Reformed shopaholic Cait Flanders reveals what a self-imposed shopping ban taught her about money, minimalism and mindful consuming

CAN YOU IMAGINE going an entire year without buying a new outfit? Nope. Us, neither. But that’s exactly what former binge shopper Cait Flanders did in an experiment to get on top of her spending, which resulted in regaining control of her life. Cait tells Grazia, “If you’re wondering why you’re always living paycheque to paycheque, don’t have any money in savings and can’t seem to get ahead, a break from shopping could help you turn that situation around.”

Although Cait’s mindful shopping experiment was so successful she extended her own break to two years, the rest of us can still benefit from her findings without the same extreme measures. “The reason I started this challenge in the first place was because I was tracking my spending and knew I wasn’t happy with where my money was going, so I suggest you start there. Every day, write down how much money you’ve spent and on what, and then every week, look back at your expenses and see how you feel about them all. My guess is you’ll naturally start to buy fewer things that don’t add value to your life. You’ll learn a lot about yourself as a buyer.”

Cait Flanders shares her journey in her new book The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store (Hay House) out now

Soon Cait discovered that having a mindful-shopping strategy made her more conscious about how she was spending her time. “The foundation of mindfulness is simply creating an awareness,” she concedes. “When you exercise this muscle, you can learn to notice how consuming anything – whether it’s what you’re spending money on and bringing into your home, what you’re eating or drinking, or the media you’re consuming. And if it doesn’t feel good or makes you feel anxious in any way, that awareness is what helps you decide to cut it out of your life.”

I learned that whenever you’re thinking of binge buying, it’s usually because some part of you or your life feels like it’s lacking

This may sound like a tall order in the emirate which has everything, but Cait disagrees. “The point was never to stop enjoying the things I found value in. I learned I didn’t want to buy more things unless I knew I was going to use them right away. One of the greatest lessons I learned during these years is that whenever you’re thinking of binging, it’s usually because some part of you or your life feels like it’s lacking – and nothing you drink, eat, or buy can fix it. Instead, simplify, strip things away, and figure out what’s really going on. Falling into the cycle of wanting more, consuming more, and needing even more won’t help. More was never the answer,” she concludes. “The answer was always less.”


Declutter your home

Before you begin a shopping break, go through your home and get rid of anything that doesn’t serve a purpose in your life. Don’t just organise – analyse: ask yourself what you want to keep, then let go of all the rest. It sounds counterintuitive but decluttering first can open your eyes to how much you’ve wasted money on in the past, which can serve as motivation to not waste more. It will also give you a visual reminder of how much you’re keeping.

Take inventory

It’s easy to forget what you own when it lives inside closets, drawers, and boxes. While you’re decluttering, take inventory of the items you own the most of. Go through each room of your home and write down the top five items you have ‘in stock.’ These are some of the things you will not be allowed to buy during your shopping break – at least, not until you run out of them and need more.

Write 3 lists

When you were decluttering and taking inventory, what will become clear is: there are things in your home you definitely don’t need more of; and there are probably also a few things you will. At this point, it’s time to write three lists. 

The Essentials List: What you’re allowed to buy whenever you run out of them. The easiest way to create this list is to walk around your home and look at what you use in each room every day. For me, this included groceries and toiletries. I also included gifts for others.

The Nonessentials List: What you’re not allowed to buy. For me, that included what I thought I would enjoy but didn’t use on a daily basis, like books, magazines, and candles. I added take-out coffee to my nonessentials list, simply because I wasn’t comfortable spending a lot of money on it anymore. However, I still allowed myself to go to restaurants occasionally. Yours should be unique to you.

The Approved Shopping List: What you’re allowed to buy. As you declutter and take stock of what you own, think about you have coming up and figure out what you might need to add to this list.

Set up a shopping-break savings account

No matter what your ultimate goal is, you’re going to save money by not shopping. What you do with it is up to you, but I suggest opening a dedicated shopping-break savings account. How much you decide to put in it each month is up to you. I started by depositing Dhs370 per month, because I knew I was saving that by not buying take-out coffee anymore. Another idea is to transfer over any money you stop yourself from spending by not giving in to an impulse purchase. Finally, you could also deposit what you make by selling the possessions you decluttered.

Tell everyone you know

Start by telling your family, partner, or anyone who lives in the same household and who is part of your family budget. Based on those conversations, you’ll need to decide together whether it’s something you want everyone to participate in or whether you’re going to start with leading by example and doing it alone. There might be some resistance from others if you want everyone to get on board, so don’t push the idea. The most important thing, for now, is to make sure they know about your intentions to not shop for anything besides the essentials for a period of time. Explain what your goals are, how you think it can help you and your family, and even set some goals for what you’ll do with all the money you save. After that, tell the people you spend the most time with. The more people you tell, the more likely it is that you’ll stick to your shopping break, because you’ll feel the need to stay accountable to not only yourself but also to them. And I suggest you have at least one accountability partner who you can call or text whenever you get the urge to shop, so they can stop you.

Change your reactions

Here’s where mindfulness comes into play. When you feel the urge to shop, sometimes texting a friend and asking them to stop you isn’t enough. You need to pause and consider everything that’s happening in your current environment. How do you feel? Did you have a bad day? Where are you and what brought you there? Who are you with? And what justifications are you telling yourself? Any/all of these things can be part of the trigger that urges you to buy something, and spotting them is extremely important so you can ultimately change your reactions. If you don’t replace bad habits with good habits, you’re more likely to relapse and go back to your old ways. When something triggers you, figure out what else you can do – besides spending money – and do it repeatedly, until it eventually becomes second nature.

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