The End of the No Shopping Challenge

Last week, several people sent me this story about a British woman, Michlle McGagh, who bought nothing for an entire year. By her estimates, she saved $23,000. She wrote:

“Although I had no debt, my bank statements (when I bothered to look at them) were littered with unnecessary spending. When I did brace myself and look at my statements I was aghast at how much of my wages I frittered away mindlessly. I totted up that I’d spent £400 in one year on takeaway coffees alone. Not to mention the meals out, rounds of drinks, clothes and other random spending.”

Aside from mortgage, utilities, charity donations, phone bills, basic toiletries and a £35 weekly food budget, she spent nothing. No spending on vacations, transportation, or recreation. For one whole year.

Reading this made my own no shopping challenge feel small, but as I reflect on the past 30 days, it was anything but.

On a near daily basis, I would make spontaneous purchases. I’d eat meals out and order coffees to go. I’d buy ice cream for the girls and giant buckets of popcorn at the movies. This month, all of that changed.

The good

It’s funny how, when you get it in your head that you’re not going to shop, you just don’t. Because I placed specific constraints on myself at the beginning of the month, I didn’t have to spend time or energy deciding whether to buy X or purchase Y. The decision had already been made. That made it surprisingly easy to refrain from spending. And aside from a few temptations at the beginning of the month, I never grew bitter or irritated because of it.

Here are some of the ways in which I was forced to spend thoughtfully and creatively:

  • When we ran out of shampoo or dishwashing detergent, I went to the store to buy only shampoo or dishwashing detergent
  • I skipped writing at the coffee shop, where I typically purchase a cup of tea and a salad
  • My kids and I frequented library and the toy store to window shop and play
  • I scheduled lots of play dates and trips to the park; we made forts, played board games and hide and go seek (unfortunately, I also did allow the kids more screen time than normal because no shopping + never ending rain + tired mommy = iPad time)
  • When friends invited us to spend the weekend at their cabin in Lake Tahoe, I scoured our storage unit, made some phone calls and posted requests on neighborhood forums. 24 hours later, I had assembled boots, mittens, jackets and snow pants for free, and off to the snow we went!

The most important thing this month reminded me of (and something I will continue to do) is to always keep plenty of options for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner at home, even if it meant spending more at the grocery store. Why? Because it’s when our refrigerator and pantry thin out that we tend to eat out or order in.

The not so good

It was by no means a perfect month. Here are the things that I ended up spending money on:

  • While at Starbucks with a friend, my 14 month old picked up a can of San Pellegrino, slobbered all over it and then threw it on the ground before I could intervene. I handed the barista $3.20.
  • I purchased lift tickets for my husband to take my daughter skiing for the first time. They spent an amazing morning together, one that they’ll remember for many years to come.
  • We ate dinner out with a close friend from overseas whom we haven’t seen in years.
  • I didn’t protest when my husband took the kids out for bagels and playtime at the park one Saturday morning. I didn’t have the energy to remind my kids about not spending money… and their excursion gave me a few hours to myself.
  • My seven year old niece came up to me and said “I know you’re on a no shopping challenge, but I’m selling girl scout cookies and the money is for the children.” I’m not exactly sure where girl scout cookie proceeds go, but I bought four boxes.

And then, on day 20, we took my son to urgent care for a respiratory infection. Between the 4am ER visit, medication, and follow up appointments combined with our high deductible insurance plan, things got very expensive.

In the end, my credit card bill wasn’t as pretty as I’d expected it to be.

Now that the challenge is over and the constraints lifted, it’s hard to say what my spending patterns will look like. I’d like to think that my days of frivolous spending are over. I’m not about to go on a spending spree, but I know I’ll have my moments. In the end, I enjoyed the process of spending less, and spending thoughtfully, and I want it to continue.