a peek inside the fishbowl

29 Dec, 2008

Shopping Embargo of 2009

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Shopping Embargo|Yaktivism

shopping embargo 2009

This is the third year of the Fishbowl Shopping Embargo and I am keen to get it going again. If you’ve been around for awhile you’re probably familiar with this already.

My guidelines are still the same:

Between January 1 and Feb 28, I will only purchase essential items for myself and for my family. This includes groceries/consumables, gas, basic hygiene (shampoo, soap, not cosmetics), medicine and essential clothing.

That being said, I won’t feel bad for spending money on events which bring us joy (and won’t end up in a landfill) like tickets to museums, movies and shows, bird seed for our backyard friends, the odd ice cream cone or square of fancy chocolate etc. 

The challenge, for me, is twofold. It’s about saving money but it is also about examining my family’s needs and wants, and abstaining from buying things we don’t really need. The point is to think about the things we buy, and why we buy them.

Having done this before it always surprises me how many people cannot, or will not even try to reduce the amount of their non-essential shopping. Is it because they can afford to spend the money? I know two months is a long time, too long for some, but I can’t help but wonder: why is this not something everyone can do? (And I am including myself here too!) It shouldn’t be this hard. It’s not like we’re talking about undertaking something that is truly physically (and mentally!) challenging, like tightrope-walking or learning how to play the violin, right? :)

Why is the act of NOT SHOPPING so difficult to do?

Is it because we’re wired to buy? Is it because when we were small and sad our mothers bought us ice cream and Barbies to cheer us up? And does it stand to follow that to deprive ourselves of our “stuff” means that there we have no other way of cheering ourselves up?

In past years of this project I have teetered on the borders of Needs and Wants. It’s kind of easy to convince yourself that a WANT is really a need.

To make it more complicated, my needs and wants aren’t the same as the next persons. Last year a friend and I had a big discussion about food storage containers, specifically, big ones for flour, oatmeal etc. Is buying one of those a need or a want? Technically you can get by scooping the flour out of the bag it came in, right? But if you’re a baker, and you use flour every day and have to deal with the mess it creates, is that brand new flour canister a need? Or that what about that new bathrobe? Is that deemed excessive even if you didn’t have one in the first place? About about if you already had a half-dozen?

You can argue the details until the cows come home. But it’s not my place to judge your needs and wants. I can only judge my own. You be the judge your own. :)

(Anyway, if the rest of this looks familiar to you it’s because I am recycling some text from last year’s post. Much of it still applies.)

I love stuff, but I don’t exactly classify myself as a recreational shopper. If you are (and by “recreational” I mean that you shop when you’re bored, feeling depressed, or you shop to have fun with friends) going cold turkey might be tough. If you don’t think you can stop shopping for two months you could consider making these small changes for the same stretch of time. Every little bit counts!

1) Consider your purchases carefully. Before you get to the register, slow down and ask yourself:

* Do I really need this? Or is it a want?
* Do I already own something that could serve the same purpose?
* Can I borrow one, find one used, or make one instead of buying new?
* Was it made locally?
* Was it made with environmentally preferable materials?
* Was it made with fair labor practices?
* Will it serve more than one purpose?
* Is it made well enough to last a useful length of time?
* Will it be easy and cost-effective to maintain?
* Will using it require excessive energy?
* Does it come in excessive packaging?
* Can I recycle or compost it when I’m done with it?
* If I’m still not sure, can I wait a month before deciding to buy it?

(from http://www.newdream.org/walletbuddy.pdf … You can print these out and tuck it into your wallet as well.)

2) If you really need to buy, buy second hand.

3) Brown-bag your lunch and use a reusable mug for your daily cup of coffee.

4) Use cloth/reusable grocery bags.

5) Ditch single-use water bottles (the kind you buy at the grocery store, 24 for $3.99) and fill a reusable container at the tap/your Brita-type container instead.

6) Track your purchases. 

7) Need new clothes? Avoid the trends and spend a little more to buy classic cut, good quality, goods which will last. That trendy $14.99 sweater you’re thinking of buying probably isn’t going to last you until next year.

8) Support small business instead of the big box stores. Here in Westboro we have a lot of really nice little shops, run by some really nice people, many of whom have been part of this community for years. Shopping there is better than shopping anywhere else. 

9) … better yet, consider buying handmade, or some original artwork. Buying handmade is a great way of supporting local artisans.

This is what has helped me in the past.

  • Not giving in to shopping as a form of recreation. Avoiding the malls is the best thing I can do. (Out of sight, out of mind, right?)
  • Leaving my wallet at home.
  • Not reading fashion magazines. 
  • Watching less television. 
  • Switching grocery stores. I often shop at the Superstore, and they sell a lot more than just groceries.

Anyway, I’ve been giving this a lot of thought, and I’m not exactly comfortable asking my readers to play along with me this year. For some people it’s not a game or something to be taken lightly. For some people the shopping embargo is a way of life which lasts all year round. I have a feeling some you are already doing this out of necessity, not because you read about it on someone’s blog.  

