Money doesn’t buy happiness — and debt certainly doesn’t help matters either.
That was a lesson that Cait Flanders realized the hard way. She was battling a growing mountain of debt to the tune of $30,000 — and she felt like she was sinking.
“I wasn’t happy with where I was at in life,” Flanders said. “I wasn’t reaching any of my financial goals.”
So she decided that desperate times call for desperate measures. Flanders put everything on ice — no spending at all for an entire year.
“I would look at my numbers at the end of the month and realize I had barely saved anything,” she said. “It just solidified the plan that I wanted to try living on less.”
In 2014, she decided to attempt to tackle the impossible — cutting herself off in a big way.
Spending Ban: The Basics
She set some ground rules for herself — a baseline to base her year-long journey off of. She came up with a list of green-light items — aka things she was okay to buy.
The approved shopping list wound up looking pretty bare bones: Groceries and basic kitchen supplies, because a girl’s gotta eat. Cosmetics and toiletries, in order to maintain a basic professional appearance. Cleaning products, for sanitary purposes. Gifts for others, because sharing is caring.
The no-go list was a bit more stringent: No take-out coffee, clothes, shoes, accessories, books, magazines, candles, electronics — if it wasn’t necessary, it didn’t make the cut.
The last list was of items she planned in advance for the year: One outfit for multiple weddings she was scheduled to attend, a sturdy pair of boots, workout pants, a sweatshirt, a bed, and anything that was broken and needed to be replaced.
If that seems pretty minimal, you’re definitely on the right track.
“It really just forced me to figure out what kind of consumer I am,” she said. “It changed a lot of bad habits I had and just replaced them with something better.”
The Big Takeaways
By the end of the shopping ban, she recalculated her finances and realized she lived on an average of just 51 percent of her income — putting 31 percent right back into the bank. (The other 18 percent went to travel expenses, if you’re wondering.)
“Travel was something I had been wanting to do,” she explained. “I just never had the money to be able to do it.”
Flanders cited the other most unexpected byproduct of the experiment was that by end of it, she had saved enough cash to enable her to quit her full-time job and transition to freelance.
Feeling inspired? Flanders outlined a few basic tenets of the shopping ban for those brave enough to follow in her footsteps.
Step one: Take inventory of the things you already have. Step two: Get an accountability partner.
“It’s really important to have at least one person to stay accountable to,” she added. “It’s someone who is looking out for your best interest.”
Flanders said the number one takeaway she learned was that her wallet and her heart weren’t always in sync with what was ultimately best for her in the long run.
“I used to make a lot of aspirational purchases,” she said. “And I needed to learn how to stop buying for that version of myself and start buying for the person I am today.”