I am, more than anyone else I know, a meanie. I applaud Scrooge's noble stand against crazed consumerism. As the etymology suggests, miserliness is perceived as a gloomy characteristic. But anyone who says that money can't buy you happiness has no idea of the jolt of pleasure to be had by perusing a bank statement that's "in the pink'' rather than in the red. And as thrift tends to negate the possibility of smoking, gambling, excessive drinking, drug abuse and gluttony, I reckon that one vice against five isn't a bad trade-off.
I trace my fist-tightening, flint-skinning, cheese-paring and penny-pinching back to the year when I Inter-railed round Europe with four friends during the summer between school and university. The holiday was, as all such grand tours must be for five adventurous 18-year-olds, an education. We learnt, for instance, that a Wall's Calippo (ingredients: water, flavouring, colouring, more water) makes a tasty and nourishing meal. We learnt that after you've been living on Calippos for a few days, a Cornetto seems like a Viking feast. We also learnt that if a youth hostel provides breakfast, you can steal bread and use it for your lunch, just as long as you're prepared to ignore the cardboard notice that says: "Do not steal bread and use it for your lunch" in seven different languages. And so we scrimped our way across the continent, making the Around Europe on pounds 10 a Day guidebook seem like The Great Gatsby, and, however subconsciously, preparing ourselves for studentdom.
I fear I may be just as responsible for the "students don't spend money" myth as I am for the one about Scots. Within my first week of term I had drifted into a system of spending as little money as possible because it seemed easier than trying to calculate a budget. (I went to the same college as Norman Lamont. I'm not sure if this is significant.) Whatever some students may say, it's quite possible to live comfortably on a grant without call for a loan or overdraft. Incidentally, those tins of baked beans you can get with rubbery pre-cooked sausages included are cheap, easy to prepare, and almost as nutritious as Calippos.
Food sorted out, I found that I could survive without buying much else. Clothes? Simply share a house with fashionable people who can't bear to wear last season's designs. Obviously this wasn't so straightforward in my third year when my housemates were three women. But if wearing a Lycra body is the price you pay for being mean, it's cheaper than a new T-shirt. Records? What do you think blank tapes and other people's collections are for? Books? Look no further than the local library. And so many libraries have a wide selection of Braille texts, after all.
In the college bar I liked to think that I wasn't being parsimonious, I was simply challenging hypocritical convention. Just because someone bought me a drink, why did I have to get them one later? They might as well have bought their own in the first place. In our college year book, one of the questions was: "Which ambition do you wish you'd fulfilled while you were here?" Three people offered: "Having a pint bought for me by Nick Barber". Those who answered "marrying Michelle Pfeiffer" or "ruling a South American country" had, the joke went, a more realistic chance of success.
In adult life, I've tried, really tried, to change my ways. But, you know, freelance journalism, hardly the most secure of professions, always best to keep something aside, what with the tax bill. If there is a psychological explanation, it may be that money is something I can control in an uncertain, unsettling world. Who knows what will happen to my health? Wealth is something I can keep a grip on.
To Scots and students the world over, I'm sorry for giving you a bad name. If any of my magnanimous friends are reading, I'm sorry for giving you... very little. And my old college colleagues, I will buy you a pint one day, I promise. After all, it's only pounds 2. But if I buy five drinks one evening, that's a tenner; 10 nights and that's pounds 100; multiply that by 10 and that's pounds 1,000. A thousand, all spent on drink. No, probably best to wait for someone else's round.Reuse content