Rosie Millard: Thrifty Living

Hoovering? Not When Tax Tips And Erotic Art Await...
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The Independent Online

While Vacuuming the house I have a call from Thrift Queen Laura. "God! Laura!" I gasp. "I hope I'm not disturbing anything important," she says meaningfully. "No, I'm hoovering the house!" I squeak. Our cleaner has gone back to the Philippines for a long break. Losing her for eight weeks has been a rather welcome event. It's saved me a heap of money as well as the unexpected bonus of all-over workouts on a regular basis, thanks to the necessity of shunting six beds, a cot and a variety of chairs about, plus the need to haul the Hoover up four floors of carpeted staircase. And down again.

Laura wants me to go with her to a tax seminar in central London. Is this what being a fortysomething debt-ridden professional is all about? Apparently, it is. And because I don't want to spend the rest of the morning cleaning the baths and basins, I acquiesce.

We arrive at the Hilton Metropole for the seminar. A man with no neck is at the podium, taking a stunned-looking audience through high points of his career as a bailiff and debt collector. "My most successful morning was one in which I achieved 22 repossessions!" he crowed. Well, bully for you. He then describes an event where he had to serve a debt notice on someone who wasn't too keen on receiving it. "I noticed he put the rubbish out between 0720 and 0736 each morning," explains our hero. "So I hid in a giant wheelie bin. When he opened the lid of the bin, I jumped out and handed him the envelope. He nearly had a heart attack."

After this illuminating homily, it's time for tax tips, given to us by a Mr Churchill, partner at a leading London accountancy firm. He starts off with two words on his Power Point display. These are "Good Records". Yes, well. I guiltily envisage my tax details, crammed haphazardly into a concertina file below my desk. Well, at least they exist in a marked place.

"You must keep good records," says Mr Churchill. "Good records will help you keep the taxman at bay." Why? According to Mr Churchill, if the Inland Revenue thinks you are a messy so-and-so, you might get a visit from someone who might then demand to see all your accounts for the last five years, at which point your accounts might be reconsidered. And you might get a follow-up bill. "Good record-keeping will also lessen your accountant's bill," points out Mr Churchill. "Because the more work you do for your accountant, the less he will charge you." I know. I am very fond of my accountant, but I know that every time I ring him up, the charge-clock is ticking.

What else? Wills, apparently. I'm secretly rather thrilled to learn that even money experts are quite often like Picasso, i.e. they die without a valid will. "I won't embarrass you here," says Mr Churchill, "but when I asked a collection of lawyers to raise their hands if they had a will, very few were able to." And there are tax-efficient ways of writing your will, too. Apparently if you simply bequest everything to your partner, all sorts of problems arise when both partners eventually die. This is because of the clobbering your heirs will receive from Inheritance Tax. Even though the Nil Rate Band is going to be raised to £325,000. However, if you set up a Discretionary Trust Will you can make use of the Nil Rate Bands of both partners, not just the one pertaining to the last one to die. By following this measure you can claw back as much as £110,000 from Inheritance Tax, which is obviously a good thing for your heirs. "Particularly if my children have inherited my head for money," I say meaningfully to Laura.

After the seminar, we decline lunch with the tax man and walk to visit the erotic delights of the Wallace Collection. Can there be a more heavenly free activity in central London? The Wallace's highlights are now hung not in its vast picture gallery, but an exquisite oval room.

There, Fragonard's elegant madam on the swing kicks off her slipper and shows her underwear to her lover, while Boucher's pearl-swathed Venus and her overtly muscular Mars recline in flushed post-coital exhaustion, and dimpled putti swarm about. As well as costing nothing, it quite eased the burden of taxation, wills, death and accountancy fees. Well, while finances are a painful duty, art is a voluntary pleasure.

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