The day my life changed

1st July 2011 at 01:00

I had a hangover, but I remembered my pledge. I was going to live on #163;1 a day. For a year.

I was at a friend's birthday party when I suddenly put down my glass of wine and said I was going to live on #163;1 a day for a year. My brother was getting married and I wanted to buy something special for him. But I teach: I didn't have a large income. At the party, my friends and I were talking about how broke we were, how everything was getting so expensive. That was when the idea came to me: I would have to do something drastic.

The next morning, I was hungover and quite shocked. I shook everything out of my purse, put a pound down and thought, "Right. That's it." The full impact hit me like a slap in the face.

I had a moment of horror, followed by a more practical hour. I looked in my cupboards. I had enough to last me at least a week, so that took the pressure off.

Then I went to the supermarket and looked at the higher and lower shelves, where the cheaper things were. I could come away with a decent basket of shopping for #163;1. Even if I got scurvy, I would have enough to last a year.

I had to develop some cheek. In the greengrocer, I noticed a box of things, thrown by the till. When I asked how much they were, they said they were about to throw them out. The whole queue is waiting and tutting behind you, and you are asking for something for free. But if you don't ask, you don't get.

Once or twice before, I had been to lectures at Bristol University and noticed that they would have a buffet for everyone who attended. So I started going indiscriminately, because of the buffet. I went to a lecture on cantilever staircases, another on the reclamation of land, all kinds of biology and mental-health ones. There was my social life, on a plate.

It wasn't just lectures: churches have choral concerts in marvellous surroundings. Sitting there, with the music swelling around you, is fantastic, beautiful. And free. I would say to my friends: "Oh, do come along. It's more fun than you would think." They sat there in bemusement. But the world seems a lot better after a free glass of wine and nibbles.

At Easter, I wanted a holiday. So I went to the library and emailed a children's activity centre, where volunteers could stay and eat for free. I hitchhiked there, and came back with a suntan.

I also met a man there. Usually, when you start going out with someone, you buy stuff: new clothes, things to make it special. But we did things in other ways to make it special.

The time did fly, and it went nicely. I bought my brother a lifetime's membership of the National Trust for his wedding.

Sometimes, while I was missing things, I would plan what I would do on the day the experiment ended. I would have a party. Take people out for a curry. Or spend big. Actually, I didn't rush out with my chequebook. I just thought about the things that were possible now. Buying new socks was high up on the list: I had a lot of thin socks by then.

I still talk to my pupils about ways they could reduce their spending. Sometimes, they come back proudly and show me a bargain they found at the supermarket.

It is quite humbling to think that I was lucky enough just to do it for a year. I saw the same faces at all the freebies. This was their life: they didn't have another option. I was just playing.

For me, the biggest realisation was that my wants and my needs aren't the same. There I was, saying: "I need a coffee", "I need a treat", but I didn't really. I will probably never go back to how things were before.

'How I Lived a Year on Just a Pound a Day' by Kath Kelly is published by Redcliffe Press. She was talking to Adi Bloom.

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