a peek inside the fishbowl

28 Dec, 2011

Shopping Embargo 2011-2012

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Challenge me, challenge you|Shopping Embargo|Yaktivism


Can you go a day without buying something? A week? A month? Why or why not?

There was a really insightful post about shopping addiction posted on BlogHer recently. You can read it here. Shopping can be like any other addiction, and this lady is obviously trying to fill a hole in her heart with something from a store instead of some other substance, and because it’s not working she just keeps trying.

I don’t want to give my kids the impression that retail therapy is healthy. I’d rather they find solace in their friends and family and work off steam by finding another outlet, whether it’s by taking a long walk with the dog or writing or drawing in their journal, or taking up jogging.

I want my kids to focus on the things they have, not the things they don’t have.

As regular readers might know, every year around this time my family takes a long break from shopping. My motto for this year’s Shopping Embargo is shop mindfully.

Past versions of the Embargo are contained in a separate category. You can read back here.

As per previous, this is how our Embargo will work:

Until Feb 28, we will only purchase essential items for ourselves and for our family: groceries/consumables, gas, basic hygiene (shampoo, soap, but not cosmetics), medicine and essential clothing.

The Shopping Embargo, for us, is about spending money on the right things, in the right amounts, in the right places. We will continue to spend money on events which bring us joy and don’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 bottle of wine.

I’ve always felt that where kids are involved, money spent on experiences is better than a toy anyway… because that’s what they remember.

I’m not advocating we all stop buying things. Not at all. But during the Embargo I pledge stop making impulse purchases of things we don’t need. I will carefully consider the things we buy and why we buy them. And when we do decide make a purchase I will ask myself some important questions before I get to the register:

  • Do we really really need this? (Frankly, it’s amazing how often the answer is no.)
  • Will I get a lot of use out of this?
  • 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?

For us, the Embargo is about saving money, examining my family’s needs and wants, and abstaining from buying things we don’t really need.

I love beautiful things. But it makes sense to spend more on less. 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 shoes I will spend a little more on one pair knowing they will last more than one winter.

I don’t 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 the following small changes for the same stretch of time. Every little bit counts!

Support small business instead of the big box stores. Here in Ottawa we have a lot of really nice little shops, run by some really nice people. Shopping there is better than shopping anywhere else. I will go there first when I need to buy something.

Don’t shop at Wal-Mart. Sure, they have some cheap stuff there, but Wal-Mart isn’t doing our economy any favours. I know there will be some people who get upset at this suggestion and I urge them to watch this Frontline documentary BEFORE hitting publish on their comment. Wal-Mart’s quest for the lowest price means the goods are outsourced to places where working conditions are often sub-par. In 2004 alone, Wal-Mart purchased $18 billion worth of Chinese goods. Bye bye American manufacturing jobs! And I haven’t even touched on food and toy safety, or wage violations. Many of their employees cannot afford proper health insurance. The owners, the Walton family are worth a combined total of $93 billion (as of December 2011). (Wiki) They’re billionaires, BILLIONAIRES, while the regular folks who work at their stores, helping them make their billions, earn poverty-level wages, you know, to help keep prices down.

Buy second hand.

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

Ditch single-use water bottles.

Track your purchases. It might surprise you.

Need new clothes? Avoid the trends and spend more on good quality goods that will last. That trendy $14.99 sweater you’re thinking of buying probably isn’t going to last you until next year.

Consider buying handmade. It’s a great way of supporting the local economy.

Know your weaknesses. I am unsubscribing from every Groupon type list I’m on and throwing the flyers right into the recycle bin. I shop when I’m bored and edgy so I will think about other things I can do if I’m feeling tempted. Go out for a walk around the block, pick up a book, organize something, whatever! Don’t give 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.

Watching less television.

Switching grocery stores to one that ONLY sells groceries. I often shop at the Superstore, and they sell a lot more than just groceries. I need to physically avert my eyes from the displays of cute merchandise they sell there. (Sunglasses, socks, slippers, lip gloss!)

