Rosie Millard: Thrifty Living

The rather too early bird catches nothing at all

Having been content for years to allow credit card companies to weave their unethical web of easily available debt around us, the Government is now in a panic, because guess what? We have all fallen for it. It is now considering sending everyone under 40 to Finance School. In order to learn what is meant by the initials APR.

Meanwhile, in the US, they don't have the nanny state to tell you to stop spending. They have Reverend Billy, who runs the Church of Stop Shopping on the web. Reverend Billy sounds like my sort of man. He is clearly as charismatic as my financial guru, Alvin Hall, and specialises in headline-grabbing antics such as advocating the Sacred State of Wal-Martlessnesss in New York (which is about the only city in America without one).

He once set up a pulpit outside the Disney store on Broadway and called Mickey Mouse the Antichrist. I'll second that. On a recent press trip to Disneyland Paris, it was clear the "amusement park" is nothing but a vaguely prettified shopping mall. The ratio of bright shiny places to spend your money in, to creaky old rides is about 36 to 1.

Its hard work, though. Being constantly on the watch for the Antichrist to appear in your shopping bag. Even when you're not at Disneyland. You have to be prepared at all times, I say to my friend Thrift Queen Laura. Before you know it, you have stopped off at Pret A Manger and have commenced munching your way through a smoothie and an avocado wrap, rather than eating home-made sandwiches at home.

Or, you have succumbed to the clarion call of Stila make-up in Liberty, rather than marched past those beautiful windows resourcefully. Or, worst of all, you have fallen for the lure of that marvellous high step up and vault into the welcoming back seat of a cab. Rather than hang out for the incredibly less marvellous experience of the 91 bus. "Are you coming over for tea this Easter?" I say to Laura. "I'd love to," she says. "But make sure you bake all your own cakes and biscuits." God, but she's a hard taskmistress.

Of course, too much advanced preparation can be plain silly. I got a letter this week from the Barbican, promising an early-bird offer.

Early-bird offers are just the thing for thrift queens, since all you have to do is fill in some form before everyone else does and you save zillions. Everyone who buys tickets online at the National Theatre knows this only too well. However, this particular early bird was a bit too early, even for moi, since it was for the Christmas panto (Dick Whittington, if you must know). Advertising Dick Whittington in March must mean the Barbican is either about to go under, or is up for a Guinness Book of Records claim.

One would have thought that by coughing up some 40 weeks before the event, during which time you could actually conceive a child and bring it to full term, you would be granted backstage access to the cast, or a cat outfit. Sadly, this was not the case. The Barbican is slashing a big old fiver off children's tickets. "We know how quickly Christmas comes around," goes the blurb. Yeah, well you don't know how quickly children can start being nightmares when a panto is in the offing. One of the junior Millards actually started hopping up and down. Before I binned the early bird.

"Come on, we're off to the garden centre," I told them. "But I want to BUY summink," whined the eldest. "Can't we go SHOPPING?" "Oh, but the garden centre is like shopping," I returned. So true. Garden centres are one of those places that play a strange alchemy on your purse - you drop £70 out of it every time you visit them. Except now I have Forward Planning. Thus I rejected the little plugs of sweet peas, each costing £4.50, and opted to go the hard way, investing in packets of seeds. I may have an overdraft of £19,000, but I also have faith in the power of a seed. I bought four packets, total cost £1.60. Now we will have all the thrill of burgeoning life to observe.

Rosie's Thrift Tip:

Spend the weekend in the garden. Have a picnic lunch and feel smug that you have saved money on eating out, as well as doing some weeding. Well, all right, probably no weeding but at least you haven't ended up going shopping.

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