I would be happy knowing that other people are joining me this year. Mostly because I like having someone with whom to commiserate! :)

To keep it simple I’ll be updating my progress in the comments below. There’s a graphic in the right hand sidebar that will bring you to this post while it’s active.

Last thoughts (written March 1, 2009)

I once read that people have a tendency to go supersize stuff just in case. For example, a family of four will buy a dining room table that seats twelve because extended family comes over once a year for Thanksgiving Dinner. But in reality a regular-sized table and a makeshift folding table would do the trick just fine. And that table for twelve won’t fit in a regular-sized dining room, so they have to move up into a bigger house. There should also be one bathroom per person. And one computer per person. And a TV for everyone in case the kids each want to watch a show in their bedrooms while daddy watches golf. And a DVD player for each person in the backseat  … and on and on it goes. Excessive? Indeed. But shopping is deeply ingrained in our national consciousness and it’s a tough habit to break.

Scatteredmom recently pointed out an Oprah show in which families were challenged not to shop for seven days. Yes, SEVEN. I think that included groceries. It airs tomorrow (Monday March 2) and it’s called the “What Can You Live Without Experiment.” Here’s the info on the Oprah website. There’s a video teaser right at the top of the page. You have to watch it. I’m thrilled that Oprah is taking on this topic. If she’s talking about it, the world will be talking about it soon enough.

But seven days? I didn’t think the situation was this bad.

I was waiting in line at the grocery store yesterday and glancing over the magazine racks. There, between glossy cover shots of Obama and Mrs. Obama was good ol’ Betty and Veronica. They were holding shopping bags. They were at the mall.

“See Betty!” exclaimed Veronica. “We’re not shopping, we’re stimulating the economy!”

You know the economy is bad when Archie and the gang are talking about it. When will the Veronicas of the world finally get it? We can’t go on this way.

I met a lady who told me she’d read about the Embargo and was set to go along with it. “But then,” she said, “my husband and I went out and bought a laptop…” Her voice trailed off. I wanted to ask her what she did next but I didn’t.

When you fall off the horse you have to (a) admit that you fell and (b) get back on. No one is a failure here. You cannot fail, even if you find yourself buying a few things you don’t need. As long as you are thinking about it, making some kind of effort, saying no sometimes … you are still succeeding. Change doesn’t happen overnight, especially as it pertains to longstanding habits.

I have my weak moments. It often happens like this: it’s Sunday and I’m bored. We don’t have anything planned. I turn to Mark and say, hey, let’s go to Ikea and just look around! (Chapters is another favourite. I have also been known to take trips to Canadian Tire and Home Depot.) I cannot leave most of those stores without buying something. Especially Ikea and Chapters. The trick for me is to find something else to replace shopping when I’m bored. All it takes is a little effort. Ottawa is great for this, it’s all-season family fun. Skating, swimming, hiking, birding … there are hundreds of things to do that don’t include the mall.

It is difficult to calculate how much money we’ve saved compared to the Shopping Embargo of 2008. A couple of things worked in our favour. I went to Jamaica last year so I ended up spending some money on clothes for my trip. We saved on bank charges this year thanks to Mark doing a bit of research and making some changes. We’re paying more for cable and Internet usage and paid more towards the mortgage. Those weren’t things we were really tracking but they ended up in the calculation anyway so it’s difficult to come up with hard numbers. The budgie and the new cage were unplanned expenditures. (Want or need?) We did save money, I just don’t know exactly how much. I do know that I bought less stuff. I documented everything in the comments of this post.

I want to make it clear that I’m not advocating we all renounce our worldly goods and live like monks. It’s not realistic. And I don’t want to live like that either! There is room in our lives for beautiful things. But if I buy myself a couch it will be a great couch. If I buy a sweater it will be one I can wash and wear for years to come. If I buy winter boots I will buy one pair knowing they will last more than one winter.

Veronica’s wrong. I think if everyone shopped more thoughtfully, locally, looking at quality of the products the economy wouldn’t suffer as much as we think it would. In fact it could actually right itself. Factories and stores which sell low-quality, disposable plastic gadgetry could go under if there was no market for what they’re selling. Those who offer good quality at fair prices would prevail. Car companies could scale back and start producing vehicles that actually make sense for us, rather than being the driving force behind an unsustainable way of living. We have limited resources. Why can’t people understand that? 

Every dollar you spend is a vote for the kind of world in which you want to live. I would like my children to inherit a world with clean air and water and I don’t want them to be buried alive in the garbage I created: electronics/appliances designed with a goal of planned obsolescence, all that packaging, the crap we all bought for birthday party loot bags, grocery bags, takeout containers etc.

In the not-so-distant past people managed to make do with much less. How did they do that? Our house was built in the early forties. For the past 10 years we’ve complained about our small closets and our non-existent pantry. Here’s an idea. Maybe the closets aren’t the problem. Maybe we just have too many things. For the past year I’ve been wondering if I could fix my problem by trying harder to fit my closet, not making a closet to fit me.

