Restrictive diets can be a useful tool. By temporarily cutting out sugar, alcohol, carbs or any other addictive substance, you’re giving the brain a chance to reset tolerance and craving levels to normal. As an added bonus, you’ll probably feel healthier and look better.
It’s a concept that doesn’t just have to apply to nutrition. In the same way eating a doughnut triggers a release of dopamine that makes us feel temporarily happy, so does buying a new pair of shoes or the latest iPhone.
Because of that similarity, many believe that shopping bans can be an effective strategy for curbing excessive spending, easing shopping addictions and helping to become more conscious of spending.
Per a Bloomberg look at the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ data, 18.5% of total consumer spending in the US was on nonessential items in the third quarter of 2017 (the last time data was available)–the highest level since 2000. If ever people were in need of a spending freeze, it is now, which might explain why there are now self-help books, articles and countless online testimonials dedicated to the topic of the shopping freeze.
But what does it entail exactly? And why is it catching fire now?
What is a shopping ban?
A shopping ban is a self-imposed strategy to limit one’s spending on certain items. Most people try to give up discretionary shopping for anything not strictly necessary, which can include clothes, makeup, household items, electronics and much more.
Some people decide on a shopping ban because they’re in a situation where money is tight, like taking a pay cut to switch careers or going on unpaid maternity leave. Some do it to help get over a shopping addiction, to declutter their living space or to take an ethical stand against consumerism.
How severely people limit their purchasing is a personal choice, but obviously some spending is unavoidable. A shopping ban typically doesn’t doesn’t include essentials like groceries, medicine, transportation expenses, gifts, donations and basic household items.
Some people allow themselves to replace items that break, run out or become unusable. For example, if you have a black skirt that you wear all the time, you’re allowed to buy a new one if it goes missing. If you break a pair of hoop earrings but you have another pair, you probably shouldn’t replace them.
The shopping ban goes mainstream
Writer Cait Flanders chronicled a two-year shopping ban in her memoir, “The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store.”
When she surveyed readers about their own shopping bans, they said their biggest reason for starting one was to become a more conscious consumer. Saving money was the second most popular reason.
Flanders said people are finally starting to question the culture of consumerism and how advertising affects their daily lives.
“We’re seeing so much more about what this mass and mindless consumption has been doing to not only us and our wallets, but also the planet,” she told The Money Manual.
Flanders said the trend of minimalism also relates to the growth of shopping bans. People are realizing they don’t need as much as they think — or as much as companies want them to buy. And clothing, she’s found, is the number one thing people want to cut back on buying.
Digital marketing executive Kelsey Dixon dedicated herself to an 18-month clothes shopping ban after she and her husband moved across the country and she started her own business. To save money while getting her company off the ground, Dixon decided to refrain from buying new clothes.
The idea came to her after another friend mentioned she was trying out a capsule wardrobe, where you only keep 30 or so items of clothing in your closet in order to downsize. A shopping ban felt like a worthy exercise with a similar aim.
“People in general are realizing they’d rather spend money on experiences and doing things than just having a lot of material things,” Dixon told us.
After completing a 30-day minimalism challenge and decluttering her house, Shannyn Allan behind the blog The Wonder Luster decided to start her own year-long shopping ban. She’d read Flanders’ book and realized how many purchases she’s regretted buying over the years.
“Overall, there are plenty of people who are doing challenges like this because they are tired of feeling stuck on autopilot,” she told The Money Manual.
Since she announced her shopping ban, Allan said a lot of her friends and online followers have started shopping bans of their own.
“I think you will have many people join you on the ban,” a commenter wrote on Youtube in response to Allan’s ban announcement. “It’s better sometimes when you are not going at it alone and have others there for support.”
Zina Kumok is a personal finance writer and speaker whose byline has appeared in Indianapolis Monthly, the Commercial Appeal and the Associated Press. She’s been featured as an expert in the Washington Post, Fox Business, and Time.
Feature Illustration: Laura Caseley For The Money Manual