Michelle McGagh: My no spend year


When Michelle Mcgagh decided to give up spending for a whole year, her bike saved her bacon and changed her perspective. Here’s how…

On Black Friday 2015 I started on a year that changed my life. I'd decided to give up spending money on anything other than essential bills, basic food and toiletries to get a handle on my finances and work out what was really important. 

As part of my No Spend Year I had cut my transport budget to zero, meaning I’d have to walk or cycle if I wanted to maintain some semblance of a life. With my characteristic lack of foresight, I’d failed to get my old LeMond Reno up to scratch before the challenge started, which meant I started the challenge with what I had in my backpack – two inner tubes, six puncture repair patches, some tools, a lock, rechargeable LED lights and half a bottle of bike oil. This, along with some already knackered bike kit, took me 6,500 miles over the course of the year. 

Giving up money freed me from consumerism,
but cycling led to a life of saying yes

I’m not a brilliant cyclist – more akin to an inelegant, sweaty spider riding a bike – but I’m pretty stubborn. So stubborn, in fact, that I rode my bike 120 miles away from my home in London to attend a wedding, I'd regularly meet up with friends in Brighton, visit family 40-odd miles away and even had a holiday by bike. 

It wasn’t a traditional holiday. There were no hotels or sightseeing checklists. Instead, my husband and I did a 370-mile round trip from London, out to Suffolk and around the coast to Norfolk, sleeping on beaches and eating tinned potatoes. That holiday kicked me far from my comfort zone and ignited adventure in me. It wouldn’t have happened without my bicycle. 

My salvation
Cycling saved me. It became the way I stayed fit, saw friends and family, went on holiday, travelled to work. It also became a fantastic way to socialise and make new friends. 

If I hadn’t taken on the challenge and ridden my bike as much as I did, I wouldn’t have met lots of wonderful new people or seen the beautiful places I saw. I wouldn’t know how kind strangers are and then been inspired to be kinder. 

Take the case of my brake pads, which needed replacing about seven months in. I didn’t have budget to buy replacements, but a shout-out on Twitter offering to swap my time or limited skills for brake pads led to a woman in Glasgow sending me some with an order to ‘pay it forwards’ rather than receiving payment. Kindness begets kindness and I paid it forward. 

Similarly, I wouldn’t have met Jenni from London Bike Kitchen (page 9) who kindly helped me sort out my rear derailleur and taught me some new skills in the process. 

My bike was integral to my life over that year and being a ‘cyclist’ became integral to my identity. Giving up money freed me from consumerism, but cycling freed me from my comfort zone and propelled me into a life of saying ‘yes.’ 

Find out more in Michelle’s book, The No Spend Year: How I Spent Less and Lived More, £12.99

Follow Michelle here

Portrait by Zoë Gower-Jones

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