Category: money and happiness

True Story: I Didn’t Buy Anything New for One Year

True Story: I didn't buy anything new for one year //
This is one of many True Story interviews, in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things. This is the story of Holly and her one-year shopping ban. Nothing new! For 365 days! Impressive, no?
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What was your relationship with money/consumerism before you took on this challenge?
Before the challenge my relationship with money was nuts! I spent most of my money within a week of getting paid, I had no savings, I paid off credit cards and store cards only to spend on them a few days later. I shopped without even thinking about it, just wandering about aimlessly and coming home with stuff I just didn’t need. I didn’t know anything about a budget and even though I have a well paid job I was always complaining about being broke.

What made you want to go on a shopping ban?
In the personal finance community we talk about what’s called a “Lightbulb Moment”. That’s the moment that you suddenly think “Uh oh, I need to change my ways or else.” For me it wasn’t really one moment but several over a couple of months.

I wore something new every day, I was always having packages delivered (I spent up to £50/$75 a month on books from Amazon), I had dinner out twice a week and eventually I realized that all these seemingly insignificant expenses were adding up to about £500/$740 per month. No wonder I was broke!

How did people in your life react to your decision?
At first some people laughed, they knew what I was like and didn’t think I’d be able to last a month! Someone even told me they could only go a year without shopping if they were in a coma! I’m glad they were doubtful though, it just spurred me on. Having a blog and writing about the challenge was great. I didn’t think anyone would care but the fact that complete strangers were taking the time to read and leave encouraging comments kept me motivated to finish the year. I didn’t want to let anyone down.

So tell us about your year! How did you make do with the things that you already had? Did you alter them? Do lots of borrowing and bartering?
I used to have mending days where I would sit and fix all the clothes that I didn’t wear because they were damaged (missing buttons, dropped hems etc.) then they’d be all lovely and new again. I didn’t need to borrow any clothes because I had so much stuff it was unreal.

One day I took everything out of my wardrobes (you call them closets!) and donated anything I didn’t need to charity. Having less stuff became a bit of a thrill and now I like to declutter as much as possible. I sold books, CDs and DVDs on Amazon, I donated things, held car boot sales (like a yard sale) and put all that money towards the debt. Instead of spending money partying I had friends over for games nights or movie nights which were so much more fun.

What were the biggest challenges? How did you get around those?
I didn’t miss clothes, shoes, bags or accessories as much as I thought I would. What I really missed was reading the Sunday papers in bed (newspapers and magazines were banned too) but luckily I had a subscription to my favorite magazine and I would look forward to it every month.

I’d set aside an evening to read it in bed and truly take it all in as opposed to flick through and chuck it on the floor (I used to buy about 20 magazines a month). The worst part though was when I accidentally spilled bleach down my favorite jeans within about 2 months of the challenge. It sounds so trivial but at the time I was distraught, I cried for about an hour. I just had to suck it up and get on with it though.

Did you ever cheat?
I personally didn’t buy a single thing on my banned items list during my year without shopping. I did however allow my parents to buy me a ski jacket despite the fact that people weren’t supposed to buy me things…very naughty! However, we were going on a ski trip and I didn’t have a proper jacket so it was really a necessity and I don’t feel too bad about it. Oh, and it was my Christmas present too!

How much money did you save? Are you going to put that money towards anything special?
By the end of the year I had saved about £5000/$7400. I built up an Emergency Fund of £3000/$4445 which is enough to cover my expenses if I was unemployed for six months. I’ve really come to realize how important it is to have some savings tucked away, it’s a real comfort knowing that it’s there.

I bought my first digital SLR camera and now I’m saving to buy a house. I also have a travel fund which I add money to every month so that whenever I fancy a trip away I already have the funds in place.

What was the first things that you bought when the ban was over?
I wanted to choose something really special that would be a symbol of the whole challenge so the first thing I bought was a gorgeous necklace from an Etsy shop. It’s absolutely beautiful and I’m so glad I bought something handmade from a unique designer. I always get compliments on it.

Do you feel that the shopping ban has permanently changed your shopping behavior?
Definitely! I’m way less frivolous and, even though I am allowed to shop again, I always think my purchases through. Savings comes first so as soon as I get paid I transfer money to my different savings accounts and then budget the rest so that I don’t go overboard. I try to stretch my money as far as possible so I walk everywhere and cook at home to save money.

Would you recommend trying a shopping ban? What advice would you give to someone who wanted to stop shopping?
If you want to get out of debt then I would absolutely recommend a shopping ban. Once you start only spending on necessities you’ll be amazed to find how much money you actually have. It’s important to sit down and make a budget, figure out what you owe, what has the highest interest and tackle that first.

