I’ve tried many different spending challenges over the years – not buying clothing for a year, setting up a budget for specific categories, not eating out for 100 days, aiming for a certain number of $0 spend days every month. I can’t argue with the […]
In some ways, the most enjoyable moments of our life are when we haven’t started yet. We haven’t added up the debt we owe, we haven’t calculated how long it will take to pay it off, we haven’t started saving or investing. All we know […]
I’m a fan of experiments, particularly ones that test boundaries and challenge complacency. In the past I’ve hit step targets and weight loss milestones (decent), skipped eating meals out for 100 days (manageable), and waited to purchase a new cell phone for a week after the previous one died (torturous).
Last November I decided to push another boundary – no clothing purchases for an entire year.
Why I Stopped Purchasing Clothing
A few factors led to my decision to stop buying clothing for a year:
- I had recently purchased a work wardrobe and wanted to focus on enjoying these items rather than being distracted by anything new.
- I had finally let go of all of my too-small clothing and needed time to adjust to the idea that I’d probably never wear that size again.
- I was in the early stages of learning more about the dark side of the fashion industry and the impact that our purchases have on the world.
My Clothing Spending
One of my biggest discretionary spending categories last year was clothing. I was in a new career and buying professional clothing for the first time in my life, and I wanted to buy pieces that I knew would hold up over time. In total, I spent $3,069.37.
Most recommendations give three to ten percent as an appropriate amount of your net income for clothing, which would have been between $1,400 and 4,800 for me last year. I fell around six percent, which isn’t terrible but it wasn’t exactly a number I was proud of either. I hoped that the initial cost of quality, versatile pieces followed by a few years of lower spending would decrease my average.
I knew I wanted to maintain a capsule wardrobe of carefully selected items, but I needed to break through years of impulse shopping habits before I could begin purchasing clothing more intentionally.
Clothing My Aspirational Self
I’ve never been a natural at selecting clothing. I would buy almost items. They almost fit, they almost worked, they were almost perfect. Except that they were a little tight around the waist so I never wore them. Or the patterns were beautiful but the fabric was 100% polyester so I never wore them. Or they looked great for the first wear but as soon as I washed them once the shape was gone – so I never wore them.
If your body isn’t suited well to fashion industry sizing, you’re pretty much out of luck unless you find a clothing line that fits off the rack or a great tailor. Having a full closet but nothing to wear is a struggle for many of us. We wear 20% of our clothing 80% of the time – I wanted to wear 80% of my clothing 80% of the time.
Last year I focused on letting go of thin, stylish, aspirational me and only purchased perfect items for real life, casual, comfortable me. They had to fit perfectly, they had to drape perfectly, and they had to suit my lifestyle perfectly. This was not an easy task, especially considering other factors like longevity and sustainability, but I persevered!
The fashion industry has created a seamless disconnect between our clothing purchases and the manufacturing process. We see the price tag and the item, and then it’s basically a race to the bottom. The reality is that the price tag is only a fraction of the cost. We don’t just pay for clothing with our money. We pay with our time, our environment, our values, and even the lives of others that we’ve never met.
Imagine if the number of garment workers killed or the amount of water wasted or the volume of toxic chemicals dumped was listed right beside the care instructions on every garment tag. The information might not be right in front of us, but the reality is still out there.
More than 1,100 people died in the Rana Plaza collapse of April 24, 2013, and experts warn that there are still dangerous factories like it – everywhere. A typical pair of jeans takes 7,000 litres of water to produce and the indigo dye has turned Chinese rivers blue. The apparel industry is the largest employer of women, and approximately 80% of garments are made by women aged 18-24 earning low wages while putting in long hours and dealing with unsafe working conditions, discrimination, and sexual assault. These garments are then worn a few times, sit in our closets, and eventually maybe get donated. Even donated clothes aren’t reducing harm in the way that we thought – in the U.S. only 10 percent of donated clothes are resold; some countries have stopped accepting our donations altogether because of the impact on local industry. In reality, about 75% of our garments end up in a landfill or incinerator, where toxic chemicals and dyes contaminate soil and groundwater and contribute to CO2 emissions.
