By Jean Chatzky
“Today” financial editor
Updated: 8:41 a.m. ET March 13, 2006
Think you can’t kick your shopping addiction? You haven’t met Mary Carlomagno, who says that until just a few years ago, shopping was her single biggest vice. Today? It isn’t even on the list.
Carlomagno was 35 and stuck in a major rut. She had lived in the same apartment for 10 years — and hated it since the day she moved in — worked at the same job for eight years and in the same industry for 14 years. She wanted to shake things up, but didn’t know how. And though the thought of moving to the woods to find herself had crossed her mind, she was too scared to do anything that major.
Instead, she settled on subtle changes. For a year, she decided to give up something different each month: alcohol, shopping, newspapers, cell phones, dining out, television, taxis, coffee, chocolate and — for good measure — cursing, elevators and multi-tasking.
She soon realized that as a result of all these small changes she was able to live better on less money, and saved thousands of dollars in the process.
“I cut my spending so much that my financial adviser called to ask what I was doing differently,” says Carlomagno, who describes her year in her new (and charming) book “Give It Up: My Year of Learning to Live Better With Less.” Carlomagno’s response: “I quit buying shoes.”
At the end of each month of abstinence, Carlomagno went back to most of her old habits. Today, she takes taxis, eats chocolate and drinks caffeine (though not as voraciously as she did before.) The one category that did permanently change was shopping.
After many garage sales and donations, she pared down from three double closets and an armoire to one single closet. Shopping no longer consumes all her free time. Friendships do not revolve around it. She even started a company, Order, to help others simplify their lives, manage clutter control, and get over shopping addictions.
If you’re suffering with the same, you may be able to benefit from her advice.
Treat your closet like a store. If you truly love clothing and shopping, you should do the things retailers do, such as:
* Take inventory. That means, first off, knowing what you already own. Take mental notes, paying particular attention to what you have put on your body over the past few weeks. Those are the bones of your working wardrobe. Use the rest of what you have to accessorize.
* Display items with care. Retailers display their favorite products — you should, too. If you love hats, put them on a rack where you can see them. Keep in mind that stores do not give good real estate to unimpressive items. If you come across items that aren’t nice enough to display, chances are they’re not nice enough to be worn. Get rid of them. The upshot of this process: You’ll know what you have in your current wardrobe and can begin to think of filling in any holes you find.
* Hit the stores with a list of exactly what you need.
Adhere to the two-week rule. In her closet, Carlomagno dug up over $1,000 worth of clothes with their tags still hanging. So she created what she calls the two-week rule. “If you purchased an item and haven’t worn it in two weeks, return it,” she says. Two weeks is a long enough period to know that you either don’t a) really love it or b) need it.
* Do not be sucked in by “good deals.” Everyone buckles every so often on a sale item. The problem is, sales aren’t as few and far between as they used to be. “Now you can get everything cheap,” Carlomagno says.
Note, however, that there is a difference between falling for a markdown on an item that you buy on impulse and earmarking an item at retail, then waiting for it to go on sale. The latter represents smart shopping behavior. Cultivate a relationship with a salesperson at your favorite store and make her your ally in this process.
Seek support. If you’re actively trying to curb your shopping, get your family and friends on your team. This can be tricky because, Carlomagno notes, you may have particular people in your circle who instigate shopping sprees. In their minds it may be a harmless pastime. But if you are racking up a lot of debt or spending every penny of your disposable income on clothes, it’s harmful to you. You’ll need to explain this — and to offer other, cheaper, ways to pass the hours.
“There are a lot of things you can do to appreciate fashion and clothing without shopping,” says Carlomagno. Visit a fashion or photography museum. Or simply grab a cup of coffee and perform your own impromptu Fashion Police. You just may find you can have an even better conversation over a cappuccino than over the Bloomingdale’s rack.
Jean Chatzky is an editor-at-large at Money magazine and serves as AOL’s official Money Coach. She is the personal finance editor for NBC’s “Today Show” and is also a columnist for Life magazine. She is the author of four books, including “Pay It Down! From Debt to Wealth on $10 a Day” (Portfolio, 2004). To find out more, visit her Web site, www.jeanchatzky.com.