Following is the full text of personal finance journalist Michelle McGagh’s talk titled “My No Spend Year” at TEDxManchester conference.
Michelle McGagh – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT
Hi. I hope you all had a bullet coffee, or bulletproof coffee, to keep you going through the last of the day. Um, okay.
So imagine the scene: You’ve had a really hard day at work; you have got to get something for dinner on the way home; you pop into one of those mini supermarkets that are on every single corner; you think, “I’ll get some of that fresh pasta and sauce”; you go in, get your shopping. By the time you leave, you’ve spent fifteen quid.
You’re not quite sure how you’ve done it, and it’s really annoying. If you’ve ever done that, you’re not alone. That was me.
I wasn’t in loads of debt, apart from my mortgage. I wasn’t racking up purchases on credit cards. I’m not a spendaholic.
But my money was frittering out of my account, and I had nothing to show for it, so I decided to do something about it. I decided to stop spending for a year.
But back up a little bit. Because it wasn’t just supermarket trips and Tesco’s that made me stop spending, it was kind of a general discontentment with where my money was going and my role as a consumer.
And it was kick-started when me and my husband bought a house, and it needed quite a lot of work doing to it. And we decided to put all our stuff in one of those really expensive storage units.
And we were living out of those little plastic drawers you get from B or something like that. And we had a few clothes, our pots and pans, and our bikes. And we’re all right, you know, we’re fine.
We’re living an okay life, a bit dusty in the house. And now and again, we’d have to go back to the storage unit. There was a lot of stuff in that storage unit. Admittedly, most of it was mine.
And it was rammed. I wouldn’t even be able to tell you what was in the back of it. Until one day, I went there, and I saw a box, big box, about this big, and on the side of it, in my own handwriting, it said, “NOT NEEDED” in capital letters.
It struck me! Then why the bloody hell did I have it? I didn’t even know what was in the box, and I still don’t know now. It’s long gone.
And I went home, and I googled a really quite embarrassing phrase, actually. I googled “get rid of stuff” because I needed to be told how to put things in a bin or at least maybe be given permission to do that.
And as Herb mentioned, all these sites came up, the minimalist, all these sites came up, these people saying, “I got rid of all my stuff, and it was amazing, and I feel great, and I’m so unburdened.”
I thought, “Yeah, this is what I want. I don’t want the big storage unit for the stuff. I want to live a life that these people are talking about.”
So my husband was totally on board, probably because most of that crap was mine anyway. We started getting rid of our stuff; we were selling it, we donated it, we gave stuff to friends and family.
And we got rid of about 80% of our possessions, and it was brilliant. And it was through these minimalist websites that I found out about “Buy Nothing Day.”
Now “Buy Nothing Day” falls on Black Friday, which for some reason we have imported from the U.S. even though we don’t have Thanksgiving.
And instead of going out and squabbling with your neighbors for cut-price tellies in the supermarket or the shopping center, you buy nothing. You spend time with your kids, you read a book, you go for a walk; whatever it is, it doesn’t cost you any money.
I thought, “What a brilliant idea! I bet I could do it for a year.” And so I did. The idea of a no-spend year.
By giving up spending, it would force me to live a different life, and it’d address two concerns I was having.
The first one was that I wasn’t making the most of my money — the embarrassing bit being that, by trade, I’m a financial journalist. And I’ve spent 10 years telling everyone what to do with their money, and I wasn’t actually taking any responsibility for my own.
The second thing was my role as a consumer. I was really sick of that being my only purpose, that I would go to work for eight hours to earn money to buy things that I was told would make me happy.
But we’re all told, “Buy this. This is what you need in your life.”
That then didn’t make me happy, so I’d go back to work for another eight hours to earn more money to buy different things that I was then told would make me happy.
Then I was spending money to repair and insure and replace those things that weren’t making me happy. So my no-spend year started on Black Friday, 2015, and there are some rules.
So I had to pay for the things I had to pay for. I had to pay my mortgage and my water rates, my council tax. I also paid my broadband and my mobile because I’m freelance, or else I wouldn’t be able to work and it really would’ve been a no-spend year.
And I also kept paying things like charitable contributions. And I had a very small food budget, or grocery budget, so it’s three meals a day, plus very basic toiletries and basic cleaning products for house, clothes, washing powder, things like that.
And it would be an extreme way to find out what I could do without but also what I really needed to live a happy life. And it was hard going.
You know, there’s no better way of putting it, mostly because I didn’t give myself any transport budget, so I cycled everywhere for a year and spent a lot of time looking like …that. Yeah, a lot of time looking like that.
But I found… Over those 12 months, it was a real life, you know, and I learned a lot in being extremely frugal, and I still had a life. That’s the amazing part.