This is just a sampling of the reality behind our clothing – to learn more about the impact of the fashion industry, check out the documentaries The True Cost and River Blue. You might also want to head over to Fashion Revolution, an organization advocating for greater transparency, sustainability, and ethics in the fashion industry.
The objective was to avoid purchasing any clothing for one full year. No work clothes or casual clothes. No underwear, no bras, no tights, no pyjamas, no socks. I even abstained from purchasing footwear or accessories because they were too clothing-adjacent!
I’m happy to report that I spent $0 on clothing in 365 days!
I did purchase some outerwear, specifically for snowboarding, which I excluded from my challenge. The reason I created an exception for snowboard equipment was that I didn’t want to limit my experiences or activities, just my unnecessary shopping for clothing. Since this was specialty equipment that I wouldn’t be wearing unless I was snowboarding, I gave myself a pass!
Keys To Success
It was difficult at first to switch off that instinct to purchase something when it looked appealing. The habit of wanting to bring an item home right that moment or risk losing out was a tough one to break.
Stop Browsing & Unsubscribe
I had a habit of visiting stores occasionally to ‘see what was new.’ The act of walking into a warm, brightly lit, well organized space and browsing soft fabrics and interesting combinations was comforting to me.
Following brands by email wasn’t much easier. Some of them – you know the ones – seemed to have a sale every month. I struggled with passing things up, because in previous moments where I hesitated the item was sold out when I was ready to purchase.
I needed to reinforce the idea that there is an endless supply of new products, and missing one isn’t a big deal when there are new items just like it moments away. Retailers try to create a false sense of urgency by offering sales and limited edition products. My rational brain knew this, but my lizard brain didn’t. By restricting the flow of information, I made sure I wouldn’t feel like I was missing out on anything. If I didn’t see the products, I wouldn’t have to use precious reserves of self-control to resist them.
In the early days I learned that I needed to completely switch up my routine. I got off at a different bus stop and walked a different route home to avoid the shopping areas. I unsubscribed from every email and unfollowed every company on social media. I told friends not to invite me shopping. I deleted my credit card information from websites. I put up barriers everywhere I could to set myself up for success.
It was also important for me to find ways of self-care that evoked the same emotions as browsing. I needed a replacement for these activities or I would have to rely solely on willpower – side note: willpower is so not effective and we need to stop putting it on a pedestal. You are not a weak person if you struggle to change your habits – you’re a person. The emotions around an inviting space and a sense of accomplishment can be created by getting a massage, taking a walk outside, meeting a friend for a drink, or talking to a therapist.
Create A Capsule Wardrobe
For a while, I thought my problem was that I didn’t have enough items of clothing. My real problem was that I bought individual pieces rather than items that would work well in the context of my entire wardrobe. I had items that I could only wear with one other item. I had items that didn’t go with anything else. It was a jumbled mess of other people’s styles obscuring my own.
Now when I consider clothing purchases, I ask myself how often I would wear them – not per year.. per week! If I don’t plan on wearing an item at least once a week, it’s a lot tougher to justify that purchase to myself. There are exceptions, of course. I have a dress I wear for special occasions that I might put on only a few times a year. Back to the 80% rule – most of the clothing I own is worn regularly and only a few pieces are worn occasionally. I usually rotate through almost my entire wardrobe every couple of weeks. For a year I’ve worn 6 dresses about 50 times each, with a few skirts and tops or casual outfits thrown in.
A side effect of this capsule wardrobe is that I always know what to wear, I always feel comfortable in my clothing, and I have so much more decision-making capacity for the important things.
Let Go Of Your Aspirational Self
Have you ever bought an item of clothing in a smaller size, as ‘motivation?’ I have, and let me tell you – it was the furthest thing from motivating. It was guilt-inducing and discouraging. I felt like a failure every day I opened my closet and saw items that no longer fit or never fit. What do many people who struggle with their weight do when they feel like a failure? Eat more and move less. Not the desired effect!
