The Toughest Bad Habit to Kick

December 15, 2014
shopping-streets

As I mentioned last week, I’m now five months into this yearlong ban on both shopping and takeout coffee. Thank you for being forgiving of the one coffee ban slip that occurred in October. You were all right about the fact that it happened absentmindedly, and I’ve tried to remain conscious of that mistake each time I’ve walked into a coffee shop since. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the shopping ban slip that took place a couple weeks ago. Nope, this one was deliberate…

First, some reminders: One month into the shopping ban, the only time I’d really felt the urge to shop and spend money was when I discovered new books I wanted to read. In the past, whenever I wanted a new book, I ordered it from Amazon or bought/downloaded it onto my e-reader. There were no questions asked. If I wanted a book, I bought it right away. So, in the first 31 days, my reaction to discovering new books I wanted was thinking “well, this sucks,” and then hosting a pity party for 1.

Three months into the shopping ban, I was still struggling with wanting to buy books. There was one time, in particular, when an author I love reduced one of his e-books to just $2.99. My “well, this sucks,” turned into “this $*#%^@! sucks,” but I still didn’t buy it. Beyond just books, a breakup proved to be another test that helped me discover one more of my bad habits: to shop when I am sad, in an attempt to feel better. But I pushed past that and came out stronger for it.

From these examples, you can see that the toughest part of the ban isn’t that I’m “going without” anything; it’s simply the act of trying to change my habits. Buying books whenever I wanted them is something I’ve been doing since I got my first credit card… that was 10 years ago. And we could go so far as to say I’ve always used consumption as a way to try to make myself feel better, whether it be with material goods, food, booze, etc. These habits are engrained in my system.

Over the years, I’ve gotten better and better at changing my tendencies to consume and turning them into good habits. I gave up (most) unhealthy foods, and rewarded myself with healthy recipes, workouts and more sleep. I also stopped drinking alcohol, which pays dividends all on its own. However, between the 3-month mark on this shopping ban and today, I’ve discovered one other bad habit of mine: talking myself into doing things I know I shouldn’t do.

How I Talked Myself into Shopping on Black Friday

The morning of Black Friday, I took to Twitter and shared all my thoughts on how ridiculous the day was. Unfortunately, that was also the same day I launched my Kobo Aura giveaway, and I realized I still hadn’t bought it. When I went to the website, I discovered they were on sale – from $139 down to just $99. This was obviously great news for Blonde on a Budget’s giveaway budget, but it piqued my own interest, as well. Here’s what started going through my head:

Omg. E-readers never go on sale! Not Kobo’s, anyway. This is incredible. And $40 is a huge discount! Ahhh, I should get one. Do I have $99 to spend right now, though? Yea, I could do that. But do I really need a new e-reader? The power button on mine is broken. It’s so annoying having to stick a pin in the reset button every time I want to turn it on. And the battery drains so quickly now. It used to last a whole month! I could remove all these daily annoyances from my life by buying one. Ugh, but the stupid shopping ban. I hate this! A new e-reader would be amazing. And the Aura’s are sleek and so much faster than mine. I’m not going to let the stupid ban stop me. I have $700 in my “shopping ban” savings account right now. I’m going to spend it on something one day, right? And when will the Aura ever be $99 again? Probably never.

…I then added 2 e-readers to my shopping cart, entered all my credit card and billing information, and submitted the order. As I was typing everything in, my hands were almost shaking at the thought that I was doing something wrong. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be shopping, but I’d convinced myself I needed to. Fortunately, almost as soon as I hit the “Submit Order” button, I realized what I’d done. In that moment, my train of thought stopped and moved onto the right track:

Cait, you don’t need a new e-reader! Yours is perfectly fine! So what if you have to stick a stupid pin in the reset button? It works fine, otherwise! And it takes just as much time to turn on doing that, as it did when the crappy power button used to work. It’s fine for now. It doesn’t need to be replaced – at least not until the shopping ban is over. Omg, this was a huge mistake. Please, Internet Gods, let me cancel my order.

