How a Simple "Do Not Buy" List Keeps Money in Your Pocket

Do you find yourself scrolling through retail sites when you're stressed? Do you gaze longingly at all the clothes you want to buy? Are you anxious until you get your hands on the latest tech gadget?

If so, those are signs that you may be spending money that you don't have. Sure, retail therapy feels good in the moment, but the resulting worry about the money you spent and the debt you created will bring you right back down.

Try taking a break from shopping for several weeks, months, or even a whole year. It can be done. Even if your shopping isn't out of control and creating debt, taking a break can create some space in your life and free up some money that you can spend or save elsewhere.

And it all starts with a list.

The "Do Not Buy" inspiration

Author Ann Patchett made her own list of rules about what she could and could not buy for her "Year of No Shopping" project. She decided that she would not buy clothing, shoes, accessories, jewelry, or technology. She could buy things like shampoo and batteries, but only when she had run out of what she already had. She gave herself flexibility when it came to gifts, but even there she tried to give people time or books, rather than things.

She made rules that fit her lifestyle and still allowed her to do her work. For instance, she continued to buy books because she owns a bookstore, writes books, and generally finds that books are a huge part of her life. She permitted herself to buy anything she wanted at the grocery store and to continue dining out regularly.

Sure, she saved money, but that wasn't all she found in the year that she followed her no-shopping rules. Following the rules gave her a better perspective on money and its power, on how we get it, how we use it, and what it's good for. She began to think about how many people do not have the money to buy what they need, let alone what they want, and started to have more compassion for them. She also learned that the feeling of wanting something passes relatively quickly.

She saved time, she says, because she was not only not buying, but she wasn't looking at things, either. This means that she didn't scroll through retail sites, she didn't window shop at the mall — she just didn't shop. In fact, she gained so much from her year of not shopping that she decided to extend it for another year!

How to make it work for you

If you're like me, you can think of at least one thing you need to stop buying. Maybe you've thought of several. Write them down and start your list. If you're not sure what should go on your list, here are a few ideas to help you get started.

Think about buyer's remorse

Have you made any purchases in the last few months that you regretted later? Write them down and see if you notice a pattern. Maybe it's all clothing, or things you bought when you were angry, or inebriated. (See also: How to Prevent a Drunken Online Shopping Spree)

Whatever the pattern is, figure out a rule that will help you break it. Maybe you need to stop buying clothes, like Patchett did, or refuse to shop when you're angry. Whatever the pattern, there's a rule that can help.

Review your bank statements

Look for spending patterns in your bank statements. Are there certain stores where you spend a lot of money, certain categories where you spend more, or certain times of the week, month, or year when you spend more? In a manner similar to that outlined above, find a rule that will help you break your cycles.

Assess your cravings

Just as a craving for sugar every afternoon can mean that it's time to step away from the sweets for a while, a craving for certain items can mean that it's time to stop buying them. Are there products or categories of items that you always want to buy? (See also: 7 Effortless Ways to Prevent Budget-Busting Impulse Buys)

If you aren't sure, think about where you end up if you're wandering around Target or a shopping mall. Do you go to Lululemon? The Body Shop? The Apple Store? Think, too, about stores where you have a credit card (or wish you did), or sites you follow closely online so you can make sure you're getting all of the deals right when they drop.

Unsubscribe from their emails, unfollow them on social media, and steer clear of the stores in person. If you cut off contact, you won't be tempted to spend there.

Be realistic

The point of a "Do Not Buy" list is to make a list that actually works for you and your lifestyle. Nothing has to be oppressive or overly stringent. Most of us have areas where we would like to cut back, as well as things we'll still have to spend money on in order to live.

This will be different for everyone. Maybe you already have plenty of workout clothes, but you need to update your work wardrobe, or you've been planning to buy a new computer the next time Apple makes an announcement, but you don't need a new phone. You can make rules to fit all of these.

You can also allow yourself exceptions to your own rules, as you see fit. If you're a writer and your computer dies midyear, it's probably acceptable to buy a new one even if you have electronics on your Do Not Buy list. You can also add rules as you go along if you find you enjoy the freedom of not buying, or you see other shopping habits you want to break.

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