By Tess Koman, Cosmopolitan
20th November 2022 – (London) Having been a personal financial journalist in London for the past 10 years, “my friends, family and colleagues assumed I was brilliant with money – but that wasn’t strictly true,” Michelle McGagh explains in her latest Telegraph essay. After noticing she’d lately spent thousands of dollars on completely “unnecessary” things (coffee, meals out, clothes), she decided to commit to not spending for an entire year — starting on Black Friday 2015.
Of course, she couldn’t spend nothing, so she laid out a comprehensive guideline of what she had to spend on: “mortgage, utilities, life insurance, charity donations, and broadband and mobile phone bills [less than $2,000 a month].” She’d also allow herself basic toiletries like toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, etc., and food for her and her husband, for which they agreed to set a combined weekly grocery goal of about $35:
But 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. And certainly no flat whites from Pret.
Though her husband was worried the challenge was too extreme, McGagh leaned into it, biking everywhere, wearing through her clothes, and, eventually, when she saw her disposable income grow, she began overpaying her mortgage, which she was thrilled about: “I’m grateful to have disposable income to save and feel I should make the most of it – I hope I have encouraged other people to reconsider their spending patterns too.”
Still, she missed out on a lot and not everyone around her was pleased about her experiment. She was accused of “poverty tourism, but there is a big difference between poverty and frugality. This experiment was not about living in poverty because poverty isn’t a choice. I could still pay my mortgage, bills and food. The last year has been an experiment in extreme frugality and choosing not to buy, rather than not having a choice.”
In the end, she had approximately $23,000 more dollars than when she’d begun. The winter months were not easy, but she grew to appreciate her free time and the outdoors more come spring. Her clothes were destroyed from all the biking and she needed a haircut, but she had no urge to spend by the end of the year. She did buy her friends a round of beers at midnight on Black Friday (and a plane ticket to visit her grandpa), but that’s it.