I find it ironic that on one hand there is the decluttering movement (a new phenomenon), while on the other there are luxury SUV’s, closets full of shoes, overflowing cupboards of convenience foods, and massive credit card debt.

How is this story going to end?

When did we start medicating ourselves with trips to the mall?

This project has made me take a much closer look at the how and why of my own shopping habits. It’s helped me develop better shopping habits, such as choosing quality over quantity and considering the necessity of each item. The Embargo eliminated all impulse spending (minus one pair of cute slippers for Sarah) and most importantly I have come to recognize my “need to shop” triggers. I often feel it when I’m bored, feeling down, or when I’ve been cooped up in the house for too long. My first and foremost question when I shop now is Do We Really Need This.

I was at the library the other day, returning some books and picking up some DVDs for us to watch over the weekend. Emma was home, sick. The day was bright and cheery and I’d been cooped up indoors for far too long. It wasn’t quite time to go home yet. I convinced myself to pop into the mall. (Mistake number one: why do we choose shopping as entertainment over other things? What else could I have chosen to do?) I browsed through many stores with one question in mind: what can I buy for Emma to cheer her up?  (Mistake number two.) I looked at a lot of stuff. Earrings and kiddie jewelry, plush toys, little games etc. As I spent more time in the mall I had this growing realization that this was one of my traps, buying stuff for people to make them happy.

All kids want, ultimately, is to spend time with the people they love. It might sound trite, but it’s true. They want to go to the movies, play board games, cut and paste and fingerpaint, bake cookies, build sandcastles, and play the pool.  Unless they’re spoiled rotten they don’t really care that much about material goods.

Emma certainly didn’t need anything. Anything I could have bought would eventually be forgotten and tossed aside for something else.

I turned away from the displays of Easter bunnies I was looking at (and Easter bunnies are a massive weakness of mine. I love bunnies!) and walked back to the car. The movies I’d borrowed for us (plus popcorn of course) would have to do. And I was right. When I got home I realized that Emma didn’t expect me to bring anything home and so she didn’t feel like she was missing anything. We had fun watching the movie together as a family. That was more than enough for us all, and nothing ended up in the landfill.

So once again the Shopping Embargo ends quietly, but successfully, for me at least. I will keep going, maybe not be so rigid about it, but I can safely say that my habits are different now and I can’t go back.


53 Responses to "Shopping Embargo of 2009"

1 | Scatteredmom

December 29th, 2008 at 12:26 pm


Oh, I’m in. :)

There’s just one thing I’ve gotta buy first… (LOLOL) a crock pot that was on sale at Canadian Tire….

Otherwise we have no stores here, so it’s not to difficult to manage anyway!

2 | Mary Lynn

December 29th, 2008 at 2:22 pm


Just forwarded your post to my husband. We’ve decided we’re going to try playing along, too, though partially out of necessity as our income has definitely been impacted by these tough economic times. We may take a wee break from the embargo when we go on vacation for a wee in mid-February, but for the most part we’re going to try to rein in our shopping for non-essential things.

Appreciate all your hints and tips in this post.

3 | Javamom

December 29th, 2008 at 4:25 pm


I think the north american consumers see shopping as a hobby. This was something new to me, even though it didn’t really “hit” me till my University days, once I was on my own living away from home. I moved to Canada as a child and even then found it astonishing how many people said “let’s go shopping” and then wander aimlessly around KMart, buying things because they were part of a blue light special or on sale or on clearance or the best price. “Going shopping” wasn’t something that needed to be done, like with a list in order to get necessities. It was something to do, to kill time. “Let’s go to the mall” is something to do. My University friends wanted to “go shopping” or “go to the mall” to get out of doing something else, like study or write an assignment. I never found pleasure in this aimless wandering.

I can’t do it. I don’t like shopping much. The reason why I can’t participate in this embargo, although I wholehardedly support you and yours, is because I do need, NEED, certain things which would probably be considered non-necessities in your challenge. But withdrawing from shopping isn’t something that I find particularly challenging. All the more reason to pat anyone who does it in order to challenge themselves on the back.

I will look in to see how everyone is doing though…

4 | lacoop

December 29th, 2008 at 5:00 pm


We’re in! Neither of us get a particular charge out of shopping (no pun intended). In fact, even when we have had things purchased for us (especially the big ticket items), we have felt a little sick for days thinking about all that money. In any event, we just blew most of the years budget on required house repairs, so holding back to required items is easy.

5 | andrea

December 29th, 2008 at 5:14 pm


Staying out of the malls is easier for people who aren’t already “hobby shoppers,” that’s for sure. But for me it’s still worth thinking about Needs and Wants, especially when I’m at my grocery store (which is full of non-food merch) or browsing online. :)

6 | Redheadedmama

December 29th, 2008 at 9:53 pm


I’m in! I did my own personal embargo last year for a couple of months, but it wasn’t official. I like the idea of making it official. Does it still count if I run out and buy everything I need before Wednesday, January 1? :)

My only problem is that after a shopping embargo, I tend to go a little crazy when the embargo is over (e.g., I went a bit nuts at Christmas following my three month embargo, although my version of nuts is positively restrained compared to some people’s version). I do think that in the end an embargo makes for less money spent and less waste. I think it is because that instead, for the couple of months I don’t shop, I compile a well-thought out list of items I really need and don’t impulse buy at all.

