My No Spend Year | Michelle McGagh | TEDxManchester


Translator: Amanda Chu
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven 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&Q 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. (Laughter) 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, “Yea, 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 US
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. (Laughter) 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. I found so many new ways
to have fun and to socialize and to still be the person I was before. I mean, I live in London, and there is an amazing amount
of free things to do on my doorstep: galleries, exhibitions, concerts, museums. I was just too lazy
to take advantage of them before. I was defaulting
to going to the pub after work, to going out for dinner because it’s easy. And it takes a bit of time to,
you know, find free events. But I always had lots
of nights in as well. Let’s see if this would work. This is me and my friend Kat, who’s going to kill me
for putting this in. This is us mucking around
with free beauty products. We basically raided my cupboards to see if we could find
free sort of face packs and things. It’s of oats and water,
surprisingly a good exfoliator. And, you know, I didn’t actually
think of myself as that vain a person before I did the challenge, but, yeah, I am. Especially because I ended up sort of having what resembles,
I suppose, like a lizard skin because I was so wind whipped
because I’d spent so much time doing this. This was taken in Southwold,
where I managed to have a free holiday. Me and my extremely
understanding husband strapped a tent and our sleeping bags
and some food to our bikes, and we just left London,
and we cycled towards the coast. And we just spent a week
camping on the beach, washing in – well, washing –
being in the sea (Laughter) and sitting out under the stars. And actually, that week was the best week
that I had in the entire challenge. And funny enough – something Dan said earlier this morning
in his talk about technology – I didn’t have my phone because
I didn’t have anywhere to charge it. And it was living in the world,
and it was just the best experience, so good that I was actually going to do it
again this year, when I don’t have to. And it was that good that I didn’t
actually mind when this happened. Two days in, lost my shoe
somewhere in Great Yarmouth, mmm. (Laughter) And that wasn’t
the only casualty of the year. This is my jeans by the end –
saddle marks you can see there. And I was a mess, but I was a really content
and happy mess. Although this was a good feeling, this is the first thing I bought. (Laughter) It was a massive round of drinks
for my friends and family, and say “Thank you” for supporting me. It was a good feeling. And it was a massive celebration
that night, you know – I’d done it. People said, “Ah sh-t, gosh,
you can’t do that!” I’d done it, and I’d saved loads of money. I’d saved just over 22,000 pounds. It’s a huge sum. And I didn’t go on a mad spending spree,
like everyone thought I would do. I did something really sensible, and lots of people said, “Uh, so boring.
Can’t believe you did this.” I overpaid my mortgage, (Laughter) finally listening to my own advice –
I overpaid my mortgage, which means that I’ll
pay my mortgage for fewer years, but it also means that I pay less interest
to the bank, which makes me happy, because who likes banks.
(Laughter) But it wasn’t rocket science, you know. I spent less, so I saved more. Of course that would happen
and I would save loads. Because I embarked
on a ridiculously frugal thing to do. But what I wasn’t expecting was the impact it would have on my life
and my attitude and my outlook. And over that year,
I really pushed myself: I did things I wouldn’t have done,
I saw things I wouldn’t have seen, and I met people that I wouldn’t have met and who have become really,
really good friends. And I’ve changed: I’m more outgoing;
I’m more adventurous; I say yes more; and I know what’s important to me, and I can tell you, categorically,
that it’s not things. I mean I used to shop
probably for the same reasons you do – because I was bored, because I was happy, because I was sad,
because I was treating myself, because the thing that I was buying I thought would make me better looking
or more interesting or cooler or just better somehow – that we could somehow buy a better life. And I think that that lie
is really pervasive in our sort of quick-fix culture where we’re told
by advertisers all the time, “Buy this. This will make you happy.” And it will for a little bit of time until your mood changes
because you’re having another bad day or because the thing
that is the thing to buy has changed – the new thing has come along. And if you don’t have the money
for those quick fixes, like I didn’t, you’d start thinking more long-term, you’d start thinking,
Actually what is important to me? And that’s what I’d
like you all to think about: If you have disposable income – and we have to acknowledge there’re people in this country
budgeting right down to the last 50 P, who do not have that income – but if you do, I think you’ve got
a real responsibility to use it wisely. Now I’m not saying you should all do
what I do and stop spending straightaway and cycle everywhere and walk around
with holes in the arse of your jeans. But just think about your money. In this country,
we hate talking about money, for whatever reason. It’s our British sensibilities;
we do not like talking about money. And I think that gives it
a lot of control. I bet people in this room would rather talk to me about their
sex life than their bank balance. But what I’d like you to do
is just start thinking about the areas where you waste money or where you don’t really
need to spend money. There’s probably something
in your head already. I’m not going to make everyone stand up
for some weird sort of confession and admit what they spend money on. I just want you to think about it and then maybe go home
and have a look at your bank statements. Simple thing, two or three months’ worth,
just to find out where your money’s going. I looked at a year’s worth
of bank statements, which is horrifying. I basically spent 400 quid
on coffee in a year, and I don’t really like coffee that much,
not that bothered by it. (Laughter) But the thing is if you don’t know
where your money’s going, you can’t stop it going to those places. And you need to ask yourself – once you’ve found out
where that money’s going – ask yourself, Is it making me happy? But the difficult bit, I think,
is really the next part, which is asking yourself,
What will make me happy? What would you all love to do? Maybe it’s take the kids
on an amazing safari holiday or take a year out to write a book or retrain for a new job, which, according to Volcker,
we’re all going to have to do anyway. Or maybe you just want to put
a couple of grand aside to make sure you have
that emergency buffer to give you some financial security. And once you have the long-term goal, then you can start to decide whether the short-term spending
is worth sacrificing that long-term goal, or pushing that long-term goal
further ahead. My long term goal is, very boringly,
overpay my mortgage. But if I do that,
if I get rid of my mortgage, that means that I know I
don’t have to work until I’m 80 years old, because I’ll have some financial security,
that I’ll own my own home. And working towards my long-term goal
makes me feel like this. So hopefully it will come up. That’s how it makes me feel. So, no amount of short-term spending
has ever made me feel like that, if I’m honest. But it all comes down, you know – That comes down to sort of
reassessing my priorities. Now, I’d just ask myself one question
before I hand over any money. I would just ask myself,
Do I need this or do I just want this? And if it’s need, excuse me – If it’s need, genuine need,
then I buy it. If it’s just want,
I put my purse back in my pocket. Because I actually don’t think
that we ask yourself that enough. We say, “I only need
that new pair of jeans,” and you’ve got three
sitting in the wardrobe. It’s a really simple question,
but it has a big impact. But it all comes down to your priorities. I can’t tell you where to stop spending money
or what to spend your money on. But it’s about deciding whether you want your
short-term thrill that you’ll get, if you’re happy to give up your short-term thrill
of the new shoes or the new phone to achieve a longer-term goal that might
actually make a real impact to your life, that might be a real achievement for you
or change your life totally. I can tell you what makes you
feel like this. I can tell you which one
will last longest. We can all take responsibility for our future, for our money,
and for our own happiness. The only thing I can tell you is that that happiness
cannot be bought in a shop. Thank you for listening. (Applause) (Cheers)

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