If you’ve never saved before, put a little aside each month and watch it quickly add up. Cutting out small “treats” like a daily coffee, magazines, new lip gloss, takeout food saves money straight away. And remember, no matter how poor you feel, you are probably one of the richest people in the world. Check out Global Rich List to see how rich you really are – I’m in the top 5%, it’s a good reminder that we can survive with a lot less money than we think.

Have any of you ever put yourself on a shopping diet? Any questions for Holly?

P.S. I got laid off 3 times in 5 years & My house burned down + I lost 90% of my belongings

photo by clark street mercantile // cc

101 Ways To Cheer Yourself Up

Need to cheer yourself up? We all need some happiness tips from time to time! Whether you need better self-care or just a mood boost, these tips will help!
Do you need to cheer yourself up? We all need a bit of cheering up from time to time – and it’s easy to fall back on the ol’ standbys of wine and Netflix. We can do better! This guest post from Steff can help!

101 ways to cheer yourself up

6 Smart, Fun(ish) Things To Do With Your Tax Return

Looking for things to do with your tax refund? Things other than a shopping spree or car repairs? Click through for 6 smart, fun(ish) ideas! >>

Ahhh, Spring! When a lady’s thoughts naturally turn to tax returns.


Though not quite as tantalizing as that cutie in accounting, tax returns are one of the joys of this time of year. And if you, like me, earn approximately $2, you can count on some serious bank. But since we´re all trying to be grown ups here, how’s are you going to spend that?

Pay off Credit Card Debt

But you knew that already, right? Riiiiight?! It´s not a particularly sexy way to spend your money, but super important and, in the long run, you’ll be really, really glad you did. If the siren song of Visa often overwhelms you, stick those credit cards in a bowl of water in the freezer.

Contribute to your IRA or 401K

Yes, again. Deeply unsexy. Super important. Your 65-year-old self will thank you! (I opened a Roth IRA and it was surprisingly painless!)

Invest in Yourself

You are your biggest asset, yo! Why not take a class or workshop that will make you a little more pink slip proof? Maybe you can learn how to write grants, use that software that nobody in the office understands or create a basic website.

If that doesn´t float your proverbial boat, use a bit of this money to buy supplies for your Etsy shop, buy a laptop to help your freelance writing or get some wicked headshots to kickstart your acting career.

Green up Your Living Space

Because I love any excuse to feather my nest. And this excuse is pretty damn valid! Low flow shower heads, fluorescent bulbs, water heater blankets, non-toxic cleaners and compost bins all go a long way towards reducing your carbon footprint.

And after spending money on all that un-fun stuff, you can probably validate a wee shopping spree at Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade retailer that helps artisans from developing countries sell their wares at fair prices.

Donate to Your Local Food Shelf

With the downturn in the economy, more and more people are accessing food shelves, and fewer people are donating to them. Help turn that around with a cash donation or even just donating all those canned peaches you´re never going to eat.

Buy Something Fabulous and Frivolous

After all that do-goodery and responsible spending you deserve some tomfoolery! Maybe add a classic piece to your wardrobe that will last forever? Or splash out on a really nice haircut?

Or fly to Vegas for the weekend with your girls! Buy yourself something fantastic that will bring you compliments and memories for the months to come.

How are you going to spend your tax return?

P.S. If you’re paying in this year, you might like this: 22 free (or cheap!) things to do when payday is far away

photo credit: Padurariu Alexandru // cc

9 Ways To Save Money For Travel (or any big purchase)

Trying to save some travel money? Socking away $$ for your big trip? I saved enough on a teacher's salary to travel for 10 months! Here's how >>
Dear Sarah,
I’m writing is to ask you about saving money for travelling. You see, I’m off in the beginning of March for three months in New Zealand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. My boyfriend and I bought our ticket on Saturday and I’m getting pretty worried about the money situation – even though we’ve decided to do it on the cheap.
I have a full time job but it pays badly – do you have any tricks to raise money in a fairly short time? Although I’m sure you were sensible and saved up over a long time!
Oh, friend. Yes, I was sensible (and a bit boring) and saved up over a long time. But all is not lost! You can put away a good chunk of money if you’re willing to make some changes.

9 ways to save money for travel (or any big purchase)

Get a Second Job or a side hustle

Blowing your mind with my originality, right? But it’s obviously easier to save money if you’ve got two or three streams of income. And a second job doesn’t have to mean working every evening and weekend at Starbucks. You could tutor the neighborhood kids, house-sit for family friends, babysit your cousins – there are a million options.

Here’s an article with some great ideas for second jobs. I know that working two jobs is a drag of epic proportions. But if you’re doing it for a limited amount of time and to raise money for a very specific reason, it seems exponentially more tolerable. At least that’s what I always tell myself while I’m tutoring poorly behaved fifth graders.