The Internet Gods were on my side that morning, and I was able to remove 1 of the e-readers from my order. I then went back to Twitter and announced that, despite all my best efforts, Black Friday had nearly “got me”. I’m obviously happy I was able to correct my mistake here, so to speak, but I’m left fascinated by this bad habit of mine…

The Toughest Bad Habit to Kick

Throughout the shopping ban, I’ve talked myself out of dozens – maybe even hundreds – of purchases. Usually, I have no problem reminding myself of the ban and realizing I don’t actually need anything new to be happy. But shopping isn’t the only time I talk myself into doing things I know I shouldn’t do. On a consumption level, I used to talk myself into drinking more alcohol, and I still convince myself I “deserve” bad food sometimes. And I know I’m not alone in this.

Most of the decisions you need to make on a daily basis come with 2+ options (often good vs. bad), and you talk yourself into one of them. If you make a good decision, it’s usually because you have a very clear understanding of what you want the result to be (e.g. you choose to workout because you want to lose weight). If you opt for the bad choice, it’s often because you are struggling with “why” you would’ve taken the good route (e.g. you choose to eat junk food during your diet, because you’re not seeing results or you’re having a bad day). But you’ll also opt for the bad choice if you haven’t built good decision-making into your routine – a.k.a. if you haven’t made good choices a habit.

There are also some external factors, of course. For example, it’s been easy (or easier) for me to talk myself out of buying books, because I have so many on my bookshelf that I still haven’t read. However, when I saw the sale price for that e-reader, I realized I’d never seen it at that price before and convinced myself it would never be on sale again. Then there’s the family and friend factor. I’m lucky that most people encourage me to make good choices. Unfortunately, there will always be someone who will guide you to make the bad choice; to give into your cravings because “you deserve it”. But what you really deserve is to reap the rewards that come with making good choices.

I don’t know how long it takes to build a habit… some people say 14 days, 21 days, 30 days, 90 days. I’m 162 days into this shopping ban, and I still slipped up on Black Friday. What I do know is that I made the right decision when I cancelled my order. Since Black Friday, I’ve only turned on my e-reader twice, which shows that a new one wouldn’t have removed the “daily” annoyance I’d convinced myself I had. I also learned that I talk myself into doing things I shouldn’t do in all areas of my life. But I rewarded myself by putting $100 into my shopping ban savings account, which is now sitting at $800. And all I can do is keep moving forward, and try to make a habit out of making good choices.

What was the last thing you talked yourself into doing, when you knew you shouldn’t?

  • Alice December 15, 2014 at 8:38 am

    I totally understand the desire to want to buy books all the time. It is my passion.

    In order to get past that I have started to utilize my library as best as I can. I have an e-reader and a library card. My library allows me to request and borrow ebooks (not sure if yours does, buit mine allows 10 books borrowed on e-reader at a time and 5 books on hold.) This coupled with my ability to borrow and request books at the library, allows me to read all the books that I want and if by chance my library doesn’t have the books that I want, I ask them to order them. Most libraries take patron requests.

    My local library is small, but the city is large and I am able to request books from any of the libraries in the are to be delivered to my local one.

    Good luck with the rest of the shopping ban.
    Maybe ask for an e-reader for Xmas? That’s what I asked for two years ago and I love it.

    • Cait Flanders December 16, 2014 at 7:00 am

      I’m now a frequent visitor of my local library, too, which has certainly helped. That still doesn’t mean it’s easy to break habits that I spent years building! And my current e-reader was a Christmas gift two years ago. The simple fact is that it does work – it’s just not perfect, which is why I feel the need to replace it. That’s a problematic feeling that’s been built into us, because companies constantly release newer and better versions of their products. So I just want something better, even though mine still serves its original purpose. So, no new e-reader for me. :)

      • Scarlet March 12, 2015 at 1:31 am

        I find we get so conditioned to new products that we tend to forget the current item you have is still more efficient than the original alternative! An e-reader in any state (in my opinion) is better than carrying around cumbersome books, and cheaper plus more environmentally friendly then physical copies. Had I not completely shattered the screen on my old one, I’d [like to think I would] still be using it despite not having a back light and bring slow at turning pages, because it was portable and convient for my lifestyle!

