finance

Michelle McGagh saved $37,000 by doing a 'buy nothing year'.

Michelle McGagh is a financial journalist-turned-minimalist who managed to go an entire year without buying stuff.

Yep, that’s right – an entire freakin’ year. And her bank account is AU$37,000 richer for it.

The insane money-saving challenge was inspired when McGagh stumbled across the ‘Buy Nothing Day’ movement, where fellow frugal adults attempt to go a complete day without purchasing a single thing.

But London-based McGagh wasn’t satisfied with a measly day, so she decided to up the ante.

“Spending nothing for a whole year would do wonders for my wallet and stop me from refilling my empty shelves with more possessions,” McGagh has written for the Telegraph about the journey that also inspired her new book, ‘The No Spend Year: How I Spent Less and Lived More’.

“It sounds extreme, but I’d set myself budgets and spending plans in the past and they’d always fallen by the wayside on my next night out.

“A full year of no spending seemed the only way of resetting my relationship with money completely.”

That would mean no morning takeaway coffees – McGagh’s personal weakness – no clothes, and no makeup. Instead, just the essentials; “mortgage, utilities, life insurance, charity donations, broadband and mobile phone bills… basic toiletries and cleaning products”.

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“There was no budget for luxuries – that meant no cinema trips, no nights in the pub, no takeaways or restaurant meals, no new clothes, no holidays, no gym memberships, not even a KitKat or cheeky cheesecake from the supermarket.”

Luckily, her husband Frank obliged to the strict $57 weekly food budget between them, and wasn’t too fazed by his wife’s insistence on a $0 transport budget – the year would see her ride her bike everywhere, and reject all offers of alternative transport.

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“Frank worried that the challenge was too extreme,” McGagh admits. “Friends were concerned too; the more they raised their eyebrows at me, the more I wondered whether I’d made a mistake.”

So how exactly she McGagh survive the 365 days? Well, McGagh would forgo the gift-giving tradition at Christmas, persuade friends to catch-up on a walk rather than at the bar, and delight in the free attractions her city has to offer, like art museums and national parks.

And for a holiday with her hubby? Camping.

“The adventure brought Frank and me closer and it proved that we didn’t need to spend money to be happy,” she writes.

While the year was far from easy – a creeping sense of FOMO coupled with “dry and cracked” skin due to no moisturiser got McGagh down occasionally – it was overwhelmingly worthwhile.

“As I approached the end of the challenge, I couldn’t wait to buy new clothes,” McGagh says. “My friends predicted I’d want a big blowout shopping spree but, surprisingly, I didn’t crave one – I just wanted to replace my old, worn-out things.”

When the year drew to a close, McGagh decided to make two significant decisions: First, she would take a hefty chunk off her mortgage. Second, she would shout her friends and family a round of beer.

“I decided to use the surplus cash to pay off a chunk of my mortgage early. I’m now a step closer to getting rid of our debt instead of being beholden to a bank.

After a year of no spending I realised that I valued financial security over material possessions: I don’t want to be forced to stay on the treadmill of work just to pay off a home loan for the next two decades or accumulate more stuff.

“I also came to understand that I don’t need things to make me happy.”

Bravo, Michelle McGagh. Bravo.

You can buy Michelle McGagh’s book here.