Rosie Millard: Thrifty Living

Sunday is a day of rest. A credit card is not required
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The Independent Online

I have a mental pot of cash. £300. My idea is to try to exist on this for a week. Can it be done? You start out brilliantly, taking sandwiches to work and not forgetting your travel pass, so you don't have to spend any cash all day. You go to a private view at a gallery, so no costs there for wine and nibbles, but you cannot face the bus home and splash out on a £15 cab. You have £285 left.

The next day, disaster. Torrential rain, so you drive the children to school. Unfortunately, you park in a Business User Only bay and cop a ticket. Lose £60; £225 left.

You need groceries, but you have read in the paper that the local market is much cheaper, so for the first time, you visit it. It's brilliant! Really cheap food, and such nice men at the stalls, throwing in things like free radishes. You swear you will never visit Waitrose again. At the market, you spend £23 on fruit, veg and organic bird-food. Then you pick up some home-made French bread. And some Petits Filous, and some camembert; that's another £7.

Back at home, you eat the bread and cheese in one go because you are so hungry, having marched around the market. Mum comes over to look after the sprogs, so you and partner go out to Wagamama for supper. You deserve it after the stress of the parking ticket. A £25 bill means you now have £170 left in your mental purse, for the remaining five days. You still think you can do it.

On Wednesday, you come home early from work and march the children off to the library, which is great because there is no charge for this whatsoever. Sadly, the kids spot those paper Workbooks, £2 a throw, and demand a couple. Each. You're delighted they are embracing the value of learning, so of course you buy them. Plus a Feast ice lolly each from the newsagent on the way home. More rain, so £9.50 at Starbucks while you wait for it to stop. It's OK. You have £149.50 left, and you are only half way through the week, sort of.

As you open the front door, you are texted by the credit-card company you've done a 0 per cent balance transfer deal with, which is great. The text tells you your monthly direct debit has failed to go through. This means a £25 fine. Sitting at your computer, you decide you need a bit of mental uplift and visit Amazon.com. Breezing through Amazon costs you £40, because it's just so easy to buy stuff with OneClick. Even though, illogically, you make sure you buy enough to get free postage and packing.

Thursday dawns; £109.50 left. Cinema night. Great. You eat supper at home first, which is thrifty beyond measure, and walk to the flicks feeling very smug. Yet factor it in, factor it in. £20 for tickets, £4 for two cups of coffee, and then the pièce de résistance - the babysitter, charging a princely £8 an hour (the London rate, but it's probably no better anywhere else). Your purse now holds £53.50.

On Friday, you spend a tenner on tickets for the term play, have a Pret lunch (£8), and go on a disastrous wander through Victoria Station wherein, somehow, you find a scarf from Accessorize and a tiny bottle of Oil of Ulay making their way into your bag, removing a further £14.50 from your total. Well, you've got dry skin with all this financial concern. You stay in and watch the news; a woman is demanding £5m in alimony, and gets it.

You, however, do not have £5m. You have £21, for the weekend. You could go to the library, or the park, both free. But after a week of working, parenting and householding, the mental ingenuity that constant thriftyness requires is simply beyond you.

It was fine for Ma in Little House on the Prairie, but Ma inhabited a world where the biggest danger was a swarm of locusts, not the capitalist monster which is the high street, the mall and the multiplex. And so, fatally, you grab your credit card. You only get trainers for the children, a few cheapish bits from Gap for yourself, some kitchen accessories, a birthday present, card and wrapping paper, and some sweets. Yet you have somehow spent £237, and thus have a deficit of £216. On a weekly basis, this means a yearly overspend of £11,232, and that's before the family holiday, clothes, car and Christmas.

Sunday dawns. Church, a great option, being a) spiritually nourishing and b) free, with coffee afterwards. You go for it.

cashl@independent.co.uk

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