Rosie Millard: Thrifty Living

Beating the devils thrice and things to do during Lent

You just need to be so damn organised. To beat the devils at their own game. It's exhausting. And so, so much easier to be profligate. Shall we start with mobile phones and their cash-back offers? I have been really solid with cash-back. Solid, and anal. Well, maybe not both at the same time. But I have not forgotten to apply for one single £50 cash-back cheque during the 12 long months of my O2 contract. I was offered three cheques, and I have remembered to apply for them all, thrice. If you do everything right, you will get a text saying "Your cash-back request has been received". Two months later, another text saying: "Your cash-back request has been accepted." Two months after that, a £50 cheque. It's just as well the junior Millards don't rely on 02 cash-back for their daily bread.

This week, I was called by Carphone Warehouse and offered a new phone. Great! "How was the last one?" said a nice Frenchman called Jean-Philippe. "Fantastic," I say. Except the camera died after I dropped the phone down the loo. There is another cash-back at the end of your contract, you see. A send-back, in fact. £20 for sending back a working phone. I will have recouped £170, or three months' calls by the time this contract is up. "You must send us ze phone, plus ze recharger, plus your 'andbook. In a special envelope," says Jean-Philippe. "Then we'll send you ze monnaie." The new phone arrives. The Send-back envelope arrives. I spend a day searching for my old handbook. I can't find it. Clearly, as well as my receipts I should have had a specially labelled pouch for my old Nokia Handbook. I'll send the phone off anyway, because they are probably recycled into something worthy. But I won't get my £20. Well, you can be damn sure I'm keeping my new handbook for the next send-back opportunity. Except by then, the goalposts will have changed, and customers will be required to send in their Cycling Proficiency Test certificates or something equally daft.

Meanwhile, as I turn my office upside down, searching for an old Nokia handbook, Mr Millard is in a money panic. This usually happens about every four months. "We are going to have to go on an economy drive," he says glumly. I laugh wildly. "Are you mad? I still have to find £15,600 for my tax bill," I cackle. "Make some soup, will you? I'm off to the zoo."

I feel I must do something with the junior Millards that doesn't involve shopping, so I take the younger three off to London Zoo, where I intend to find solace alongside the Penguins. We go and watch them walking about beside their new pool. The two-year old is delighted, since they are his favourite creatures. However, the others are not so easily pleased. The seven-year old cannot and will not stop whining for an adoptive animal. "Can't we adopt a lion tamarind monkey? Oh, mummeee, can't we adopt a cayman? Can't we adopt a pygmy hippo?" I try telling him, nicely, that as members, or fellows, or friends, or whatever middle-class, aspirational gang we are at the zoo, we already pay a small fortune to see tortoises behind glass and three aged giraffes roaming around a corner of Regent's Park. "Well, I'm going to adopt a toucan," he announces. "Today."

Meanwhile, en route to the otters, the four-year-old whips herself up into a rabid fury. "I can not believe we have not visited a shop," she yells. "I haven't brought any money with me, darling," I say, pathetically. "But I want to buy something," she screeches, tearing my coat with tiny nails. "Don't you even care about me?" How did this happen? Somewhere between the age of two, when a child can be contented by the sight of a waddling penguin, and the age of four, consumerism has sneaked in and corrupted my children. If I don't watch out, they will turn into Victoria Beckham. I frogmarch them to the bus. "I am going to tell daddy," I announce. "You are thoroughly spoiled. You are not to be taken shopping, or bought anything, for a month."

Naturally the children have quite forgotten about buying something at London Zoo and are more interested in pulling used bus tickets from the depths of the waste-bin in the front of the vehicle.

All my outburst achieves are some pretty weird looks from my fellow passengers. "Lent, anyone?" I whisper.

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