        Cheers :)

  • Britt December 15, 2014 at 8:46 am

    Get thee a library card, girl! The BC Online library is amazing for all things ebook. Some you may have to wait for, but there are lots that are available fairly quickly. And it’s free! When I moved to AB and had to pay to use the library I was so sad.

    • Cait Flanders December 15, 2014 at 8:57 am

      I go all the time now! And you have to PAY!? What’s that about?

      • sofia December 15, 2014 at 10:43 pm

        What kind of library do you have to pay to use? Is it a private library system?

  • L December 15, 2014 at 9:07 am

    I think this shopping ban is allowing you to learn your triggers and that’s such an amazing lesson to learn. Good for you for putting the e-reader back, most wouldn’t have. I’m trying very hard to ask myself if I really need something before I buy it, so far is has worked which is nice! Good luck with the rest of the ban!

    • Cait Flanders December 16, 2014 at 7:03 am

      Great to hear that’s been working for you, L! I do that with books, and the answer is always no, I don’t need it. But the sale on Kobo’s was a crazy test. Not sure whether I passed or failed yet, haha…

  • Nadia December 15, 2014 at 9:28 am

    My library card is now free (Edmonton Public Library). Prior to 2013 it was $12 a year (not that big of a deal). I get lots of great use out of it.

    I use my iPad Mini as my e-reader. I have the Kobo app and I love it. I also have the Overdrive app which is what my library uses for ebooks. I’d previously thought about having a separate e-reader but I get so much use out of my iPad and I don’t have another electronic device taking up space in my place either. Bonus I didn’t have to pay for my iPad either.

    • Cait Flanders December 16, 2014 at 7:04 am

      Overdrive is amazing! I always forget about that beauty. ;)

  • Bridget December 15, 2014 at 9:39 am

    I just got my first Kindle and I’m obsessed with it… I was sad when I saw it was marked down to $64 the week after I bought it though. Lucky for me I purchased it 100% with Amazon gift cards I earned from Swagbucks so the total out of pocket cost was $0.

    You know, if you start racking up Swagbucks you could spend those on Amazon gift cards and get more books and it wouldn’t really count because you wouldn’t be spending any money…

    • Cait Flanders December 16, 2014 at 7:04 am

      Haha, sounds like you’re trying to talk me into shopping. ;)

  • Jennifer Jennings December 15, 2014 at 9:40 am

    I talked myself into a two night stay at a spa over New Years with the rationale that I was getting an unexpected refund AND a reimbursement so that meant my spa stay was significantly reduced and incredible value. That said, I do not regret talking myself into this minor extravagance because it will allow me time and space in a nurturing environment to say tra la to 2014 and hello 2015. Good for you, Cait, for ‘coming clean’ on your close call with the shopping ban and your thoughtful examination of kicking bad habits or replacing them with good ones. Your post aligns nicely with some recent self reflection of why it is if I know something doesn’t fit with my priorities/values/wants/needs, do I sometimes do it anyway, or don’t do it? Is it really as simple as short term wants and rewards predominating and enticing my rational self over long term goals? Where does that leave my determination? Your words got me thinking of ways to elastic-band-myself-on-the-wrist to snap back into reality and bring focus back to be a woman of my word.

    • Cait Flanders December 16, 2014 at 7:08 am

      Sounds like a nice way to ring in the new year, Jennifer. Also, thank you for this comment. The elastic band visual is something that’ll stick with me for a long time. If I play any role in helping you bring focus back to being the person you want to be… well, that’s just the greatest compliment a writer can receive. (Also, you are a great writer.) :)

  • Jacquie December 15, 2014 at 11:02 am

    Cait you’re so inspiring!! I went out Saturday night intending to buy something to “cheer myself up” like makeup or news pjs. I had surgery on my wrist last week and have been home alone on oxycodone all week……that meant I deserved something right?!

    Wrong. My week off for the surgery was unpaid which means I really DON’T have the money, and I’m going to LA next week and I know I’ll shop there. I ended up leaving the mall with toothpaste and a $2.97 box of flavoured hot chocolate.

    • Cait Flanders December 16, 2014 at 7:10 am

      Ouch, sorry to hear about the surgery, Jacquie! Hope the hot chocolate was able to cheer you up a bit. :)

  • Dee December 15, 2014 at 11:07 am

    I did the same thing with an iPad. I knew I shouldn’t have bought it, but I kept telling myself why I needed it. When I look back on it, I realized I should have just put it on my birthday/christmas list. But what’s done is done. I can only learn from it.

