Rosie Millard: Thrifty Living

Pocket money? The whole system has gone a bit bonkers
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The Independent Online

I'm reading A bedtime story from My Naughty Little Sister to Honey, four. She likes this book because the heroine does wicked things, like biting Santa at the school Nativity play. I like it because it depicts a world that I can still vaguely remember, where people wore aprons when cooking, and children addressed adults by their surname. It sounds formal, but now seems rather cosy. My God. I am turning into my mother.

At the end of the chapter, Honey turns to me and says, solemnly: "You don't have any money, do you Mummy?" God. How terrible. I immediately fall into a panic that she has been taken aside by someone and given the worst-case scenario about my bank balance. Which is so grim that even I don't tend to think of it much. I'm a sunny optimist, remember. Or perhaps, I fearfully consider, she has been listening to an unfortunate row between Mr Millard and I the other night, in which I recall caustically suggesting that he get a better-paid job than his current one (documentary-maker for buttons at the BBC).

"Oh, I have lots of money, darling," I squeaked. (Well, I will when a big fat cheque from a corporate engagement arrives, I could add.) "Er, why do you ask?"

"Because I have just stolen your money from your bedroom."

She opens a sweaty palm in which sits a single 50p piece. "Can I keep it for my pocket money?"

Pocket money. Now, there's a can of worms. Honey, being only four, does not yet get any pocket money. Neither does the baby. I spend too much money on them as it is, particularly if you factor in the eye-wateringly expensive nanny.

But the two older Millards, being seven and nine, are clearly within the pocket-money orbit. The question of how much they should get every Saturday is a testing one. In the days of My Naughty Little Sister, it was easy. You got 10p. My own little sister got 5p. Now, however, that buying a PlayStation Portable for a child is something you can do while standing at the Pick'n'Mix counter in Woolworths, the whole pocket-money system has gone bonkers.

My dear friend Spendthrift Janie gives her children a tenner a week, which is too much. Too much for me, anyway. And I simply couldn't bear the time they'd waste choosing what to do with it every week. But if you're in the pocket-money market, the experts all say that you must give your sprogs something reasonable, otherwise they won't be able to exercise their "powers of choice" in deciding how to spend it. And that is the reason we all go through the pocket-money charade, is it not? Teaching the little darlings to budget, to use their finances sensibly (ha ha), perchance, even, to save.

And so, the eldest of the Junior Millards gets £4, and the next one down, £3. I have told them that they can spend it on whatever they want. Apart from sweets. And crisps. And fizzy drinks. Of course, that's actually all that they want to buy, poor deprived things. My diktat means that they must deliberate over tatty magazines, football cards and itty-bitty items of stationery from Ryman.

It all sounds great, in theory. The trouble is, of course, that I'm a financial basket-case who has enough problem remembering to pay her VAT, income tax, nanny tax and council tax. Adding on the weekly issue of pocket money is too much for me. For a start, I never have any cash about my person. Secondly, I don't have an alarm bell in my brain that goes, "Saturday morning! Brrrr! Pocket money!". So I'm forever forgetting to pay it.

Of course, on the rare occasions that I do remember, and have enough cash, I am immediately dragged towards a shopping mall and begged to get out the plastic and buy something that costs four times what I have just doled out. Then we end up in the realm of "pocket-money loans" (interest-free, natch), which I forget all about when next week comes around.

To avoid all this, I've now drawn up Pocket Money Rules:

No Loans. No Negotiation. No Insurance against Loss in Bedroom. No Back Pay. No Holiday Pay (I can't be bothered with currency exchange, and weekends aren't the same during school holidays anyway).

If you want something really big and special, I tell the children, save up for it. Or help me wash the car. I'll give you a quid.

cashl@independent.co.uk

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