Put Yourself on a Crazy Tight Budget

Again with the mind-blowing, right? Suzy Orman, watch out! Making a budget is wicked easy: look into how much you need to buy your round-the-world ticket/new car/house/Jimmy Choos, look at how much discretionary income you have, do a bit of math and see how long it should take you to save enough to buy said pair of shoes. If you’re not happy with that amount of time: reexamine the way you spend your money.

Surely you can trim a little fat?

*Cancel the cable (that’s what Hulu is for, y’all!)
*Split wi-fi with someone in your building
*Cancel your gym membership and go for walks with friends or workout at home
*Start cooking at home instead of eating out so much
*Go cold turkey on Starbucks
*Don’t drink so much. If you’re going to party, pre-game at home so you’re not spending $40 at the bar every weekend
*Get a flatmate
*If you engage in retail therapy (aka: are human) why not hit up a thrift store or a nice second-hand boutique? You’ll save heaps of money and still feed the hunger for new shoes

My budgeting non-secret

I allot myself a certain amount of ‘fun money’ each week and withdraw that amount in cash from an ATM. Once that money’s gone, I’m stuck at home eating soup and watching library DVDs until Sunday rolls around again.

Realize that every non-essential thing you buy is a step away from your dream

Oh, that’s a bit dire, isn’t it? But it’s true, y’all. Before you buy yet another set of decorative towels, realize that all that terry cloth equates to one night in a Cambodian hostel. Or a can of paint for the house you want to buy. Or two weeks worth of car insurance on that Saab you don’t have yet. If you want to make these things happen, you have to make them a priority, right?

Find Sponsors

If you’re saving up for something remarkable and do-goodery – launching a non-profit,working with an under served population – there might be people willing to help fund your dream. Learn how to write grants proposals, contact your local paper and see if they’re will to write up your story.

If you’re incredibly cheeky (and clever) you could even aim for corporate sponsorship like Dancing Matt of Youtube fame (Stride gum sponsored his trip) or Maggie Mason, whose life list is being sponsored by Intel.

Remind Yourself Why You’re Doing This

No amount of budgeting will help if you’re not in the right mindset and let’s be honest, giving up your Americano habit isn’t particularly easy or fun. But nearly everything in life worth having requires a bit of work and sacrifice, no?

Make an active effort to remind yourself why you’re making these sacrifices.If you’re saving up for a trip to India learn how to make paneer, listen to some punjabi mc and rent some bollywood flicks. If you’re socking away money for a house, make lists of features in your dream house, stop by designsponge and haunt all those real estate open houses. You’ll be more likely to stick to your financial guns when the reason is at the forefront of your mind.

Sell Your Stuff

Granted, this money making scheme is best employed when you’re moving or about to travel, but certainly there are some things sitting around your house, gathering dust. If you’ve upgraded to a flat screen, maybe someone wants your old tv? And if you’ve got a laptop, do you really need a netbook? Craigslist awaits, my friends.

Drastic measures To be utilized only when you are really broke or need to save an huge amount of money

Move Back in with Your Parents

Twin beds, dial-up internet and casseroles every night for dinner. But it’s (probably) rent free. I’m sure you’ll save everyone’s sanity by helping around the house, not bringing boys home from the bar as 2 am and setting some parameters before you move in, right?

Teach ESL in Asia/The Middle East

Drastic? Yes. Effective? Definitely. After the first six months when I spent all my money on Ikea furniture and t-shirts with terrible Engrish, I saved $1,000 a month. Really! With no effort and no impact on my swanky quality of life.

It should be noted that this doesn’t hold true for ESL in all Asian countries – I’d hazard the guess that you’d have the most luck in Japan, Taiwan, Korea and Hong Kong. Correct me if I’m wrong!

Take Part in Medical Studies

My goodness but this is drastic, no? I’ve never done these myself but I have several friends who financed large chunks of college with medical studies – and they still have all their limbs and appear to be fertile! Of course, if you’re going to do these exercise caution, do heaps of research and start small.

P.S. I would be remiss in my role as pseudo-financial advisor is I didn’t make the point that you really shouldn’t buy trips/cars/houses that you can’t afford (I’m looking at you, America’s housing crisis). I know that those shoes are calling your name, but if the choice is between groceries and green cute boots, be a grown up. A human can’t live on patent leather alone.

How do you save up for big ticket items? What’s your relationship with money like?

P.S. How I paid off $50,000 of school debt 5 years ahead of time + How I traveled for 10 months on $5,000

photo by toa heftiba // cc

5 Easy(ish) Ways To Stop Being A Pessimist

Do you want to stop bring a pessimist? Do you want better self-care and more happiness? These 5 things will help you get closer to your goal!

