The shopping ban vs written budget


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

Arhaus_onepurchase_onetree_mm (1)

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!


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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Why buying second hand should be second nature


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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The Life Energy Experiment – One Year On


A little over a year ago, I conducted a simple experiment. The essence of it was simple and you can read my rules here.

The Life Energy Experiment

The experiment invites you to consider how much ‘life energy’ (or time in paid work) you have to devote to pay for something you want to buy?

As Henry David Thoreau put it, “The cost of a thing is the amount of one’s life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long term.”

As a rule of thumb, I used my gross hourly rate, but if you were going to be 100% accurate, you’d use your net hourly rate (less the cost of getting to work and other work-related costs such as clothing). That really focuses the mind.

Some examples

Imagine your gross hourly rate is £10 per hour (for easy maths) and you work a standard 7.5 hour day. I know that’s a simple way to view this, but let’s take it as an example. You can work out your own figures.

See how much of your life you’d have to devote to earning the money needed just to buy the following things:

  • Take-out pizza from Domino’s – £9.99 = 1 hour of your working day and just moments to consume!
  • New (full-price) coat from Zara – £99.99 = 10 hours of effort (so more than the average working day)
  • Your family’s weekly shop from mid-range supermarket – £120 = 12 hours of paid work (or 1.6 days’ effort)
  • A tank of fuel for a small car – £39.50 = 4 hours of work or half a day in the office! I know that I could get a monthly pass for the bus for just £5 more….

What about things you don’t really need?

Once you’ve started viewing your expenditure through the lens of the Life Energy Experiment, you might hesitate a little as your finger lingers over the ‘Buy it Now’ button.

You might look for ways to achieve the same goals (or to get what you’d like) in other ways:

  • Buying second-hand
  • Borrowing
  • Finding a substitute

Think about the Life Energy Experiment

So, think about the Life Energy Experiment as you go about your Christmas shopping this year.

For me, it’s definitely changed the way I view how I shop and what I choose to buy. And, as Amy from More Time Than Money says, there are times when you look at something and can simply proclaim, “This can stay money!”

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10 Ideas for a Clutter-busting Christmas


I have previously written about gifting with grace and love, but I’ve been thinking lately about ways to achieve a clutter-less Christmas.

If you’re a minimalist yourself, you may want to be intentional in your gift giving and emphasize ‘experiences over stuff’. Perhaps you’re hoping that any gift you might receive would support your clutter-free goals. Or maybe you’re just looking for some ideas that won’t involve going to ‘shiny spending places’, which would almost certainly result in both you and your wallet feeling depleted.

Here are my 10 Ideas for a Clutter-busting Christmas

1. Try home-made

I’m baking iced Christmas tree decorations this year. Made with love, these little tokens are inexpensive to make, are low-impact when it comes to packaging, and I can be generous in gifting as many as I like. If you don’t want to hang yours on the tree, that’s fine. You can simply eat it.

Pictured above are my cookie jars from a couple of years ago. Again, these are simple to do, visually appealing and require no gift wrap. Let me know if you want the recipe!

2. Go uniform

If you can give the same little love token to lots of people, your gift wrap (if needed) can be uniform too. Try brown paper or newspaper tied with ribbon or string. This is less wasteful than buying myriad gift bags or multiple packs or rolls of gift wrap.

3. Embrace digital

I have an annual subscription with This UK based company designs online greetings cards that can be personalised, so you can write an individual message to the recipient. Send as many as you like, save yourself a small fortune at the post office, reduce waste and avoid clutter. I know that some people still like to send physical cards, but if you lead a busy life and want an efficient way to send a meaningful message, this is one option.

4.  Buy experiences

A trip out to a venue such as the cinema or theatre isn’t a cheap night out. So, gifting an experience that will appeal to loved ones is a fabulous clutter-free option. Alternatively, buy them a music, sporting, driving or dance lesson. There’s no clutter involved and you’ll also be gifting a sense of anticipation, as they’ll have something to look forward to once the festivities are over.

