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Does mindless consumerism include buying coffee?

Cover of The Year of Less: How I St
A review of 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 by Cait Flanders

I'm at a super busy and tired time in my life, maybe the busiest I've ever been, and I need coffee to get through my day. I work full-time, I keep track of soccer and piano and swimming lessons, I'm constantly folding laundry, making lunch, emptying the dishwasher, cleaning the bathroom, and all the other regular household stuff that we all do. I'm also getting older every minute. Life tires me out! So I'm really weary of financial advisors telling me to give up coffee. But maybe that's what I need to do.

Canadian personal finance blogger Cait Flanders decided to spend one year on a self-imposed "shopping ban." Part of this ban included not buying what she called takeout coffee. The ban also included not buying clothes, shoes, accessories, books, magazines, electronics or household items like candles or furniture not on a pre-approved list.

Approved spending included groceries, kitchen supplies, gas, cosmetics and toiletries (if she ran out), cleaning products and gifts. A new sweatshirt, winter boots, a dress for weddings or other events and a bed were also on the permitted list. Travel and eating at restaurants occasionally were okay, and replacing worn or broken items was acceptable as long as the original was tossed out or given away.

Flanders also recommended tracking spending for at least a month. I was thinking about items I've purchased in the last month and thought I was immune to many of the items on the list. I hadn't bought any accessories, books, magazines, electronics or household items. Except that I did buy a book and a candle (!). I already knew that I bought 2 t-shirts, a dress and a pair of flip flops. It all adds up!

But more than just spending or not spending, the author's year of less was an examination of overcoming addiction and mindless consumerism or consumption. At the time she was conducting this experiment, she was spending a lot of money on alcohol and drinks when she met friends out. It added up to hundreds of dollars a month to go out 1-2 times a week and order a couple of drinks. Then there was pizza and other food that followed the drinking. If you start to track spending, penny by penny, you may discover as the author did (and as I did with the candle) that you are spending in ways you didn't think you were. By cutting out certain things you can save for the items you truly value, like travel or a home or college tuition for your kids.

Giving up takeout coffee helped Cait Flanders on her way to living on 51% of her income. Well done! I'm not sure about this method for me. I'll consider it, though, and I appreciate her telling her story.

Jun 7, 2018