Vancouver woman blogs about her yearlong shopping ban

Cait Flanders
Cait Flanders

By Aviva West

Cait Flanders, a 30-year-old woman from Vancouver, has made exactly three unplanned purchases in the past year.

Flanders, who has been on a strict shopping ban since July 7, 2014, has a long list of items she isn’t allowed to buy, including takeout coffee, books, clothes, makeup and electronics.

Author of the Blonde on a Budget blog, Flanders started her mission to rehab her finances back in 2011 when she realized that she was 26 years old and $28,000 in debt, with very little to show for it.

Hoping to share her journey and be held accountable as she attempted to pay down her loans, she blogged about her experiences living on as little as 45 per cent of her monthly income. Within the first year she was able to repay $10,000 and by the second year had paid off another $11,000. On May 21, 2013, Flanders was officially debt-free.

In 2014, despite being debt-free, Flanders — who wasn’t immediately available to comment — realized that there was still work to be done. She was stressed about turning 30, regularly missing her goal of putting 20 per cent of her income into savings, and experiencing what she called “lifestyle inflation.”

After reading a blog post by Mr. Money Mustache about the benefits of a permanent decrease in spending, she was inspired. Flanders adopted a minimalist approach and set out to challenge herself to not purchase anything but necessities for the next year. She wrote a list of items she was allowed to buy, and made allowances for clothes or goods that would need replacing.

The hardest habit to kick? Takeout coffees.

“I’ve been drinking coffee for 15 years and, by the time I started the ban, I was buying $5 lattes at least 4-5 days/week ($80-100/month). That’s not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things, but it was still money I could’ve done better things with,” she wrote on her blog.

In addition to her shopping freeze, over the past year she has given away, sold or donated 70 per cent of her belongings. On the suggestion of a friend, Flanders set up a bank account to deposit the money she saved by not shopping and selling her stuff. On Tuesday, she published her final tally.

In her year of zero shopping and mindful minimalism, Flanders lived on 51 per cent of her income ($28,000), saved 31 per cent of her income ($17,000) and spent 18 per cent on travel ($10,000). She began each month with a goal of putting at least $100 into her shopping ban account — often depositing more — and at the end of the year it contained $2,850, double her initial estimation.

Along with a minimalist approach came a desire for greater self-reliance. Embracing the idea of simple and sustainable living, Flanders challenged herself to become more resourceful by making her own cleaning supplies and toiletries, even trying her hand at candle-making. She learned how to plant a vegetable garden and asked family members to teach her to sew so she could repair her own clothes.

In a Monday post to wrap up her year-long adventure in anti-consumerism, Flanders surprised readers by announcing that she’s going to do it all over again for another year. And why not? Her blog currently boasts 30,000 readers a month, many of whom undertook a shopping ban themselves, and she recently quit her day job in communications to focus on freelancing. More importantly though, Flanders says one of the biggest benefits she’s seen, aside from financial security, is a greater sense of self-acceptance and love.

“I finally realized – months and months after getting rid of so much of my stuff – that I’d purchased most of it to exhibit some level of success I wanted people to believe I had reached,” she wrote. “As I became even more willing to let things go, I found myself consumed with gratitude for everything that I chose to keep, because all of it made my life better in some way.”

And those three unplanned purchases? A set of car tires, a pair of jeans and a new phone. All urgently needed and paid for, in cash, from her shopping ban account.