I just got my husband to agree to the embargo, but since he is super-cheap, his normal everyday life is a shopping embargo. He’s just happy to get me to agree to it!

I also agree that the easiest way for me not to buy is to stay out of the malls and big box stores. I find it is easier for those of us who live in communities with lots of little stores (yay Hintonburg!) not to buy non-essentials, because I’m not needlessly distracted by the items I didn’t go in the store to buy. For example, when I go in the tiny Home Hardware store by my house, I come out with just the hammer I went in for. However, if I walk into Home Depot, I come out with $100 worth of stuff and I’m lucky if I remembered to buy the hammer.

Staying out of malls isn’t hard for me – I loathe them! I swear that next year I’m doing all my Christmas shopping in my neighbourhood and on-line and none of it last minute in the malls (of course, I say this every year). There is another challenge I might take on: a whole year of staying out of the mall. I bet I could do it . . .

Great challenge, thanks for posting, and btw I love your blog!

7 | BeachMama

December 30th, 2008 at 1:30 pm


I’ll be non-shopping with you again this year. I don’t think I went official last year, but I didn’t buy anything unnecessary at least until March. I do very well with this actually, we go through spurts of not shopping, then shopping then not shopping then shopping. It goes like this… after Christmas, Spring&Summer,Fall, Christmas…. We shop bi-quarterly around here. Will be joining in again as we have everything we need right now. Want is always a different story.

8 | andrea

December 30th, 2008 at 2:18 pm


Redheadmama, the purpose of the embargo is ultimately this … to consider our purchases more carefully. For two months we simply ask ourselves if that particular item is one that we need. And by doing this we can hopefully gain some awareness about why we shop, and how.

For me it comes down to a few easy questions. I ask myself if I need it. And if I love it. And if I can make do without it. (i.e. do I really need more ice cube trays? Even if they are 80% off?) Bye bye impulse buys!

9 | porter

December 30th, 2008 at 2:19 pm


I’m in again this year although I have been trying to do this for months now. I know that there is alot of room for improvement, for me it’s also at the grocery store but more so because I tend to over buy. I’m not a big shopper but I do spend without giving though to my purchases…especially when it comes to the kids.

10 | andrea

December 30th, 2008 at 2:34 pm


I almost find it easier to do this with the kids. They have enough stuff. They’re older now, but I just tell them we aren’t shopping for things. End of story. They don’t fuss anymore.

Long ago I got sick of their whining about things they wanted at the stores. I persuaded them to turn their “I WANT” statements into “I LIKE” … which is a lot easier on my ears (and my nerves). They’ve managed to stick with it, more or less. I like to think of it as one of my finer parenting moments. :)

11 | LO

December 30th, 2008 at 2:55 pm


I’m going to try! I have been successful with the Walmart embargo so this shouldn’t be too hard….what about books…………..?????? i need books for my ‘work’…..”:) I look forward to sharing this journey:)

12 | Redheadedmama

December 30th, 2008 at 10:15 pm


Sorry, yes, I get that the point is to make you think about your purchases more carefully. We tried to do that all last year and will definitely do it again this year. My point just got lost among my very long-winded reply and my personal hate-on for malls :)

13 | andrea

December 30th, 2008 at 11:33 pm


Books are a tough one.
As a writer I have to say that I will always support the book trade, but, the kind of books I love to buy are expensive. And considering I read them once or twice I have to start considering them a luxury purchase, that is, unless it was a good reference book or a children’s book we’re going to read several times over.

My library card has been getting a massive workout of late, especially since I discovered the Express 7-day dealio at the library. I love the library!

All this is a roundabout way of explaining that books, for me aren’t really a need. I have to be honest with myself. They’re a want. But LO, if you need them for your work they’re a need, right?

14 | scatteredmom

December 31st, 2008 at 4:47 pm


I love the library too :)

Living in a small town, it really is easy to stay away from the stores because let’s face it, there’s really nowhere to shop! Either that or the locally owned stores can be really expensive. I admit we wait until we go to the city, and then we stock up on stuff we need and can’t buy here. (like a particular toilet cleaner we like, or socks…isn’t that weird?)

During the embargo I really scrutinize everything I buy, from groceries to stuff for the house, and extra things that we don’t really need. I think we’re usually pretty good anyway, but it’s a good reminder.

I did score the crock pot though- $34 on sale from $80…I rationalize by saying it will help me make cheap dinners…lololol.

15 | Ellen

January 1st, 2009 at 11:30 am


Hey there, I thought I’d let you know that, after doing the embargo last year, I have recruited some friends to do it with me this year. I made a facebook “event” for it, so we can support each other. The event is public so you can see it here: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/event.php?eid=56722940140

You and anyone else is welcome to join if you want.

