Alice-Azania Jarvis: 'Why is everyone getting so competitive about living cheaply?''

In The Red

Honestly, what's worse: competitive spending or competitive saving? Two weeks ago, I would have said the former – but increasingly I'm coming round the view that saving is the real chestnut, if only because, suddenly, everyone seems to be doing it. You can't move for some smug so-and-so gloating over the (low) cost of their lunch or how much (hardly anything) they've spent on their winter wardrobe.

In fact, in some ways, the credit crunch has brought out the very worst in human nature. OK, so the past decade may have propelled a load of pinstriped bankers into silly-money territory, but at least it didn't force us all to be miserly, jealous and boastful when it comes to our daily food bill. Sometimes, you just don't want to know which are the best deals – especially when somebody else has got them.

The whole thing has been thrown into horrible relief since my boyfriend purchased a new phone. It's not that he got it at a spectacularly low price – he didn't pay very much, but it was hardly the deal of the century. No; what's brought on this sudden bout of resentment is the fact that his phone comes accompanied – free of charge – by a tailor-made bargain-hunting device that lets you scan bar-codes. Then, it will identify the item and determine where, if anywhere, in the vicinity it can be found for less.

So we have, say, a head of broccoli. And we're in Tesco, about to purchase said head – along with 20 other household items. But no! Wait! The broccoli is 20p cheaper down the road.

And so it begins, the day-long quest to find the cheapest broccoli. We walk down the road, only to find that the phone's point of reference has changed and, in fact, the best bargain is to be found another 20 metres away, and then another 20 metres, until we're in an entirely different neighbourhood and we still haven't found our dinner.

And all I want to say is: "STOP IT! WHO CARES ABOUT CHEAP BROCCOLI? THIS IS MADNESS, YOU HEAR?"

But I can't.

I can't because it's the credit crunch – and everybody knows that in Hard Times Like These, we're out for every bargain we can get. To break ranks is sacrilege. And – oh my – if someone else has managed to find the same item as you at a marginally lower cost – well, then you're expected to spend the rest of the day telling them how wonderfully they are dealing with the current economic downturn, all the while secretly castigating yourself for your own financial incompetence.

It's enough to drive anyone to bankruptcy.

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