    I’ve also read something somewhere, a year or 2 ago, that said it takes just 3 days to form a habit. I tested that theory with one of my bad habits. It took so many tries and hypnotherapy appointments until I realized that all I had to do was come up with another (good) solution to my habit. There are some days where I still feel like doing my bad habit, but I tell myself to do the better solution instead. That’s the way I look at things now. There are multiple solutions to our bad habits. It’s up to us to find a good one that works.

    • Cait Flanders December 16, 2014 at 7:12 am

      Yes! We need to replace bad habits with good ones, in order for them to stick. The trouble with shopping is I’m not really sure how to replace those urges with a good habit. For now, if I talk myself out of a purchase, I simply put the money I would’ve spent in a savings account. And I’m not complaining about that… but that just feels like more of a reward than a good habit. Something for me to think about :)

  • Stacey December 15, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    I stopped for fast food at MCD’s a month ago. I was hungry and convinced myself this was a great idea and I deserve it. Should have just waited til I got homr and made something

    • Cait Flanders December 16, 2014 at 7:17 am

      Hunger is the cause of so many bad decisions. I now try to keep easy snacks at home, like fruit or nuts, so I can at least get a few calories in me while I’m waiting for food to cook. But I’m still with you… I have made lots of fast food stops, in my lifetime, because I didn’t want to wait. The only other thing that helps me avoid drive-thrus today is the realization that takeout is actually so much more expensive than food you’d make at home! How is a McD’s meal $9-10 now!? I don’t understand. It used to be like $4.99. I can make a big, amazing dinner at home for $5 or less (and that’s if I’m being fancy, lol). So McD’s has to be on par with something I could get at a restaurant, for me to spend that kind of money… and it’s not. Maybe that reminder will also help you, in those times!

  • Kristen December 15, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    I work as a Behaviour Analyst. My training is on helping people change behaviour (specifically autism, but the principles are the same for all populations). It is very, very, very hard to do. It is not impossible but it is hard. (if it wasn’t the diet industry for example wouldn’t make billions of dollars and people would just stop smoking!) It is made easier if you have a better reinforcer for not engaging in a behaviour (you need something stronger than shopping or coffee). If reinforcement doesn’t work alone, punishment can be added (we try and avoid punishment as much as possible and use more positive behaviour change procedures). I saw your tweet about flicking an elastic band, something like that may be necessary. Things that become habits are harder to change, because engaging in them becomes automatically reinforcing .

    On my recent vacation, I was able to talk myself into doing things that cost $ that I didn’t need to spend. This resulted in the vacation being at the top end our budget. I have had to work very hard not to spend too much money on others at Christmas, to stick to my list.

    • Cait Flanders December 16, 2014 at 7:32 am

      Kristen, could I possibly interview you about something in the new year? I’m going to email you :)

      • Kristen December 16, 2014 at 5:32 pm

        Of course! Email me:)

  • strandedrocks December 15, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    Ah! A couple of weeks ago I was in Costco and I saw the complete series of Calvin and Hobbes for $50 cheaper than on online. My heart started beating because I have wanted this for years but I told myself I could treat myself only when I was debt free. I left but then the next day I was anxious that it would sell out and I remember thinking how I didn’t like how I was acting. A little desperate is what I would call it. I finally came to a compromise and I will wait until my next billing cycle of my credit card. I have been back twice and I always go see that there are enough copies. I think it’s good that I’m waiting, I just don’t I am waiting enough. Oh the perils of living in a consumer society :)

    • Cait Flanders December 16, 2014 at 7:37 am

      I guess the answer to whether or not you’re waiting long enough is what purpose it’ll serve you. Is it just going to be a collectible? If so, there’s no rush (you’ve already wanted it for years but haven’t bought it yet). But if it’s going to serve as entertainment right away, you could try to get it in the next couple of months. That’s the thought process I’d use, anyway :)

      • Strandedrocks December 17, 2014 at 4:01 am

        I read your reply and it made think twice. I really like your train of thought and I think that it helped me decide that I will buy it and I no longer feel bad about not waiting. I can’t wait to read from beginning to end as soon as I get it. Thanks Cait!

