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When you decide you want something, how long do you wait before you throw it in the shopping cart (be it online or at the store)? A few seconds? A few days? A year? Waiting to buy something you’re pretty sure you want or need can be almost painful, but personal finance writer Cait Flanders spent a whole year on a self-imposed “shopping ban” to prove that a lot of the stuff we think we need is actually completely unnecessary.

For one whole year, Flanders didn’t buy any non-essential items and saved a tonne of cash in the process. She started the crusade after realizing that she wasn’t able to save the amount of money she wanted to every week and noticed that it was because of purchases she really didn’t need. She talks about the whole experience in her new book The Year of Less but for those of us who are just looking to cut out non-essential costs, she has a few tips.

Define “non-essentials”

“Non-essentials” are different for everyone because we all have different needs, but there are some things that are pretty standard.

“Clothes, shoes, books, magazines, accessories, basically anything you don’t actually need,” Flanders says of her own ban. Things like food and gas for your car count as essential, but items that aren’t crucial to your survival (like another pair of heals) do not.

Make every purchase a thoughtful one

Don’t make any purchases without fully thinking them through. We often buy things we don’t need just on impulse, especially with the ease of the internet. When every item we could possibly imagine is within the reach of our keyboards, it can be difficult to take a step back and assess if this thing that seems so important right now is actually something we need. To determine what items you should actually spend money on, Flanders has designed a nifty flowchart.

Shopping ban flow chart
Cait Flanders

Be aware of what you own

Part of Flander’s personal challenge was to also adopt a more minimalist livelihood. That involves taking inventory of your possessions and chucking pretty much everything you don’t use regularly. While you don’t have to throw everything out to make conscious shopping decisions, taking inventory of what you already own will prevent you from buying duplicate items and things that are different-but-basically-the-same. We’ve all gone through a closet at some point and realized that we own three of the same black cardigan. Save yourself some money and buy the cardigan once.

Consciously change habits that cost you

We all have some sort of wallet-draining habit. Whether it’s something obvious like buying scratch tickets or coffee or something better hidden like subscribing to Spotify Premium, you’re spending money somewhere.

You don’t have to necessarily eliminate all the habits that cost you, but be aware of them and how much you’re dropping on them. If you deem the activity to be worth it, that’s your choice, but if you need to cut costs, it might also require a change in behaviour. Take your coffee in a thermos and have it at the time you would normally buy it. Meal-prep at the beginning of the week so on Thursday, when you normally order in, you have something already prepared and easily accessible.

Again, it’s all about being conscious of where your money is going and acknowledging that you are making a decision every time you choose to spend your hard-earned cash on something.