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In this episode, one woman tells us how she stopped shopping for an entire year, and how much money it saved her.

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Through weekly video essays, "Making It Work" showcases how *real* people have upgraded their personal or financial lives in some meaningful way. Making your life work for you doesn't mean getting rich just for the sake of it. It means making the most of what you have to build a life you love, both in your present and in your future. And while managing money is a crucial life skill for everyone, there's no one "right way" to go about it — you have to figure out what works best for *you,* full stop.

Video by Grace Lee

The Financial Diet site:

Making It Work is sponsored by Blue Apron.

Click the link in our description to try out their new wellness recipes. People spend more on small purchases here and there than they do on massive sprees.

And that's the problem. I never knew I had a shopping problem until I ended the year 2018 with less than $1,400 in my savings account. It wasn't a surprise.

I'd always earned very little. For the first nine years of working retail, I earned less than $13,000 a year, and for several of those years I never earned more than $6,500. However, that year I had just started my career as a freelance writer in April.

While I had been good at tracking my expenses that year for my taxes, I hadn't actually taken control of my finances, which sort of defeated the point of tracking them. I was watching and then documenting myself spending money, but not doing anything about it. What's more, I realized that I'd earned more in 2018 than I ever had before.

The problem wasn't my low income, it was me and my spending habits. I had spent years excusing my lack of money on my minimum wage job rather than taking responsibility for the role I played in my situation. And so I decided to quit shopping for a year.

Yes, I went hardcore. I was going to end the toxic wormhole of conflating self-love with buying things, and start saving money by ceasing shopping for a whole year. I had three main goals for what I wanted by the end of the year.

One, create a six-month emergency fund. Two, pay off my high interest student loan for my master's degree. Three, start saving money for a deposit on an apartment.

Now I hear what you're thinking. How does someone in a capitalist society give up shopping? Surely, I wasn't going to grow all of my food in the sewage pipe attached to my tiny city apartment, right?

Well, I had rules. I wasn't allowed to buy anything except the following items. Food-- believe it or not, I can't survive without that.

Exercise-- health and fitness have always been very important to me. So I allowed myself to invest in exercise classes or a gym membership. Vitamin B12 and flaxseed oil supplements-- I'm vegan.

And these are somewhat important for me to take. Renewals-- I was allowed to replace things I'd run out of such, as shampoo, toothpaste, makeup that I use daily, moisturizer, sun cream, et cetera. I was also allowed to fix items of clothing by taking them to a cobbler or seamstress.

One coffee a week and one dinner a month. I had an incredibly unhealthy social life previously. I had to meet someone for coffee around six times a week.

Though having a lot of friends is a blessing, it's also excessive both financially and emotionally. To ensure I had a social life of some form, I limited myself to one day out a week. And I could eat out once a month.

Presents for other people. I wasn't going to be that cheap and eradicate all generosity. Everything else was off limits.

I couldn't buy books, clothes, second hand or new, makeup, apps, art supplies, pens, shoes, that cute little thing I saw in the window that one time, snacks went out and about, nail polish, tickets to the theater or to anything, or alcohol. Yes, no alcohol. Some people confuse no-buy year rules with low-buy rules and minimalism in general.

The key difference is that minimalists and low-buy participants aren't barred from buying particular items. They can buy anything they want, just not in excess. Or if they do buy something, they have to let go of an item they already own.

Going no-buy in comparison, seems pretty extreme. One could argue it may be more worthwhile to set a tight budget once a month that would give more freedom than going cold turkey. But I've always been an all or nothing kind of woman.

And I wanted to prove to myself that I didn't need things to make myself feel whole. I know. It sounds bizarre.

But I did it. I stuck to my guns and didn't spend a penny outside of my rules. In fact, I spent less than I was allowed, only going for a coffee every two or three months, rather than once a week.

By December of 2019, I had earned about $21,130, and I saved a total of $9,550, about 45% of my income. I celebrated by paying off the final part of my master's bank loan, officially two years before the due date. Even after paying off my loan, I also ended the year with precisely six months worth of emergency savings.

Ultimately, I achieved two of my three goals. Had I applied my no-buy challenge a couple of years ago, I would have paid off my master's student debt too by 2016. And I would have accrued a six month emergency fund by the beginning of 2018.

We choose to buy things because they represent the life we're not living, but are yearning to live. I was so unhappy in myself that I bought things to try and make up for it. But none of it made me feel fulfilled.

And it certainly didn't keep me financially stable. My no-buy year not only helped me grow financially, but it also helped me appreciate what I have in grow and determination, self acceptance, and self-respect. I work hard for my money.

And I no longer allow the media or society to trick me into thinking I have to spend it elsewhere to be good enough. I am more than good enough. And my future deserves my finances more than any shop or company ever will.

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