Read of the Week

The No Spend Year: How I spent less and lived more

Michelle McGagh

Coronet

Review: Chantel Erfort

In November 2015, personal finance journalist Michelle McGagh decided to stop spending money.

Well, of course there were costs she was unable to avoid, but beyond a modest budget for groceries, the mortgage on the new, big house she and her husband had recently purchased, taxes and a couple of other expenses, she was not going to spend money for one full year.

With the minimalist movement taking firm root around the world, I won’t be surprised to hear of more such challenges being undertaken by others too. My main gripe with it, however, is that it seems largely to be middle class moving up the ladder types who turn to minimalism in times of existential crises.

Many who have criticised McGagh’s The No Spend Year have similar sentiments, accusing her of offering nothing new in terms of financial planning advice, or of insulting those who have to cut back, out of necessity, by lamenting about no longer being able to go to the pub or for a nice meal out.

There is a “but”, though. McGagh never claimed to have embarked on this experiment to be a better person and definitely not to flirt with poverty. She simply wanted to cut down on her excessive spending and, most importantly, to make a serious dent in the amount she owed on her house.

While many people highlighted the writer’s commitment to using her bicycle instead of spending money on fuel for her own vehicle, or on public transport costs, highlights for me were the deeply personal anecdotes about feelings of isolation, and moments of self-realisation, which the writer shares with her readers. She highlights not only how dependent we are on money to have fun, but also the many, many things there are to do if you want some fun – which cost nothing at all.

In The No Spend Year you can read about how McGagh and her hubby camped “wild” when they needed a holiday, how they cycled hundreds of miles to a wedding and how the writer often found herself sweaty, wearing creased clothing which she had been forced to store in her backpack as she cycled to events.

She also writes about crashing gallery openings for the free food and drink – and even dumpster-diving for unsold bread which had been left outside bakeries at the end of the day.

A bit extreme, yes, but I suppose, if it were not, it wouldn’t be worth writing about.

Overall, I found this to be an enjoyable read, but must be honest – I found the textbook-type sections on compound interest, mortgages and insurance, among others, a bit misplaced.

If you’re looking for a book that’s going to teach you real finance savvy, this is not the one to buy.

If, however, you’d like to allow yourself to become immersed in one woman’s wild experiment to live without spending for a year, I highly recommend The No Spend Year.