Shopping Detox – Best of the Best Blogger Series

Next up, in the 50th edition of our Best of the Best Blogger series, we diverge, ever so slightly, with an interview from Annabelle Foster of ShoppingDetox.com.

Let me start by saying that Ann is a character … an incredibly interesting character at that.  She’s a Canadian and a resident of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Last year, she documented an entire year of her shopaholic ways on her blog with the curious goal of “getting out of debt” while doing it.

While she didn’t quite accomplish her goal, she did forge a new approach that combined the philosophies of two very famous French and Canadian women respectively:  Gail Vaz-Oxlade and Mireille Guiliano. Vaz-Oxlade has build a reputation as somewhat of a budgeting wunderkind and Guiliano is the CEO and author of French Women Don’t Get Fat.

Ann combined the philosophies of both women, who she describes as her “imaginary BFF’s” into her own philosophy that melds Vaz-Oxlade’s financial accountability deference with Guiliano’s philosophical joie de vivre, which encourages one to really enjoy life’s pleasures, but doing it in a measured approach.

Two of my very favorite posts by Annabelle are about her beloved parents.  The first one, and unquestionably my favorite, is about her father, titled “The Patron Saint of Forgotten Things“, hallmarking many of her Dad’s remarkable and incredibly endearing and impressive frugal lifestyle.  My second favorite was “My Mother and Her $73.34” wedding which celebrates her parents world-record low cost wedding.  (OK, it’s not ‘officially’ a world record, but $73.34 for a wedding, are you kidding me?)

We sat down with Annabelle recently to talk about French diet books, shopaholic tendencies and Zooey Deschanel.

You’ve somehow connected the dots between a French diet book and paying down your debt. Tell us a little bit about that connection.

I had a sort of epiphany last year when one of my friends explained to me her stance on shopping/budgeting – just to be a grown-up and not obsess about money. For example, if she sees a really nice, good quality-jacket, she’ll just buy it without first investigating a budgeting spreadsheet. Spend more on good-quality items that you love, don’t buy junky things you don’t really need, and enjoy your life rather than getting OCD about budgets.

This philosophy lines up really neatly with Mireille Enos’ bestselling diet book, French Women Don’t Get Fat, which advises people to just eat what they want, but be responsible about it, without obsessively weighing yourself or your food.

So, this year, I’m trying to adopt this sort of philosophy about my financial life. Not to obsessively monitor my budget or what I’m spending – but to make conscious, smart decisions and not to worry too much about it. At the same time, I love French food and French style, so putting that spin on it is making it more fun for me!

You’ve chronicled your life as a self-described “shopaholic” in 2011. Is your interest in personal finance and your shopaholic tendencies somehow related in any way? Tell us about that connection.

When I started my blog, I thought it was going to be a straight-up fashion/shopping blog. But as I began reading more PF blogs, I started developing my own interest in finance (trust me: I had never had an interest in this before!). I find that, the more informed I am about personal finance, the better my shopping decisions become. It’s harder to thoughtlessly waste money when everyday, you come home every day to read PF blogs and write about your own spending!

You have a ton of frugal shopping tips on the site. What would your top 3 most useful but most underutilized frugal shopping tips?

#1 – I find it really helps to save money to have a good knowledge of what you already own (whether that’s clothes, kitchen utensils, groceries, etc.) If you know that you already have two full sets of measuring cups, then you won’t be tempted to buy another set you find on sale. Or, if you know you already have all of the ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies, you’ll be less tempted to buy a package of pre-made ones. For me, I know now I have far too many nautical-striped tops, so I’m much less tempted to buy another one!

For me, I’m able to keep a handle on what I own by regularly challenging myself to wear every tee-shirt or pair of jeans in my closet to remind myself what I already have. It’s the same in the kitchen – I try to go through my cabinets regularly to remember what I already own, so that I don’t wind up in the store thinking, “Do I need more cheese or not?”

# 2 – This one is obvious and often-stated, but that’s because it’s such a great idea: shop from a shopping list. When I go in with a set list of things to buy, it helps me focus and get in and out as quickly as possible. When I don’t have a list (especially in the grocery store), I may wander around and buy way more than I actually need (or things I already own, but forgot about – see #1, above!)

# 3 – Sleep on it! I’ve intentionally not bought some things that seemed like good ideas… and two days later, I’d forgotten I ever wanted them. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the “thrill of the chase,” and I don’t want to leave a store (or a mall) empty-handed. Learning to be OK with that has been one of my challenges! So, if you aren’t 100% sure something is a good idea, sleep on it and see if you still want it in a day or two.

What’s the single greatest gift that you’re blogging experience on ShoppingDetox has given you?

All of the amazing friendships I’ve made with people who I’ve never met in person! Starting out, I had no idea that there even was a PF blogging community, and now they’re a huge part of my life! Not just for having fun conversations on Twitter, or commenting on one anothers blogs, but knowing that they’re out there keeping an eye on me has made me more responsible with my money – especially now that
I’ve installed a graph on my blog so show how much of my debt I’ve paid off. If the percentage paid goes down, my friends are there asking, “What gives? What did you buy?” So they’re supportive while also holding me accountable.

Tell us a little bit about your most admired “Frugal Icons”.

Since I began the blog, I began paying more attention to celebrity interviews when they mention frugal things – like Rachel McAdams sharing her house with a roommate and biking everywhere, or Sarah Michelle Gellar using coupons. So many celebrities are known for their luxurious lifestyles, I thought I’d like to highlight those who live more unassuming, thrifty lives.

My most surprising find so far was when I began reading about how frugal Marilyn Monroe was – she’s remembered as this glamour girl, but her estate contained more books than jewels, and she dyed her wedding veil with coffee to make it match her dress! I also think it’s great that Kate Middleton is being praised for wearing outfits more than once or doing her own hair and makeup for her wedding. Zooey Deschanel was already an inspiration of mine, fashion-wise, so I was so happy to read how responsible she is about her finances!

It reminds me that you can still be stylish and frugal at the same time.

What’s your stance on credit cards? Is it the Indian or is it the arrow when it comes to credit card debt?

I wish I’d understood credit card better when I was younger. Much of the debt I’m still working to pay off came from charges I was making 10 years ago. I heard recently that Ontario has begun including finance classes in their high schools, which I’m sure the teens aren’t excited about, but which I like to think may help many of them figure things out. It took me ages to realize that credit cards weren’t offering free money, and after a certain point, your credit limit will stop being upped.

Credit cards are definitely handy in some situations, provided they’re being paid off promptly. So, to use your metaphor, they’re neither the Indian nor the arrow, but maybe the bow? On it’s own, it isn’t risky, but in the wrong hands and used improperly, it can be quite dangerous.

I’d like to thank Annabelle for her participation and her willingness to share her philosophy, her amazing outlook and her infectious personality. Thanks Ann!

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