I’m fairly certain that I have an addictive personality. I’ve avoided drugs, gambling, cigarettes, and alcohol based on those suspicions, and likely will continue to do so until my dying day. But I got blindsided by my own addictive tendencies when I discovered the joys of personal style. After years of hating my body, I finally figured out that I could look and feel fabulous if I simply dressed to highlight my favorite physical features. It was an absolute revelation, and sparked a new-found, fervent love of clothing, shoes, and accessories. Soon, I fell into some pretty ridiculous and harmful shopping behaviors, the repercussions of which came to a head about three years ago. I had allowed my debt to grow exponentially over several seasons of frenzied acquisition. I’d begun making mental bargains with myself about how another $200 on the ol’ MasterCard wouldn’t make THAT much of a difference in my monthly payment, and I definitely needed those new Frye boots before fall arrived. I’d dug myself into quite a hole, and felt utterly incapable of clawing my way out.So, as many style bloggers had done before me, I undertook a shopping ban. I figured that a self-imposed ban — and a public one, regularly discussed on my blog — would give me a chance to examine my motivations, gradually shift my impulses, and get the debt under control. I knew quitting cold turkey would be disastrous, so I allowed myself $10 per week to spend on used clothing, shoes, and accessories. Nothing new for six months besides gifts.
And throughout the course of those six months I did examine my motivations, and I did shift some impulses, and I did get the debt under control. The whole experiment was worthwhile and fascinating, and because of it I understand why I shop when I do, and what drives me. I’ve been a dedicated thrifter since high school, but the ban reminded me that thrift stores are GOLDMINES for trendy, flattering, fabulous clothes and accessories, and that just about anything you’re lusting after can be bought used for mere pennies. Posting about my activities and progress on my blog brought on some harsh judgment — especially when I “cheated” — but was nevertheless incredibly rewarding, and helped me process my thoughts and feelings as I lived within the confines of the ban. I am definitely glad I did it. Definitely.
But in many ways, I would say that the shopping ban backfired on me. Once it had concluded, I took the chunk of money I’d been saving, flew out to San Francisco to meet up with a marvelous blogging buddy, and blew it all. ALL. Six months of savings gone in the space of five days. And afterwards, that feeling of being finally free to spend my own, hard-earned money in any way I saw fit remained utterly intoxicating. I found myself buying stuff that I knew I didn’t need, and feeling the thrill of rebellion as I did it. I had guessed that prohibiting all spending for six months would cause failure, but as it turns out, even fairly lenient self-imposed restrictions made me feel panicky, angry, and defiant. Mainly in the aftermath.
Again, I am glad and grateful to have had this experience, and know that undertaking shopping bans or “diets” has proven incredibly effective for countless compulsive shoppers. My behaviors surrounding money have certainly improved, due in no small part to what I learned during those six months. Since concluding the ban, I have paid off my credit card, my car loan, and my school loans. My only current debt is my mortgage, a shared cost with my husband that is being steadily paid down. I have successfully saved for several large purchases, including international travel, electronics, and even a few big-ticket fashion items. Currently, I have a substantial cushion of savings, and I recently quit my day job to work as a freelance writer, blogger, and consultant. I feel quite certain that I will manage the money I make carefully and wisely. But I still shop far more than I need to — even for a style professional — and still feel that thrill of rebellion when I do it. And I can’t help but think that the shopping ban is, at least in part, responsible.
Sally McGraw is a Minneapolis-based blogger, freelance writer, and communications professional who writes the daily style and body image blog Already Pretty.