Returning from the States this week I was besieged by the children to orchestrate a giant present for every child in their class. Which means about 46 presents. I went along with the idea for about a minute. "Have you got any suggestions for classroom presents?" I said to the lady in the Duty Free shop at O'Hare airport. "Well, some parents buy a key fob for each child. We have some nice ones for $3.99 each," she said. Each! Even with the current exchange rate, this is still about £100. "Pleeese, Mumeeee," begged the children. At this point, divine intervention in the form of Mr Millard arrived. He had a frenzied look. "We are in the WRONG TERMINAL!" he gasped, grabbing the baby like a drowning man. So, no presents from O'Hare airport.
On returning home I flicked through the River Cottage Family Cookbook by Huge Fearnley-Whittingstall and Fizz Carr. This book is brilliant, full of easy recipes which children really want to eat. I found one for Chocolate Chip Cookies.
"We will make these for your class," I instructed the Junior Millards, who were very happy. They know that if I start cooking with them I can't answer emails or go off for hours on the phone. Family cooking answers a huge host of demands, not least paying attention to your children. In addition it costs next to nothing, thanks to Sainsbury's new Lidl-stylee discount food. (Fellow thrift-seeker, I urge you to get down to Sainsbury's. You can do an entire family shop for about £5 a bag.) We rustled up 46 cookies for about £2.40. So, a huge saving plus a giant maternal glow when various small children came up after school chirruping about how lovely their cookies were.
But pride, of course, must come before a fall. In the school corridor a vague friend tapped me on the shoulder. "Isn't that one of your old maternity dresses?" she asked, jokingly. God. I was only wearing my brand new Roland Mouret/Gap bargain dress, purchased all of 14 days ago. I nearly spat on her foot. What is the point of taking style advice from the fashion pages, which insist that voluminous shift dresses, i.e. maternity wear, is very IN this winter, only to be mistaken for someone either a) so thrifty that they continue wearing MATERNITY CLOTHES when their youngest child is knocking on two, or b) someone who is actually pregnant.
Nor am I likely to be, not least after reading that raising a child now costs something like £200,000. When I got home The Money Programme rang me up. "Would you care to comment on the news that raising a child now costs nearly £200,000?" said the researcher.
"Well, £200,000 sounds a lot," I continued, "but remember the bill doesn't arrive in one big chunk. It is spread over 18 years, and bar the first year, (when with any luck, you can probably get your mother to cough up for the obligatory £500 Bugaboo/Mammas & Papas Child Transportation System, i.e. a pram), kids don't cost too much until they are about 12."
"Really?" said the researcher. "I've just spoken to someone whose children won't leave the house unless they are in designer skateboarding clothes."
I tell the researcher that the only brands the deprived Junior Millards care for are Disney Princess, Chelsea FC, and Woolworth's. "My children never wear designer clothes," I say. "I won't let them."
"Wow. What else won't you do, then?" said the researcher, sounding rather impressed with my draconian stance. I gave her five pointers for starters.
1. No catalogue shopping; dress them in hand-me-downs if at all possible. Or H&M.
2. Restaurants only on birthdays.
3. No electronic games.
4. No pricey habits (horseriding, skating).
5. No private education (although here I will admit they are still young enough to make this a viable possibility. The state primaries in N1 are great.)
After our chat I wandered downstairs to inspect my scruffy, deprived family which was eating tea after its walk back from school (health note: by using local schools you can commute on foot). "What is your favourite shop?" I asked the eldest. "Woolworth's" she promptly responded. I regard that as a tick in a thrift box.Reuse content