Blonde on a budget embarks on a shopping ban

By Sheryl Smolkin

9Oct-CaitFlandersblondeonabudget

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Today we are continuing with the 2014 savewithspp.com series of podcast interviews with personal finance bloggers. I’m talking to Cait Flanders, who blogs at Blondeonabudget.ca.

In 2011, Cait had $28,000 worth of debt. To stay accountable throughout her debt repayment journey, she decided to start this blog. She paid off the last dollar just under two years later and today she’s going to tell us how she did it.

Cait lives in the Vancouver area, works full time from home as the managing editor of Ratehub.ca and is a contributor to Gale Vaz-Oxlade’s blog, The Globe & Mail, The Huffington Post Canada and Tangerine Bank’s blog.

Hi Cait, and thanks for joining me today.

Oh, thank you so much for having me.

Q: Cait, before you started this blog you had $28,000 in debt. How did that happen? Was it as a result of accumulated student loans?
A: No, I actually never had a lot of student loan debt. To be perfectly honest a lot of it was consumer debt. For years and years I was just swiping my credit card for anything that I wanted to do or see.

Q: You paid off your debt in just under two years, how did you manage that?
A: I literally had $100 in my bank account and it had to last me for six weeks. So I moved home for six months and from that moment forward just lived what I jokingly called “a very boring life,” saying “no” to everything. The only fun thing I let myself do was go for coffee with a friend which was $4 or $5 instead of $50.

Q: So, you wrote about your journey to solvency on your blog and you still post your monthly budget and goals. How have your family and friends reacted to this high level of disclosure about your financial affairs?
A: That’s actually a really good question. I grew up in a house where my family talked about money very openly, probably every day, so I think my parents love it in the sense that, it’s cool to see that I’m continuing that now and just taking those conversations online.

No one has ever said anything about me posting the numbers but I’ve recently made the decision that I’m going to stop posting them because I’m finally starting to realize that it could actually be pretty dangerous. It could lead to issues like identity fraud or theft. So I’m going to do budgeting a little bit differently going forward.

Q: Since you’ve paid off this significant debt, how has your life changed?
A: I’d say the biggest change is I’m no longer stressed all the time. Not having debt gives me much more freedom. I probably let my lifestyle get inflated a little bit since then because when I was paying off my debt I was sometimes putting up to 50-55% of my monthly income toward debt repayment. That’s not a sustainable budget. After two years of realizing that I don’t need all kinds of fancy things or outings to make me happy, life changes.

Q: In addition to blogs about reducing your personal debt, what other subjects do you write about?
A: On my own blog I’ve written about everything from moving, living in other cities, some travels, and sobriety. I write for the education section of the Globe and Mail about every eight weeks and more recently I’ve been talking about minimalism on my blog.

Q: How many hits do you get on your blog each month?
A: Right now I’m probably averaging between 80,000 and 110,000 page views a month.

Q: Wow. That’s incredible.
A: Yeah. It’s crazy. Fifty per cent of that is usually from Canada and maybe 35 per cent is from the U.S. The rest is divided between the UK, Australia and I even have readers in South East Asia which I think is really cool.

Q: So what have you done to promote your blog? Why do you think your readership is so high?
A: Personally, nothing that I can think of. I love talking to people on Twitter. I reply to every single comment that goes up on my site. There has also been press along the way like stories that The Globe or The Toronto Star have picked up. That obviously brings in more people. But no, I haven’t personally done anything.

Q: How long have you been writing the blog?
A: Technically, in October, it would be 4 years.

Q: What have some of the spin offs been?
A: Everything has changed in my career. When I first started the blog, I found a New York personal finance site for women looking for an editorial intern, I asked if someone from Canada could apply and they said that they’d love to have me. That taught me everything I needed to know about being an editor of a website.

Then my current boss Alyssa, at Ratehub.ca who is a blonde on a budget reader offered me a job in Toronto with the company. There have also been other freelance jobs and my relationship with Gale Vaz-Oxlade. She’s just the most incredible mentor and I write for her site. But her friendship, has been one of the greatest and most unbelievable spin offs from my blog and other writing.

Q: Do you actually have to go to an office for Ratehub.ca or do you work from home?
A: Originally I moved to Toronto for 8 or 9 months, just to really get to know the team and build up my position in the company. Then I moved back to Vancouver where I work from home.

Q: In early July you announced you’re embarking on a one-year shopping ban. Why?
A: There are a few reasons. One day I had this epiphany. Even though I’ve always felt like I was a minimalist, I had this moment where I was trying to open my can opener drawer and I couldn’t find anything in there. I just had this freak out that I actually have way more stuff than I probably need.

Then I started thinking that I wasn’t getting anywhere with my current savings and financial goals I realized that that was because I was spending a lot of money on things that probably didn’t really matter. Although I’ve been really good with my money for the last few years I do think that there is always room for improvement.

I think the ban is going to be difficult at times but I just want to challenge myself and learn and grow from that exercise.

Q: So tell me what the rules are of the shopping ban. Obviously you have to pay your rent and buy food and go out occasionally.
A: I have to pay the bills and get groceries. I’m keeping my car so I have to get gas and pay insurance, and I’m giving myself a small recreation budget. It’s no clothes, no shoes, no electronics – things that not all girls buy but some do. I was always bad for picking up nail polish. I don’t need any more decor items in my home. It’s just that kind of stuff.

Q: So, if the one year ban is successful, what comes next? Are you thinking about a book or is there a major purchase you’re saving up for?
A: I think a book is something that all writers want to accomplish in their career but that has absolutely nothing to do with the ban. I haven’t really announced this but when it’s over my goal is that I’ll have money saved so I can take an extended trip to the UK.

Q: If you had one piece of advice for someone who is deeply in debt and wants to turn things around, what would it be?
A: I don’t think everyone needs to put 55% of their income toward debt repayment like I did, but I think just facing up to the numbers is key and then making a plan so debt repayment is a priority.

Q: Thank you very much for talking with me today, Cait.
A: Oh, thank you so much for having me.


This is an edited transcript you can listen to by clicking on the link above. You can find the blog Blonde on a Budget here

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