“I bought nothing for a whole year and saved £22,000”

Yup, not even one glass of wine.

By Charlotte Brouwer, 16 January 2017
“I bought nothing for a whole year and saved £22,000”

We all know that Black Friday is one of the most frenzied shopping day of the year, but it also happens to be Buy Nothing Day; an anti-consumer movement that encourages people to spend nothing at all on Black Friday. Not spending for one day doesn't sound too difficult, but one woman decided to take it one step further and make 2016 a 'Buy Nothing Year".

Could you go a whole year without spending?

Unsurprisingly, it not only did wonders for her wallet, helping her get onto the tricky property ladder in London, but it also stopped her from cluttering her home with possessions. 

Michelle McGagh had been a personal finance journalist in London for the past 10 years, but felt that although she didn't have any debts, she was finding it difficult to get onto the property ladder. She noticed that her bank statements (when she bothered to look at them) were littered with unnecessary spending – including  meals out, rounds of drinks, clothes, random shopping, and £400 on takeway coffees ("a huge amount given I’m not even a coffee fan" she told The Telegraph).

When Michelle and her husband bought a fixer-upper in north London (with a hefty mortgage), they lived in the building site for six months, whilst keeping all their possessions in storage. They realised they didn't need all that "stuff" and could manage perfectly fine without it, so they got rid of 80% of it – crates of vintage dresses, 1950s and 1960s crockery, rugs, lamps, chairs, pictures were all sent to their local charity shop. 

This triggered the start of Michelle's "Buy Nothing Year", which started on Black Friday last January.

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 (£1,896.76 a month in total)". 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. They calculated they could make it work if they cooked in batches and took a strict list with them to the supermarket.

There she drew the line, and went the whole year with no cinema trips, no nights in the pub, no takeaways or restaurant meals, no new clothes, no holidays, no gym membership, no Pret coffees and not even a cheeky chocolate bar. She even limited herself to a zero budget for transport, meaning she would have to cycle everywhere.

Though her husband was worried the challenge was too extreme, McGagh took to it just fine, 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, there was an element of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and not everyone around her was pleased about her experiment. She was accused of 'poverty tourism', but she explains that there is a big difference between poverty and frugality.

Her 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", she explains in The Telegraph.

In the end, she had £22,439 more 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.