a peek inside the fishbowl

27 Dec, 2012

Shopping Embargo 2012-2013

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Shopping Embargo

2012-2013 Shopping EmbargoOur family has been participating in a post-Boxing Day Shopping Embargo since 2006. I can hardly believe it’s been that long, but it has. It’s become The Routine in our family, and I think that’s a good thing.

This year’s Embargo is more important than ever. We have just surfaced from a major home renovation and need to do some serious belt-tightening. What’s more, we are still paying rent on the apartment we rented this summer (the lease is up in May) and it hurts me to see that money seep out of our bank account every month.

But at the same time, the Embargo is about more than saving money (although that is a very good side effect) it’s about smarter shopping, and treading a little lighter on this world of ours.

The Shopping Embargo, for those of you who are new around here, is my family’s self-imposed moratorium on shopping. We allow for the basics – groceries and the like – but everything else is up for serious consideration.

This is the basic goal:

Until Feb 28, we pledge to buy 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 – at its core – is about a few elemental things. It’s not about deprivation, or putting people out of work. It’s simply about

  • being grateful for what we already have,
  • examining our needs and wants,
  • shopping mindfully, and
  • seeking alternatives.

What do I mean about seeking alternatives? You can define this any way you want but one alternative might include buying things that are Canadian made,  or shopping at small local businesses instead of big box stores. How about looking in our closets to see what’s already there instead of buying yet another little black dress? (Guilty as charged.) For example, how about borrowing that dress from a friend instead of buying new? Or wearing the one you wore to the party last year? (It’s ok. It really is.)

The Shopping Embargo has become a yearly personal challenge for our family and I post about it on the blog because it keeps me accountable and helps me stay motivated. I am always happy when others join me, however the thing about the Embargo that makes me uncomfortable is acting as Official Embargo Shopping Police and fielding questions: “Is it okay if I buy a pair of boots?” or “Can I buy books and magazines?” (I do!) or “We are putting in a new kitchen, is that ok?” Um. YES! Of course it is! And I won’t judge you it. I mean geez, one year our family went to the Dominican Republic during our Embargo. One year I HAD to buy a new bathrobe.

That’s why the revised Embargo mission (should you decide to take it of course!) could read something like this:

Until Feb 28, we pledge to only purchase essential items for ourselves and for our family: groceries/consumables, gas, basic hygiene (shampoo, soap, but not cosmetics), medicine and essential clothing. And we will also challenge ourselves to [INSERT YOUR PERSONAL GOAL HERE].

Your personal goal might be to reduce your clothing allowance or the amount you spend on dining out. Whatever! Just don’t give up if you have a setback and suddenly find yourself buying another pair of slippers for your kids at the Superstore because They Are So Cute You Can’t Leave Them And Besides They Are A Great Deal. And if Boxing Week Blowout is the only time you can afford to buy a laptop, buy it, just try and get out of the store without piling a lot of other things in your cart.

It’s hard to go cold turkey. If you’re the kind of person who heads to the mall whenever you’re feeling bored or blue, you’re going to have a tougher time of it than someone who hates crowds. If you’re the kind of person who has a lip gloss addiction (that would be me) you might want to think about steering clear of the cosmetics aisle for the next couple of months and making a standing coffee date with a girlfriend instead.

I 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 much over the past few years.

In the past I used to update my progress in the comments of that year’s Embargo post but I’ve decided to do it a bit differently this time around. There’s now a Facebook group for the Shopping Embargo. It’s a place to share thoughts, strategies, questions, and find support among likeminded thinkers. Want to join? It’s right here.

9 Responses to "Shopping Embargo 2012-2013"

1 | Lucy

December 28th, 2012 at 12:32 pm


Just wanted to let you know that I quietly followed your embargo several years ago ( probably 2008 ish) and it is still something that we do every January. It felt absolutely foreign the first year but it has really become part of our life and the habit carries over the rest of the year.

I won’t follow on FB… on-line time is something that I am cutting down on this year but I wanted to let you know how much I appreciated the introduction to the embargo via your site.

2 | Sarah McCormack

December 29th, 2012 at 11:31 am


fabulous!! we seem to do this every year, but not “deliberately”…

3 | Tara

January 1st, 2013 at 9:11 am


A Shopping Embargo is a great idea! We have a similar tradition in our house which we call Ghetto February. ( I know, not very PC). We don’t have a contract, but the premise is the same. Limit non-essentials , keep groceries as low as possible, no restaurants except Valentines and my kids ‘ birthday.
I also go to SDM and do a major grocery redemption to help with the grocery bill. We spend too much on groceries ( when we’re not careful it approaches $1000 a month!)
I love the concept bc it’s almost cathartic to go ghetto after the indulgences of Christmas, and reminds us we can be happy and grateful with less.

4 | A bit about kids and skiing >> a peek inside the fishbowl

January 4th, 2013 at 11:24 am


[…] are renting Sarah’s skis this year because of the Embargo and the fact that she’s still growing. It’s a pretty good deal. We rent them for the […]

5 | Fishbowl Reno post #53 - Sarah’s bedroom wrap-up >> a peek inside the fishbowl

January 6th, 2013 at 3:59 pm


[…] items (area rugs, bed sheets, shelves etc) but all of these purchases will have to wait until the Shopping Embargo is […]

6 | Hello there good lookin’ >> a peek inside the fishbowl

January 29th, 2013 at 11:23 am


[…] few of your are stumbling here looking for my post about the Shopping Embargo. It’s right here. In case you’re looking for the Shopping Embargo Facebook Group, it’s right here. I […]

7 | Pamala Hanson

January 29th, 2013 at 6:04 pm


Giving this a try, found this sight late but going to join now! I already work at No Spend days from another place I found in researching downsizing and simplifying my life. My big goal for 2013!

8 | Shopping, value, and the things we buy >> a peek inside the fishbowl

February 27th, 2013 at 3:30 pm


[…] we are still refraining from BUYING STUFF around here. The Embargo ends in a few days. I often have people ask me if I’m happy that it’s coming to an end. […]

9 | Allison

December 29th, 2013 at 1:29 pm


I am so looking fwd to joining you this year on your embargo – so ready after this Christmas spending, and just done with spending in general! I’ll need support, though, so look fwd to joining along with you!

Happy New Year!

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