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Can drawing what you buy help you avoid debt?


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    Artist Kate Bingaman Bingaman-Burt draws everyday items to help herself be more mindful of the things she purchases. Here is the first drawing in Kate's series from February 2006. Typical gas purchase.

    - Kate Bingaman-Burt

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    Credit card payment daily drawing from January 2007.

    - Kate Bingaman-Burt

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    Flip phone drawing (it now looks incredibly retro) from May 2007.


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    Kate says she loves drawing receipts, parking tickets (she doesn't enjoy getting them, of course), transportation cards and movie tickets.

    - Kate Bingaman-Burt

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    Kate says it's quicker to buy coffee with a gift card than with a debit card or cash in the mornings. Looking to shave seconds off her coffee time, she purchased this Barnes & Noble gift card. February 2008.

    - Kate Bingaman-Burt

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    Kate says she a soft spot for thrift and vintage. The unknown (and known) history of objects add another layer for her. Sometime around 2008 her drawing style started to tighten up a bit more and become more refined and deliberate. This was partly because not only was she drawing her daily purchase drawings everyday, but her freelance illustration business was picking up as well. She  became really comfortable with her tools and line control.

    - Kate Bingaman-Burt

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    Kate bought these yellow shoes in February 2009 in anticipation of spring time.

    - Kate Bingaman-Burt

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    Kate enjoys drawing extremely mundane items, like this tape from December 2009.

    - Kate Bingaman-Burt

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    In 2009, Kate tried to draw every magazine that she purchased. "I buy a lot of magazines so this is a good way to really determine if I need the magazine or not. Hmmmdo I want it bad enough to draw it? It has curbed my magazine buying habits considerably," she says.

    - Kate Bingaman-Burt

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    Obviously, not a winner. From January 2010.

    - Kate Bingaman-Burt

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    Kate's last credit card payment. Debt Free. No more credit card statement drawings.

    - Kate Bingaman-Burt

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    Photo Booth strip of friends. Kate doesn't normally have the opportunity to draw people, but when she does (i.e.: Photo Booth strips, magazine covers, book covers) she really enjoys the diversity. From March 2011.

    - Kate Bingaman-Burt

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    Kate drew these bobby pins because after buying them in January 2013.

    - Kate Bingaman-Burt
Image of What Did I Buy Today?: An Obsessive Consumption Journal
Author: Kate Bingaman-Burt
Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press (2012)
Binding: Paperback, 144 pages

When Kate Bingaman-Burt was a college student, like many young people, she fell into credit card debt. But she came up with an innovative way to get control of her budget. She started meticulously drawing all of her credit card statements by hand, until they were paid off. Then in 2006, she started drawing something she purchased every day. Many of those drawings are collected in Burt's most recent book, "Obsessive Consumption: What Did I Buy Today?"

"I had just spent the 28 months photo documenting everything that I had purchased and sharing it online. I was kind of this person who was very transparent with their purchases and very open with the things that she was purchasing," says Burt. "But then the flip side of that was, I had $25,000 of credit card debt that I wasn't telling anyone about and it was making me ill. So I found myself with another monthly round of these machine-generated credit card statements that looked like no human had looked at them, touched them. It was just kind of these statements of doom, essentially. I felt absolutely powerless."

Burt continues, "In the process of trying to figure out what to do, I was also calling credit card companies trying to get my APR lowered because it was ridiculously high. I found that even though I was talking to a person, they were still reading from a script that had been automated and I couldn't have a real, personal conversation that was specific to my needs. I felt like I also wanted to draw these credit card statements with black pen, my shaky hand. And the replications of these credit card statements I tried to humanize them a little bit more."

Burt says her drawings were also a sort of punishment. "I feel like I made a lot of really stupid, child-like decisions by being so far in debt," she says.

Eventually, she started drawing items she bought everyday.

"I really like elevating kind of mundane things," says Burt. "I'm trying to infuse personality into these everyday items that we might take for granted."

She says that process of drawing the things that she buys helps make her more mindful of the things she purchases. And now she has a huge archive of little snippets of her everyday life.

"It's a really good indication that little things add up to a lot," she says.

About the author

In more than 20 years in public radio, Barbara Bogaev has served as the longtime guest host of NPR’s flagship program Fresh Air with Terry Gross, as well as host of APM’s news and culture magazine, Weekend America and the weekly national documentary series, Soundprint.
Image of What Did I Buy Today?: An Obsessive Consumption Journal
Author: Kate Bingaman-Burt
Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press (2012)
Binding: Paperback, 144 pages

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