Thanks so much for sharing this idea– it’s had a big impact on how I think about wants and needs.

16 | andrea

January 1st, 2009 at 11:45 am


GREAT IDEA Ellen! I’m in.

17 | Erin

January 2nd, 2009 at 11:10 am


We’ve been doing something similar for several years and it has really changed the way we approach “stuff” all year long.

Where do you stand on gift cards? During our shopping fast, we really try to use what we already have in the house, including the odds and sods of gift cards that we accumulate through the year. We do try to use the cards for things that will last – last year we got rid of most of our plastic food storage stuff and replaced them with glass.

I’m in, although I will say that we have been planning the purchase of a new bed for several months and will be using our costco coupon in February. This is one thing that I can’t compromise on – we’re still sleeping on the futon that we’ve had since we were grad students!

18 | andrea

January 2nd, 2009 at 11:37 am


Erin: You means spending gift cards you’ve received. I would do the same as you, spend them on useful things that have a longer lifespan. Bonus points if they’re made on this continent. :)

I would also venture to say that your bed is a need as well!

I’m finding it interesting, this discussion about our wants and needs, not just here but around the blogosphere. Some people are saying they can’t join the embargo because they’re renovating their kitchen, or they’re buying a computer for their kid etc.

A planned renovation is definitely a need, it’s buying unecessary stuff that is above and beyond the reno that we’re talking about…. deciding NOT to buy your kid a pair of cheap plastic sunglasses, or buying your tenth tube of plum-coloured lipgloss (that one is my own weakness.)

And if we do cave in and buy that lipgloss, it’s important that we don’t throw in the towel and totally give up. We need to chalk it up to a moment of weakness and think about WHY we bought it. Were we feeling depressed that day? What else could we have been doing to make us feel better? (Idea: take a long hot shower, call a friend, write a letter, go for a power walk.)

We can do this!

19 | Porter

January 2nd, 2009 at 3:11 pm


Interesting discussion going on here. I should have clarified that it is ME who is the one who is spending on the kids without thought, not them necessarily THEM asking for things (although they do that too!). I find it easier to spend on my kids than it is to spend on Bert or myself. My girls have more winter jackets than I do….more shoes, more sweaters…THAT is the kind of spending that I need to stop. Also, groceries….I am still tossing too much at the end of each week.
I chatted with Bert about this challenge and he wants to do it…we are definitely in.

20 | scatteredmom

January 3rd, 2009 at 2:10 pm


Hey Andrea, can I use the graphic in your sidebar for posts about the shopping embargo? With credit to you, of course.

21 | cannedam

January 3rd, 2009 at 11:48 pm


We decided last fall we’d be doing this. We’ll be going 3 months, though. Even though we’re moving during this time. It’s all good. Might do it again throughout the year, too!

22 | porter

January 4th, 2009 at 8:28 am


I was just coming to ask the same as scatterdmom…

23 | andrea

January 4th, 2009 at 9:29 am


Yes, use away! Thanks for asking… it is appreciated!

24 | andrea

January 5th, 2009 at 10:50 pm


One of the things I find hard to resist is The Lure of the Great Deal.

I was at the Superstore earlier this evening and I came close to giving in. They had Christmas plush on sale for $2.44. There was a cute stuffed Santa toy I’d noticed earlier the season, now on sale. TWO BUCKS! I picked it up, thought about it, and put it back down. This is the kind of stuff that fills up our house and drives me crazy. Do the girls need another toy so soon after Christmas? No. Do they have space for it in their bedrooms? No. If it’s a Christmas toy, is there room for it in one of the trunks? No. Yet there I was, thinking of buying it because it was a good deal.


I have found it interesting, reading here and there, the animosity some people have about the idea of not buying stuff. Some people are misinterpreting the challenge. For the record, I’m not putting a damper on our quality of life. We are still buying food and drink, driving our car, wearing clean clothes and living in a comfortably heated environment.

Someone commented elsewhere about it being okay to spend if you’re using cash.

For sure, it’s probably good to use cash if you’re shopping, but (once again!) I’d like to reiterate that the goal of the shopping embargo isn’t to stop spending money (although admittedly that is a positive benefit!) it is help improve awareness of our own spending habits – cash or credit – and cut down on the purchases of frivolous goods.

How is everyone doing?

25 | andrea

January 6th, 2009 at 9:20 am


Something to think about:

“For money you can have everything it is said. No, that is not true. You can buy food, but not appetite; medicine, but not health; soft beds, but not sleep; knowledge but not intelligence; glitter, but not comfort; fun, but not pleasure; acquaintances, but not friendship; servants, but not faithfulness; grey hair, but not honor; quiet days, but not peace. The shell of all things you can get for money. But not the kernel. That cannot be had for money. -Arne Garborg, writer (1851-1924) “

26 | Erin

January 6th, 2009 at 9:51 am


I’m really having to work at avoiding cheap stuff. I ran into the same stuffed animals and was sorely tempted. I almost convinced myself that purchasing one or two and putting them away for next year would be a financially savvy move.

