Why I’m performing plastic surgery on my credit card

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Many years ago, I applied for a credit card that offered 2% cash back on all purchases. That was pretty generous, so you can tell how long ago that was!

Every month, we would use the card for all of our discretionary spending (that is, anything we bought on a week-by-week basis such a food, fuel and so on). We’d pay off the card every month in full. Then, once or twice a year, we’d get a decent cheque in the post with our cash back amount.

As we always paid off the balance in full, the credit card company actually made little money from us directly.

When I’ve used a credit card

I still have a credit card but I don’t use it for everyday purchases. Instead, I have used it for that one-off, occasional or unusual purchase such as our daughter’s prom dress.

However, because of the ease with which one can use a credit card in this way, there’s always a nagging thought in the back of my mind. Every time I do this (even for a relatively modest single item of expenditure), I‘m borrowing against next month’s income.

In effect, I’m creating a shopping hangover.

A change of heart

So, I’ve had a change of heart. The fact of the matter is this. If we’re going to win with money in the long term, this is what I’m going to do.

I’m going to perform plastic surgery on my credit card. Yes, I’m going to cut it into little pieces and throw it away.

Now, some of you still use your credit card in the way I used to. You tell me that you find it easier to track your spending this way (although, for me, I can’t understand this).

For me, it’s crunch time and here’s why.

What the research shows

Research shows that credit cards are ‘friction free.’ That is, handing over a card is less painful psychologically than handing over actual cash. In an article for Psychology Today, Scott Rick explains that people tend to spend more when they use a card than they do when handing over actual cash: “Experimental research….suggests that credit cards can stimulate overspending: People are often willing to pay more for the same product when using credit than when using cash.”

Indeed, Rick cites a range of psychological factors, which compel consumers to use a card over cash.

Even though I don’t put a lot on my card, I know that when I previously experimented by cutting up my card, I definitely spent less money overall.

Business Travel

“But what about business travel?” I hear you ask?

I once attended a work conference, which across the pond in Anaheim, California. I took my credit card for ’emergencies’ and actually ended up having to use it when I found my employer had failed to pre-pay my bill.

At my hotel’s reception desk, ready to check out, but fully expecting my account to have been settled, I learned that the transaction hadn’t gone through. Worse, the time difference between California and England meant that there was no-one in the office back at home to sort it out. I’ll admit that this was a time when I was glad I had my personal credit card.

However, this does not deter me from my plastic surgery. What I’d do in the future is request a corporate card, rather than rely on my own personal card, which required me to claim this expense on my return. No corporate card? No travel!

But a credit card’s for emergencies!

In my last post, I wrote about why I believe we all need an emergency fund.

In fact, a fully funded emergency fund should contain 3-6 months of expenses. So, if we have a fully funded emergency fund, we shouldn’t need to use the ‘shopping hangover’ method to cover unexpected bills.

The post-Christmas hangover

As the nation anticipates its post-Christmas credit card statements, I decided to do some research on card spending. What I learned really shocked me.

The UK’s spending habits

In October 2017, an article in The Independent warned that credit card lending was on the increase, in spite of warnings about the high levels of UK household debt. In the article, journalist Ben Chu cites regulators’ concerns about the extent to which households are turning to credit to finance their consumption.

Indeed, in the previous month, we saw headlines suggesting the UK was experiencing a ‘debt crisis’, as household debt had increased by 7% in the preceding 5 years.

Going slightly further back in time, the sheer volume of annual card sales is revealed in the UK Cards Association’s report of April 2017. I was staggered to read that, in the month of April 2017 alone, 315 million purchases were made on a credit card (up on the previous year’s figures by 41 million transactions). The overall total of money spent on a credit card that month was £16.8 billion (versus £15 billion the previous year).

What the hell were we all buying?

The report shows we’re using credit cards for a whole range of goods and services from food to fuel, with a marked increase in the use of cards (both debit and credit) over cash in these categories.

What if you have to use a card?

If you listen to Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus’ podcast, you’ll have heard them say quite clearly: “If you have to use a card, you can’t afford it.”

In my case, if I decide to use a credit card, I’m swapping convenience for a shopping hangover. And I no longer want to do that.


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Why we all need an emergency fund

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Happy New Year 2018!

