How to Survive a Shopping Ban

Monday, July 27, 2015

Last week I shared my thoughts on why I started my shopping ban. It was pretty much stepping into the unknown. It was a challenge I wasn't sure I could endure up to the end, so I allocated a six months' period pretty randomly. I thought: let's say six months, and if I cannot make it, well... that's it. Nothing too serious.  The initial idea was six months without buying clothes, but soon I extended it, so it was six months without buying clothes (except for one pair of jeans because I really needed it), decorative cosmetics (which shouldn't be too hard, as I use minimal make-up), nail polishes (ok, harder, because I'd been eyeing a shade or two), glossy magazines (hard!), candles (sad, because I was really used to their lovely light in the evening), flowers (super hard, as buying tulips in the Netherlands is the most natural thing, plus it's incredible how much they always brighten the desk), jewelry (not that hard, but then again, I had to remember not to buy it!), Starbucks coffee (at that point not that hard because Groningen had Starbucks at the main railway station and I almost never went there). In a nutshell: I was banned from buying things I didn't absolutely need.

Here's how it went.

I was chatting with my Amsterdam-based friend and told him about the new budget rule I had. He said I was crazy to miss out on sales in the Netherlands, because they were supposedly awesome, so I decided to bend the ban a little. However, when I returned to Groningen, I realized there wasn't really any specific garment I needed, so I thought I could have a look in the shops and buy something if it was breathtaking, of a good quality, with an amazing price etc. etc. As far as I remember, I allocated a €100 sum for this, but I spent way less, because there wasn't such a piece. I bought two simple tank tops for €3 each in Zara, and a little black dress from Mango for €20. I'd only owned one, and it was six years old, so I thought this was a good purchase since these kinds of dresses usually cost about €50. I think the first price of mine was €70. I also bought a pair of jeans, but that was OK because I was planning it anyway.

It felt weird to deliberately ignore all the pretty tulip bouquets all the time, but I did it. I also prepared myself mentally to the fact I won't be buying a batch of candles once those I had burn out.

At the end of the month, a friend from Serbia visited me, and in the next week I spent a lot of money on eating out and beer. But that I'd known ahead of time and thus included these costs in my budget. Plus, it's awesome introducing... umm... Belgian culture in the Netherlands? (That's an excuse for saying "I love beer")

Saving Tips
As all the beginnings, the beginning of my shopping ban was hard, but I embraced it fully because I had a goal in my mind. I dedicated the next six months to saving money, and I knew that making January happen is just a small step on the waybut the crucial one. I think it's the most important thing, having a goal and working toward it. Back in January it was traveling to America, and it was so strong! All I needed to do was ask myself do you want a Starbucks coffee or a tiny peace of a plane ticket to NYC? Putting things into perspective makes it SO EASY to save!


They say it takes 21 days to form a habit, so that's why it wasn't as difficult in February. Also, some time ago I figured that I better apply for a dorm in Germany (another move was due at the end of the month), instead of searching for a private flat in Berlin. I applied for one of the cheapest options in February, however I got an offer for the cheapest one, meaning I wouldn't have my own bathroom. At any other point in life I would have probably rejected it, but now I didn't. In fact, in comparison to my room in Groningen (€390), a dorm room in Potsdam for €160 seemed like a great deal. So that made me kind of excitedthe thought I'd be saving through my rent too! I accepted the offer.

A temptation came in a form of a tattoo. I've been planning to get one since 2012, and now, passing by a tattoo studio twice a day, I thought I could do it and associate Groningen with something nice (because honestly, I hated my time there). I dropped the idea when I found out the same tattoo would cost half as much in Serbia.

Another temptation was a pair of Adidas sneakers! But they didn't have them in my size in Groningen. Nor in Amsterdam. Nor, as I later found out, in Berlin or anywhere in Europe. This still frustrates me, months later! Eventually they became an exception to the rule, so even though they weren't necessary, I wanted them SO MUCH! And so did the whole world, apparently: initially my size could be found on the US website (but, of course, they don't ship outside of the country), and eventually not even there! Aaand not to mention that Starbucks opened a new coffeehouse in the university library building. But I didn't enter, not even once!

Saving Tips
Thinking about other ways to save, apart from the shopping ban, made me stick to the ban more persistently and embrace this save wherever you can attitude. Can you sell any appliance you don't use? What about clothes that are in good condition, but don't feel like you anymore and just occupy (valuable!) place? Could switching to a cheaper cellphone or cable plan work for you? In my experience, saving money leads to more saving, which is just awesome!


A compulsory trip to DM (which is a German chain of retail stores that sells cosmetics) put me on a real test! As someone who just moved, I had to buy tons of things, like shower gel, shampoo, soap, detergents... you get it. But I've always been buying anything and everything there, especially in Germany! (We have it in Serbia too but it's so much more affordable in Germany that it's just CRAZY.) And I'm proud to say I passed! I was eyeing a BB cream but remembered I shouldn't buy it and just wrote it down in my phone. 

I also needed some pans and pots as I had none. Unfortunately, the only good ones I found in Ikea were coming in *three pots* and *two pans* packages, so it cost me a little more than I'd been hoping. Ummm, can it be seen as an investment for the future? Ikea took my money for a drying rack too, which is especially annoying since I bought one exactly the same in Groningen, but you cannot really put it in your suitcase... I didn't have a knife either, so I bought one, and overall spent around €40. 

