Rosie Millard: Thrifty Living

If we're having to downshift, let's lose the wheels as well
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The Independent Online

Well, there's always the car. To be got rid of, that is. I know I've just given up my black cab habit, but how about dumping the car and reappraising my love affair with Computer Cab? The average annual cost of a family-size car must be around £3,000, what with insurance, tax and those pesky parking fines, not to mention the Congestion Charge. Well, to spend that on cabs I figure you'd have to take 300 long-ish trips a year, which is going it some, even for me. And that's before petrol – which, for our giant Volvo, almost requires a sub-prime mortgage every time you visit Shell. Last year, my accounts reveal I spent £500 on taxis and £1,000 on petrol – so even if my taxi usage went up by 50 per cent, I would still be saving about £3,300.

Of course, everyone is having the same sort of idea. My neighbour told me about a friend of his in Notting Hill who has just given up her car addiction and now relies on cabs or hire cars for those key weekend family outings to, er, DiggerWorld. Hire cars are great. Nothing accelerates quite like a hire car. In our case, as family outings to DiggerWorld etc are always marked by someone throwing up in the back, nothing smells quite like a hire car.

How much is a hire car for the weekend? About £80. So you'd have to hire one 37 times before you start spending anything like what you're spending on the Volvo. And no one could want to go to DiggerWorld every 10 days, no matter how wonderful it is to gambol around a muddy field in north Kent, driving JCB tractors or trying to knock down skittles with a demolition ball. Plus, a hire car is not only clean every time, but you can try out different styles, colour schemes and upholstery trims every week, which satisfies the Anna Wintour in me.

So, the idea is this. Get the family Volvo in a state to flog it. First, hammer out that giant dent inflicted by moi en route out of the Barbican car park. Whoever thought that putting huge, invisible concrete pillars in a car park was a smart move needs their head examining, but there we are.

So, get the Volvo mended. And, of course, disinfected. Then sell it. And start living without a car. Immediately I suggest this, Mr Millard starts finding fault. Well, there are all those golfing days and cricket matches that he absolutely has to go to. Not to mention essential food-buying trips to Lidl, now that we have given up deliveries from Ocado, and (sob) The White Company.

All right, on to Plan B. Sell the Volvo, which does about two miles to the gallon, and invest in (yippee) a chic Mini, which does about 200. For big family trips, hire a car. Or go by train, which scotches the throwing-up option.

Investing in a tiny motor is delightfully counterintuitive. Rather than becoming like other people with giant families, who tend to say things like: "Well, you know, when we decided to up the stakes from two children to three, Justin said it was high time we invested in a people mover," we're doing the exact opposite. Now that we have four children, a nanny and a dog, we are dumping the seven-seater Volvo and proposing to go for a) public transport, and b) a tiny thing seating three, at a pinch.

Clearly worried that his sporting equipment will be imperilled, Mr Millard calls attention to the minuscule boot of the Mini. "We should really have a tiny hatchback," he says. There is, of course, already a Mini hatchback out there (the Clubman), but since this has just come on the market and – get ready for it – manages to retail for an eye-watering £16,000, it sort of defeats the money-saving point.

I think we should hang the golf clubs and go for something utterly tiny, like a Smart. Or one that runs on electricity. So, not only no Volvo, but also no wallet-draining moments at Shell. I'm the one with the three-pin plug attached to my car. I think the electricity means we'll even evade the Congestion Charge.

I could also avoid signing the children up for hugely expensive after-school and half-term sports classes. What with the average speed of traffic in London, I could use my almost nil carbon-footprint electric motor for any bags, shopping etc, and train the children to get fit by running alongside it as I pootle down the Euston Road. Talk about achieving two fashionably sound ideas with one brainwave.

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