I didn’t buy ( not sure why) but now that I’m at home, I realize that for me, buying too much stuff in advance hasn’t worked in the past – I tend to end up buying more stuff, spread over the course of the year, compared to if I had just done shopping in the lead up to Christmas. The little things just add up.

One (very)small victory- I stopped buying single serving packaged oatmeal. I know this isn’t a huge deal but it irked me every morning, seeing 3 packages in the recycling bin but I just don’t have time to cook from scratch in the morning. My solution is to use a small crockpot and cook the irish oatmeal overnight. Hooray- less packaging, more nutritious and actually faster in the morning.

27 | andrea

January 6th, 2009 at 10:14 am


Yay Erin! I’m glad you found something that worked for you. You bring up a good point about buying stuff in advance. Would it have been smart of me to buy that two-dollar plush and hide it for a year and gift it as a gift? I bet a lot of people shop this way this time of year. You can get all of your Christmas shopping done for next year! But you know, I’m not sure if this is a good practice to get into. You may feel like you’re saving money (or at least spreading the spending across the year) but those little things still add up. It’s also not helping the goal of “reducing stuff.” Whether we buy it early or late, much of the stuff will still just end up in the landfill.

What pushed me to the brink last year was all the overpackaged boxed perfume/bath product sets that were being sold off at the Superstore last boxing day. Sure you’re saving a few bucks on next year’s gift for Auntie Sue, but it is something she really needs?

28 | Cannedam

January 6th, 2009 at 4:44 pm


Linked to this post from my blog post on the same topic.

29 | Ginger

January 6th, 2009 at 10:42 pm


Hey Andrea! I am a little late in committing, but my husband and I are in! I posted about it tonight.

30 | porter

January 7th, 2009 at 3:50 pm


I’m doing alright on the shopping embargo but I haven’t been tested all that much because we’ve been home alot. I wonder how much more difficult it will be in another week when we are back into our regular routine and we are out more often when we might be tempted to pick up coffee or take out instead of making it at home.

31 | J.

January 9th, 2009 at 12:11 pm


I’m with you 100% this year. The only thing that I’m going to do different from what you mentioned above, is the clothing. I really think that I can hold off for two months.

I like the fact that I can still ‘live’ with my money. Go to concerts, see movies, etc.. As long as it doesn’t come in the house, it’s okay with me :)

32 | Shopping Embargo « Little Wonders

January 10th, 2009 at 6:46 am


[…] over an idea I read on Ginger’s blog a couple of days ago. She originally got the idea from Andrea’s blog – a shopping embargo. Basically, it’s a commitment to yourself not to buy anything but […]

33 | andrea

January 12th, 2009 at 10:16 pm


When Mark goes grocery shopping he brings home frozen blueberry waffles. I never bring home frozen blueberry waffles. Perhaps it’s time we find a secondhand waffle iron?

The only thing I’ve been tempted to run out and buy this week is a set of multiplication flashcards for Emma and Sarah. But I can probably make my own…. and save myself twelve bucks while I’m at it.

34 | andrea

January 15th, 2009 at 8:35 am


I was interviewed by a student journalist yesterday for a radio piece about the embargo. She asked me some great questions, including one about measuring success. This isn’t something I’ve thought about before, but I would consider the embargo to be successful. I’ve become a much more conscious shopper, not just during the embargo, but all year round.

She asked me what I bought this week, and I think she was surprised to hear my answer. I haven’t bought a single thing (outside of groceries) !

35 | Yun

January 15th, 2009 at 1:15 pm


Thanks Andrea for the interview!
Hope you won’t experience much struggle between needs and wants in the stretch of time.
I like your perspective on this: it’s about developing a habit.

36 | andrea

January 15th, 2009 at 3:03 pm


Here’s a good tip: Everytime you buy something, visualize the exact location of where you’re going to put or display it.

This works for me all the time because we have no room in our place for any extra stuff. We are bursting at the seams. *sigh*

37 | andrea

January 16th, 2009 at 2:13 pm


Haven’t bought them yet, but I do think new thermal underwear to replace the holey old ones is a need, not a want. (It’s freeeezing out there today!)

38 | andrea

January 19th, 2009 at 9:23 am


One word: birthdays. We had this same issue last year. Sarah was invited to a friend’s birthday party. What to bring during a shopping embargo? Last year we decided upon a gift card to a major movie theatre chain. The intention was for her to come with us to see a movie but it never happened. Gah! For the longest time there was nothing on that was age-appropriate, and then we could never all agree on a date.

Shopping second-hand was also an option, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. There’s still this stigma attached to the gifting of second-hand goods. I couldn’t bear it if the parents thought I was a cheapskate. Kinda stupid when you think about it. Really, what does it matter?

So that left books. I should have gone to an independent bookseller but I left it too late and we were in a crunch for time. So we went to Coles (argh!) and the mall (argh!) and scoured the shelves for a keeper book. I think we picked a good one: The Encyclopedia of Immaturity.

