The shopping ban vs written budget

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I’ve recently started reading Cait Flanders’ The Year of Less. In this book (her debut), Cait documents (with a real openness and honesty) what was happening in her life during a 12 month period when she decided to go ‘cold turkey’ on her spending and instigate a year-long shopping ban.

Cait describes how she had documented the ‘year of less’ on her blog, inspiring others to do a shopping ban of their own.

The Approved Shopping List

In case you’re curious, Cait decided to change her relationship with spending by sticking to a specific number of self-imposed rules. The items on her Approved Shopping List were carefully considered: she worked out what would be coming up during the period of her shopping ban and planned accordingly.

To give you some examples, takeout coffees were firmly off the list, but replacement toiletries and cosmetics were OK, providing they weren’t “fun items” such as nail polish. Travel was definitely on the list, but clothes were not.

This got me thinking about the difference between getting on a written budget versus instigating a shopping ban. Were they polar opposites, or could one approach benefit the other?

Getting on a written budget

If you’ve been reading my blog for a little while, you’ll know that I have previously cited the work of Dave Ramsey. One of the key tenets of Ramsey’s philosophy is that, if you’re going to be successful with money, you have to get on a written budget.

Ramsey’s budgeting app, ‘EveryDollar’ (not available in the UK), is so named because the idea is that you literally tell every dollar where to go.

My dual account spreadsheet serves the same purpose. With two accounts rather than one, we run all of our regular bills and expenses (e.g. utility bills) off the first account. This leaves only the second account to manage in terms of discretionary spending on items including food, groceries, fuel and so on.

Why a written budget is so useful

A written budget is essential. It means you plan in advance of your spending, rather than worrying about where your cash has gone when there is ‘too much month at the end of the money’.

If your finances are joint ones, by sitting down each month and doing a written plan, you also balance any ‘go go’ (spending) tendencies against any ‘no no’ (saving) preferences within your relationship.

The benefits of a shopping ban

A complete shopping ban also has a number of benefits, especially if you’re someone who needs to take an ‘all or nothing’ approach.

Writer Gretchen Rubin famously abstains from eating carbohydrates; if she doesn’t eat carbs, she doesn’t have to think about them. A little bit of something in moderation isn’t her style.

The same goes for someone who can’t go shopping without returning home laden with bags of merchandise they hadn’t planned to buy. So, the ‘all or nothing’ approach might be beneficial.

By announcing your intention, you can also get accountability for your goals: your supporters will spur you on and help keep you on track.

‘No spend’ drawbacks

Cait’s experience made me realise that initiating a shopping ban might also bring some drawbacks.

For example, so-called well-meaning ‘friends’ would try and tempt her to buy something Cait didn’t need, or which wasn’t on The Approved List. They reasoned that ‘she deserved it’ or that a little retail therapy was no bad thing. In fact, this was tantamount to offering a reformed smoker a cigarette, a dieter a wedge of chocolate fudge cake, or an alcoholic ‘just one’ drink. Happily for her, a handful of true friends were on hand to help keep Cait on track.

Another potential drawback of a shopping ban is that you also have to deal with your own triggers. That is, if you’re working to achieve specific financial goals, avoiding putting yourself in situations where you might blow your budget is essential. For an abstainer, it has to be all or nothing.

As Cait writes, “The toughest part… was having to confront my triggers and change my reaction to them. It always felt like the minute I forgot about the shopping ban was the same minute I felt like shopping again.”

Why a written budget provides some flexibility

If you’re like me, you might prefer having some flexibility each month. That said, Cait certainly didn’t set out to veto all spending forever; it was, after all, an experiment.

What helps me is that I’m now really intentional in what I buy; getting on a written budget also avoids any feelings of self-deprivation. If we need something (in any category), we make provision on the spreadsheet for it. There’s no ‘forget it, I’m going to buy whatever I want’ and the extremes of a shopping spree or spending ban are avoided.

The middle ground

Where the ‘no spend’ philosophy might help is in cutting out expenditure that you know doesn’t add value to your life and which may impact negatively on your overall finances.

For example, if you regularly buy lunch out (perhaps at a cafe or by picking up a take-out meal), the cost of this soon adds up. Deciding to intentionally exclude things from your budget can help you achieve your financial goals. In a recent post, I discussed the idea that second-hand should become second nature; applying a ‘nothing new’ rule might be one approach to consider.

All or nothing?

I admire Cait Flanders’ forthright account. In applying her ‘no spend’ discipline, she not only learned a great about herself, but she lived on just a proportion of her income. This helped her not only to pay off debt but also to truly understand the important things in life.

Whichever route you choose, laying some ground rules (and getting accountability for your goals) will truly reap the benefits. And less is definitely more.


