Why I Started a Shopping Ban (And Why You Might Too)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

As I mentioned on the blog a number of times, I'm bad with money. OK, well, I'll always be a person who prioritizes rent over anything else, and you can be 200% sure that I will never end up in a situation where I cannot afford to pay this month's rent because I bought an expensive pair of shoes. I'll never, ever get a loan so I could afford a vacation. If I cannot afford something, I cannot afford it and that's it, end of the story. But me being bad with money applies to those situations when I can afford something. Come a paycheck, and I'll be the queen of the world! Clothes, shoes, nail polishes, magazines, flower bouquets, cute mugs, trinkets that will make my home prettier, accessories that will make me feel so. I want it all!
Aaand that's where the paycheck melts.

I come from a not-really-third-world-but-rather-poor country, where my biggest joys were clothes sales and drugstore hauls every once in a while, and take-out coffee as often as I wanted. I worked as a freelance copy editor while my parents were still paying for my expenses like rent and food because the average paycheck is just not enough to live on. So when I found myself in Western Europe with a scholarship that's more than generous in Serbian terms, I was in trouble. (For example, you need to be working as a CEO of a company for a monthly wage as big as my scholarship. Or be employed by a major western company, such as Microsoft. The rest of common people are happy if they make half as much.) Of course, while you could lead a pretty good and relaxed life with this money in Serbia (only if you're single and don't have a family, though), the same doesn't apply in Western Europe. The amount is more than enough for a student, but that's it. Not like you can save much.

At least that's what I thought in the first year of my grad school.

More than a year flew by, and I caught myself having ZERO savings. Now, that was a major shock, because I quickly calculated how much money I'd spent. And trust me, it was a lot.

I looked back to see WHAT (the fuck!) I was spending on. OK, I obviously couldn't have saved on expenses such as rent, kitchen utilities (I moved four times!), food, toiletries. And I could have saved on travel, but I wouldn't have wanted to. I'd traveled to Estonia, Russia, Finnish Lapland, Norway, Switzerland, BelgiumFrance, Poland, Italy, visited Helsinki a number of times, flown home four times. That's something you don't regret. How does the saying go, travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer? Something like that... but to each his own. I just love traveling way too much. And I certainly don't regret buying a quality wallet (my old one was used up and I needed one anyway), or a winter coat, or a pair of boots, or my Kindle.

The rest of my money, though, had gone to waste. More or less.

Now, I need to make a break and tell you (or remind you, if you're an old reader) that I had been living this one-country-per-semester life, which in a way prevents you from buying too much stuff because, well, eventually you will have to pack and pull the suitcases! But that's why I said in a way: it didn't prevent me from purchasing

-three Moomin coffee mugs, all of which really beautiful and really expensive. First I bought one, and then months later decided I'd spent too much money anyway and I better bought something useful. The step I could have and should have missed, because I ended up not really using them anyway.
-two soufflé dishes. They were pretty, but bottom-line: I've never made a soufflé in my life.
-a pair of second-hand Chuck Taylors that I didn't really need and that was, when I think about it, probably a bit pricey for a second-hand pair
-crazy amount of tea. I'm a true tea lover and there are so many amazing types on the market, but I don't need to have them all in my pantry
-CRAZY amount of clothes! Let me just say I once thought buying a pile of clothes worth €200 in one go would heal a broken heart. The alarm went on when a thorough inspection of my closet revealed that the majority of its content is less than 2 years old, as I've been buying a lot of cheap stuff ever since I started buying clothes myself. As a result, almost none of it would be good 2-3 years later, so I had to buy more (cheap) clothes
-Starbucks coffee. We don't have Starbucks in Serbia and I think whenever somebody travels abroad, one of the first things they do is have a coffee at Starbucks! So living in countries that do have it made it easier to spend money on it. I really love Starbucks coffee, but honestly I think it's way overpriced. That didn't stop me from having it once in a week or two, plus I always had it when traveling because I found it so entertaining to see what my name sounds like to foreigners' ears.

Also count in fancy foods... lots of it. {This is bad in a number of ways... my thighs are not thankful.}

So it turned out I wasn't right telling people The money is fine, but it's just enough: I couldn't have saved anything. I could have, but I didn't bother. I spent money because I had it, not having any kind of a budget plan in my head.

All these things led me to one single thought: I NEED TO SAVE. I was embarrassed, really, to have spent so much money in such stupid ways.

And that's why I decided I'd simply ban myself from shopping. Obviously, I wasn't ever thinking about spending money when I spent it. Well, now I won't need to think about it, because I simply mustn't shop.

Around the same timeon January 1st, to be exactI looked up the prices of tickets to the US. Out of curiosity. What I found out left me speechlessthey were way, way cheaper than I'd thought. In fact, they were so affordable that I subconsciously decided to travel there before I even realized it. Then I started to think about a possible itinerary, counted in the money for accommodation and traveling between cities, and THAT was the moment that was crucial for the shopping ban. I simply had a goal in my mind, and I was now challenging myself. Can I change my lifestyle and see the pile of money growing? Can I stick to a goal? 

Apparently, I can. :) 

Turned out, it's not as difficult as I'd thought, but at the same time it's not a breeze, because you must be constantly aware of the money flow. 
At the same time, it's one of two best things I've done this year, and I've been advocating it ever since.

I'm not rich, but I've never had this much money in my life. Unfortunately, over the course of months I realized I cannot be granted a US visa because I wouldn't be a student once I wanted to apply for one; I won't have a job; I'm not married and don't have kids, nor any real estate, so in the eyes of the embassy, I'm a perfect candidate for an illegal worker in the US. Even though I'm not interested in it. But hey, I cannot prove it. 
Still, that didn't cause me to stop the ban because it was going well, and I loved it.
To be honest, money means security. If a friend announced they would be getting married soon, I wouldn't have to borrow money from my parents. If my laptop died tomorrow, I could buy one without a blink of an eye. (Last time it happened, I waited for a paycheck for more than two months. Imagine an editing gig done on somebody else's computer and in a public library! Or just imagine not having a computer for such a long time!)
It also means I have the funds to not go insane while looking for a job. (Hello, next stage of my life!)

Honestly, on a different note, I couldn't have achieved this if I had done this in Serbia, and most of my friends my age don't have this security simply because it's impossible, as I stated in the beginning. Still, I now know that I was not a smart spender even back when I lived there: I had more than 20 nail polishes, for example. A lot of my friends DO buy unnecessary things back home. Not doing that probably wouldn't enable them to save for a car, but it would definitely make a difference.

So if you want to make a difference, that alone might be a reason to start a shopping ban. Of course, making a smart budget would also help, but I find shopping ban to be fun (yes, really!).

Plus, it's not just good for the budget. When I started it, it was simply because I felt I spent too much on unnecessary items; I'd read zero blogs and websites on budgeting and shopping bans (there are plenty!), I had no guidelines but my own; and I had no other goals except to save money.

Inevitably, it forced me to gain a new perspective on a lot of other things too. I'll be sharing more on this soon.

Next Monday I'll be sharing the rules I stick to and the six-months journey, so make sure to come back! 

And in the meantime, I'm curious to hear your thoughts and experiences on this. Have you ever done a shopping ban? Would you? 

Talk to you soon.

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