Rosie Millard: Thrifty Living

Why middle-class stores are dancing to a new lidl tune

Ha! Not only does Terence Conran, of all people, push the waste-not-want-not button, by apparently keeping every last scrap of food chez lui and recycling it into tomorrow's menu, but even Sainsbury's has started to go down the Lidl route, by which I mean selling food for joke amounts.

Lidl's prices are 20 per cent lower than the EU average, and, at long last, our main supermarkets have started to take note of the discounted newcomer, and begun to slash their prices. Only this week, Mr Millard discovered chopped tomatoes at Sainsbury's for 13p a tin, which is exactly the same price as at dear old Lidl.

Clearly, as everyone heads into the Christmas-shopping season, the need to appear economic is uppermost. This is an interesting change. Most of the time at Christmas, middle-class outlets such as Conran and even Sainsbury's encourage us to go for luxuree.

Suddenly, however, even these stores are dancing to a new tune. Sainsbury's is running 33 per cent off gifts and food, and has a new slogan, Ways to Save. Of course, the only trouble is that with someone like me, I only have to step into Sainsbury's and, before I know it, I've forgotten all about Ways to Save and have discovered Ways to Spend.

So, please don't tempt me in with Ways to Save, or Three for the Price of Two. There's a reason why they exist and it's either a) to clear the shelves of something disgusting, or b) to flog something pre-cooked and thus more expensive than if you bought the ingredients and cooked it yourself. Are we that stupid? Yes, we are.

Yet this does not mean that my bargain radar has been switched off. This week, my thrift zenith was reached not at Sainsbury's, but during a cruise through Boots when I discovered the world's cheapest shampoo: 25p. For a bottle of shampoo. Normal size. Matching Conditioner? 32p. Normal size. I immediately rolled into hoard mode and bought three of each, because they were also under a three-for-two offer. So now, for a total outlay of £1.14, the entire household will have clean, conditioned hair until 2009.

When I get home, I find that a book has arrived, namely Picking Yourself Up and Starting All Over Again, described as "A short guide to getting out of debt", by one Paul Beckwith (£5.99, Athena Press). What a treat! Beckwith has even put a personal message to me in it: "I enjoy your financial articles in The Times," he writes. Yes, well. He uses the slightly startling analogy of Apollo 13 to inspire the reader, writing: "Remember Jim Lovell's mission ran into trouble possibly because his ship was built by the lowest bidder. But he took full charge of his problem!"

Absolutely. I therefore take full charge of supper by recycling yesterday's lunch, à la Terence Conran. Thrift Queen Laura rings. "I'm in the middle of recycling lunch for the kids' supper," I tell her. "It's part of my economy drive towards Hallowe'en."

"Crikey. What are you giving them?" she asks.

"Yesterday's cold chicken, yesterday's rice, yesterday's cabbage and some boiled potatoes I've just come across in the fridge," I say, hopefully.

"Good luck" says TQL.

Fast forward an hour. I'm still flipping through Picking Yourself Up... while the Junior Millards are staring at what I tell them is a delicious meal. "Stir-fried rice, chicken, er, cabbage and potatoes!" I say, brightly. "Yum! It's just like having Chinese food!"

"It's NOT," says the eldest. "I'm NOT eating anything green. Take it all out." I start picking cabbage out of her plate.

"I'm not eating anything at all," says the next one down. He slumps over his plate, then sits up as if he's had an idea. "I know! Give me a tuna sandwich!"

"This is yummee, Mummee," says No 3, who, at four, knows just how to rile her elder siblings.

I turn to Beckwith's book to see if he has any advice for this type of situation. "Do not waste food!" he exhorts. "Cook what you need for each day!" Indeed, Paul, I do. In fact, I now operate under such a strict menu system that I've turned off our chest freezer as there's nothing in it. All that's left in the fridge is some banana bread and custard. So we polish that off, and everyone jumps in the bath together. Why? Because Beckwith says so: "Conserve heat and hot water by bathing with a friend!"

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