I didn’t start losing weight until I donated all of my smaller clothing. Suddenly, I wasn’t getting frustrated with myself for not fitting into a certain garment or an ideal size. I didn’t have a closet full of items but nothing to wear. Everything I owned fit well and made me feel confident.
Sometimes my aspirational self nudges back in, but at least she looks a lot more like me.
Now that I’ve finished my Zero Dollar Clothing Year, I want to continue to develop a healthy relationship with clothing. I’m not planning on repeating this challenge anytime soon, but I do want to carry with me everything that I learned as I make more intentional choices with my wardrobe.
After a year of wearing quality fabrics, I feel more confident in my choices and I don’t think I could ever go back to most conventional brands. They fit differently, wear differently, and launder differently.
Buying used clothing to keep it from the landfill is a great way to reduce our impact. I haven’t had much luck finding garments in my size and preferred fabrics, but I know second hand stores can be a treasure trove if you have a good eye and the right body shape for it!
If buying second hand isn’t a feasible option, I think it’s just as important to support retailers who are doing it right as it is to avoid ones who are doing it wrong. That’s why I plan to continue to purchase new clothing from a select list of retailers that I’ve curated based on my values. My aim is to focus on Canadian companies who either make their garments in Canada or have strict and transparent supply chains for garments manufactured in other countries. I prefer to shop with retailers who design versatile basics, rather than attempt to keep up with trends or cycle through multiples styles every season. With smaller, local companies it’s easier to meet the designers and stay connected with their process.
Emotions & Motivation
I don’t think conscious, deliberate purchases should evoke a sense of guilt. I’ve struggled with the guilt of consumption my entire life. At first, it was self imposed because I felt wasteful with my money and our resources. Then, the internet stepped in and gave me a whole new way to feel guilty, either by comparing my spending to someone else’s or by me posting and receiving virtual feedback from others.
I know some people thrive on the accountability, but I had to stop participating in certain areas online because I’m already in the habit of making myself feel guilty enough and I don’t need laser-focused stranger guilt too. There’s a continuum in terms of spending money and I am not on the frugal end, that’s for sure! Now I try to connect with people who are only slightly more frugal than me and aren’t into shame-based encouragement. I’m not discounting motivational masochism – it’s just not for me; I prefer the carrot.
In the spirit of intentional spending, I’ve implemented a wish list system where I keep a note of any items I’m interested in purchasing. If they stay on the list for at least a month, I know they’re probably a worthwhile purchase. Here’s a sampling of my clothing wish list, which has stayed mostly the same for the entire year!:
- black dress pants
- underwear & bras
- black hoodie
- basic short and long-sleeved shirts
Clearly I haven’t built myself up into a spending frenzy during my period of self-deprivation. In these categories I currently own one pair of pants – jeans that I’m unable to wear to work, two pairs of tights that have seen better days, some threadbare undergarments, a worn hoodie, and two basic shirts that lost their shape months ago.
Knowing exactly what I do have (and wear regularly) and comparing that to my wish list has been extremely useful. Ideally, I’ll purchase these items when I find the perfect ones over the next few months. Stay tuned!
Have you done a zero dollar clothing month – or year? What do you consider when shopping for clothing?
Facing a desperate situation – a six figure student loan debt with no six figure income – I did what many graduates do at first.. I ignored it. I decreased my spending enough to make slightly more than the minimum payments. In some months I […]
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Do you know where your money is going, from the time it comes into your life to the time it evaporates into thin air? (A short time, in my case!) I was inspired by Apathy Ends and Budget on a Stick to create a map of my money – where it goes, how it’s spent, and my financial priorities.
My money map is relatively simple. I have one salary from my full time job in the form of a predictable bi-monthly direct deposit. My partner and I keep our finances separate, and we don’t have children. All of my bills are automated and withdrawn like clockwork. I’ve cut my spending down to the point that I could probably tell you almost to the penny what I’ve spent in each category at any given time. Boring! Hopefully my money looks more interesting in visual form..