January’s blog post theme

During the month of January, I’m going to be thinking about money, as we have set some specific financial goals for our family in 2018.

It follows that my blog posts may follow a bit of a financial theme in this first month of the new year.

Holiday listening

In particular, I’ve been listening to Dave Ramsey’s podcast over the holidays. Ramsey’s consistent, straight-talking and sound advice has benefited thousands of people worldwide and his simple series of Baby Steps has helped his readers, listeners and YouTube watchers get a grip on their finances and – in Ramsey’s words – “Change their family tree.”

Baby Steps

The Baby Steps help break down Ramsey’s plan into manageable chunks and build momentum. Indeed, the small wins that can be achieved early on in the programme through these Baby Steps help psychologically with motivation.

Baby Step 1

The very first of the Baby Steps is to start an emergency fund of $1000 (or, in the case of us Brits, £1000).

This should be done as fast as you can.

If you’re already a seasoned declutterer, you may find this easier than you think. A good rummage through your garage, wardrobe or loft may yield some excess stuff you no longer need, so you may soon be able to pull together the funds to get started.

If, like me, you’ve already learned to let go of stuff, freeing up unwanted items to contribute to this initial £1k may not be too much of a challenge. It may take only the effort of cleaning them up, photographing them, then listing them online on sites such as ‘Things for Sale in Kenilworth’ (our local community site on Facebook) or eBay.

Why Baby Step 1?

Ramsey’s approach is to establish this beginner’s emergency fund so that if you have a genuine and unforeseen expense, you won’t have to go into debt to pay for it. In a later Baby Step (#3), a fully-funded emergency fund of 3-6 months worth of expenses is put in place, but this starter fund is where we begin.

When you need an emergency fund

Between Christmas and New Year, we had a sudden and unwelcome fall of slushy, grey snow. We came down for breakfast the morning after Boxing Day and noticed something was odd about the hedge that usually sits against the wall by the side of our kitchen window. The supports to the hedge had given way in the wind and snow, so the prickly shrub had lowered itself forward over the border, covering all of the smaller plants and herbaceous perennials beneath.

Thankfully, with some significant effort (and 6 hours’ commitment), my lovely husband managed to shore up the woody stems, drill new supports into the wall, and push the hedge back into place.

However, this unexpected job reminded me that we weren’t quite as lucky when the fence blew down.

When the fence blew down

On the other side of the garden, we share a boundary with our next door neighbours.

One very stormy night two or three years ago, our shared fence decided it was no longer fit for purpose, leading to an unexpected but essential replacement. This cost about £375 per family, which our emergency fund was able to cover easily.

The point of this is that, whilst you’re taking steps to get your finances into good shape, the last thing you need is a mini-emergency to set you back.

In 2016, research by the charity Shelter found that 37% of working families in England could not cover housing costs for more than a month in event of job loss. Ramsey’s approach is designed to mitigate against this and putting an emergency fund in place is a first step in the right direction.

Do you have your emergency fund in place?

If you haven’t done so already, I’d encourage you to get your emergency fund in place.

So, when the metaphorical fence blows down, you’ll have the financial resources to deal with it. Plus, there’ll be no call on your emotional reserves either, as you won’t be stressed about how you’re going to pay for it.


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10 Ideas for a Clutter-busting Christmas

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I have previously written about gifting with grace and love, but I’ve been thinking lately about ways to achieve a clutter-less Christmas.

If you’re a minimalist yourself, you may want to be intentional in your gift giving and emphasize ‘experiences over stuff’. Perhaps you’re hoping that any gift you might receive would support your clutter-free goals. Or maybe you’re just looking for some ideas that won’t involve going to ‘shiny spending places’, which would almost certainly result in both you and your wallet feeling depleted.

Here are my 10 Ideas for a Clutter-busting Christmas

1. Try home-made

I’m baking iced Christmas tree decorations this year. Made with love, these little tokens are inexpensive to make, are low-impact when it comes to packaging, and I can be generous in gifting as many as I like. If you don’t want to hang yours on the tree, that’s fine. You can simply eat it.

Pictured above are my cookie jars from a couple of years ago. Again, these are simple to do, visually appealing and require no gift wrap. Let me know if you want the recipe!

