The Books That Are Helping Me (No Spend Year)

So as you all know I am doing a ‘No Spend Year’, which may seem like a noble pursuit but really when you are in debt you should put the plastic the f*** down and not buy anything as that is just common sense.

Like any good idea, mine was not original at all. In fact after a recent reading binge I can now tell you all about the books I have found on the subject, 3 are about proper ‘no spend years’ and 2 aren’t exactly but they fit the theme well.

My first instinct when I have a problem is always to go to a book store.

I have found five on the matter, let me know if you know of any more, I would love to hear about them.

#5 Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping – Judith Levine

This is both my ‘first’ and ‘last’ book.

It was the first book I had ever heard about on the subject of not buying anything, back in The Times Newspaper in 2006 in an article and interview after the book was released.

But it is also my ‘last’ book as I finished it yesterday (I bought it recently, with a voucher, and finished it yesterday, I didn’t start reading it in 2006, honest!)

Judith Levine decided to go a year without spending in late 2003 after what seemed like traumatic Christmas shopping, so she did for the whole of 2004 (ok, there were some slip ups, but in all the books I have read there have been some, we are human, prone to mistakes).

Her book is probably the most academic out of all the ones I have read, which is good, but probably the reason why I liked it at least, which makes me look a little thick. This might be the reason why you like it best of all.

I think she and her partner (who joined in on the challenge) go to great lengths to stick to their No Spend Year, even making their own beer, which is admirable. I think the book and Levine address the idea that people tie up so much of their identity in what they buy that when you remove that how do you know who you really are?

By that I mean this, Levine is political and everyday makes consumer choices based on what she believes in. With that removed is she being true to herself? Is she even being herself in the first place?

I guess I may struggle with that this year which is why I appreciated reading it.

#4 How I Lived A Year On Just A Pound A Day – Kath Kelly

I had seen this book doing the rounds on the Money Saving Expert website and also on my suggested results on Amazon, so recently I purchased it (again with a voucher!!!) for my Kindle.

So, not a No Spend Year, but it kinda fits the theme I think because even if all that money was spent on just her monthly food budget, that is still only £30ish a month, and me and the boy find it difficult enough keeping to £200 a month, so good on her.

Unlike all the other people in the books I have read, she kept her challenge mostly a secret, she didn’t even tell her brother despite the fact he was the reason she decided to do it (he was going to get married and she wanted to save the money up for his wedding gift).

She lives in Bristol, so the book feels like a ‘local’ book to me, even though Bristol is in a different country to the one I live in.

The book is interesting as it takes her a little while to get her groove, at first she puts on weight because she is consuming any free food that comes her way as she is afraid her food might be scarce, she manages to go on holiday for free, she manages to get a free bike after hers is stolen. A bit like Judith Levine she makes the small consumer choices she makes based on sticking to her political beliefs and ethics. In fact if recycling and preventing waste are what you are into then this book is better than Levine’s as it does more to show you how to do that.

I think even with my limited spending power there is more I could do to keep my costs as low as possible and a re-read of this book will help a lot.

#3 Save Karyn – Karyn Bosnak

You may have heard of this one. Or like me you may not have until you started getting into debt and reducing your spending.

In the early noughties Karyn Bosnak moved to New York to ‘find herself’ and had a great job as a TV producer, but still managed to rack up £20k of debt trying to live the life she thought she should.

You can guess what happened next, she lost her job, and although she got another one it paid less than half and her debts were not going anywhere.

One day she realised if 20000 strangers gave her a dollar her debt would be cleared in no time. So she set up a website asking people to give her money to put towards her debt.

I don’t know how you all feel about this. Many, many people thought she was scum for doing what she did, many set up copy cat websites, or abusive ones and as she was doing it anonymously there were people trying to track her down and someone even published her address online.

