why no-buys are a bad idea (advice from someone who completed one)

If you’ve been following the fashion or beauty industry, then you know that the no buy trend has been gaining traction for years. The premise is simple: for a set period of time (usually three months), you’re not allowed to shop and instead focus on building up your wardrobe with better-quality items that are less likely to fall out of fashion. I’m sure we’ve all wanted to do this at one point or another—and there are certainly benefits in doing so—but I think the no buy trend is quietly preventing many people from getting what they really want in their wardrobes.

Back in 2020 I embarked on a year long no-buy. Their popularity has since increased, but at the time there were a few youtubers and bloggers who had publicly embarked on the journey and shared their progress. People like Hanna Louise Poston were my role models. The premise is simple: for a set period of time, you’re not allowed to shop barring necessities and replacements only. 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 the 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 realized that no-buys may be for some people, but not for me. No-buys are more popular now than every before but I’m no longer the fan I once was of the year long no-buy and would actively dissuade my younger-self from doing one.


it’s 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 your 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.

** when you struggle you’ll find answers, use it to your advtange.

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 your hobby. By quitting shopping you’re effectively quitting your hobby and now all of a sudden you have a void.

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 habit we do when we’re stressed. Or, it’s triggered by stress.

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, usually take time. It takes time to figure out how/if you cope with shopping, and what might work as an alternative.

A note on coping mechanisms: there are two types of coping mechanisms avoidant or response. Avoidant mechanisms are outlets that help you avoid the problem or emotions ex. retail therapy and response mechanisms are outlets where you deal with the emotions or problem head on ex. talking to a therapist. If your outlet is an avoidant mechanism you need to replace it with a healthier avoidant. Examples could be painting, running, watching a TV show.

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? No. You’ve done a year that you simply can’t replicate for the rest of your life.

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. They are driving your behavior-and no buys are not habit-oriented.

You can achieve the same result of saving money with a habit focused approach. In fact, you’ll likely learn more, and potentially save more money and achieve other good things with this kind of approach. Why? Because you’re focusing on the core issue not the side effects. Habits are controlled by the habit loop: cue, craving, response, reward. You can use this loop to stop bad habits or start good ones.

In addition, once you start figuring out your cues there’s a good chance you’ll touch on coping mechanisms somewhere in the process. You’ll need extra help and attention to work on these habits.

On a personal note: when I started my no-buy I was fully unprepared for the emotional toll it took on me. I learned that I was an emotional shopper. Meaning that one of my cues is my emotions. Ex. fight with a friend = strong feeling = desire to shop to feel better. The more emotionally taxing the event the stronger the desire to shop. It turned out I had been doing this for years without full knowledge leaving a lot of emotions unprocessed. Stopping shopping the way I did led to a VERY stressful year, and a lot of healing and therapy became necessary.

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, which is valuable to learn.

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.

A by-product of my no-buy year was shopping guilt. After my completion when I was now able to shop I started feeling guilty about buying anything. Because things hadn’t fully sorted themselves out in 2021 this continued months into my post-no-buy-year. My no-buy framed ALL shopping as bad. So, 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 and a $5 deodorant is not worth 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 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 kicked you out. 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. I said that I could replace items that break or become non-functional. My jeans ripped, I can’t wear them so I need a new pair. You then proceed to buy a new pair when you have 5,6, 7 other pairs you could wear.

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

This kind of mentality is hard to break during a no-buy and quite franks 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, 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 like to do a no-buy January every year. I find it an incredibly fun way to start the year and focus my attention on other things. I’ve also led people through a no-buy January in 2023. No-buy January is a far cry away from a no-buy year though.

The TLDR is really this: no-buys don’t address habits, which are the root of the problem and the solution.