2. Go uniform

If you can give the same little love token to lots of people, your gift wrap (if needed) can be uniform too. Try brown paper or newspaper tied with ribbon or string. This is less wasteful than buying myriad gift bags or multiple packs or rolls of gift wrap.

3. Embrace digital

I have an annual subscription with jacquielawson.com. This UK based company designs online greetings cards that can be personalised, so you can write an individual message to the recipient. Send as many as you like, save yourself a small fortune at the post office, reduce waste and avoid clutter. I know that some people still like to send physical cards, but if you lead a busy life and want an efficient way to send a meaningful message, this is one option.

4.  Buy experiences

A trip out to a venue such as the cinema or theatre isn’t a cheap night out. So, gifting an experience that will appeal to loved ones is a fabulous clutter-free option. Alternatively, buy them a music, sporting, driving or dance lesson. There’s no clutter involved and you’ll also be gifting a sense of anticipation, as they’ll have something to look forward to once the festivities are over.

5. Adopt a less is more approach

When it comes to decorations, more is not always better. You can achieve a sense of ‘hygge’ (cosyness) just as well by displaying only your very favourite items. A little bit of sparkle is lovely but you don’t need your home to look like an outpost of John Lewis. Equally, if you bring down from the loft decorations that you never use, it’s OK to let them go. Don’t be hard on yourself if you really don’t value Auntie Mabel’s Christmas baubles. You really don’t have to keep them.

6. Be of service

Have you a skill – or maybe some time – you could offer to others? If ‘acts of service’ form a part of your love language, why not offer a massage, a night’s babysitting, an afternoon’s gardening or something home-cooked? When my pal, Michelle, was 50, she asked for a home-cooked meal for her birthday. I was delighted to offer this unusual present; she and her family were pleased to eat it!

7.  Contribute to others

There are some ways to mark the festive season that will add value in ways that can really make a difference to others’ lives. Once again this year, a colleague of mine is coordinating a collection of gifts for looked after children. Local charities such as Helping Hands also distribute hampers across the community to families who will benefit most. Maybe this provides the opportunity to re-gift things you never used, but which someone else might appreciate?

8. Consider a subscription as a gift

Buying someone a subscription is a lovely treat. Perhaps a year’s membership of a group such as the WI, a magazine or music streaming subscription would be appreciated. What about a subscription box of delicious consumables? There are all kinds of subscription boxes available; why not check them out?

9. Consumables are king

This brings to my favourite gift category: consumables. Gifting something you can eat, drink, spray, apply, cook with or (better still) share is a lovely way to celebrate the holidays in a way that means the recipient won’t end up with something that will ultimately end up in the charity shop or – worse – the bin.

10. Ask them what they want

This might seem obvious, but if you’re unsure about what to give someone you love, why not ask them? Knowing you’re buying something that’s genuinely wanted or needed will guarantee they receive something they’ll truly appreciate. And don’t forget, kids love to have their own spending power, so cash (whilst not very imaginative) is often very much appreciated.

So that’s my list, but what about you? Do you have some clutter-busting holiday ideas? If so, please do share by replying below!


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An update on sticking to your budget – week by week

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Earlier in September, I wrote a post on Sticking to your budget – week by week. I thought it might be helpful to provide an update on how it went. What went well? What didn’t go so well?

As you might recall, I break our spending down into categories and track each one really carefully week by week. You can read about how I do this by clicking on the link to the post, above.

What went well

Our spending categories for September were as follows:

  • Food/groceries
  • Fuel/transport
  • Dog-related expenditure (gotta feed the hound!)
  • Mobile phones
  • Teen allowance
  • Sports
  • Miscellaneous

We don’t worry about regular expenses such utility bills because those are taken care of from our second account with regular standing orders and direct debits. What we’re dealing with here is discretionary spending.

Food and groceries

The ‘food and groceries’ part of the budget went really well. Because I’d analysed our spending over the previous few months, I knew how much to budget for our weekly food and groceries shopping.

As the month progressed, I tracked what we’d spent so I knew that I’d allocated the right amount of money to this particular pot when ‘actual’ amounts were pretty much what I had anticipated.

Other pots – dog-related stuff, eating out, phone bills etc. were also on budget.