Another item was added to the list of things I needed (thus was allowed to buy): a yoga mat. I started practicing yoga in Groningen and the carpet was behaving like a good surface to do it on. :) But I have a hard floor here in Germany so I had to get a mat. I found one in my local supermarket for €6. I'm not happiest about it, but I guess for that price I cannot complain.

Saving Tips
Bending my own rules was crucial. Sure, it's called shopping ban and in its bare form it means paying for rent, bills, food and toiletries, but I needed to have something to make the food in, right?

Recently I recommended a month's shopping ban to a girl on Twitter who complained she cannot stop shopping for clothes. She thought it was too difficult, but decided to give it a go. And she made it! So I advise starting small, give yourself a month or two. If it's a longer period, like six months in my case, don't fall into the trap of celebrating milestones with buying something. It doesn't make much sense.


At this point I could really see the difference I've made, which made me so happy! Remember that I still had to pay the Dutch rent in January in February, so it wasn't just because of the cheap dorm rent in Germany.

I broke the ban though by buying a coffee mug, but I hoped for €2 it was worth it. I just knew that I should be aware this is a break, not something I'm allowed to do on a weekly or monthly basis.

The cost of the flight to Serbia had previously been included in the budget, so I was OK, plus it was much cheaper than I'd thought it would be. So I bought tons of clothes and chocolates for my sisterthat I was absolutely allowed to do. :) I also bought a purse for my bestie, but that was OK too because ages ago, when she graduated and I wanted to give her a graduation present, I was broke.

Oh, and I broke the ban once more! I bought Adidas tights for my running practices because they were on sale, and being about 75% more expensive than common H&M ones, I thought they would be worth it because the quality of the two brands should be incomparable.

But I must proudly report that I didn't buy anything for myself while picking clothes for my sister. I saw some really nice sports bras, but then I reminded myself I was on a ban. It worked!

Saving Tips
Now I'm not sure if this works for everyone, but it worked for me, and I'm not on a disciplined side, so it might have been just the thing that kept me going. Know when to cheat! If I hadn't bought that tights, I would have probably regretted it afterwards, because they came with a great price. The mug? It's now the only mug I have my tea out of. But I didn't buy five pieces. (And honestly, I'm still trying to shake off the guilt, haha!) Update: the mug broke few days ago. It wasn't meant to be.


In April, May and June I didn't buy thingsbut I did go out for a coffee or a drink more often than I should have. I'm trying to think that spending money in a socially engaged way is not a bad thing. After all, I had a good time. Plus, it was in Serbia, so it was cheaper than it would have been back in Germany.

However, because my thesis experiment took ages to even start, I had to buy another plane ticket. I always buy the cheapest ones, so it was impossible to reschedule. I was mad at myself, but it wasn't a capriceit had to be done.

Saving Tips
Stick to the plan, stick to the plan, stick to the plan. 


By June I was so used to this lifestyle that I didn't even think I was missing out on anything! I didn't feel I needed more clothes, because the ones I do have were just enough. Speaking of, a decision appeared almost on itself, as if I had nothing to do with it :) Last time I reflected on the quality of my clothes, which is far from good. I've been buying cheap (=low quality) clothes because I could afford it, but when you think about it, it meant buying new clothes all the time. I'm not rich enough to buy cheap things! So I want to move towards quality brands that nurture basics and eternal style. For the past several years I've been buying my clothes in H&M, Stradivarius, Bershka, Zara, meaning contents of my closet can be found in any girl's closet too. And while I don't mind that too much, I do mind that these pieces last a year or two. I think investing in a quality garment is the right thing to do, and my age probably has to do with this haha. I want pieces that last and that I will want to wear 5 years from now, which doesn't happen that often with trendy pieces from H&M. (Mostly, though, because they turn into home pieces by then, or even garbage.)

The list of my approved brands so far includes: Marks & Spencer, Filippa K, Uniqlo, & Other Stories, COS, Benetton, Levis, Tamaris (shoes), Asos. I must check out Urban Outfitters, their clothes look nice and is on a pricey side but I'm not sure about the quality. Banana Republic also seems good, but it's in the US. Curious: where do you buy quality clothes? Please leave in the comments!

Saving Tips
When you've survived, open your bank account. Admire it. Love it.

Then decide on the next saving period. 


As I mentioned before, I'd thought I'd go shopping on July 1st.

I didn't.

I don't want to go shopping, because I don't need anything.

In fact, I want to reduce the number of things I do have. But more on that to come soon.

I feel great, I'm proud of myself and my accomplishment, especially as someone who didn't know how to save. Now my only problem is I don't know what my savings are for! It'd be a lot easier if I just purchased the ticket and went somewhere, wouldn't it? :)

But at the same time, having achieved to save this much, I don't want to spend it in one go. It's a decent amount, so I'm doing the only logical thing.

I'm continuing to save.

I could have gone to a market and bought a flower bouquet. I could have bought some candles and other nice things for my desk. I didn't, because I don't need them!

I'm not that strict with clothes, but it's not because I'm not on a ban now. I will be checking out stores in August when the major sales are due, but I will only buy something if it's a must-have (in terms I mentioned above).

I think the shopping ban resulted in me deciding to be on a lifelong relaxed shopping ban, meaning: only pay for things you need. Is that called being rational?

I don't know. But I think my mom is proud of me too!

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