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One purchase, one tree

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The team at Arhaus was recently able to showcase my advice on an infographic they were developing (pictured), which includes ways to make our homes more environmentally friendly. Spot the community tip!

Eco-minimalism

A concern for the environment is one of the reasons why people choose to live a more intentional life. We’ve talked about sustainability on the blog before:

You might remember Cheryl Magyar’s helpful great piece on reducing everyday disposables. My own recent post on why second hand should become second nature also sparked some great comments.

We all need to consider if what we buy is promoting sustainability or contributing negatively to the environment (especially if what we buy is replacing something we already own). Arhaus uses reclaimed and sustainable materials as often as they can. For example, many of their dining and kitchen tables are sourced from reclaimed wood.

One purchase, one tree

I liked the idea of a store planting a tree for every purchase. I wonder if you know of other organisations who do this?

Plant a tree anyway

This reminded me that planting a tree is a lovely way to give a “non-stuff” gift. When my twin godsons were christened, the godparents got together and planted a pair of trees on their behalf. As the trees grew, so would the boys (indeed, the twins are now 9 and shooting up!).

During the year in which my husband Andrew turned 50, he also planted a tree in memory of my late grandmother who died during the month after his birthday. I think that’s a lovely memorial and an appropriate way to remember a long life, well-lived. W

When might you plant a tree?

Have you ever planted a tree, or supported a tree-planting scheme? And what sort of purchase (especially for the home) might prompt you to do this in the future? I’d love to know if this idea appeals to you.


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Do this for your future self

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As long as I can remember, we have cleaned our home on a Friday evening. Yes, I know what you are thinking. Our Friday nights aren’t exactly rock ‘n’ roll. And I’d certainly prefer to be out on a SUP on the ocean, as the sun goes down.

But here’s the thing. Cleaning on a Friday evening means that we come downstairs on a Saturday morning to surfaces that are clean and shiny, with everything looking as good as it can.

Our weekly ritual 

This weekly ritual, which is aided by the fact that I am able to finish work at 4 p.m. on the final working day of the week, has become a part of our family routine.

Sometimes, if we are really exhausted, we’ll do some of the cleaning on a Saturday morning. But the point of this habit means that our future selves (in this case, our ‘next day selves’) are always glad when we’ve done it.

Doing something for your future self is incredibly rewarding, but it does – of course – mean applying discipline at the time.

Applying self-discipline

Consider something like exam preparation and revision. This is particularly close to our hearts, as our daughter’s GCSE examinations are now only a few short months away. When the pull of friends caused a conflict in her mind one Sunday afternoon recently (when she hadn’t completed all of her work), we gently reminded her that her future self would thank her for the extra effort she devoted in the present.

Paying it forward… for yourself

The same applies to many areas of our lives such as weight loss and fitness; saving (or not spending); and even decluttering and creating space in our lives.

I have written before about overcoming inertia, but the idea of doing something for your future self provides a little bit of extra motivation.

But how to get started, if you’re a long way from where your future self would like to be?

Ten top tips

If the goal is to get on top of the clutter once and for all, consider these top tips. Of course, they also apply to other goals you might have established:

1. Start small. As I wrote for my article published on Becoming Minimalist, start with somewhere like your closet. A wardrobe is akin to having a ‘room within a room’. Opening up that space and seeing all the clothes you love (arranged beautifully on hangers if that’s your thing) will spur you on.

2. Get an accountability partner or even employ a personal organiser. You could join an online group, such my Minimalism and Simple Living group in Better, to chat to others who are facing the same challenges as you.

3. Make it fun. Try one of the strategies I wrote about in my Unclutter series last year. Lots of people take photos of their ‘minimalism game’ hauls, as they progress through the 31-day challenge.

4. Make a mood board (either actual or virtual) to inspire you towards a simpler, less-cluttered home. Display it somewhere you can see for daily inspiration.

5. Take inspiration from some of the best-known writers, bloggers and podcasters on the subject (see my Community Resources page if you’ve signed up – Join the Community below). I listen to a podcast daily, as I travel into work. Hearing a solid, consistent message on a topic that you’re interested in enables you to educate yourself and provides inspiration to help you remain focussed on your goals.

6. Do good, feel good. Remember that, by removing the excess in your own life, you may enrich the lives of others by providing them with an opportunity to enjoy something that’s new to them.

7. Give yourself a deadline or a series of mini milestones. If you know someone is coming round to collect a bag of clothing, for example, you’re more likely to have it ready for them.

8. Promise yourself a treat when you’ve completed a particular goal, such as a good cup of coffee at your favourite cafe or a browse in the library.

