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Spend & Save

In The Red: My own flat! Yay! Now, how the hell do I pay the bills?

And so, at last, I've found a place to live. After several long months of searching, several more of legal wrangling, and at least a week's worth of contractual negotiations, I'm finally installed inside my shiny new flat on Bethnal Green Road in east London. It's light, not too tiny and, while currently lacking one rent-paying flatmate, it is also – crucially – minus any blood relatives. I'll be independent. This, I should make clear, is progress; it hasn't been the case for very long.

Just over a year ago, I moved to London. What's more – and this is the important part – I moved in with my parents. I know, I know: it was a desperate measure. But then, I was pretty desperate: no job, no money and several thousand pounds of student debt. Lucky for me, I got a job, and with it, money (or some, at least). And while the emotional cost of life en famille was high, the financial one wasn't. Actually, it didn't exist. I was living for free. And eating for free. And getting electricity, television and the internet for free.

All of which makes my impending move just a tiny bit daunting. In fact, once you subtract my mortgage from my salary – not to mention the inevitable electricity, phone and internet bills – there really isn't very much to play with. If I want to survive at all, I'll have to be pretty crafty. And if I also want to actually enjoy myself, then it's time for some serious budgeting.

And, to be honest, I'm dreading it. Not only because I'm very, very bad at counting my pennies – which I am – but also because, well, I hate it. It's boring. So boring. What with all that scrimping and saving and never offering to pay, it's enough to drive anyone to a job in the City.

Even worse are the people who do count their pennies: sanctimonious, smug, to be filed right alongside religious zealots and exercise freaks. Everyone knows one, but nobody likes them. They interrogate you on the cost of your dress, or your shoes, and ask how you got to the party. They boast about finding cheap peanut butter and make you feel guilty for ordering the salad instead of the soup, frowning when you go for the venti over the grande – or tall, or small, or whatever bloody order happens to be cheapest that day. And now I'll be one of them. But on this particular occasion, I have no choice: it's frugality or broke.

And hey – at least I'm not alone. Thanks to the recession (or credit crunch, or whatever this sub-prime-induced, headline-spawning, gloomy economic state is supposed to be) everyone's at it. In fact, squint ever so slightly and you might even say that frugality is fashionable. Right?

Uh, maybe. At least the papers are full of money-saving ideas, be they growing your own vegetables, joining a book club, or – God forbid – making your own clothes. And it looks like there's plenty more to come; my in-box is rammed full of thrift-themed press releases, some rather less helpful than others (Throw More Dinner Parties! Spend Time With Your Money! Share Your Private Jet!!).

Which makes me think that, for all the economic doom and gloom, surely – surely – there's got to be a smart way to get by on the cheap, a way that allows people like me – young, sociable, perhaps a little too inclined to live beyond our means – just an ounce of fun. And if there is a way, it can't be too hard to find.

So, starting from now, this is how I'm going to live: in constant pursuit of the cheap and easy, be that by spending "quality time" with my money – or, indeed, by experimenting with more practical measures, such as finding a cheaper mode of transport than the Tube, and figuring out exactly what it is that makes my day that bit more expensive (Starbucks? The gym? A glossy magazine?), and by scouring websites, auction houses and second-hand shops for affordable gifts, and by pursuing ways to socialise that don't require a £15 cover charge. All in the name of thrift.

But one thing. No sewing. Oh, and no bloody gardening either.