How one woman survived a two-year shopping ban

Would you survive a two-year spending ban?. GETTY IMAGES

Could you not shop for two years?

Cait Flanders, 31, has not bought anything other than essential, consumable goods since she vowed to stop spending in July of 2014.

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“I never identified as a shopaholic,” said Flanders, a full-time freelance writer in Victoria, B.C.

“But I would say I was a mindless spender — you know, you go to the store for two things and come out with five, or you see something on sale and talk yourself into thinking you need it, even though yesterday you didn’t need it.”

Flanders had already achieved a majorly impressive feat — she paid off $30,000 of debt in two years, documented in her blog —  when she realized she wasn’t making very smart money decisions.

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“I had all this money again freed up in my budget, but instead of putting money into savings…I wen’t back to spending a lot of it,” said Flanders.

She said one day it was like a “switch” flipped in her head: instead of the common practice of saving 10 or 20 per cent of every paycheque and spending all the rest, people should be living on as little as possible.

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“As soon as I started thinking about that, I…realized I could walk around my home and see where my money had been going.”

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That’s when she decided to make a change.

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“I decided to not shop — it was just a year at first — I decided to not shop for a year, and also went through my belongings and decided to get rid of things I didn’t use.”

She started on July 7, 2014 and gave herself strict rules. Consumables such as fuel for her vehicle and food got the green light. Clothes, books, electronics were on the banned list. If something had to be replaced, like when her one pair of jeans got an irreparable (she tried to fix it) hole, then she could replace them.

“One in, one out,” Flanders said. “It’s something you use often.”

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She says not buying books was her biggest challenge. In the past she would go online to order one book, and end up with three to get free shipping. That came to an end. She also cut out takeout coffee.

“Even though it’s a consumable per se, I wasn’t comfortable with how much I was spending on it.”

There was the odd new item purchase over the years. She needed a dress to attend multiple weddings one summer, new winter boots and a long-overdue new bed.

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After successfully completing one year, she decided to do it again.

“It’s probably just a lifestyle now, it has gotten really easy.”

On July 6, she officially completed her two-year shopping ban — but she has no plans for a wild spending spree. For Flanders, living with less has become a way of life.

She has some trips planned, so the extent of her shopping will be stocking up on some supplies.

“I will be shopping this summer, but it will be camping related, camping gear.”

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So is there at least one frivolous thing she’s dying to buy?

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“Um, no. I don’t think so,” she said with a laugh. “I know that’s a terrible answer. I’m trying to think.”

One thing she is sure of, she’s not going to slide back into her old ways.

She says you don’t have to go to her extremes to make a difference in your finances, but you do need to make sure you’re not setting yourself up for failure.

“Try to find the right balance so that you are enjoying life and don’t feel completely deprived,” said Flanders.

“If you feel totally deprived you’re not probably changing your spending habits, you’re just kind of pushing pause on a bigger issue and not changing yourself or setting yourself up for the long term.”

Here are some tips from Flanders for “baby steps” to reduce your spending:

  • Give up one thing for 30 days. Spending can become a habit, banning it for just 30 days can help break that habit.
  • Keep a list of things you want to buy on impulse. Wait a few weeks and see if you still want it before you make the purchase.
  • Be mindful of quality. Buying one good shirt instead of four cheap ones will reduce waste and help you live with less.

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