As always, I will be updating my progress in the comments of this post. There’s a graphic in the right hand sidebar that will bring you to this post while it’s active. I’ll be tracking any slip ups and adding updates here!

Anyway, there it is. Wish me luck!

26 Responses to "Shopping Embargo 2011-2012"

1 | Annie @ PhD in Parenting

December 28th, 2011 at 11:03 am


I love this. :)

I have to admit that I’m pretty good about Groupons and similar deals. I generally only buy them if it is something that I truly need and is a good deal. Some of my favourite ones have been for Aubrey’s meats in the market and for Kiddie Kobbler for back to school shoes. I find they help me to be a better shopper, sending me more often to local stores and saving me some money in the process.

2 | andrea

December 28th, 2011 at 11:29 am


Annie: I agree that Groupons have been a great source of deals for me. I also bought the one from Aubrey’s. Others have included art classes and museum memberships. But I’ve also made unnecessary impulse purchases we didn’t need. I will have to rely on my twitter and blog friends to let me know about the best deals for awhile. :)

3 | Amy @ Muddy Boots

December 28th, 2011 at 11:52 am


I’m in! Other than new boots (that I really do need and have been putting off buying for months!), this was already in my mind to do. I find that after Christmas -when we buy far more than normal- I need to re-train myself back to my frugal habits… but spending money can be a hard habit to break!

Speaking of local stores, there’s a place in westboro I was going to ask you about… a shoe/outdoors store… Trail-something? Trailhead maybe? From my Internet searches, they seem to carry all the brands I’m interested in, but their website doesnt actually list selection.

4 | Judy

December 28th, 2011 at 12:10 pm


Good post Andrea, I like the theme of shopping mindfully. As a small business manager, most small businesses, family run stores, and local indepedent shops still need people to come in and buy in January! But thinking about where you spend your money and supporting these small shops is a great message. We all need to think more about where and how we spend our money. Chances are we will enjoy the items and the experience a lot more.

5 | Ginger

December 28th, 2011 at 12:47 pm


I started thinking about your yearly Embargo at the first of December. I am totally in for shopping mindfully. But this year I am also determined to write down every single expense for 2 months. We always say we want to do this and never do it. Well…now is the time! My plan is to also do some MAJOR purging in the next couple of months as well!

6 | Jennyjag

December 28th, 2011 at 12:55 pm


Love it! Although I like to think I’m doing this all the time…sigh…I agree w you re Groupon & such deals. I didn’t have the greatest experience with my one and only purchase on it & now I’m very cautious & question if I really need what’s offered. Oh and I didn’t know that about the Walton family. Not exactly John-Boy anymore ;)

7 | Wendy

December 28th, 2011 at 2:09 pm


Great idea!!!
This could not have come at a better time in our lives.
We are moving back in to the city( yeah) and HAVE to downsize.
I am so in the mood to PURGE!!!
I’m tired of clutter, I have so many items left by my Mom that are beautiful but not my style.
Of course the sentimental items ( teacups, dishes etc) are being kept in the hutch to leave to my daughter’s and my Granddaugher.
I have been thinking lately of shopping at Consignment shops. Why not? Ive purchased great things at Boomerang! Anyone know of a good women’s consignment shop?
I have to confess we have shopped at Walmart, only because their sheets are well priced.
But I will commit to NOT shopping there after reading your info on the Waltons:(
How is Costco? I cringe at the idea of buying a membership to shop there, their sheets are well priced.
Can you tell I’m “linen addicted” ??
Thank you Andrea, I’m so motivated now to not shop unless it is for essentials.
Oh, I just realised , Ikea has sheets!!! Woo hooo!!


8 | Angela (angfromthedock)

December 28th, 2011 at 5:29 pm


Andrea, you had me hooked with last year’s embargo…I started really looking at my purchasing, knowing we were going to have an expensive year ahead of us, and I have not looked back.

