Something happens to me when I go into shops. A little voice starts up, somewhere just behind my ear, pleading with me, making me see the SENSE in spending money. Yesterday, I was in Heal's, ostensibly to chat to the nice man in Beds who is replacing my wrongly ordered mattress with a properly ordered one. So, a chat. Costs nothing. Yet, after our chat, the little voice started squeaking into my ear. About 1,000-thread cotton sheets, if you please.
Suddenly it came on, loud and clear, with about a dozen reasons why I should buy them. Because you need them, because you are worth it, because they are all sitting just over there, because there is 30 per cent off until Sunday, and, most crucially, because you and Mr Millard really do need a buck-up in the bed department.
The little voice had a point (it usually does). Our bed is a mess and our sheets, even when clean, are a sight. They are not 1,000-thread cotton. They are about 10-thread cotton, torn, scribbled on, old. Plus, they usually harbour a range of treats, from ancient books of sudoku to pens to socks. They certainly don't present a great background for all those bedtime frolics, now that our "family unit" is complete. Forget procreation! Think recreation! Well, that's the idea, anyway.
And so, led by the little voice, I end up blowing £300 on four 1,000-thread sheets and six pillowcases. "These will be crisp and luxurious. Your bedroom will be like a hotel!" gushed the Heal's woman. Well, I hope so. The last time I was in a hotel with Mr Millard, it was at Blakes in Amsterdam. Heavenly sheets, and when we switched on the TV, we got straight through to a major porn experience. Without putting in a credit-card number, too, which must be a thrift tip of sorts.
Of course, I'm used to this little voice. I reckon it first struck up behind my ear when I was about 13 - for this is when the fun of shopping begins, is it not? The notion of going to exciting places such as Kingston upon Thames and wandering around the shops for hours? A desirable leisure activity!
Until that age, shopping is anathema. "Let's go shopping!" I say to the Junior Millards. They all start groaning and writhing in horror (unless, of course, I say, "Let's go to Woolworths!").
But teenagers adore shopping. It drives parents mad. Indeed, only this week I was invited on to various radio shows as a "financial expert" (I know, hilarious), with a special brief to advise parents on budgeting with teenagers. Of course, the problem is that, until you are 16, you can't really get a proper weekend job, so when teenagers are spending money, it's not usually their money. Apparently, 50 per cent of parents still buy all of their teenagers' clothes, and 30 per cent pay for all of their socialising.
So, I did a bit of research by speaking to my older sister Evelyn, proud mother of five, two of whom are now teenagers. Her advice can be summarised thus:
a) If you have boys, give thanks. Girls are the challenging gender when it comes to consumer obsession.
b) Give them a strict monthly allowance (£20-£30) to spend on must-haves, ie tops, sparkly belts, jewellery, mascara.
c) Stick to it.
d) Depart from it only for paid jobs in the house, eg babysitting
And that's it. What about cinema trips? Clubs? Taxis? "I pay for them to go swimming, because it's healthy," she says. "I pay for one trip to the cinema a month. I give them money for friends' birthday presents (£8 per friend). I pay for school shoes, and I pay for bus fares, to encourage them to use public transport. I pay for taxis if they go to a club. If they go shopping, I don't give them money for lunch. I tell them to make a sandwich here and take it with them." Does that go down well? "No."
All impressively hard-core, but as Evelyn explains, budgeting with teenagers only works if nothing is left to chance. "You have to be clear from the start," she explains. "Then there is no grey area for negotiation."
If only I could be so firm with the little voice in my ear. In the future, when it starts up, I vow to treat it like a whingeing teenager, and be hard on it.
Anyway, now that I have my 1,000-thread sheets and pillowcases, Mr Millard and I won't be going out at all, will we.Reuse content