Why No Buys Are A Bad Idea: Advice From Someone Who Completed a No Buy Year

Back in 2020 I embarked on a year long no-buy. Their popularity has since increased, but at the time there were just a handful of  youtubers and bloggers who had publicly embarked on the journey and shared their progress. People like Hanna Louise Poston were my role models and they set the foundation for what my no buy would look like.

The premise of a no buy is simple: for a set period of time, you’re not allowed to shop barring necessities and replacements. The year-long no buy is popular in the beauty space, but you can choose any length of time. In the aftermath of my no-buy I felt proud and vindicated. I did it, you know?

But for a while my pride clouded my judgment as to how useful my no-buy actually was. A year later as I went out into the world again I quickly fell into similar patterns and my shopping habits weren’t all that different. There had been some progress, but not what I expected after a year.

As I gained more experience, and learned about habits specifically, I made an important realization: no buys can be useful and save you money, but they’re simply not for everyone. If someone was looking to change their shopping habits going on a no buy would not be the first action step I’d suggest they’d take.


they’re like a crash diet

A short term no-buy for one to three months may give you some real knowledge about your shopping habits and triggers. However, the problem with a no-buy is that it’s like a crash diet. Crash diets are not a gentle or slow reduction in calories; they’re extreme changes that don’t usually last too long because people typically can’t sustain the extreme shift.

People who successfully lose weight or change their lifestyle tend to do so with less extreme and more moderate changes.

If you have a shopping problem, a no-buy isn’t going to help you in the long run because it’s not sustainable for most people. If you’ve never learned about your shopping habits, triggers, or coping mechanisms, a one or two month no-buy may help you illuminate some of these. But, I don’t suggest longer time-frames until you get more experience and knowledge under your belt. Even then, the most effective way to address shopping problems is through habits. More on that later.

No-buys are rigid by their nature and if you don’t already have experience with rigid rules or budgeting there’s a good chance you’ll struggle. A good question to ask yourself is: if I “broke” my no-buy rules how would I feel? Would I be able to pick myself up and keep going or, would this lead me to a shopping spiral?

Because you don’t have the skills or habits at the beginning of your journey you’ll be relying on motivation and willpower, which are both finite resources.

Quitting shopping can be similar to quitting smoking or drinking. Many struggle to quit cold turkey, and a more moderate decline may actually achieve the most sustainable results.    

you’re creating a void

One of the biggest pitfalls of going on a no buy is that you’re creating a void. If you’re an over-shopper, then to some extent shopping is a hobby. By quitting shopping you’re effectively quitting your hobby and now all of a sudden you have a void. How many hours a day do you currently spend on scrolling your favourite websites, creating carts, packing up returns, going to the post office, trying on items, or browsing your favourite stores. Not to mention adjacent activities like watching reviews or other content on Youtube or Tiktok. Shopping can take up as much time as you let it.

With it gone, at best, you’ll feel bored or restless, at worst you’ve also removed your coping mechanism. According to Dr. Alex Korb of The Upward Spiral, coping mechanisms are habits and a stress response. They’re the habits we do when we’re stressed.

Removing your stress response without finding a replacement can lead to a dangerous void. Personally speaking, this had led to shopping spirals when I couldn’t cope with the stress anymore. Not being able to use my coping mechanism (aka the outlet for my stress) only made me more stressed. You can absolutely replace your coping mechanism with a healthier alternative, but this can, and does,  take time. It takes time to figure out how/if you cope with shopping, and what might work as an alternative.

they don’t address the root of the problem

The #1 reason to avoid the no-buy is because it doesn’t address the root of the problem. If you’re able to stick to a no buy, sure, you’ll save money, but have you learned the skills necessary to replicate that money-saving long term? Likely not. You can’t live the rest of your life on a no buy.

What happens when you finish your no-buy year? Do yo have the skills necessary to shop in the ways that you consider healthy or successful?

The reason why you shop the way you do is because of your habits. Habits drive your behavior, and no buys are not habit-oriented. Meaning they’re not designed to address your habits. You may learn a thing or two about habits along the way,  but that’s not their central purpose.

