Rosie Millard: Thrifty living

Snap! The sound of a hideous interest rate closing on my credit

I have actually managed to repay most of an interest-free loan from the Halifax. In two months' time it will be paid off. In three months' time, the interest-free status on my loan will end.

And so this week, I received the following letter. "Good News! In recognition of the way your account has been managed, we have increased your credit limit to £7,000. Your extra credit will give you even more freedom and flexibility, and your card is accepted at over 16 million places."

I know how this game goes. Go shopping in 16 million places, and then your interest-free period expires, and suddenly, snap! the steel jaws of a hideously high interest rate close around your "extra credit" and you are scrambling to pay the money back. Since the wondrous invention of the nought per cent interest rate loan, banks spend all their time trying to find ingenious ways around it.

Alvin is right. You have to watch them like a hawk. And so eight of my nine credit cards are locked up in my desk. I only allow myself one, but the trouble with this strategy is that I have lost my PIN. Which, since the great Chip and PIN revolution, means it must play a decorative role in my wallet.

Or must it? Yesterday I booked a table for me and Janie to have lunch. Alvin has said I must not eat out for at least 12 months - but how realistic is that?

My PIN-less status led to the following conversation with the receptionist, "Er, I'd like to book a table for two, but do you mind me asking, are you Chip and PIN? Because I've lost my PIN number". Silence. "The card is of course perfectly valid," I say with desperation. "OK," says the receptionist slowly. "Oh thank you, thank you," I gabble. Hooray. I have just landed on GO - GO and spend.

Janie turns up with hair flicked like Madonna and the tell-tale quiver of someone who has just thrown at least a grand at the tills in Selfridges. "Yes, I have. It's David's birthday tonight, and I'm treating him with a dinner party. Only I didn't have any nice crockery, so I ordered a hand-painted 10-place Fletcher Prentice bone china dinner service. And some new cutlery." Well, at least you're going to save money by not having it catered, I say. "Mmm," says Janie.

As it happens, it is also Mr Millard's birthday in a matter of days, and so after lunch, we head for Bond Street. Not to the fashion emporia, of course. Can you see anyone at DKNY waving on someone without a Chip and PIN? Like hell you can. All I have is £30, borrowed from the children's piggy banks. I am thus in what is known as a cash-only state of guilt, and bound for something more personally appropriate, namely Oxfam, and in particular the Oxfam Menswear store, 71 New Bond Street, which opened last week.

"Isn't this great?" I say to Janie, holding up a Savile Row velvet jacket (which at £175.99, is, I admit, not very thrifty at all). "Or what about this? A crease-free compact tie case?"

"Is this a sex toy?" says Janie, holding up a small wooden snail handmade in India (£5.99). I dither between the snail and a Smash Hits Let's Party CD, (£3), before finding an intriguing array of second hand books which include Margaret Drabble's 1965 account of unwanted pregnancy, 'The Millstone', which as a father of four he might be offended by, and 'The Penis Book' by someone called Joseph Cohen, which is full of all sorts of information I suspect might send him running off screaming. It did pretty much the same for me and Janie. Does anyone really need to know how long genital tattooing takes? The answer is that you have to do it in a series of five-minute sessions. It's £3.99 and if you're keen, it's probably still there.

Weekly thrift tip: abandon kitchen roll. Invest in some recyclable muslin squares, or cloth napkins. Clean your surfaces the old fashioned way, then chuck them in the washing machine.

cashl@independent.co.uk

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