Michelle McGagh worked as a financial journalist for 10 years, but she had difficulty planning her own budget. She thought it unfair to tell others how to save money and yet spend it on useless trifles herself.
That’s why she decided to carry out an experiment and buy only the absolute necessities for a full year. She made do with little: she wore clothes she already had in her wardrobe, rode a bicycle, ate only simple homemade food — and ended up saving $23,000. A serious amount, isn’t it?
I noticed that I was spending huge money on things I didn’t really need: trips to the bar, pretty clothes, takeout coffee, and so on. And all this with a mortgage and other big expenses to take care of.
I was lost in a neverending consumer vortex, trusting ads and believing that only by spending could I become happier. Then I got tired of money slipping through my fingers and decided to shake up my old life and change my habits, refusing myself everything but the absolutely necessary.
Expenses I kept:
- Mortgage, utilities, health insurance, help to my parents, donations to charity, the Internet, and cell phone. All these cost me less than $2,000 a month.
- Necessary beauty products (shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, etc); household chemicals; foodstuffs to cook at home. My husband and I budgeted as little as $35 a week for these needs.
What I left behind:
- Entertainment: cinema, pubs and restaurants, takeout food, coffee shops, vacation travels, and any yummies from supermarkets.
- Gym expenses.
- New clothes, perfume, excess beauty products, hairdresser services.
- Transport expenses (taxi, bus and subway tickets, etc).
- Travel everywhere by bike — I’d cycle to work, to meetings, and even out of town.
- Have picnics in a park, travel with a tent, look for free exhibitions and gigs.
- Eat the simplest of home foods, avoiding even chocolate.
- Exercise at home (everyday bike rides did well for most of my exercise, though).
During this year, I’ve learned to efficiently spend money on food. I plan my lunch and dinner in advance, and I have started baking. If I cooked poorly before, now I’m getting fairly good at it.
I won’t pretend it was easy, though, especially the first months when I tried living my old life but with no money. Sometimes, I had an urge to forget all about it and lose myself in a shopping spree, get drunk in a bar, or just buy a bus ticket instead of climbing onto my bike again on a windy day.
However, I understood something important: you don’t have to open your wallet every time you want to have a good time.
- I’ve visited lots of free gigs and festivals, walked around all the parks I could, participated in tons of street sports events, and visited more exhibitions than I ever had before.
- During a vacation, I rode the whole shore of Suffolk and Norfolk with my husband on our bikes, spending nights in a tent. If not for my experiment, I’d never have even tried it — and now I can’t wait to repeat this experience.
There were other drawbacks, of course. I missed new comedies and blockbusters, missed sitting with my friends at a café. My haircut became something crazy without proper care. There were also awkward moments when our friends invited us to their house and we came empty-handed because we couldn’t afford to buy a bottle of wine. However, I washed tons of dishes at my friends’ homes as thanks for dinners they prepared for us.
5 things I really missed:
- Authentic curry. I’ve learned to cook, but my curry is still far from perfect.
- Real flowers. I realized how much I missed them when my friends sent me bouquets for my birthday. I adore them.
- Skin moisturizer. I didn’t include it on the list of necessities, and that was a huge mistake — my face got all weather-beaten.
- Perfume. With that, I’d feel more human, for I had to wear trackies and sneakers all the time, riding my bike every day.
- A bus would be so nice in rainy and windy weather, especially right before important meetings when I really wanted to look great.
In a year, I managed to do what at first glance seemed impossible: I saved $23,000 and partly prepaid my mortgage. And that was such a joy! Before that, I’d thought this burden would hang on my neck for 25 years, but now I realize I can get it done in a much shorter time. Of course, I won’t turn so radical again, but now I know I can refuse myself a lot.
Last year I was often told things like, “Bet you miss shopping a lot!” Well, not really. I realized I didn’t want the fancy clothes I’d spent so much money on before. Fair jeans, a bit of perfume, and a haircut are all I need.
When my experiment came to an end, I didn’t run to the shops. Instead, I bought a beer for my friends and family to thank them for their support, and then I bought a plane ticket to Ireland where my Grandpa lives.
The most important result of the year for me was that I became more open for adventure and new people. I learned to say “yes” to all things new. And I also realized how little I need to be happy.