I was once the recreational shopper of recreational shoppers. Queen of the mall. It was where everybody knew my name;)

Now? Not so much. I rarely go to walmart, I pay attention to what I have versus what I want, i shop locally and…I wait. Waiting really works. I do not buy on a whim any more.

Well…except for the new puppy…but he was local…and a rescue…so that is okay, right?

Great post again. Love this embargo of yours.

9 | Carla

December 28th, 2011 at 9:22 pm


A shopping embargo is a great thing for so many reasons, and we do work on a similar principle on a day-to-day basis. In general, we don’t like buying stuff, so we usually ask lots of questions before buying: do we really need it? can we get it for free? can we borrow it to try it out first? can we get it used? if we must buy, then buy the best price per use possible (so a $100 pair of shoes that will last several years are better than $30 pair that will die in a year or two), and then often we wait to get it on sale, I find that if you do some planning there are few things that must be bought now! outside of food and medicine (and recreation but that is not stuff per se). I’ve been toying with doing ‘the compact’ where people commit to not buying anything new for 12 months (although the rules are self-defined so you can make caveats for what you will buy new for example), but haven’t committed since it feels a bit daunting even if we buy few things new.

It’s great that you are also promoting local small stores instead of big box stores. Though, I am wondering how does this work with the fact that Ikea is now a fishbowl sponsor? I admit I found it curious when I saw your ikea as a new sponsor since you have and continue to promote local stores, especially in Westboro, and have much to promote and support smart development (assuming this does not include big box stores a la ikea) in Westboro. Sure, I’ve bought stuff at Ikea too. Just curious though, would be interested to hear your perspective on this.

10 | andrea

December 29th, 2011 at 8:40 am


I’m glad to have a few people who are listening! In case you feel like spreading the word to your own readers (hopefully we can get more people participating!) feel free to use the graphic at the top of this post. Thank you!

Carla, as you know I am a big supporter of shopping locally … and not just because a lot of my patrons are local folks. I think it’s a good thing to do. I like the idea of The Compact, but I don’t think my family would go for it.

For what it’s worth, blog patrons don’t get a say in how I run this ship or the content I post. When I started down this road I promised myself (and I think I’ve done pretty well so far) that I will continue to be true to myself. I accepted Ikea as a blog patron because I do like a lot of their merchandise. There are designs there that are hard to find anywhere else in Ottawa. Even in terms of the Embargo, I might end up shopping at Ikea sooner than later. There are tons of things that I can’t find in Westboro village: lightbulbs for all of our Ikea lighting fixtures, for example. :)

There’s also a reno to plan in the Spring…

11 | andrea

December 29th, 2011 at 8:42 am


I was at the Superstore last night (against my better judgement) and I had to avert my eyes, not to mention totally avoid the clearance aisles of Christmas merchandise. Gah. It would have been so easy to buy stuff. Christmas wreaths (don’t we need a new one?), ribbons and bows (wouldn’t it be nice?), pretty decorations… but I did it. I ran in for groceries and didn’t throw anything else into my cart. Phew.

12 | Jen

December 29th, 2011 at 11:46 am


Hi Andrea – I was so pleased to see you mention the $14.99 ‘trendy sweater’! I am a big proponent of spending money on clothes and shoes that are good quality and will last. That ‘trendy sweater’ you mention also now goes hand-in-hand with the idea of shopping at grocery stores that only sell groceries – especially when you consider the JoeFresh section of the Superstore. I always cringe a bit when I hear that people got this or that from JoeFresh as although the items are fabulously trendy, cute, and inexpensive they don’t always hold up on the quality side of things. Often I see some of the stuff at JoeFresh as ‘disposable clothes’ – which I know is a bit controversial – since almost everyone I know LOVES JoeFresh :)

We live right close to the Metro on Richmond Road, and can actually get most of the stuff we need there or the Herb and Spice or Saslove’s so will take your great idea to heart!