What didn’t go so well

I knew instinctively that my ‘miscellaneous’ category might be where the greatest ‘sticking-to-the budget’ challenge lay. This opaque and potentially confusing category was where I’d record things such as clothes (we don’t buy many), books, haircuts, cash withdrawals for general use and so on. At the beginning of the month, I was clear what we could spend per week under this heading.

The Miscellaneous category

This opaque and potentially confusing category was where I’d record things such as clothes (we don’t buy many), books, haircuts, cash withdrawals for general use and so on. At the beginning of the month, I was clear what we could spend per week under this heading.

I also knew myself: most of this spending happens at the weekend, so I have to be more vigilant on Saturdays (in particular) to guard against a modest splurge! However, at the beginning of the month, I was clear on what there was to spend per week under this heading.

Emergency fund required!

Then, we had a leak under the sink.

£124 later, the leak was repaired and a new part fitted, but that blew the budget for the week and significantly impacted on the following week.

This is where having an emergency fund is essential Dave Ramsay’s Total Money Makeover advocate a series of 7 baby steps, the first of which is to save $1000 to start an emergency fund (in our case, that’s 1000 GBP!). That means no spending on anything that isn’t absolutely essential and doing everything possible to build that fund before tackling all other baby steps (the next of which is to pay off any debts via Ramsay’s ‘snowball’ method).

Happily, our emergency fund is in place, but this shows that the ‘miscellaneous’ category really needs to cover only those spends that are considered or well-thought-through, rather than unplanned ‘surprises’. And you do need to control those spending urges, otherwise it’s easy to overspend mindlessly.

What about you?

How do you manage your monthly budget? Have you tried my dual account budget approach, or do you use another system? Maybe you use a particular app that works really well for you. Do share by replying below!


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Interview with Jen Gale

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Jen Gale

What would it mean if you spent a whole year buying nothing new? What changes would you have to make? What impact would there be on you, on those close to you and on your finances?

5 years ago, Jen Gale set herself this very challenge. It not only changed her year, but changed her life.

In this exclusive interview with Jen, I discover what prompted her challenge, the experience of living through a ‘make do and mend year’ and asked how her life had changed as a result.

Jen, you first came to prominence when you wrote about your ‘My Year of Buying Nothing New’ during 2012/13. What was the catalyst for this?

I always say that I’m not entirely sure..! I do remember becoming suddenly aware that our eldest, who was about 3.5 at the time, seemed to have already tuned into ‘stuff’. He was doing that thing of demanding (very vocally!) to be bought anything bright and shiny that caught his eye whenever we ventured out to the shops. I remember feeling quite shocked that he had already tuned into these societal messages that ‘more’ is good.

At about the same time, I read an article about a lady who was doing a ‘Secondhand Safari’ – a year buying nothing new; I slightly naively thought that it sounded like a fun challenge!

How did those around you respond to your ‘make do and mend’ philosophy?

The kids weren’t really old enough to understand what we were doing, or indeed to really argue about it, which certainly made things easier. I think it would be a very different challenge to undertake with them now at the ages of 8 and 6, or as teenagers!

My husband was great. We had an initial ‘heated debate’ about whether a newspaper counted as something new, but after that was ironed out, he was really supportive.

I think he was probably more attracted to the money saving benefits of reducing our consumption, which was never really a driver for me, but he got stuck in fixing the washing machine, the toaster and even the microwave. He also made a ‘Fix-it box’ where we put anything that needed mending – he ended up fixing all kinds of things, from toy cars to wooden railway track!

What did you find most challenging about it?

In all honesty, the year buying nothing new wasn’t anywhere near as hard as I thought it would be. The most challenging thing ended up being the blogging. Somewhere along the way I decided for some reason that I wanted to blog every day through out the year, and as you might imagine, this ended up being the most difficult part of the whole thing!

Christmas was also a challenging time. We started our year in the September, so the festive season came upon us very quickly. I decided that in addition to making all of the presents, that we also needed to make all of our own decorations, including the tree… After hours scouring Pinterest for inspiration, I found a picture of a tree that looked fabulous and was made of egg boxes! I decided to try and emulate it, and the result was a little…underwhelming.

Eggbox Christmas Tree
Jen’s eggbox Christmas tree

Now that you’re through it, what did you learn? What were the benefits?

I learned so much, and it has totally changed my life. It has changed not only how I shop, but how I see my place in the world.

