There's no denying Canadians have a love affair with loans. From credit card bills to mortgages, we're carrying near-record levels of debt.
But some are bucking the borrowing trend, embracing extreme saving while the rest of us sink deeper into the red.
- Canadian households are racking up more debt, poll suggests
Cait Flanders wasn't always a super saver. In fact, the 30-year-old freelance writer spent many years as a super spender — until she hit rock bottom in 2011. At that point, she was about $28,000 in debt from loans and two maxed-out credit cards. Just $100 sat in her bank account.
"I had to ask my 17-year-old sister at the time for $70" to cover the bills, says Flanders.
"That felt awful," she admits. "There [was] absolutely no choice at that moment other than me digging myself out of it."
Reformed super spender
Flanders, who lives in Victoria, began tracking her daily spending and set up a strict budget. In just under two years, she wiped out her debt. But it wasn't enough.
"I still didn't become the saver I really wanted to."
She upped the ante in 2014, inspired by an inability to find her can opener in her small apartment.
She was rummaging through a drawer full of junk she forgot she owned when she discovered a pair of barbecue tongs. Flanders doesn't own a barbecue.
"It was like a light switch just went off," she says. "I wanted to live off of less and so I decided to try and use up everything I had."
So in 2014, Flanders decluttered her home and embarked on a one-year shopping ban. She could only buy necessities — such as toothpaste. Her list of banned purchases included shoes, take-out coffee, books, electronics and household items such as plastic wrap, furniture and other decor.
She made coffee at home, got her books from the library and packaged her food in Tupperware. She only allowed herself a few clothing purchases, including a dress for a wedding and a new pair of jeans to replace ones that fell apart.
"For the first 200-something days, I wore the same pair of jeans every single day. [They] eventually ripped in the inner thigh. You can't really patch that one," she says.
She allowed herself a few restaurant meals, but mainly stuck to free forms of socializing, such as hiking. "[I'd] just go down to the beach with friends."
By the end of the year, even though Flanders had allowed herself to spend money on several U.S. vacations, she managed to save $17,000 — 31 per cent of her income.
"There were tough moments, there were moments where I almost gave in to things," she admits. But then she got to a point where she no longer felt deprived.
"It was just my lifestyle. I was just really able to see I don't need to spend money to find any kind of happiness."
Inspired by her success, Flanders is now doing a second year-long shopping ban. This time, she plans to make her own shampoo and cleaning supplies. She also plans to document what she purchases on her personal financial blog.
Flanders says her goal is to show people how little they truly need. "I don't feel like I'm living without, ever."
Value your spending
For Derek Knight and his wife, Mandy, from Port Dover, Ont., super saving has always been part of their lifestyle.
"We've gotten excited about paying down debt," says the 33-year-old Knight.
Derek and Mandy have already paid off their current home's mortgage, even though they're raising three young children. They managed to do it and bank money at the same time by living frugally.
The Knights spend about $600 a week on all household costs for a family of five and, up until recently, saved up to 70 per cent of their net income.
To make their dollars stretch, the family has all sorts of money-saving techniques. They practice "deferred gratification." Any purchase over $20 requires a waiting period to decide if it's really worth it.
"We value our spending," says Knight.
They also value what's most important to them. The Knights concluded that they enjoy dining out not for the fancy decor, but because it's a break from cooking.
So date night is at a self-serve restaurant such as Pita Pit, where they can take a break for less than $10 per person.
"A lot of people, they get in the habit of nobody is sure what they really like, and they go for dinner because that's what people do," says Knight.
They also carefully monitor their groceries at the checkout. That's because many major retailers abide by the Scanner Price Accuracy Code. That means if a product scans in at a price higher than labelled, by pointing it out, the customer gets the item free, up to a maximum of $10.
The Knights also keep their eyes peeled for sales even after buying an item. Recently, two weeks after Knight installed a new pair of gutter guards, Canadian Tire discounted them by 40 per cent. So Knight brought his receipt and the sales ad to the store and says he got 40 per cent of his bill back.
"Canadian Tire has a policy but so do most retailers. [For a specified time], they'll do a price adjustment on any change in price," he says.
Their frugal lifestyle paid off in droves when Knight recently lost his job as a maintenance planner at an oil refinery. They now live off Mandy's part-time salary as a teacher, plus income from their investments. They've barely had to dip into their savings.
So instead of fretting or rushing into a job he dislikes, Knight has the luxury of reassessing his career goals. He's enjoying spending more time with his kids and has just finished building a new lakefront home.
"You can basically decide now when you're in control and sock some money away for a rainy day. Now that we've done that, it's less of a sacrifice now that a rainy day has happened," says Knight.