Personal financial journalist, Michelle McGagh realised that she was giving out advice for the past 10 years, without being able to live up to her own words. She had great difficulty managing her own budget. It was then that Michelle took her life into her own hands and decided to become boss of her finances once again.
The turning point came when Michelle moved into a new home and had most of her belongings placed into storage until the new house was renovated. She kept only two drawers of clothing and lived with very few of her possessions.
For one whole year Michelle stuck to an incredible experiment of trying to live on just $37 a week! This meant cutting back on everything that was not an absolute essential.
Included in expenses she kept were her mortgage, utilities, health insurance, help for her parents, internet, cell phone and donations to charity. Essential household items such as shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste and cleaning items were kept. All processed foodstuffs were replaced by fresh foods.
Things that she stopped spending money on were entertainment. Everything from pubs and restaurants, cinemas and vacations were eliminated from the list. Gym expenses, new clothes, perfume and hairdressers went out of the window, as did taxi rides, buses and subway tickets.
Michelle invested in a bicycle and cycled to work every day. She learned how to cook proper meals, instead of relying on take-out foods. She began to prepare her lunches at home, and even started baking instead of buying cookies.
Being this frugal was not easy, as Michelle is the first to admit. There were times when, on windy days, she wished for a taxi or bus ride instead of getting back on her bicycle. Without a hairdresser, her hair became a tangle which she had to learn to manage.
‘It wasn’t just the fact that I couldn’t drink; it was that going out, something that was so easy before when I spent ridiculous amounts of money on it, had become a chore.’
‘I had to cycle to meet my friends in the dark and the rain, which made everything harder. I’d turn up soaking wet or freezing cold, or both.’
‘I had been trying to live my old life without any money and it was a plan doomed to failure,’ she recalled. ‘My old social life involved spending money on gig tickets, theatre tickets, cinema trips and nice meals out.’
‘It was ridiculous to thin I’d be able to carry on in the same vein. I made the decision to stop hankering after my old life and embrace the new life that having no budget presented me with.’
Gradually Michelle’s attitude towards her belongings changed as she realised that her possessions were beginning to own her. She and her husband started to sell or give away things that they no longer used or even liked. The couple focused on a minimalistic lifestyle.
‘I realised that the things I owned had started to ‘own’ me, and I had bought things to tell people a story about who I was’ she said. ‘By getting rid of those items I was taking back control of who I really was.’
Michelle has some tips which helped her cut her grocery bill to $37 a week:
Check your cupboards: before you run to the supermarket, take a look and see whether you could use what you have in the cupboard before heading off to shop.
Make a list: and remember to take it with you. Only buy the items you have on your list and this will stop impulse buying. You will also know in advance how much your shopping is going to soct you.
Shop around: don’t be afraid to use budget shops such as Lidl and Aldi. Most of the time you can get the same product at a vastly reduced price. Your shopping trip might mean visiting two different shops but the savings will be worth it. Local Chinese supermarkets are great places to stock up on cheap herbs and spices.
Cook larger portions: in other words, learn to batch cook and freeze. Michelle and her husband are vegetarian and so she learned how to cook healthy vegetarian meals which she froze. If you have a meal ready for you when you get home, you are less likely to order in.
Find free food: there are websites such as Olio which tell you if someone has a glut of produce that they want to just get rid of. Leftover bread is often placed in bins out bakeries at the close of day.
Change your attitude towards food: when you start to see food as fuel instead of as a means to comfort or binge, you will find that food begins to play a smaller part in your life. Michelle realised that she missed the idea of a treat, such as curry, more than the food itself.
Change cleaning products: making your own cleaning spray for bathroom and kitchen from vinegar, water and a few drops of lemon juice will save about $72 over the course of a year.
Michelle was pleased to report that by the end of the year she’d saved enough money to pay her mortgage by $28,500 and was happier than she had ever been before.
‘When you give your self a budget of zero, you don’t give a s*** about spending any more.’
‘Not only is it a great feeling, not being beholden to a society that places consumerism and possession above all else, but also, all that time I used to spend buying things I now have free to spend doing things I actually care about, things that enrich my life in a way that purchasing never ever could.’