Cait Flanders on Life After a Two-Year Shopping Ban

Cait Flanders is one of my favourite people on the Internet. She started her blog as a way of documenting a journey that saw her pay off $30,000 in consumer debt and get rid of 75% of her material possessions. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, she then embarked on a two-year shopping ban (yes, you read that correctly!) and shared her learnings along the way.  

But what I love most about Cait is that she’s not afraid to get candid on a topic so many of us shy away from: money. In this conversation, we discuss her upcoming memoir, The Year of Less, how inherited financial behaviours affect us all, and how her definition of what it means to be ‘wealthy’ has changed over the years.

I can’t wait to read your upcoming book, The Year of Less! What has the process of writing it taught you about yourself so far?

Oh my goodness, so many things! It demanded that I improve as a writer and editor, and required me to be even more vulnerable than I have been on my blog. I wrote about things I haven’t shared with some of my closest friends, and found myself wiping tears off my keyboard more than a few times. But honestly, the best thing it taught me is that I’m capable of completing a project of that size. I have a tendency to look at big projects, like a book, and feel like it’s a mountain I’m unable to climb - so I procrastinate, put it off and say things like “maybe one day”. Having a deadline forced me to work on it every day and ultimately cross the finish line. Now I know that I’m capable of completing any of the creative projects I dream up.

How has your definition of what it means to be ‘wealthy’ changed over time?

It’s funny, but when I think about the word wealthy, I do picture what the media shows us: people with lots of money, big houses, cars and maybe a boat. But because I didn’t grow up around anything that resembled that picture, that’s never what I’ve imagined would or could be in my future. Years ago, I probably would have said my personal definition of being wealthy would have meant having a net worth of $1 million - and for no real reason, except that’s a random number that used to get thrown around in the early 2000s. “Save for your future and you could retire a millionaire!”

Now, money in the bank is only a small portion of what it would mean for me to be wealthy. I can’t deny that having savings helps me feel more comfortable. But true wealth, in my eyes, is being in control of my time and having healthy family/friends to spend it with.

To many people, embarking on a two-year shopping ban is both impressive and impossible. I’m curious about what it was like after the shopping ban? How did it feel to start spending again after so long, and how has the ban changed your life-long approach to money?

Such a good question! I will first say that I did buy a few things during the shopping ban - but only things I absolutely needed. During those two years, I learned how to appreciate what I already had, and to curb all my impulses. We live in a world of convenience where everything is at our fingertips, and it’s way too easy to spend money just because we can.

By hitting pause, I realized I didn’t need most of the things I thought about buying, and that has certainly changed how I will make spending decisions for the rest of my life.

As for how it felt to spend money again, it has been interesting. I have realized that I would rather buy one thing that is higher quality and will last longer, even if it’s a bit more expensive. In doing that, I take longer to make decisions, as I don’t want to waste money on something that isn’t exactly what I want. But this results in me buying things I love and actually use, rather than collect dust. I’ve also realized that every spending decision we make is a vote with our dollars. So as long as it’s in the budget, I’m happy to buy things if it supports my friends’ work or aligns with my values.

What’s the one money lesson you wish you’d learnt sooner?

It’s not so much a lesson I wish I had learnt, but I wish I had gotten into a habit of automating my savings at a much earlier age. By that, I mean setting it up so I would make regular deposits to my savings accounts and investments. I barely saved money in my twenties, and since being self-employed have struggled with a fear mindset that makes me feel like I can’t invest too much too often, in case run out of money and need it to live off of. I wish I had trained myself much earlier to automate savings and make it a top priority, rather than always wait until I felt flush enough.

Inherited behaviours around money can be incredibly formative. What was your mom and/or dad's relationship with money like, and how did it shape your thinking?

Oh, there is no doubt in my mind that my interest in personal finance came from my dad. Growing up, he always talked to me about money - from little things like always reminding me to save a portion of my income (oops, failed at that for a while), to the big things like following interest rates and inflation and real estate trends. He used to cut out articles from the newspaper and leave them on my bed for me to read when I got home from school. And both my parents were really open and shared things like their income, mortgage information and just the cost of everyday life. Even though I made some mistakes with my money when I was younger, I know that the reason I’m so comfortable learning about personal finance and talking about money on the internet is because of the way I was raised.

Your refreshingly honest approach to sharing your story is one of the many things I love about your work. Who are some of *your* favourite books and writers?

Thank you! My two favourite bloggers are probably Allison Fallon and David Cain. A few of my favourite books are: Packing Light PB by Allison Vesterfelt (now Fallon), Blackout by Sarah Hepola and A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg. I also recently devoured Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton in two days, and found it to be one of the most honest books I’d ever read.

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