Before that cash lands in a chequing account, a few things are taken out: taxes, deductions, and my pension (I refuse to ever miss out on an employer match!). After everyone takes a piece, my net income is roughly 70% which is almost entirely spent the day I receive it!
If you’re not familiar with my budgeting system, check out my post on it: The F*CK YES Budget: If It’s Not A F*CK YES, It’s EXCESS. I split my spending into three categories:
This is my number one financial priority and where I direct most of my attention (and money!). I’m focusing on paying back my student loans right now, ideally cutting my payoff timeline from 11 years to 5. When they’re gone, my new F*CK YES will be saving for financial independence!
My LIFESTYLE category is for the usual monthly expenses: rent, bills, groceries. I don’t fluctuate much here. If you want more details on my spending with the actual amounts, you can read about how I save 50% of my income in the most expensive city in Canada.
Here’s the fun part! EXCESS is the money left over from paying debt and ensuring that I have food, a place to live, and most importantly – Internet access! In this I include all other categories like restaurants, entertainment, shopping, etc.
This is how I visualize my money:
I like to keep my accounts simple, and let You Need A Budget (YNAB) do the granular organizing for me. I re-arrange the amounts in different categories constantly, so doing this in budgeting software rather than transferring the actual money works better for me.
This is where the money comes in! A few things like rent and some bills are automatically taken out of this account, as well as manual student loan payments. As you can see, it’s more of a transitional space – not much stays in here for more than a few days.
Money burns a hole right through my pocket, and then eats away at the floorboards too. I am terrible about leaving money alone – if I can see it, I will either spend it or pay down debt with it. Since I can’t trust myself to save money, I have a $1,000 emergency fund in a separate credit union from my chequing account. I just pretend it isn’t there. Now excuse me while I wipe that from my memory.
What were we talking about? Oh, pensions!
I am very fortunate to work for a company that has a pension plan with a match. Automatic, matched contributions for the win! These retirement savings are deducted before I ever see my salary, and I can’t access them before a certain age without losing the employer contributions. My pension is another way I hide money from myself – it’s all about playing to your strengths and accommodating your weaknesses!
I started a Wealthsimple account with an initial $500 investment into a TFSA (for the non-Canadians, a tax free savings account – it’s similar to the US Roth IRA) partly because I’ve been curious about robo-investors, and partly because I can’t have extra money sitting in my savings account. I’m able to withdraw at any time, but transferring the money from Wealthsimple to my chequing account is enough of a barrier for me to keep it there. My TFSA and other retirement accounts will become my new F*CK YES Budget priority when my student loans are finished.
I do have a couple of credit cards that I use for cashback rewards and automatic bill payments like cell phone, transportation, internet, insurance, etc. It’s easier to have these bills automatically paid on different dates throughout the month and then pay off my credit card once a month. I’m still on the fence about using the credit cards so I didn’t include them in the map – the cashback and convenience is nice, but they do have a tendency to encourage overspending. I’m keeping the system I have now until the end of the year, but I may try something new next year.
I’m all about ditching that debt! My two loans total $101,000 with interest rates between 3-5%. The objective is to pay them off completely within the next three years! Aside from the risk of variable rates in an environment where rates are rising, there are psychological reasons I’m choosing to be debt free before concentrating on investing.
My goal is to reach financial independence in approximately fifteen years. I plan to re-evaluate this timeline when I reach my goal of debt freedom. For now, having my pension contributions tick away in the background is a nice boost!
During the past year I’ve cut my spending dramatically. I’m still working on overcoming the fear of missing out, but checking my statements from last year is like looking into the finances of a completely different person. This priority is still a work in progress!
What does your money map look like?
For inspiration in creating your own money map, check out all of these other awesome posts:
Apathy Ends – How Complex is your Financial Map?