  • K @ One More BROKE TWENTY-SOMETHING December 15, 2014 at 8:55 pm

    Ugh. This struggle is so real. Books aren’t my weakness, instead it’s takeout food and coffee. Seriously.

  • Jessica December 15, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    Sometimes I feel like I am the queen of justifications. I justify unnecessary expenditures, eating unhealthy foods or being lazy instead of being productive. I guess since law school trained me to come up with arguments for any proposition I’m always able to talk myself into whatever I want. It’s so easy to give into the “bad” choice when it requires discipline to make the “good” choice. It is a dangerous habit, and one that I need to break.

    • Cait Flanders December 16, 2014 at 7:44 am

      Does it really require discipline to make the good choice though? This is something I’m genuinely curious about. I feel like we hit a fork in the road multiple times each day, and all we have to do is pick one direction or the other. That’s it. I don’t think it takes discipline to choose the good route… I think it’s simply about knowing what you want your ultimate outcome to be. If you keep that in mind, the good choice seems more obvious.

  • Mrs. Frugalwoods December 16, 2014 at 4:07 am

    For me, eating treats is sooooo tempting. I know I shouldn’t eat that chocolate/cookie/banana bread, but I want to so bad! And I like what you said about talking oneself into these things–I totally do that! I think “oh, Mrs. Frugalwoods, you deserve that Hershey’s kiss… it’s only one…” AHHHHH!

    The one tactic that really helps me avoid treats is pre-planning other “rewards” like apples and a banana in the afternoon and dried fruit in the evenings. That way, I can look forward to at least eating something tasty.

    • Cait Flanders December 16, 2014 at 7:46 am

      I’m with you, here. My best friend Emma and I often text each other what we’ve eaten that day (accountability, so to speak) and it was really helpful when I was trying to kick my daily chocolate habit. She knows how excited I now get about having fresh fruit in the house, haha. An apple with almond butter is the best snack ever!

  • susie December 16, 2014 at 7:33 am

    This summer was apparently my summer of indulgence. I blew through my credit card like no other. I had 31 transactions in the month of June. 31! For the months of Jun-Jul-Aug I said yes to everything. Clothes, eating out, alcohol.. but mostly clothes. I bought an $81 dollar kimono (on sale) only to lose it a month later at a music festival. That one still stings. It took me 3 months to pay off my summertime fun and now I’m considering a shopping ban starting New Years. Side note: I’ve completed a shopping ban before. From Apr 2011-to Apr 2012. It was one of the hardest things I had ever done. But the amount of money I had saved definitely out weighed all the negatives.

    Kudos to you for being so open about you hiccups. It’s natural and don’t beat yourself up over it. :)

    • Cait Flanders December 16, 2014 at 7:48 am

      I’m curious: what was the purpose of the shopping ban? Based on all the lessons I’ve learned during mine, so far, I honestly don’t think I’ll ever go back to my spendy lifestyle. So I’m just curious what made you feel like you wanted to do/buy everything this summer, long after you’d completed a successful shopping ban? Was there a trigger for that spending? Excuse me if I’m being nosy. :)

      • susie December 16, 2014 at 8:33 am

        I have given this a lot of thought over the years.. You see, I’m a shopper and for as long as I can remember, I have always wanted things. I didn’t grow up with a lot of ‘stuff’. My one income family simply couldn’t afford the same type of lifestyle my peers could. As a result, I was always envious of what my friends had, what they were wearing, etc.. So now that I’m an quasi-responsible adult (haha) I can buy my own things.. sometimes they’re in the budget and sometimes they’re not.

        But basically it boils down to balance. (or lack thereof) Generally I’m very good with my money. I budget for myself & for the household (my husband and I split our finances). We have been aggressively paying off our mortgage since we purchased it in ’11. So, since we’re doing that, most of my disposable income is going towards my mortgage; leaving me with very little to save and to have fun with. So I guess this summer, I just said screw the budget (mine, not the household) and bought what ever I wanted.

