tea/kombucha and beverages had while enjoying time at a cafe. I never go to coffee shops by myself anymore, so if I'm buying any of these things while I'm out, I'm either grabbing a drink to go or catching up with a friend. My friendships are sacred to me, and I really enjoy time spent socializing at a local spot. The grab-and-go coffee, on the other hand, only leaves me with buyer's remorse and jittery nerves, since it's usually my second cup. A similar distinction holds with alcohol and bars. Most of my friends drink socially, and I don't want to give up the occasional night out at the the bars or a friend's party. Booze is incredibly overpriced, however, and I never seem to enjoy the drinks at the bars all that much. Solution? Drink less, drink at home, or bring a flask. Finally, you'll notice that I listed ingredients for a few household items like cleaning products and personal toiletries. I'm slowly learning how to make my own cleansers, serums, scrubs, and sprays at home, so this is a win-win on the money and zero-waste front.
To be honest, I don't think the ban will be that difficult now that I have a goal to motivate me. When I started writing this blog post, I hadn't decided when the ban will end, but now I'm thinking that the end of our travels in summer 2018 will make for a good endpoint. Travel requires as little as possible in the realms of spending and stuff. I'm hoping this ban, then, will not only help me prepare for the trip but also ward off the temptations of foreign marketplaces on the road. Given that July starts this weekend and our trip is tentatively slated to end in July of next year, I'm going to make this a year-long project. I'll post occasional updates along the way. Maybe you'll even join me?