I used to see things that I wanted to change in the world, but never really thought that I could do anything about them.

The biggest lesson of the year was that I CAN do something about the things I want to change. They might only be little things, things that seem almost inconsequential, but it is really important that I do do them.

If we all make small changes, then collectively we can make a big difference.

What aspect of your experiment have you maintained, all these years later?

We are more relaxed now that we are no longer constrained by the ‘rules’ we set ourselves for the year, but we are still far more conscious and thoughtful about the things that we buy.

I try whenever I can to find the things that we need second-hand and charity shop shopping is still my favourite type of shopping! If I can’t find it second-hand, then I explore the most ethical option available. Sometimes that means buying an ‘ethical’ product from a business with values that align with my own, and sometimes that can simply mean choosing to buy from a local independent shop rather than a large chain store.

Tell me about your interest in sustainable living: was this always part of your values, or did this develop over time?

I always thought I was quite ‘green’ – I did my recycling! But as the year progressed, I was forced to confront so many of the big issues that are affecting the planet and our global society – issues I had been vaguely aware of before, but had somehow chosen to look away from.

I had never really joined the dots together and seen my role as a consumer in the whole system. I had never believed that my actions could make a difference, but now I know that they do.

Having developed a wonderful community of like-minded people, you’ve recently launched a business helping ethical and environmental entrepreneurs unlock their potential. Tell me about this!

I’m so excited about this!

As you say, over the last few years an amazing community has sprung up around the blog, and we have an amazing Facebook group of over 6k people, all making small changes every day, and inspiring and motivating each other to keep doing one more thing.

I’m really passionate about encouraging and empowering people to take responsibility for the impact of their actions, and this applies to business owners as well as individuals.

There are so many amazing ethical businesses and social enterprises out there making good stuff happen and having a really positive impact on the world. I work with them to help them to unlock their potential, and to amplify the impact of their businesses. I really do believe that all businesses should be ‘good business’ and should take into account people and planet as well as profit when they are making decisions.

Running any business on your own can be lonely, and there are aspects of running an ethical and ‘conscious business’ that provide additional challenges. I provide the support and accountability that is often missing when we are working on our own. I can help ethical entrepreneurs to get really clear on their vision for the future, and to work out a strategy to get them there more quickly and easily.

What’s your vision? What kind of businesses are you looking to work with?

I want to make ‘good business’ the norm, and for that to happen we need more enterprises that are gently disrupting the status quo of ‘growth at all costs’.
I work with anyone wanting to run a business that makes a difference. Entrepreneurs who have a clear passion and a purpose that guides their actions, and you want to develop truly sustainable businesses, both environmentally, and financially.

What’s the one thing that we can all do to live more sustainably?

I think it comes back to the thing I touched on earlier about taking responsibility for the impact of our actions. So often we buy things, we do things, almost on auto-pilot. We very rarely stop and really think about what we are doing, and what the impact is on the environment, and on the people who have made the things that we are buying.

We all make hundreds of decisions every single day, and we all have the potential to make the best choices we can, just be taking a bit more time, and being a little bit more thoughtful.

I think that’s why our year buying nothing new worked so well. Because we couldn’t get the things we needed straight away from the supermarket or on the High St, it put a stop gap in the way of our purchasing, which was enough to create the space and time needed to think about the things I wanted to buy.

What would you advise anyone looking to live a more intentional life?

Take the time to stop and think – it doesn’t have to be a deliberate mindfulness thing – it’s just that fraction of a second before knee-jerking into doing something out of habit or because we are stressed/tired/busy.

As you might expect, I am a massive fan of the power of a period of buying nothing new – a year might be a little extreme for most people, but I really do think that even a week, or a month, is enough to make us more aware of what we are buying, and where from. It helps to create that stop gap and that space, and to be more conscious of what we are buying.

Where can we go to find out more?

I have continued to blog at My Make Do and Mend Life, and we are part way through a year of One Planet Living – looking at a different aspect of sustainable living each month.

My coaching business is at jengale.co.uk and you can find out more about me and my work with ethical businesses. I’ve got some great blog posts up there about things like ‘how to face your fears’ or ‘how to beat comparisonitis’ and I’ve got a podcast launching very soon packed with interviews with ethical entrepreneurs and changemakers!

