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How to Break Your Shopping Habit with a Purchase Pause

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Tired of impulse shopping, buyer’s remorse, or that super draining cycle of buy-regret-return (not to mention the dreaded chore of breaking down all of those cardboard boxes that have accumulated by the front door)? In addition to saving a boatload of money, taking a purchase pause can help you to clarify your values, appreciate all that you already have, reduce your environmental footprint, and inspire you to be more creative and resourceful. Sound good? Here’s how to set yourself up for success:

purchase pauseStep One: Clarify Your Motivation

As with any goal, it’s always helpful to clarify your why and make sure you like your reasons for doing something. My major motivations for trying a spending freeze is to reduce the amount of time and energy I spend on frivolous purchases, and to see how much money I can save just by being more mindful and creative. What are yours?

Step Two: Separate Needs from Wants

The next order of business is to jot down all of your basic and necessary expenses. This may include rent or mortgage, utilities, phone and internet, food and household supplies, prescriptions, etc. Make a list that includes all of your needs. Next, make a new list of your wants. This list could include yoga classes or a gym membership, coffee or meals out, home decor, or anything else that makes your life enjoyable and comfortable. Now that you have a clear picture of your wants versus your needs you get to thoughtfully decide how you want to approach your spending freeze.

Step Three: Define Your Rules

I am a big believer that one size does not fit all when it comes to behavior changes, and you’ll have to define the parameters of your spending freeze in a way that will work for you. Some people opt to skip all extraneous purchases (including coffee, snacks, and meals out) for months, or even a full year. Anyone who knows me knows that those parameters would make me feel very, very sad. I typically opt to forgo buying any material objects that are not totally necessary, but choose to still invest in food and experiences which enhance my life. Take some time to reflect on your values and decide what you want to invest in, and what you want to include in your spending freeze. Make sure your decision aligns with your values, feels good, and feels doable. Write down your rules, and your timeframe, so you can stay on track. You’re in charge!

Step Four: Plan Ahead + Get Creative

Depending on when you decide to try a purchase pause, you may choose to make exceptions for events, holidays, or children’s birthday parties. By creating a clear plan and budget for each event, or opting to give homemade or secondhand gifts, you can still eliminate impulse buys and overspending. A spending break is also a great opportunity to get creative and resourceful. For example, instead of paying for a babysitter and splurging on a pricey meal out, you could invite friends over and cook a simple meal or host a potluck. Instead of buying a gift for a kid birthday you could gift a coupon for a movie night with ice cream sundaes. You get the picture.

Step Five: Keep a Spending Journal

You know how people keep a food journal when they’re trying to be more mindful of what they eat? The same holds true for your finances. By writing down items you spend money on, you will become much more aware of your spending habits and shopping triggers. You can also use a notebook to write down all the things you want while you’re doing your freeze. You can always revisit the list in a month and see if you still want any of those things, or if the desire has waned. Make sure to be curious about your habits instead of judging yourself. This is all a learning experience and a chance to be more intentional in the future.

So, who’s in? A purchase pause experiment is a great opportunity to learn about your shopping triggers and habits, save money, and live more intentionally. If you’ve ever tried something like this, I’d love to hear your experience, tips, and takeaways in the comments below.

Photography: Vivian Johnson

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28 comments on “How to Break Your Shopping Habit with a Purchase Pause

  1. Love it, Shira! When I am trying to be more thoughtful about purchasing, I have a Pinterest board called “To Buy” and anytime I really want something, I pin it and save for later. No impulse buying and handy if someone asks what I want for my birthday.

  2. Such a timely post, Shira! For the first time ever for me, I’m off the heels of an attempted no spend January. It was very eye opening for me. I wasn’t perfect but I was made aware of my mindless habits which in my mind is progress.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your point that one size does not fit all. For example, hair cuts. I have short hair and feel my best having a trim every 5 or 6 weeks. Hair appointments may be a no-go for some during a no spend, but for me, they were “permitted”.

    I follow a woman on Instagram who does a no spend week every month from the 1st to 7th which feels quite doable after a no spend month. I’m thinking I’ll give a no spend week a try in March.

    A no spend is a really worthwhile exercise!


    1. Ooh the no spend week is a great way to ease into it. I’ve typically done a month at a time but might try that approach! Xx

      1. Liked the ‘plan ahead’ thought.
        I know summer is coming w/a lot more spending-garden, events, so I plan for that by not spending now.
        Also, when a surprise expense comes up, repairs on the car/home, etc. I try to make up that expense by not spending for a while.

        1. Yes, always helpful to anticipate upcoming expenses so they don’t rock your world when they do pop up. Thanks for reading! Xx

  3. I’m ending week 5 of a nine week buy nothing new plan..my goal is to have less stuff , less returns and maybe a little more money. Exceptions are for experiences, coffee, magazines and books which I deem essential as well as gifts andtoiletries. I am doing this with my officemate which actually helps as we give each other props for resistance to the barrage of stuff trying to enter our home. It has definately helped with the Amazon issue as well as many small purchases. I wasn’t sure I could do 9 weeks but now I’m pretty sure I can.. next up reducing food waste!

  4. Love the article and the comments. I tended not to buy much material goods at all, but in the last 2 years have spent much on various courses….lots of self development. I have come to see that I need to LEARN by DOING versus seeking by learning more and more. A good lesson for me!!

    Its easy to look outside ourselves but its almost always an inside-out job because that really allows us to trust ourselves and check in with we know and whether we DO with what we know…and create from there. Integrity through DOING and learning as I do is my focus this year. So yes a PAUSE for more courses is long overdue.

    1. Yes, such a good lesson, even though investing in self development is such a good idea, everything in moderation is also a good idea! Xx

  5. I fully agree to your mindset and am in a mood to declutter and clear my life and get rid of everything I do not really need to survive and feel good. And that is a lot! I already noted all my monthly cost within a period of 4 months and was astonished how much I spent also in things like “necessary” beauty products etc. I had the tendancy to buy a lot before I was really in need of something new and change this into only re-purchasing something when the current product is really completely used up. And now I first think for some days about new purchases and their ideal moment for cloth/furniture/accessories, too. And a more minimalistic home feels soo good! I can only recommend it to everyone as it leaves you more time, power and money creating and living your dream life.

  6. This makes so much sense and is more helpful to me than the one size fits all idea of don’t buy this that and the other. Thanks!

  7. Much much easier if you flip the focus from spening on things to instead “spending” on long-term investments and the financial security and options this will create for your future.

  8. This sounds like a very thoughtful exercise! In January, I decided to try a “no buying clothes” for myself for a year (undergarments are an exception)! I have a one year old and am rediscovering my pre-pregnancy clothes again. It’s like shopping but will allow me to edit anything I don’t love. I am keeping a notebook in my closet if there is something I see and wish I had. At the end of this year, if in still interested I will treat myself as a reward to one item. So far, I have found this exercise liberating and questioning the number and quality of clothes for my kiddos too.

    I love your concepts and systems!

  9. This is great advice. Thank you! Love reading your posts and how you actually apply it, because it is hard to change these habits!

  10. This is all very helpful; although I am not at liberty to spend seeing that I don’t have an income of my own, a pause is always a good thing. Thank you for sharing.

  11. Excellent plan! I need to lose weight & get back to going to the gym, which is free ( included with my medical insurance) & to quit buying clothes. I have too many!

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