“… more than 300 entries: How to Skip a Stone, How to Do a Wheelie, How to Hang a Spoon from Your Nose, How to Really Annoy Your Older Sibling… all painstakingly explicated and illuminated with full-color photographs, illustrations, diagrams, and the occasional footnote.”

It came to $24.85.

39 | andrea

January 25th, 2009 at 11:08 am


I’m still not shopping! And it’s been going really well.

I was at the mall yesterday. I had to go to the library (been spending a lot of time there) and had to venture into the mall to find a bank machine.

It was packed. There was a sidewalk sale going on.

If there is one thing the Embargo has done for me is give me perspective on the world of buying/selling/marketing. Every store had a table out front. Every store had big signs – 50 60, 70, 80% off – hanging over great big piles of junk.

In some places people were shoulder-to-shoulder, pawing though piles of leftover, mostly unsellable products. In other places, there were piles of things that no one wanted to buy. Christmas chocolates, candy canes, scented candles in red and green ….

After I went to the bank machine I walked around the whole mall. I was not tempted by a single thing.

We’ve really only made one significant purchase. We bought our budgie from a local breeder, and had to buy a new cage for it too. The old one had rusted, and rust is toxic for birds. A related unforseen purchase was a stand for the cage. Because of its size we had nowhere to put it. We thought about it and decided the best thing to do was buy a small kitchen cart at Ikea.

So a couple of Saturdays ago that’s exactly where we found ourselves. I’m glad we bought the cart. It’s multi-purpose. It is solid wood. Multipurpose, because it holds the cage and also has shelves for the birds food and toys. And if we find ourselves birdless the furniture can be reused somewhere else in the house, the basement or even in the garage. It’s not a bird stand that can only be used as such.

Walking around Ikea we found ourselves falling into old patterns. (“Look at that! Don’t we need one of those? I thought you said you wanted a… “) It’s so easy to get trapped into buying things you don’t need there. But we didn’t buy anything other than the cart. I think we did good.

40 | andrea

January 29th, 2009 at 11:48 am


Found this animation via Unstuffed.

“… an honest factory worker learns the truth about his favorite department store: that there’s a very high cost for everyday low prices. Namely, unemployment!”

41 | andrea

January 29th, 2009 at 2:16 pm


Bird/pet accessories: want or need? We spent a few bucks on some toys for our new pet bird this week. And got some fish. I’m not sure where this falls within the confines of the Embargo.

What I would *really* like to buy is a new ironing board and new bed pillows for everyone. But I’m won’t. I will wait. I can do it!

42 | andrea

February 9th, 2009 at 2:02 pm


The other thing I would like to buy (but haven’t) is a new flatiron. Why did I cheap out the first time around? Lesson learned.

43 | andrea

February 11th, 2009 at 3:28 pm


I did a bit of spending at MEC yesterday. I had to buy warm winter socks for the girls (this came about after discovering Emma went ice skating with summer ankle socks!) and a steel water container (on sale for $4.00!) to replace the one I had lost. Not bad.

BUT I did slip up a little bit. I was grocery shopping at the Superstore and noticed a big display of clearance Joe Fresh. (I {heart} Joe Fresh very much.) I should have averted my eyes, run away, anything! But it was too late. I saw a very cute pair of fuzzy slippers, stripey pink with big pom poms on the toes. And they were three bucks. Argh! Sarah did not need slippers. But I couldn’t leave them, they were too cute!

Yes. It was a moment of total weakness. I bought the slippers. *sigh*

44 | porter

February 21st, 2009 at 9:55 am


How is the embargo going for everyone??? I blew it quite a few times, I def didn’t take it all that seriously…BUT I find that I am constantly thinking about the purchases I’m making. I’m not sure whether or not it’s helping in terms of saving money (I know it’s not about saving money) because we’ve had alot of big expenses lately but I think we’ve been bringing in less junk lately.

45 | andrea

February 21st, 2009 at 10:23 am


Thanks for your update Porter. I think if we’re thinking about our purchases that’s a huge step in the right direction.

We are definitely saving money. Thanks to Mark’s handy dandy Quicken skills I will have actual numbers at the end of the month.

Something occurred to me about all this yesterday and I’ve been meaning to come in and post.

We got a huge stack of flyers (Wal-mart, Zellers, the Bay, Future Shop, Michaels, CanTire, Home Depot, ShoppersDM etc etc) in the mailbox yesterday. We used to get flyers all the time but for some reason we’ve been off the flyer route for months and months. I hadn’t even realized it. I used to leaf through the flyers ALL THE TIME, mostly while the girls ate their lunch or over a cup of tea when I had a few minutes to myself.

I found myself flipping through them yesterday. I started seeing products I thought we needed and I hadn’t quite realized we needed them. Zellers had pillows, Home Depot had storage solutions, Shoppers DM had mascara, Future Shop had MacBooks.