Budget on a Stick – Money Map
The Luxe Strategist – My Financial Map: Exactly How I Manage My Money
Adventure Rich – Money Map Musings
MinaFi – The Minafi Money Map
OthalaFehu – My Money Map
The Frugal Gene – Our Financial Map
Working Optional – The Working Optional Money Map
Our Financial Path – Our Money Map
Atypical Life – The Rich Know Where Their Money Goes! Map Out Your Money
Eccentric Rich Uncle – Our Money Map
Cantankerous Life – Money Map
The Retirement Manifesto – The Retirement Manifesto Money Map
Need2Save – Our Money Map
Money Metagame – Mapping Out Our Financial Rube Goldberg Machine
CYinnovations – Visualize Your Finances With A Money Map
Spills Spot – Money Map: How We Manage Our Finances
I Dream of Fire – The I Dream Of FIRE Money Map
Stupid Debt – A Debtor’s Money Map
If you want to join the chain and write a post about your own money map, here are the guidelines:
- Write a post in which you create your own map, explain how you did it, and talk about anything you discovered about your finances using the map.
- At the bottom of your post link back to the other bloggers before you in The Chain.
- When you tweet out your post tag the other bloggers. (You may have to do a few replies to your post as the chain gets bigger)
- Try to keep your list of chain members up to date. This helps encourage others to keep their back-links up to date and in turn helps you.
The first post I ever wrote for Debts To Riches was Above Average, At Least In Student Loan Debt on July 11, 2017. At the time, I was writing almost entirely for myself and only partially for a vague potential future audience. I had been living […]
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One of the common excuses for not being able to save money is living in an expensive city. Well, I’m here to tell you that I live in the most expensive city in my country – Vancouver, Canada – and I’m STILL making it work.
If you want to pay down your debt, become financially independent, and maybe even quit your job earlier than 65, you need to have a plan and be consistently working to make it happen. Increase income, decrease spending, or both. Nobody’s coming to bail you out, you’re not going to win the lottery, and no get rich quick scheme in the world will magically turn things around. No matter what kind of situation you’re in right now, you can do something to improve it. I know because I’ve done it, and I see other people do it every single day.
If a cult survivor can come to a new country, work two minimum wage jobs while finishing high school, graduate university with $160,000 in debt, and STILL be on the path to financial independence by 45, you can achieve your goals too. If a homeschooling mom and her husband can pay off $86,000 of debt in 5 years – with 7 kids! – you can achieve your goals too. If two 30-something schoolteachers can save a million dollars and quit their jobs to travel the world, you can achieve your goals too.
I wasn’t born with this attitude. I was absolutely guilty of letting my circumstances dictate my life, for much too long. I made so many excuses during my first year of paying off debt:
- I come from a small town and a single income family.
- I live in an expensive city.
- Housing costs are high.
- I have six figures in student debt and no six figure salary to go with it.
- I have a long commute and no time to meal plan or cook.
- I was in university for 9 years and I deserve to enjoy myself now.
- I should be able to have fun in my 20s – I’m only young once!
- I’ll never be able to afford a house here anyway, so why bother?
I’m exhausted just reading about that defeated, pessimistic past version of myself. It’s a wonder that I got anything done with that mindset.
I’ll be upfront with you – I do also have some advantages (mostly preferences!) that make living in Vancouver somewhat more affordable.
- I live with my spouse and we don’t need a lot of space, so we can comfortably share a small one bedroom apartment.
- I take public transit so I don’t have parking, insurance, gas, maintenance, or any other vehicle costs.
- I don’t spend on the usual vices like coffee, cigarettes, or alcohol.
- My spouse’s employer pays for our MSP (health coverage) at $75/month each.
- We don’t have children or pets.
- I make about 15% more than the average in my city – but I also spent 9 years in university and $130,000 to get there.
You want to know something interesting? Even with all of these advantages I still wasn’t gaining any traction. My mentality set me back to where these benefits weren’t even enough to give me momentum.
By the way, if my situation is so far from yours that you’re already tuning out, that’s cool! I really don’t mind. You’re not going to get anything out of reading this if you think what I have to say wouldn’t apply to you. Check out the Rockstar Finance Directory to find someone a little more like you who is crushing their goals. Otherwise, keep reading to find out how I hit my 50% savings rate!