Is it possible to stop being a pessimist?

Which is to say: Is it possible to re-wire your brain? To change your personality? To alter the way you navigate life?

The short answer is: sort of.

Science tells us that we all come with a built-in ‘emotional set point‘ – some of us are just naturally happy and some of us are just naturally …. less happy.

But! We can move the needle! We can make ourselves happier or at least less pessimistic. Today, reader Gene tells us how he’s moved away from his pessimistic tendencies.

How to haggle in a store without dying of embarrassment

Want to know to to haggle in a store? Or negotiate prices down? It doesn't have to be embarrassing! Click through for bargaining and haggling tips!i

Have you ever wondered how to haggle in a store? I think most of us are (relatively) comfortable haggling at a flea market or on Craigslist. But when we’re standing under florescent lights and talking to a well-dressed shop attendant, we lose our nerve. Luckily, Sherin is here to help us out!

When I think of haggling, I usually think of being in a market on holiday, and kind of just shouting until the price gets lower. But I never thought you could do it in a proper shop. That was until I read this really interesting article in Time Magazine.
It was all about how haggling and negotiating prices is much more acceptable now because of the current economic climate and how you can get everything at a discount price – if you do it right.
I remember my brother saying that I should try haggling when I shop on the high street, and I didn’t take him seriously at all. I would love to be able to haggle to get prices down, but I have no idea where to start. Here are a few tips that should make haggling easier:
Free 5-day money bootcamp

How to haggle in a store without dying of embarrassment

Know where to haggle

I doubt you could go into Oxford Street’s H&M and try to cut down the price of a t-shirt. But you could do it where the item is a bit more expensive. Electronics stores are likely offer discounts on TVs or DVD players. And you can ALWAYS haggle on jewelry.

Ok, maybe not the plastic rings from Topshop, but you could try in real jewelers that sell gold/silver. Independent stores are also good places to haggle. The sellers have more control over the prices, and the owner is usually around, so you could talk to them as well. If you speak directly to the manager or owner, you’re more likely to get a deal because they have more authority to cut prices.

Be Respectful

You shouldn’t be rude or offer ridiculous prices. Start with maybe 20% off. Try to remain polite and smiling. If you get angry, so will the seller and that could cause a scene. Try to remain calm, patient and slightly humorous. Try having fun and negotiate with the seller rather than having an unnecessary argument.

Do your research

Know what you want before you go shopping. Then do some research on the product. Try finding it at a better deal elsewhere or online, and then see if your chosen retailer can offer you a better deal. (I doubt they’ll tell you to buy it at the other place).

Have confidence

No one is going to offer you a discount if even you look like you know you’re not going to get one. Have some confidence and look like you’ve done this successfully before.

Build a relationship with the seller

Chat for a little while, saying that you like the product, *pause for large sigh*, but state that it’s just too much. Maybe then, with big puppy dog eyes, ask if there’s better offer. Use the right words to get them to maybe sympathize with you.

Say your other half/parent will go mental if you spend that much or say that you’re a student or unemployed.You also don’t want to show your interest too much. Pause and hesitate a bit and use silence to your advantage. Silence is your friend.

The more awkward the better. In these silences, when you hesitate, the seller will come in with better deals.

Shop at the right time

Firstly, you’re more likely to get the seller’s full attention. There will be less people around, so you’re more likely to be able to have a long chat. Also, if there are lots of people within earshot, the seller will definitely say no. This is because if people see one person getting a discount, they’ll all want one.

Know what items are likely to get discounted

Old inventory is a great one when asking for better deals. The seller wants to get rid of old stock quickly, to make room for newer products. ‘Damaged goods’ are also likely to get discounted, and usually they’re not that damaged. The Levi’s store near my university had a small fire, and when the shop re-opened a few days later all items affected by the fire where 50% off.

While browsing through these ‘damaged’ items, I realised most were in perfect condition. But keep a look out for missing buttons or frayed stitching. Last items can also get you some good deals. Again, the seller wants to get rid of these as quickly as possible to make room for other, newer products.

Ask about future sales

Ask if the item you like is likely to go on sale anytime soon. If it is, ask if you can get it at the sale price now, and say that if you wait, you might see it cheaper somewhere else.
I’ve not tried it yet face to face haggling purely because I’m too shy, but I have done so with phone companies. Pretending that you’re going to leave the provider always gets you a better deal. I suppose there’s no harm in trying, it’s not like they’ll make the item more expensive after you’ve tried!

Has anyone tried haggling in stores? I would love to hear some success stories!

P.S. 9 surprisingly easy ways to avoid buyer’s remorse

photo by Scott Webb // cc