        However there’s light at the end of the tunnel, my husband just got a raise so once it officially kicks in, we’re going to start splitting our finances proportionally to our incomes. Which will help a lot with me finding balance with my own finances.

        Sorry for the long-winded response, but hopefully that answers some questions!

        • Cait Flanders December 17, 2014 at 11:01 pm

          Don’t apologize! I appreciate you sharing your experiences here. Great news about your husband’s raise! Nice way to start the new year :)

      • susie December 16, 2014 at 8:39 am

        Oh, and the reason for the shopping ban was to simply challenge myself with my shopping issues. I least I can say I have gone without purchasing stuff for a year. I should say, that it was only geared towards clothing, shoes & accessories. (What I spend most on) I literally did not buy a thing. Not even socks!

  • Tonya@Budget and the Beach December 16, 2014 at 8:00 am

    I think this is honestly why I don’t ban myself from anything completely, but I of course understand that everyone has various reasons for doing things and when it comes to maybe something like drugs or alcohol, or compulsively shopping there may be a need to go cold turkey. I tried not eating chocolate but all I found myself doing was eating something else that was equally bad or worse. :) I still haven’t quite found moderation with that particular “problem” in my life, but I’m going to keep trying. Other than that I don’t have any major vices that are a big problem. I may have forgotten so refresh my memory of why you are doing the shopping ban?

    • Tonya@Budget and the Beach December 16, 2014 at 8:01 am

      Oh forgot to add that there is one phrase that seems to always come to mind when you are doing any kind of ban: what you resist, persists. At least that’s true when it comes to my chocolate habit. :)

    • Cait Flanders December 17, 2014 at 11:02 pm

      I still don’t think of this as a complete shopping ban. I’ve read about people who seriously buy nothing, whereas I’m still allowed to buy all the basics that I need, a few things on my approved shopping list, etc. Kicking my book buying habit was huuuge for me (and my budget). And the goal has always been to become a conscious consumer. :)

  • Christine @ The Wallet Diet December 16, 2014 at 10:51 am

    I think banning myself from something does the opposite. Kind of like when someone tells you not to do something, you want to do it! Books are a huge weakness for me but it helps to remind myself of my bigger goal – becoming debt-free. I want to get rid of my student debts more than all the books in the world!

    • Cait Flanders December 17, 2014 at 11:03 pm

      Yes, I definitely think it’s important to keep the big picture goal in mind, when doing something like this!

  • Alex December 16, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    I have this bad habit too! But my weakness is makeup and beauty products. I always convince myself that I “need” something new. In my head, I rationalize buying a new skin moisturizer because I tell myself that the one I have doesn’t work , it’s important to take care of my skin, and if I buy a “better” moisturizer maybe I can switch to a different/cheaper cleanser, etc. It’s madness! I just posted about starting a shopping ban (of sorts) on beauty products. Good for you on cancelling your order! It seems like you’re on your way to breaking your bad habit – hopefully I’ll be able to kick mine as well!

    • Cait Flanders December 17, 2014 at 11:06 pm

      Makeup/beauty products have never really interested me, but I can certainly understand how easy it would be to build a habit of buying them whenever and for whatever reason. Good luck with your shopping ban! Six months is a good length of time, and I have no doubt you can push through that (and probably learn a lot about your triggers during the process).

  • Aleksandra Sagan December 16, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    Good on you for saying no to the new e-reader even after initially buying it! It may seem like a brief lapse in willpower, but I think you totally overcame it in the end. That’s almost like taking a bite of a chocolate bar and then putting the rest away – something I don’t know if I could do :) At least, when it comes to chocolate and not money.

    • Cait Flanders December 17, 2014 at 11:06 pm

      Haha, I definitely can’t do that with chocolate. Just ask the bar I bought yesterday. Oh wait, it’s gone.

  • Jessica Moorhouse December 17, 2014 at 6:34 pm

    I’ve been using the “but Jacob is closing down soon” excuse for buying more work clothes than I need for 4 months. I still have a dress from a month ago I’ve never even worn! Bad Jessica.

    • Cait Flanders December 17, 2014 at 11:07 pm

      Haha, very bad Jessica. Maybe no more shopping until you’ve worn it? :P