This post is by a woman named Michelle McGagh who was employed as a journalist reporting on finance. She ran into budget issues as many of us do and wrote a blog on The Guardian to help others determine things that may be eating up money in places we don’t normally think about.
I noticed that I was spending huge money on things I didn’t really need: trips to the bar, pretty clothes, takeout coffee, and so on. And all this with a mortgage and other big expenses to take care of.
I was lost in a neverending consumer vortex, trusting ads and believing that only by spending could I become happier. Then I got tired of money slipping through my fingers and decided to shake up my old life and change my habits, refusing myself everything but the absolutely necessary.
Expenses I kept:
· Mortgage, utilities, health insurance, help to my parents, donations to charity, the Internet, and cell phone. All these cost me less than $2,000 a month.
· Necessary beauty products (shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, etc); household chemicals; foodstuffs to cook at home. My husband and I budgeted as little as $35 a week for these needs.
What I left behind:
· Entertainment: cinema, pubs and restaurants, takeout food, coffee shops, vacation travels, and any yummies from supermarkets.
· Gym expenses.
· New clothes, perfume, excess beauty products, hairdresser services.
· Transport expenses (taxi, bus and subway tickets, etc).
I began to:
· Travel everywhere by bike — I’d cycle to work, to meetings, and even out of town.
· Have picnics in a park, travel with a tent, look for free exhibitions and gigs.
· Eat the simplest of home foods, avoiding even chocolate.
· Exercise at home (everyday bike rides did well for most of my exercise, though).
During this year, I’ve learned to efficiently spend money on food. I plan my lunch and dinner in advance, and I have started baking. If I cooked poorly before, now I’m getting fairly good at it.
I won’t pretend it was easy, though, especially the first months when I tried living my old life but with no money. Sometimes, I had an urge to forget all about it and lose myself in a shopping spree, get drunk in a bar, or just buy a bus ticket instead of climbing onto my bike again on a windy day.
However, I understood something important: you don’t have to open your wallet every time you want to have a good time.
· I’ve visited lots of free gigs and festivals, walked around all the parks I could, participated in tons of street sports events, and visited more exhibitions than I ever had before.
· During a vacation, I rode the whole shore of Suffolk and Norfolk with my husband on our bikes, spending nights in a tent. If not for my experiment, I’d never have even tried it — and now I can’t wait to repeat this experience.
There were other drawbacks, of course. I missed new comedies and blockbusters, missed sitting with my friends at a café. My haircut became something crazy without proper care. There were also awkward moments when our friends invited us to their house and we came empty-handed because we couldn’t afford to buy a bottle of wine. However, I washed tons of dishes at my friends’ homes as thanks for dinners they prepared for us.
5 things I really missed:
· Authentic curry. I’ve learned to cook, but my curry is still far from perfect.
· Real flowers. I realized how much I missed them when my friends sent me bouquets for my birthday. I adore them.
· Skin moisturizer. I didn’t include it on the list of necessities, and that was a huge mistake — my face got all weather-beaten.
· Perfume. With that, I’d feel more human, for I had to wear trackies and sneakers all the time, riding my bike every day.
· A bus would be so nice in rainy and windy weather, especially right before important meetings when I really wanted to look great.
In a year, I managed to do what at first glance seemed impossible: I saved $23,000 and partly prepaid my mortgage. And that was such a joy! Before that, I’d thought this burden would hang on my neck for 25 years, but now I realize I can get it done in a much shorter time. Of course, I won’t turn so radical again, but now I know I can refuse myself a lot.
Last year I was often told things like, “Bet you miss shopping a lot!” Well, not really. I realized I didn’t want the fancy clothes I’d spent so much money on before. Fair jeans, a bit of perfume, and a haircut are all I need.
When my experiment came to an end, I didn’t run to the shops. Instead, I bought a beer for my friends and family to thank them for their support, and then I bought a plane ticket to Ireland where my Grandpa lives.
The most important result of the year for me was that I became more open for adventure and new people. I learned to say “yes” to all things new. And I also realized how little I need to be happy.
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