Rosie Millard: Thrifty Living

Hard times: my overdraft is up to the limit again

Well, I felt very smug this morning as I made up three pints of chicken stock. Obviously, as a committed vegetarian and Peta supporter, I'm not going to eat/drink it myself. But it felt good to be using the carcass for something wholesome, as stock surely is, rather than just bunging it out. The chicken provided last night's roast chicken supper for the Junior Millards, and will also impart a chicken pie for them. I know, only two meals. That is half of what my friend, Thrift Queen Laura can source from a single bird (as we home cooks call it), but then maybe she is buying giant chickens. Capons, even.

Plus, I also had the exquisite pleasure of going to a press lunch yesterday (great thrift move this, get someone else to give you a three-course meal, plus wine, while you pretend to be interested in what they are trying to spin you). As I sat down, a fellow hack said to me: "That's a fabulous dress. Where did you get it?". I savoured the moment for a beat before saying "Tesco!" loudly.

"Must have been a very BIG Tesco, then," I heard her grumble. I suspect she was hoping I was going to pull a face and urgently whisper "It's from Temperley", and then she could say "Oh, yeah, look at you, Life of Thrift, eh? Ha ha!". Such is the merry dance of irony we journalists love to perform when we meet one another over a free slap-up meal.

Of course, there is no such thing as a free anything. This week, my Switch stopped being a flexible friend, in other words I am once more up to my overdraft limit, and thus have once more been trying to exist with NO MONEY.

From last Monday I have lived on about £1.30, and I must tell you, it is tricky. Parking, for one thing, is impossible. I was forced to drive to Amersham for a VAT session with my lovely accountant Peter, and when it came to parking I had to rely on what was in the ashtray, which is not used for ash, since no one smokes any more, but in which, I vaguely recalled, resided a few ancient coins.

Let me confirm that getting a 20-minute Pay and Display ticket solely from 2p and 5p pieces takes a very long time. Happily, Peter didn't see me standing by the ticket machine paying in pennies for 20 minutes. His opinion of me is low enough already. One of my cheques to him bounced once.

When I was eventually able to leave the ticket machine alone, the meeting was worth it, however. "I have good news for you," he said. "Oh, Peter. You are an angel. Don't tell me. I have no VAT bill to pay this year!" No, it's not that good. But my bill has been scaled down considerably, he tells me. "You should be paying the flat rate, Rosie. Which is much lower than 17.5 per cent." Well, hoorah and thank the Lord.

Apparently if your annual taxable turnover does not exceed £150,000 (well, yes), and your total turnover is not more than £187,500 (again, oui), those nice people at HM Customs & Excise say you don't have to go down the normal route of paying out 17.5 per cent VAT on your services provided, and deducting from that the VAT on purchases.

So, continued Peter, whom I was liking more and more by the second, I qualify for the flat rate, "which in your profession, is just 11 per cent". Compared to 17.5 per cent, that is very nice indeed. All I have to do is tot up how much I have earned, including the 17.5 per cent VAT I have charged for my services, and calculate 11 per cent from the total. "That's how much your VAT will be. Actually, in the first year of joining the scheme, you get a 1 per cent discount." Peter, I have always admired you. Now, however, my admiration is almost as boundless as my overdraft.

I drove home with a song in my heart. Which went along the lines of "11 per cent flat rate, hooray". When I got home the Junior Millards rushed up at me with their normal song, which goes along the lines of "Mummeee! Have you got us a treat?". Well, no. Unless you count the 11 per cent flat rate, that is. I then opened the paper, only to read a book review of someone who had managed to not spend money for a year. A year! And I can barely manage seven days.

Rosie's Thrift Tip: Skip the blow-dry at the hairdresser. Walking home with wet hair will save you about £40. Tell them you are in a hurry, if it's just too embarrassing otherwise.

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