The No Spend Year by Michelle McGagh.

I picked this book up in my local library because the bright green cover stood out to me and I’m really glad I did. I don’t really know what I was expecting but based on the title and the supposed emphasis on ‘no spend’ I guess I assumed it would be like the lead protagonist of the Shopaholic series going cold turkey for a year.

Au contraire, my problematic biases!

Michelle is a financial journalist and decided that, for one year, apart from absolute necessities, she is not going to spend any money. She initially wrote it as part of a column for the Guardian before it was a book, so you can get a bit of a peep there if you like.

Something that struck me was that, because she has a bike and cycles most places, she decided to not allow herself the ‘luxury’ of the bus or cabs.

Now think about that for a minute – trying to visit your friends or family or constantly commuting and even going on holiday (yes she does, for free, seriously) purely by bike. What the heck! Only by bike?! I thought as I read. Never mind Man vs Food, this is like Woman vs Life.

Michelle is very honest about the practical ramifications of this choice – people she was then unable to see because she couldn’t cycle that far, how long she spent on her bike and things she learnt to do as well.

She also talks about pushing herself too hard come summer, trying to be and go and do everything whilst on a strict budget and how this resulted in her throwing up on the side of the road somewhere and being unable to continue under her own steam for that journey.

Gross as it sounds, it’s a blunt reminder that being able-bodied enough to cycle everywhere to try and save costs is a privilege. And it’s not one that’s handed out to everyone. Plus, sometimes aggressively pursuing frugalism for the foreseen financial benefits forgets that you pay in other ways; such as walking four miles purely to avoid paying £3 on the bus might be free money-wise but it costs you the hour it took as well as the physical exertion.

Everyone’s ideas of necessities are different and why, for some reason, Maslov decided not to put moisturiser on the very base of his hierarchy of needs I will not understand and it was just refreshing to read someone talking about personal finance and moisturiser! And explaining why she should have put it as a necessity because her skin dried out in the typical British winter and she was full of regrets until someone kindly sent her some.

Why I loved this book: I loved that she spoke about all aspects of how she felt not spending money affected her life – habits, friendships and feelings are all tied up in money and she does a great job clarifying small things like sitting in a pub with a glass of water feeling cheap as, or not being able to pay friends back. It’s not a misery memoir though, so she is able to pinpoint the positives as well as spelling out the negatives. She has a very matter of fact way of talking about things and a wry, unexpected sense of humour about her own missteps and the situations she finds herself.

Even if you’re not interested in reading how her year went (and why not? It’s blimming fascinating reading!), there are sections between the chapters that are basically “A beginners guide to personal finance,” which I appreciated because…well, despite reading personal finance blogs for about 10 years (I know), I constantly feel like a beginner. I skimmed over some parts but definitely also picked up some new information concerning what certain terms mean or how things work over here. It didn’t occur to me that when you pay off your mortgage via the minimum payments, you mostly pay off the interest, not the actual mortgage. That’s like licking the icing when you’re really in it for the cake!

The PF world will not be overly impressed by the fact that she seems to have a risk-averse attitude to investing but I’ll be honest – that’s probably a cultural thing, as well as trying hard not to veer too far off the theme of the book, which is purely money-saving.

I mean GOODNESS, it was just amazing to read a book on personal finance based in the UK and written by a woman. It helps that it’s a good, informative read too! I’m tempted to get my own version to lend out to friends and family….I’ve read more than enough paragraphs out loud to my long suffering other half. The rest of the time I just snickered heartily to myself in the corner.

Roald Dahl's Matilda loling heavily at something in a book.

I found it a delightful and candid read and still find myself picking it up every now and then to have a flick through to something else she’d said or mentioned. Heck, sometimes I do it just to take another look at the total amount she managed to save during her no-spend year.

And of course, you’d have to read it yourself to find out how much exactly that was…

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