Rosie Millard: Thrifty Living

Sack the nanny? Sell the Flats? I can't give up now

What'S this? A letter sent to the editor from reader T Dance, who advises me to consider sorting out my debts with this scorched-earth policy: "Sell your two flats and sack the nanny." Very sensible, dear Dance, if somewhat radical. However, I fear I must reject your counsel. For a start, sacking the nanny would devastate the Junior Millards, who love being looked after by kind Tina from Slovakia and would be horrified to be the subject of a takeover bid by their grumpy mother. Or, indeed, father. Plus, I wouldn't be able to do any work, so my rapid debt repayment policy would grind to a halt. Second, flogging the flats (also known as my pension). What about Capital Gains Tax? No, they have to stay put. At least until the maximum tapering band (ownership of 10 years or more) hits.

The point is, I can't give up now. I am in the middle of A Project: to discover whether one can evaporate a debt of Goliath proportions just by becoming economic with the domestic status quo. Rather than by panicking and bunging it on an already-bursting mortgage.

Obviously one could downshift, sell everything, sack everyone and move to New Islington (Manchester), which is perfectly civilised, as well as cheap. But I'm a theatre critic! Think about the train fares back to Theatreland! I am thus committed to a life of thrift while keeping the show on the road, nanny, flats and all, at my base in the original Islington, a mere bus-ride from Shaftesbury Avenue.

Anyway, I have learnt a wealth of fabulous economising measures this year. First, if you want to save money you could start by thinking about your hair. I have saved about £1,000 a year by sacking my hairdresser. He was offhand, and he was expensive. He operated from a fabulous salon decorated with potted plants straight from the Brazilian rainforest. But it's only hair; is a single cut and colour really worth £250? Every eight weeks? It took me about 10 minutes last week to discover a handy local salon that offers the same service, with no Brazilian flora but saving me about £150 a shot.

Which brings me to my next tip: utilising local shops. Everyone is always grumbling about the demise of their high street; well, there is one way to ensure your local butcher and baker thrive, and that is to use them. Small independent butchers are far cheaper than supermarkets and the meat tends to be far superior. Furthermore, it is actually difficult to spend more than £10 at a greengrocer, no matter how many avocados you buy. And if your high street boasts a branch of Lidl, TK Maxx or Primark, lucky you. Economising tip No 3: use bargain shops for store-cupboard essentials, plus knickers and knitwear. George at Asda is now very hip, as is Florence & Fred at Tesco.

Yet shopping is a double-edged sword. The high street, whether local, central or indeed online, is not your friend. It is your enemy! It is out to get your money just as much as those evil people in Credit Card Land are. If you really want to save money, simply stay at home and play Scrabble, or the piano.

If you absolutely have to go out to the shops, limit your trips and make sure you don't take every last piece of plastic with you. If you have your debts riding on a whole load of credit cards (yep, that's me), then leave them at home in a sealed envelope and put only one in your wallet. Then, to deter you from using your wallet too much, hide it under all the rubbish already in your bag. Not only is it safer, but it also gives you less reason to simply stick your hand in your bag and reach for the debit card.

Also, learn how to use your oven timer. Why? Because if you prepare a meal and put it in the oven timed to go off so it is ready at lunchtime, you will tailor your shopping expedition to get back home at 1pm. Rather than the alternative, which is to stay out for hours, treat yourself to an expensive lunch and find yourself finishing the day at Selfridges where you somehow buy five pairs of shoes and a suit.

The only people who will rain on your thrifty parade will probably be your kids, if you have them. The Junior Millards weep over my abandonment of Mini Boden and have become utterly nauseated with my current mantra, "You only have one pair of feet. How many pairs of shoes can you wear at any one time?"

cashl@independent.co.uk

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