13 | Carla

December 29th, 2011 at 12:46 pm


In case you’re interested, you can get lightbulbs for Ikea light fixtures at Canadian Tire – that’s where we get ours when they are on sale. And it’s a walkable errand! (to the one on Carling that is).

14 | Leanne

December 31st, 2011 at 4:55 pm


I’m in too. The only hiccup I have is that our daughter’s birthday is in January. Other then that…I’m going to see how long I can follow your rules. The sheer excessiveness of my Christmas this year has left me feeling a little sick. Sigh.

15 | Week One Challenge: Simply to Simplify « 52 Week Green Up

January 1st, 2012 at 10:00 am


[…] year Ottawa mother and blogger, Andrea Tompkins, at “A Peek Inside The Fishbowl” puts her family on a post holiday shopping embargo. For two months they purchase nothing but […]

16 | andrea

January 1st, 2012 at 12:16 pm


Carla – that’s good to know. Thanks!

17 | andrea

January 1st, 2012 at 12:17 pm


Once again we’re tracking our purchases here in the comments. So far we have bought one pair of secondhand suspenders and one secondhand wool cap. Long story, but it was for a costume. :)

18 | andrea

January 10th, 2012 at 9:25 am


What have we bought lately? Well, there’ve been no impulse purchases, but a couple of larger ones that were well-shopped.

1) Mark needed a new winter coat. We shopped it around and ended up buying one locally, spending a little more on this purchase for an item (we hope!) should last a few winters. I don’t think you should skimp on winter gear.

2) Mark broke his glasses and bought replacement frames. Again, a necessary purchase, part of which is covered by his insurance.

And that’s it! Otherwise it’s just been groceries and gas!

19 | andrea

January 15th, 2012 at 9:23 am


This is the boring part of the Embargo… where I chime in every once in awhile to report that I haven’t bought anything. :) I’m still going strong! Yay me!

20 | andrea

February 8th, 2012 at 10:00 am


It’s been ages since I posted an update to our Shopping Embargo, but it’s hard to update when there’s really nothing to say. I have not bought anything for myself – anything! – since Christmas. Frankly, I think I am awesome.

MARK, on the other hand, deserves a serious flogging. He broke down at bought himself an iPhone. YES HE DID. I don’t know why he couldn’t wait until the Embargo was over. I think he had a mental breakdown.

I am slightly disappointed although I know that Mark has been thinking about this for a long time. To make up for his poor timing he has been bringing his lunch to work every day since the purchase. A step in the right direction if you ask me. BUT STILL. An iPHONE???

21 | andrea

February 21st, 2012 at 8:58 am


A purchase has been made and I forgot to log it here.
I bought some art from Alison Fowler. It was a $50 from her Wall of Hearts. How could I say no? :)

My other purchase was a scrapbooking punch from Michaels that I’ll be using for an article I’m writing. A bit of a slip I guess, but it’s one I’ve been planning for awhile AND I had a 50% off coupon.

22 | andrea

February 24th, 2012 at 4:10 pm


Another purchase: I bought a couple of second-hand sweaters for a crafty project. Shown here.

23 | andrea

March 3rd, 2012 at 1:58 pm


Recent purchases include a socks for me, and new notebook for work (want or need? still not sure).

As of March 1 the Shopping Embargo is officially over! Was it a success? Yes. Would I do it again? Double yes. Has doing it for the past five or six years changed our shopping habits: DEFINITELY. In fact, I might just keep going…

24 | dee brun

April 17th, 2012 at 7:54 am


Luv this and thank you for sharing …all these tips will really help me out with my families project…
Good for you and your family to keep this on going…

25 | Shopping Embargo 2012-2013 >> a peek inside the fishbowl

December 27th, 2012 at 9:30 am


[…] feel like last year’s post explained things really well, so if you’re keen to read on, read on. If you’re interested and new to the Embargo I recommend reading it. I’ve learned so […]

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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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