The flyers served as a big reminder of the stuff that is apparently “missing” in our lives. The feeling which arises is a very mild kind of panic. A blip in the brain. STUFF IS ON SALE AND WE’RE MISSING IT.


Point is: I can’t read flyers. It’s like window shopping. If I ignore the flyers I won’t be tempted to rush out and buy something we don’t need.

46 | Erin

February 25th, 2009 at 12:50 pm


Just wanted to check in and see how everyone else managed the embargo. Once we cut out the rest of our purchasing, I really started to realize how much our family spends on groceries. Eating healthy, balanced meals is a priority for us and we don’t usually skimp on groceries but I’m starting to think a lot more about our food purchases and ways to make them more sustainable, local and ethical. Anyone have any hints?

47 | andrea

February 26th, 2009 at 9:39 am


I am mulling over my last post about the embargo but am not ready to tap it all out yet.

Erin, you make a good point about groceries. We spend a lot too, especially now that we’re trying to eat better. I have tried to pare down the grocery bill but it’s a tough slog. I could work a little harder in this area. But I am getting better! I have a handful of recipes which work well for our family and make enough so we have some leftovers but not too much. We’re getting better at eating those leftovers (although I have to say, it’s mostly me eating them for lunch the next day). We don’t throw out a lot of food either.

I learned how to make my own chicken stock and I do it whenever we have a spare chicken carcass. I’m sure I could be doing more. (Tips would be welcome!)

Some people say the answer can be found in the freezer. We don’t have a big freezer (only the one which comes as part of our small fridge). I’m not convinced owning a freezer would work for us. Sure we can buy a half cow from a local farmer, but I would like to steer (ha, get it STEER) us away from beef and not have it more than once a week. Otherwise what would we stock it with? Frozen waffles and ice cream?

We tried an organic veggie delivery service and as much as I liked it the only one who really benefited from that was me, the major veggie eater in the house.

I have promised myself that we’re going to try to eat more local produce when it’s in season. ie. We don’t buy corn now, but we buy a LOT of it over the summer. I might even go back to biking for groceries once the weather improves.

More thoughts about the Shopping Embargo later.

48 | andrea

March 1st, 2009 at 10:09 am


I’ve updated the post (above) with some final thoughts. Got anything to add? I’ve love to hear it.

49 | porter

March 1st, 2009 at 7:38 pm


Andrea, excellent closing for the 2009 Shopping Embargo. If nothing else, I hope that you realize how many people you inspired to THINK about this topic. I didn’t stick to the Embargo last year or this year as much as I hoped or would have liked, but I did make some small changes…which if I continue with, well then they won’t be so small right? I really hope that you will do the Embargo again next year…but in the meantime it sure would be great to try to keep many of the things we’ve learned in out thoughts as we live our lives and spend our money.

50 | The Shopping Embargo is officially over >> a peek inside the fishbowl

March 1st, 2009 at 7:40 pm


[…] did it go? You’ll have to click over to the original post and scroll down until you get to “Last thoughts” in order to find out. I’d love […]

51 | Ginger

March 1st, 2009 at 8:04 pm


We enjoyed the shopping embargo. We cut back considerably when I quit working and the boys were born. Nothing like slashing your income in half to help you reevaluate! Our main weakness and huge expenditure was fast food. I think we only bought fast food 3 maybe 4 times in the last two months! Before the embargo we were buying more than that EVERY week!

My husband is in charge of paying the bills and said not giving in and buying fast food saved us alot of money. So much money that we were able to make it on his salary and my weekly paycheck and not use any savings. That really hit me. We were spending so much he was using savings to pay for it! That is insane. I plan our meals each week and buy only what we need and then I make those meals. It feels good to know that not only are we saving money but we are also eating better.

We still had to spend money. We have growing twin boys and they require constant upgrades.

I think the embargo has helped changed my habits. I question myself on purchases now. Do I really need this? 9 times out of 10 I put the item back on the shelf. It feels good. I want to live this way. I want less. I want the boys to learn to live on less.

Thanks Andrea! You always have such great ideas. It is one of the reasons that I love your blog so much. You challenge me to think about things and I like that. I need that.

52 | Carla

March 2nd, 2009 at 12:14 am


argh, just wrote a comment and there was a transfer error. But the gist was that although I first visited this blog because of the embargo, I totally forgot about it. However, we are not into entertainment shopping and I can see that we didn’t do much evil in that department in the last two months. Except for a snowsuit (second hand mind you) that was not needed, and a foodcourt meal due to bad planning (where oh where was my snackbag?).

Here is a good video to check out: The Story of Stuffhttp://www.storyofstuff.com/ Apparently, most stuff is only in use less than 6 months! crazy talk! and I can see it is true in many cases. So, thinking more about how to ensure purchases last and can be mended is something I’m thinking about.

53 | Amy @ Muddy Boots

March 3rd, 2009 at 12:46 pm


I found your site too late! The Embargo is over for this year, so I guess I’ll just have to stick around til 2010!

I haven’t explored your blog too much yet, but I like what I see so far.

A big hello from across the river in Gatineau.

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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