Q&A: shopaholic gives up shopping for year

ElizabethJayneLiu

“Spend less money” is probably a close second to “Lose weight” on the list of most-common New Year’s resolutions. But when California blogger Elizabeth Jayne Liu says she’s giving up shopping altogether for a year, you tend to believe her. After all, she’s already been at it for four months. Since September, Liu has been chronicling her self-imposed exile from retail on her blog, Flourish in Progress. While she still allows herself occasional splurges like gifts, haircuts and a gym membership, Liu refuses to buy clothes, books, movies, fast food, furniture or most anything else, beyond the bare essentials. It’s not a story of financial hardship or a crusade against consumerism. So, what is motivating her to swear off spending? We caught up with Liu for a chat about self-denial, good parenting and her impending knife fight with the U.S. treasury secretary.

   AdFreak: You’ve said on your blog that you’re not in debt, facing foreclosure or otherwise struggling to stay afloat. So, why the one-year shopping ban?
   Liu: I spent seven years as a single mom before suddenly getting married (in Vegas, after dating just 18 days … I like to keep things classy) three and a half years ago. During those seven years, I was always on a tight budget and lived without a lot of material luxuries. After getting married, I had the opportunity to stay at home with my daughter, and I starting buying, buying, buying to make up for lost time.
   This past summer, just before my 30th birthday, I realized two important things: First, my shopping habit consumed most of my free time. Second, it wasn’t achieving the deeper satisfaction I always imagined it would bring. So, I decided to give it up and focus my time on goals I’ve been putting off for months … or a decade.
   I originally thought about doing the project for a shorter length of time, maybe a month, but I knew that I would end up just marking the days off my calendar and wait for the month to be over so that I could start shopping again. I picked a year because, well, a year is a damn long time, and I would be forced to find something else to do besides stare at the calendar.

   AdFreak: Were you a pretty hard-core shopper before starting this project? Was it a big part of your life?
   Liu: Absolutely. Where I shop and what I buy has changed over the years, but it’s always been a part of my life. I knew I was a hard-core shopper before I started the project, and the reaction afterward confirmed it. Sales associates I had befriended called to tell me about pre-sales and promotions, and most were not shy about asking where the hell I had been recently. I still receive invitations to store events along with gift cards and coupons to places I haven’t been in months. 

   AdFreak: What are you doing with the money you’re not spending? 
   Liu: At first, I kept a running list of all the things I didn’t buy, but I’ve learned that it’s easier to keep track of the money you are spending versus the money you aren’t. It’s hard to categorize the surplus at the end of the month. I stopped keeping track during the second month, mostly because it’s not about the money I save but what I do with my time since I’m not shopping.

   AdFreak: Haven’t you heard that consumer spending is the only thing that will save the economy? Have you gotten any death threats from Tim Geithner?
   Liu: That’s the guy from Project Runway, right? Oh wait, that’s Tim Gunn. I haven’t heard from Geithner. To that, I say, “Bring it, G.” Excessive consumer spending helped get us into this mess, and now consumer spending is supposed to get us out? I’m not advocating that everyone stop spending, but it was the right thing for me.