5. Adopt a less is more approach

When it comes to decorations, more is not always better. You can achieve a sense of ‘hygge’ (cosyness) just as well by displaying only your very favourite items. A little bit of sparkle is lovely but you don’t need your home to look like an outpost of John Lewis. Equally, if you bring down from the loft decorations that you never use, it’s OK to let them go. Don’t be hard on yourself if you really don’t value Auntie Mabel’s Christmas baubles. You really don’t have to keep them.

6. Be of service

Have you a skill – or maybe some time – you could offer to others? If ‘acts of service’ form a part of your love language, why not offer a massage, a night’s babysitting, an afternoon’s gardening or something home-cooked? When my pal, Michelle, was 50, she asked for a home-cooked meal for her birthday. I was delighted to offer this unusual present; she and her family were pleased to eat it!

7.  Contribute to others

There are some ways to mark the festive season that will add value in ways that can really make a difference to others’ lives. Once again this year, a colleague of mine is coordinating a collection of gifts for looked after children. Local charities such as Helping Hands also distribute hampers across the community to families who will benefit most. Maybe this provides the opportunity to re-gift things you never used, but which someone else might appreciate?

8. Consider a subscription as a gift

Buying someone a subscription is a lovely treat. Perhaps a year’s membership of a group such as the WI, a magazine or music streaming subscription would be appreciated. What about a subscription box of delicious consumables? There are all kinds of subscription boxes available; why not check them out?

9. Consumables are king

This brings to my favourite gift category: consumables. Gifting something you can eat, drink, spray, apply, cook with or (better still) share is a lovely way to celebrate the holidays in a way that means the recipient won’t end up with something that will ultimately end up in the charity shop or – worse – the bin.

10. Ask them what they want

This might seem obvious, but if you’re unsure about what to give someone you love, why not ask them? Knowing you’re buying something that’s genuinely wanted or needed will guarantee they receive something they’ll truly appreciate. And don’t forget, kids love to have their own spending power, so cash (whilst not very imaginative) is often very much appreciated.

So that’s my list, but what about you? Do you have some clutter-busting holiday ideas? If so, please do share by replying below!

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Sustainable shopping: eco-wrap from the honey bee

Abeego’s beeswax wrap

Since launching the blog, I’ve written on a variety of topics from decluttering to simple living, intentionality, frugal living, the slow home and more.

My passion for minimalism has sparked a number of new but related interests. For example:

  • How can we live in a more sustainable way?
  • Can I be more ethical as a consumer?
  • How can we eat simply but well?

Sustainable Shopping

Having consulted members of the Midlands Minimalist community, it’s clear that some of you agree. So, in the coming months, I’m going to expand into some topics that relate to these themes, one of which will be ‘Sustainable Shopping’.

This first ‘Sustainable Shopping’ post focuses on a new-to-me product, Abeego’s reusable beeswax food wrap.


Food wrap redesigned

In our house, most of our cooking is from scratch so we often enjoy leftovers the next day. As a result, anything we don’t eat straight away may remain in its cooking pot or dish, but sometimes I want to decant a single serving into a smaller container. Here’s where years of conditioning have us unintentionally reaching for the cling film. But there is a better way.

Abeego’s beeswax food wrap offers a genuine alternative to the ‘use-it-once’ plastic film to which we are all accustomed.

My pack came from Ethical Superstore whose service was quick and efficient. However, there is a large ‘but’ coming…..

Wrap within wrapping x 4


The Abeego wrap comes in its own cardboard packaging, which provides useful information about the product and its various benefits, as well as offering tips on how to get the best out of this washable, malleable beeswax wrap.

So far, so good.

But I found Ethical Superstore’s excessive packaging (2 layers of bubble wrap and an outer layer of grey plastic) really disappointing. How cushioned does a cardboard pack of beeswax wraps need to be?

The proof was in the wrapping

I was dubious as to how effective this product would be, but what a revelation! Just as Abeego promises, the wrap is a little tacky to the touch and malleable so you can push the wrap into the shape you want (as I did in the photo at the top of this post). Once in the fridge, the wrap stiffens, keeping itself firmly in place.

To keep it clean, a quick wash with cold water is all you need.

The MidsMins thumbs up 

So, I recommend Abeego to you. I’d estimate that – over the course of this product’s ‘lifecycle’, it may not actually save you any money, but it’s one less item going into landfill. For me, that’s reason enough to invest.

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