this past weekend marked the first time in two months that we bought things, which has got to be a record for us. of course we’ve bought groceries, and last week we had to buy sonicare toothbrush heads, but those are all necessities. we’re not sure that we’ve ever even gone a month without buying some piece of non-necessary something before.
our last purchase before that was april 13. a pair of sandals, purchased at a big discount (of course). and from a quality brand that will last a long time (of course). and in a color and style that will ensure they stay in heavy rotation (of course). all of the “of course” labels are to say it wasn’t an entirely stupid purchase, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an impulse buy. it was.
buying those sandals was a wake-up call, of sorts. a reminder that, even if we’re living way below our means, we still have to improve our habits if we’re going to be able to live within our early retirement allocations in a very short two and a half years’ time. once we quit our jobs and live off of our investments, we can’t just buy a random pair of shoes, no matter how practical they are. we’ll blow through our saved-up funds in no time if we allow ourselves to make mindless purchases. we have to change how we think about spending, and change our behavior for the long term.
no more impulse buys
as soon as the light bulb went off — “that was an impulse buy!” — we made a resolution. no more impulse buys. no more buys at all for a while. maybe, like with a juice cleanse that resets your taste buds and eliminates sugar cravings, we just needed a reset. a spending cleanse. without thinking about it, the first month passed. before we even checked to see how long it had been, we were almost two months in. that was promising, since it said we weren’t constantly beating back temptations. when we wanted to buy something and chose to say no instead, it wasn’t a hard decision. we’re practiced enough at prioritizing our long-term goal (early retirement) over just about everything else, and curbing purchases felt like an extension of that.
which brings us to this past weekend. saturday we were at a home improvement store, buying supplies we needed to make repairs at our rental property, and we decided to buy something for us. an extension cord. hardly exciting, but it presented a choice: do we buy it, and lose the two months of momentum behind our decision not to buy things, or leave it at the store? we decided to buy it. we didn’t have an extension cord, and not having one was stopping us from using our power tools in the garage. not using the tools meant not being able to do repairs ourselves, and potentially having to hire other people. that would have been a dumb financial decision to make just to uphold the idea of a shopping ban.
then on sunday, we decided to buy a rear-view mirror that sticks onto a bike helmet. we’ve had a few close calls with cars while on our bikes lately, and we’re inclined to make a few small changes to improve our safety. our goal is to continue biking more and driving less, and we can’t bike more — let along retire early — if we get seriously injured on the bikes. that seems like an easy decision to make, to buy that mirror, but then just about any purchase could be justified this way.
so now, we’ve bought stuff, and we’ve squandered those two months of not shopping. what does that mean for us, moving forward? as motivating and reinforcing as it can be to track time and momentum, we’re not going to declare an official shopping ban. but we’re still not going to shop. this post puts a date on our last “lapse,” so maybe we’ll end up keeping track. or maybe we won’t. maybe we’ll buy something tomorrow. maybe we won’t buy anything for six months.
related post: why we don’t follow a budget
our goal is to be intentional about everything we buy, which we’re already pretty good at, but can still get better at. asking first if we can live without something, or could use something we already own in its place. next asking if we could borrow that item from someone else, or if we really need our own. and only then considering buying it. but also accepting that we don’t even need everything we think we need. sometimes if we just wait, we end up not needing that necessary item after all.
setting ourselves up for success, without a shopping ban
you’ve probably heard that making new habits stick is as much about creating systems to reinforce those habits as it is about making up your mind that you want to change. here are some of the systems we’ve put into place to create those positive habits:
- we unsubscribed from every purchase-related email list we were ever on. no more temptation to shop sales if we don’t know about them.
- unsubscribe from catalogs (this also saves paper!). we use catalog choice to get off mailing lists. if any make it to our mailbox, they go straight to the recycling bin.
- we cut almost everything off of our amazon wishlist, and got rid of our amazon bookmark. no more temptation to buy “needed” items when their prices drop.
- we no longer go to stores that might tempt us. outdoors stores are our kryptonite, so we try our hardest not to set foot in them.
- we are more closely tracking every dollar that we’re spending, so we’ll feel the pain of that impulse buy if we lapse. not wanting to have to account for those dollars spent is a powerful motivation not to spend them, as many have noted before us.
have you ever tried a shopping ban? did it work for you? how do you avoid shopping or other impulse spending? share your thoughts in the comments!