Rosie Millard: Thrifty Living

Losing money is far easier than losing pounds of the flab

Marion, a fitness instructor, kindly e-mails me with information about cheap workout strategies. I clearly come over as someone who is a bit flabby. Indeed, in all areas. This morning, I received an Athena Pelvic Muscle Trainer in the post. This little gizmo is rather dynamic, in that it does all the muscle training itself. Switch it on, pop it in and off it goes. But every fitness strategy requires more effort than an automatic Pelvic Muscle Trainer.

So what is Marion's big idea? The humble hula-hoop, apparently. The American weighted one is what you need. "Quite a few of my class members have gone out and bought hoops for about £30 to £40. It's cheaper than a gym membership and something that you can do any time from 10 to 45 minutes," she says. Reasonably inspired by this, I go along to the gym with Spendthrift Janie and check into a hula-hooping class.

The first thing to note about this ancient sport is that it feels like it was a former bit-part in Happy Days. Furthermore, when you try it, you feel as if you are part of the pedal-pusher and high-ponytail brigade at Rydell High. It's very ... ebullient. It's also bloody difficult. "Try limbo-dancing!" sings out our instructor. "While swooping your hoop around your abs! How low can you go?!" Oh, do us a favour, Rizzo, and shut up. She does a few limbos and a few swoops to show how effortlessly this is achieved.

Meanwhile my Weighted American Hoop keeps on clattering to the ground, taking off half the skin from my shins as it does so. Maybe I've got an overly weighted one. "If your hoop keeps falling, speed up your hips!" shouts our leader, hysterically. I glance over at St Janie, who is doing the pelvic thrust with venom. That's the Rocky Horror Show, love. Wrong showbiz reference. After 50 minutes, we've had enough.

Sure enough, the next morning we are both holding our sides and groaning, so hula-hooping is obviously effective enough. Would I continue to do it on my own, however? Out in the garden, with Mr Millard and the Juniors all shouting support? I don't think so. I know myself too well.

I once went through a space hopper craze. Confidently envisaging that I would do at least 30 minutes' hopping per day, up and down the kitchen, I spent £100 on two of the brutes. So good for your glutes, you see The reality lasted about 30 minutes, since whenever I clambered on, everyone collapsed in tears of mirth. Step classes? I've done a few. Swimming? Yup, that as well. I've even been suckered into the big wallet-busting daddy of them all, The Personal Trainer.

Now, a personal trainer is eye-watering. And not just because of the 50kg weights you are expected to hoist. The hourly rate of my trainer, a delightful Serbian giant, is about £40. However, I fell for the "buy now before prices go up" routine at Virgin Active, and therefore I am on a discounted rate of about £32 an hour for about the next 40 weeks. I went a bit mad, and bought almost the whole of 2007, because I thought it was such a great deal.

My Serbian does demand total loyalty, however. And at £32 an hour, he's certainly got it from me. My hour with him is about the only thing I am never, ever late for. Funny how the mental image of three crisp £10 notes heading for the bin focuses the brain.

His latest wheeze is personal training, remote-control style. "I need to you to go for a run each morning, Rosie," he said last week, "30 minutes every morning." Then, in April, it will go up to 35 minutes. May, 40 minutes. By July, an hour." Now, hiring a personal trainer might be akin to opening your bank account and shouting out "oh, go on then, drizzle away into the gutter, Last dregs of my income!", but running around the streets is a fantastically thrifty fitness option. All you need is a pair of shoes. And daylight. By the time July comes, says my PT, it will be as if four junior Millards had never sloshed around in my belly.

Extraordinary visions of La Millard as a mother of four hardbody clad in a tiny bikini swim before my brain. Thank you, personal trainer, I sob as I round Highbury Fields for the nth time. So what if I am so financially drained by him that we are going on an ultra-economic holiday in Cornwall (again) this year? Global warming, remember. Cornwall's going to be baking.

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