You can achieve the same result of saving money with a habit focused approach. In fact, you’ll likely learn more with a habit-first approach. You’ll potentially save more money and achieve other good things with a habit-first approach. Why? Because a habit-first approach focuses on the core issue not the side effects. In other words, no buys are like taking painkillers for a toothache without ever visiting the dentist to fix the cavity causing the pain. Even if you successfully complete a no buy, you haven’t addressed your habits. Habits are controlled by the habit loop: cue, craving, response, reward. To change how you shop long-term you can this loop to stop bad habits and start good ones.

they don’t teach you healthy shopping strategies

You cannot learn health shopping strategies without actually shopping.

No buy challenges don’t teach you how to shop mindfully and sustainably. They don’t help you understand what it means for something to be “good value” or help you define shopping criteria at all. The main thing they do well is help you to say no. Although this is a valuable to learn, no buys say no for you.  If you wanted a new sweater while on your no buy, for example, are you making the choice not to shop or are you saying no “because you have to.” If you came across that same sweater while you weren’t on your no buy would you still not buy it? Would saying no be a harder thing to do?

You need to have the experience of buying something that doesn’t work out, learning from it and iterating. You need to have the time and space to decide what shopping criteria matters to you. And, consider why you shop, how much is enough, and make strategic choices based on these reflections. You need to learn when to say no and when to shop. Experience is often the best teacher. Mistakes and slip-ups give us valuable information.

A by-product of my no-buy year was shopping guilt. After I finished and I was able to shop again I started feeling guilty about buying anything, which continued for months into my post-no-buy-year. My no-buy framed ALL shopping as bad because I had to say no to just about everything. This rubbed off on me and did reframe my thinking as all shopping= bad.

I remember, very vividly, feeling guilty about a $10 pack of socks because it came with 10 pairs and I didn’t need all 10. I felt a wild amount of shame and guilt over having 3 socks too many. The same thing happened with a $5 deodorant. I began agonizing over purchases so I wouldn’t make a mistake.  $5 deodorant was not worth the mental agony.    

they establish a black and white environment of failure

No-buys set out a very clear black and white line of success and failure. You buy anything that’s not on your list of approved purchases and you’ve failed. One misstep and you’re somehow a failure. This outlook isn’t ideal, because your “failure” can setoff a shopping spiral with an internal dialogue that can go something like: I’ve already broken my no-buy, I’ve failed. It doesn’t matter anymore.

Over the last four years I’ve heard from hundreds if not thousands of women who’ve said that breaking their no-buy affected their self-esteem, and they didn’t continue with their no-buy year project because they “failed.”

Mistakes are precisely how we learn and iterate. Imagine if you failed one test in school and then they kicked you out or held you back a grade. There’s a famous quote from Samuel Beckett that says “try again, fail again, fail better.” We improve through mistakes and failure.

What can also happen with this mindset is that you can start justifying things so they fit into your rules. Ex.  You said that you could replace items that break or become non-functional.  Your jeans rip, you can’t wear them so you say that you need a new pair. You then proceed to buy a new pair when you have 4, 5, or 6+ other pairs you could wear.

Not only have I done this, but I’ve seen this and heard from subscribers that they’ve done this too.

This kind of mentality is hard to break during a no-buy and quite frankly I wish I could have skipped all that back and forth of feeling like a failure, obsessing over my purchases, and justifying things I should not have bought.

When you’re allowed to buy things you can be more honest, and you have way more opportunity to try again, fail again, and fail better. You have more opportunity to say yes and no. To learn when saying either is appropriate. When you fail, you can take note, and do better next time.    


No-buys aren’t a completely useless tool that have no merit or benefit whatsoever. There are times and places that it can make sense. I find no-buy January an incredibly fun way to start the year and focus my attention on specific goals. But a one month no-buy isn’t the same as a no-buy year regardless of how much experience you have.

The TLDR is really this: no-buys don’t address habits, which are the root of the problem and the solution. If you want to change how you shop you’re better off focusing on habits instead of going on a no buy.

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