9. Take baby steps. Any bit of progress is a step towards your goal, no matter how small.

10. Let go of perfect. You may not achieve a 100% clutter-free space (especially as you can’t declutter other people’s stuff) but you will reap the benefits, no matter how far towards your ideal state you get.

Just remember, your future self will thank you.

So, what will you choose to do today?


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Why buying second hand should be second nature

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For a number of years, my wardrobe has comprised around 50% secondhand clothing and 50% items that I have intentionally bought in the sale of brands I trust. Rarely do I buy clothing that is full price.

Since I follow the Project 333 approach, that’s roughly 16 items ‘new’ and 16 or so ‘second hand’ altogether. It’s more than enough and buying second hand is such a good thing to do.

Here’s why:

Second hand offers great value for money

Buying second hand a great way to buy what you need at a fraction of the cost of what the item would have cost new.

One of my more recent second hand purchases was a gently-worn and perfect-fitting brown suede skirt from Monsoon. It cost just £8. To go with that, I picked up a Mint Velvet cowl neck knit for just £1.66.

My most recent acquisition, which inspired this post, is a little black dress by Coast. I’ll wear this for a work-related ‘do’ in early March. It cost just £9.99 from eBay and I’m currently watching a co-ordinating pair of shoes whose starting price is £3.99. My whole outfit is likely to cost less than £15 overall. I had recently sold a number of dresses myself, so the direct cost of this purchase was far less than the actual sale price. Plus, I’m sticking to my principles of one in, one out.

Pre-loved is better for the environment

My heart sinks whenever I enter a store selling ‘fast fashion’. Like me, my teenage daughter’s on the lookout for value for money, but she’s far less likely to buy second hand. Whenever I enter one of these high street stores (which, mercifully, is seldom), I’m struck by the vast quantity of merchandise which, on closer inspection, often seems flimsy and of poor quality. We all know that the world has reached ‘peak clothes’ so it’s especially important to be intentional when we buy. What better way to signal that we care about the environment by doing so via what we wear? 

Gently worn supports great causes

We often moan that today’s high street consists mainly of coffee shops, estate agents, hairdressers and charity shops. Yet, we often fail to recognise the important contribution charity shops make to the causes they serve.

Writer and friend, Rae Ritchie,  is fashion ambassador to Myton Hospices Charity Shops. Not only do these shops offer great value for money, they’re supporting a much valued local cause.

To give you a sense of their importance, Rae explains: “Myton Hospices require £8.8 million per year to fund their vital end of life care at three hospices in Coventry and Warwickshire. Their 22 stores play an important role in raising that money.”

In terms of fashion finds, Rae tells me that Myton’s Coundon store currently has some Vivienne Westwood shoes. Her own recent buys have included a vintage leather handbag, some barely used yoga pants and a denim tunic that is being continually washed and worn!

Second hand is not second best

For kids (who grow so quickly you can almost see them sprouting upwards), second hand clothes are absolutely fabulous and definitely not second best.

When our daughter was tiny, we used to buy all her clothes from the NCT Nearly New Sale. As her mummy, I loved putting all the cute little outfits together, but never had to be overly anxious about anything she wore; nothing cost more than a couple of pounds.

Once you’re fully grown (and assuming you maintain a stable weight and size), it’s wonderful to be able to buy second hand clothing online, as you know what’s going to fit. Most brands are fairly reliable in terms of sizing, so you can bid and buy with relative confidence.

Where to buy

Fargo Village in Coventry is the perfect place to meet up with friends, enjoy a coffee and a browse in the Big Comfy Bookshop. While there, nip into Myton Fargo Village, Myton Hospice’s very cool and carefully curated charity shop (and you can get a sense of their one-off bargains by checking out their Instagram account).

Dress agencies are another way to find beautiful gently-worn clothes at great prices. I used to love Corina Corina in Warwick, as well as the aptly-named Savoir Faire in Kenilworth. Anyone remember them? Sadly, they’re no longer trading, but there are lots of alternatives, notably in Leamington Spa and Solihull.

Top tip: dress agencies only keep stock for a certain period of time. Once an item remains unsold after a number of weeks, it is either returned to its owner or passed to a local charity shop.

Here in the UK, eBay sales of second hand clothes are booming. I’ve both bought and sold over the years. Here’s where your knowledge of what fits really comes into its own; I know that a Phase Eight Size 10 is a pretty good bet if I’m buying a dress, for example.

Local Facebook groups are often great sources of second hand clothes, especially kids’ bundles. For buyers, there’s the nuisance factor of having to go and collect, but it’s free for both buyers and sellers, so there’s often a good deal to be had.

Let buying second hand become second nature

So, let buying second hand become second nature. You’ll be glad you did.


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