No Shopping Experiment: Let’s Talk Money

Most people would rather talk about favorite sexual positions than the state of their kid’s college funds or how their retirement plan is looking. How about that eight month emergency fund? What’s that you say? You prefer to be on top but facing backward? See what I mean?

My husband and I have lived together for fourteen years and we’ve been married for nearly ten of those. We have racked up debt and paid it off, racked it up, and paid it off.  He once drew my a sketch on a Post-It note with a river and a boat near the top. He then explained that river was Shit Creek and we were up it– without paddles.

I’ve noticed since starting the challenge my friends seem to think I’m poor. Ironically, there’s more money in my account than usual by this time of month and our family is in a healthy financial place, clearly– no thanks to me. (That being said, I do sincerely appreciate the outpouring of support and offerings of fur pom-pom hats!)

Trying to prove a good time could be had without shopping, my sweet friend Kelly took me on a no-shopping date this week. We went to lunch and then go-kart racing at Unser. If you know me at all, and this strikes you as not my kind of thing, that’s precisely because, it isn’t. I was baffled when we pulled up to the giant complex in Denver. You know that fake smile all the girls on Bachelor pull when he announces they will be performing stand-up comedy for him? That’s the smile I gave Kelly in the parking lot. It was stressful and freaking cold. Do I love that my friend cared enough about me and my new goal to “push me out of my comfort zone” (her words)? Absolutely! Will I ever go there again and sign up to drive in a hostile circle with over-zealous, overgrown adolescents who literally bring their own helmets and gloves for the pleasure of this activity. Nope, knock that off the old bucket list.

Total cost of shopping-free fun, about $50. My husband found this very confusing. “What’s the point of not shopping–which you love– if you’re just going to spend the money anyway?”

Well, it’s not about the money. I mean, it is about the money. Wait a second…

In another life, when I smoked Marlboro Lights, wore high-heels for 12-hours a day, and sold fine art, I remember working with a specific collector whom I’d sold a lot of art to over the years. I’d done my usual song and dance and we both knew he wanted the painting. Still, failing to get the okay, I asked the question, “Is it about the money?” and with only a heartbeat’s pause he said, “Liv, it’s always about the money.”

Yesterday morning while re-knotting my hair on top of my head (you’re welcome Starbucks barista!), I saw the story of Anna Newell Jones on Good Morning America link to article . Her claim to fame? This woman was in debt to the tune of $24,000 before her wedding in 2009. Her fiance found this to be a real downer and had no interest in merging finances with her. While I would have left in a huff and probably found a few fiance, she opted to double-down after the honeymoon and starting January 1, 2010 she went on a spending fast. What is that horrible, disgusting, commitment of asceticism? You buy only “needs,” which she defines as bills and food to make at home. (She won my heart on her blog though where she also included–at least– boxed hair color.) The payoff? She was debt-free in 15 months.

And she’s started a revolution. Her blog ( is awesome. She also wrote The Spender’s Guide to Debt-Free Living. She has helped her readers crush over $3,000,000 in debt. If you’re in on the No Shopping Challenge, I highly recommend checking out her stuff.

Reading about her drew me back to the question of the money. I very deliberately did not commit to a spending fast. I continue to get my hair and nails done and  eat out on the go. I can spend on entertainment, gifts, and charitable contributions. By any financial planner’s standards, that’s hardly a debt-diet.

I cannot (as declared) buy myself or the kids anything to wear. I cannot buy toiletries or cosmetics unless or until I run out and don’t have a substitute (so, pretty much– ever.) No decorative home goods unless husband agrees to the need (insert laughing-crying emogi here.)

The truth is, I depleted my personal savings by $6500 this holiday season. Luckily, it was totally worth it because the kids are living in a constant state gratitude for the plethora of gifts they received…. said no mom, ever. And it wasn’t all kids or Christmas. I may have injured the new car and had to pay $1,000 to rectify that little problem, and I could go on. Until I couldn’t because there’s always that large sum of money that vanishes into thin air. I racked up about $1500 on a credit card, and about $700 between my Nordstrom and Banana Republic card. Laying that out makes me feel more naked than walking past the window– naked.

So if I can replenish the savings I borrowed from myself and pay off that insidious, pesky consumer debt by the end of the challenge, from a financial stand point the challenge would be successful. Fun fact: We paid off approximately 10k of this type of debt for me last year. So this is literally all new. So maybe my shopping problem and is worse than I’ve been willing to consider all along.

Yuck. I just worked all that out for the first time.

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” – Joan Didion

I’m not looking to start a revolution, this is not “my cause.” Making the financial goal of the challenge should be plenty doable if I stay within my parameters. Last night, I thought about what it would look like if I went to boxed hair color (awful, I’ve done it) an did away with my gel mani’s (Sad! I type a lot!). Sure it’s about the money (it’s always about the money), but as I said in the beginning this is about putting a big red ‘x’ through my favorite– and I do mean, FAVORITE– procrastination device.

When I was in rehab 15 years ago, there was a super cute Southern boy named Brian and the staff were all over him because he clearly had a thing going on with this almost-divorcee named Melissa. He kept getting called out in group and told the relationship was inappropriate and that he needed to focus on his recovery and finally one day he stood up, plucked the cigarette from behind his ear, pointed it at the counselor and said, “I came here to get off pills, not women.” He walked out with his cigarette and that was it for group that day.

All to say, I’m committed to cleaning up my financial fallout from 2017. I’ll own that, and I’ll keep peeling back the curtain on the money piece of the challenge, because it matters. But I started this challenge to get off Nordstrom, not Chik-fil-a.

5 thoughts on “No Shopping Experiment: Let’s Talk Money”

  1. Liv,

    Personally I think you are going down the right path. I’ve been where you were as well and my marriage ended I divorced after 25 years (not Steve) he has been my savior and we had to pay off $40K what I learned from that was I was miserable in that marriage I know that’s not your issue he is a great guy, but for me it was time to leave. I spent a few years alone found myself found Steve and have never been happier. I know God has great things ahead for your family all together. Some day you will look back and be grateful for your no spending.

    1. Thank you. Its funny how there is always a feeling of rightness about the right path. Thanks for sharing your experience and for believing in me. So glad our paths crossed all those years ago.

  2. I know you have to live enough in between posts to gather enough material for the next post, but can we work it out where I get at least one of these a day? I am such a fan of your voice.

    1. My husband said to me today, I love that you are a writer. I was standing at the kitchen sink and I said, “I find I do a lot of dishes and laundry between pushcart prizes.”

  3. Your are a constant source of “YES! I get that!” and “why didn’t I think of it like that?!” I guess pretty words will do that – thus, the need for writers. I really appreciate the wisdom you have been throwing down on this blog, couched in references to the ridiculousness of every day (shall I say middle-class-white-woman-first-world?) problems. Your shopping diet inspired me to do the same in my life, in the areas that I have found myself way to willy nilly with spending, which led to some great creative use of my time, enjoying the things I already have and also to a reevaluation of our family budget. As a result of this experiment, we have also begun to look more closely at just how we spend our money and why those little (okay, maybe not so little) chunks of CC debt always seem to be there. We’re getting a handle on the budget – I mean really doing it, not just making a list of how we think we’re spending our money and never looking at it again. We’re excited about getting and staying out of credit card debt (which for us, involves actually including in our budget all the money we spend on travel, esp. airfare to visit family) You helped inspire so much more for us and I am finally (at age 42) starting to feel like an adult. So, thank you. Damnit.

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