I think it would be good to read the book before you make an opinion. She made mistakes, sure, but she is completely honest about what you would get in return for helping her (it was nothing, unless you liked her blog posts, you couldn’t even claim your donations on your taxes). She was working at the time, she had set up a debt management plan, she was selling all the items she had foolishly purchased before and she was living on such a tiny amount of money that she would go pretty much eat one packet of noodles a day.

I was interested in this book. I would not make the decision she did to ask strangers for money, even if I had thought of the idea first. Because, and I mean this as no disrespect to her, but I am kinda of the opinion ‘I got myself into this mess, I’ll get myself out of it’. For me getting out of debt is my own personal journey, but I loved her book, I could recognise all the terrible ways I wasted my money like she did, just because my tastes are more Primark then Prada doesn’t mean I am/was any better.

But, I feel it follows very closely to Amanda Palmer’s book ‘The Art of Asking’. If you need help, just ask.

#2 In The Red – Alexis Hall

This was the first book I read on the idea of ‘going a year without buying anything’, in late 2015, having borrowed it from my local library. I have had it out on loan for an extremely long time, as I can’t bear to part with it, I just keep renewing my hold on it. No one has any interest in reading it.

I’ll be honest, when I first read it I was a bit put out, as when I first read it I didn’t find Alexis Hall that likeable. She had racked up over £31k in debt through credit cards and loans to pay off the credit cards and then running up the credit cards again and again. Like me I think it is fair to say she was a t*** with money.

I then came back to the book last year, when my first thoughts about doing a no spend year where creeping into my mind. This is the book that inspired me to do it. Because after the second read I realised Alexis Hall had her problems and her choices may have been made as a result of bad times in her past. And at the end of the day she realised she had a problem, she did something major to solve it, and she learnt from it so don’t judge her.

She is a little obsessed with designer labels and the whole ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ way of thinking, which is why I didn’t instantly warm to her because I’m a cheap skate who is an ‘own brand snob’ in that if something is available as an own brand then I will buy it as that.

But I understand how stressed she becomes by not being able to shop, I understand how the small tokens of generosity from her family keep her going (her mum gives her money for her haircuts, her partner buys her token gifts).

Although I am a little jealous that she manages to pay off about a grand a month from her debt, if I had that sort of wage I would no longer be in this problem. But I guess it’s the whole thing of people match their expenditure to their income.

#1 The No Spend Year: How I Spent Less and Lived More – Michelle McGagh

When I first told people I was doing a No Spend Year, they normally said ‘Oh isn’t there a book of that?’

And I was confused as to how popular Alexis Hall’s book actually was, but then it turns out in late 2016 Michelle McGagh completed her No Spend Year, and in very early 2017 her book came out (so basically when I first had the idea and when I started my year).

So there goes my book deal 🙂

So it was a mixture of curiosity and jealousy that made me want to read her book, but after reading some reviews on Amazon which said things along the lines of ‘You can get the same financial advice on the Money Saving Expert website’ I decided that I would borrow it from my local library like a good money saver.

I can tell you it is my favourite book I have read this year.

Michelle McGagh goes hardcore no spending. No bus travel (she cycles everywhere, and I mean everywhere), no gifts (she tells people she won’t be giving or receiving during that year), only a weekly budget for two people of £30 on food and no visiting her elderly Granddad in Ireland.

And yes, she ‘technically’ spends on banned items, but in both cases I think you would agree she had no choice, and the combined total is less than £55.

The book appealed to me as it alternates between one chapter about an aspect of her no spend year, and one chapter with financial advice. So it made me happy as I got a human story, and I also learnt a little bit more about finance.

I really loved this book, and I think anyone could learn something from it.

She had no debt to speak of, other than her mortgage, and in the duration of the No Spend Year she paid off nearly 10% of her mortgage extra, which is her motivation throughout the book.

I know that as soon as I can I will own a copy of this book as I want to always have a copy to refer to. I loved it.

So here you go, the books that are guiding me and that inspired me. Let me know if you have read any others like these.

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