Even with the advantages I’ve had based on my life choices, it can still be tough to save money in Vancouver. I know this, because my first year living here I think I saved negative dollars. I pass about 4,385 restaurants on my commute, and sometimes it’s a struggle not to pick up something fast and delicious for dinner. It also seems like there’s always an event happening – every day I’m potentially missing out on at least one festival or concert or craft beer harbour cruise.
So how do I do it?
Let’s start with my basic spending. I try to keep my regular total on bills and groceries to $1,500 monthly or $18,000 annually. A few notes:
- Rent: my half of a one bedroom, 550 square foot apartment downtown that I share with my spouse. We save space by minimizing our stuff, and having a folding kitchen table and folding chairs for hosting.
- Transit: my bus pass. We are a public transit only couple. No vehicle expenses here.
- Cell phone: my plan, with 6GB of data so I never have to worry about running out on my commute! I could probably lower my plan but I’m too attached to it right now.
- Internet, electricity, and insurance: me paying for the household. I check a few times a year for lower rates on some of our bills, and try to negotiate with the customer loyalty department whenever possible.
- Groceries: my half-ish. My partner doesn’t like to budget, but we keep separate finances so that I don’t have to care that he doesn’t like to budget. We shop at Costco quite a bit – bulk steel cut oats, rice, and pasta are great for the food budget. We also make most of our meals at home.
Here’s how that $1,500 breaks down:
My net income is about $48,000, so if I spend $18,000 on the basics that leaves me $30,000 to work with! Obviously I’m not saving ALL of that because I’m not a robot and if you’ve seen my F*CK YES Budget, you’ll know that I do enjoy spending money on some things: restaurants, entertainment, travel, and the other extras. Even if I spend an additional $6,000 per year, or $500 per month, I can still save $24,000 per year or 50% of my net income. At this point I’m putting all of that on my student loans, but later I’ll be able to invest it instead!
If you don’t net $48,000 a year, is it game over?
No! You may not be able to save 50%, but you can try to save something! Let’s look at the potential savings rate of someone who makes an average income, approximately $39,700 in British Columbia. Even if they spent the same amount as me, they could still save $15,700 per year or 40% of their net income! That’s massive! Who do you know that’s making an average income, and saving 40% of it?! Probably almost nobody, because our national savings rates are garbage. The average savings rate in Canada is a miniscule 4.3%. We can do better! Even 20-30% would be an amazing achievement compared to most Canadians.
Why the f*ck would we want to do better? Isn’t it all about enjoying life now?
You must be one of those rare souls that doesn’t complain about their job every workday, or live for the weekend, or fantasize about winning the lottery.
Enjoying life is fantastic, and I highly recommend continuing to do that, but you know what’s even more amazing? Freedom. Having enough savings to be financially independent means spending your scarce time and energy working on projects because you want to, not because you have to.
If we want to experience financial independence, like ever, let alone early in life, articles such as This is how much it costs to live as a young person in Vancouver in 2017 and Breakdown: This is the minimum amount of money a young professional needs to live in Vancouver should not be our benchmark. Look to people who are making it on less, and do what you can to emulate them.
Instead of accepting our averageness and welp-ing away our problems, we need to think creatively. Live outside of downtown, try to find a bachelor suite, share a place with roommates, check out housing co-ops or leaseholds. Call your telecom service providers and threaten to switch to a competitor if they don’t lower your bill. If you’re a foodie, learn to cook your favorite dishes at home, meal plan, and shop at less expensive grocery stores. If you need more social interaction, invite friends over instead of going out or opt for free or inexpensive activities. If you want to work out, try doing it at home or outside.
I know I have advantages and I’m very grateful for them, but I couldn’t save a dime until I stopped letting the disadvantages take over. I quit blaming external factors like my location for all of my problems, and suddenly I started making real progress. Most of us have advantages and disadvantages, but our situations can almost always be improved by dropping the excuses and stepping out of our comfort zones.
What are your tips for saving in an expensive city?