What or who inspires you?

I’m really inspired by the online community! Social media can be a mixed blessing, but it has enable me to connect and engage with so many wonderful people and do build a wonderfully supportive and inspiring community, all inspiring each other to change the world, one baby step at a time.


About Jen

Jen is an ethical business coach, inspiring change makers and purpose-driven entrepreneurs to create positive impact and a better world.

Having originally trained as a vet, Jen responded to her inner voice, telling her that there was something more! So, she made a bold move and now spends her time coaching business owners and start-ups who want to make a change too, unlocking their potential and enabling them to live the lives they dream of and to genuinely be the change they want to see in the world.

Listen to Jen’s podcast, Making Good or visit Jen’s homepage for free resources, courses and coaching!

Making good


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A minimalist’s birthday

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Autumn is a beautiful time of year. It is a transitional season, as we look over our shoulder longingly at summer and anticipate the possibilities of ‘hygge’ throughout winter. For me, it also bring a personal transition, as I celebrate my birthday.

Happy birthday to me

This year, my lovely family has taken my minimalist message to heart. I have written about gifting before (here) and they know my philosophy on ‘stuff’. As a joke, they wrapped an empty, white box and handed it to me in a fit of giggles.

Thoughtful gifts

Actually, their real gifts were thoughtfully chosen. In line with my ‘food, fun, flowers’ mantra, they had picked out chocolates (rose and violet creams), an iris planter that will grow on my windowsill (and smell gorgeous) and a (very unexpected) bottle of perfume. So, I suppose I had better add ‘fragrance’ to my list of ideal gifts: food, fun, flowers, fragrance.

Consumables

My point is that these gifts are consumable. I will enjoy them very much, but they do not contribute to the burden of material things that I’ve been actively reducing in my life.

I would urge you to think about this now that the holiday season draws near. What will you choose to give as gifts? What might you hope to receive? I’d love to know.

The ‘life energy experiment’

And don’t forget, in November, I’ll be conducting my own experiment as I consider and evaluate whether or not the items I buy are truly worth the ‘life energy’ expended to acquire them.


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It’s not what you spend, but what you buy that matters

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I’m reading a book* about our relationship with money. As I read, I realise that a lot of what we learn about money management suggests that tracking our spending will help us ‘tell our money where to go.’

We all know that if we look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves. Right?

Was what you bought really worth it?

Whilst establishing (and sticking to) a budget works for a great many people, the authors offer a fresh perspective. They argue that, if you first work out your proper hourly rate of pay, you’ll then be able to consider how many hours of work (translated into life energy’) you expended in order to buy something. Then you can ask if what you bought was really worth it.

When you look at your spending in this way, it takes on a whole new perspective. It might even impact on the choices you make about how you spend your hard-earned cash.

For example, if you earn £10 per hour, that £5 glossy magazine has effectively cost you half an hour of ‘life energy’. When you know this, you can then ask:

“Did I receive fulfilment, satisfaction and value in proportion to life energy spent?”

If not, then you might think twice about purchasing a similar item again next time you’re presented with the opportunity.

Why we spend

In the book, we read that US organisation Debtors Anonymous asserts that we go into debt to avoid feelings, especially feelings of deprivation. Like other addictions, debt allows us to deny pain, sorrow, loss, anger, loneliness and despair. I would say that you are more likely to be struggling with debt – or on a very tight budget – if your spending doesn’t align with your values or bring you real satisfaction.

So, I’m curious.

I’m going to conduct an experiment: a ‘Life Energy (Expenditure) Experiment.’ I’ll do this for the whole of next month.

My ‘life energy experiment’

Rather than tracking my spending or recording ££’s spent, I’m going to track what I buy and ask what value, fulfilment or satisfaction I derived from these purchases. I don’t have any particular plans to buy anything in November (no Christmas shopping for me – see my earlier post on gifting here).  So, I’ll be curious to see how the month unfolds. I’ll be posting my purchases on Twitter, along with their related ‘fulfilment factor’.

Will you join me? What will we notice? How might our future buying habits change by conducting this real-life experiment?

Follow the story using #LifeEnergyExperiment

And let me know how you get on!

*”Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century” by Vicki Robin, Joe Dominguez, Monique Tilford.


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