Rosie Millard: Thrifty Living

Handbags, new jeans and eating in films - just say no
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The Independent Online

Spend less money, obviously. Save more, ditto. But that's a bit vague for a new year resolution.

I am now battling a desire to read 101 Things To Buy Before You Die (New Holland), an unputdownable Christmas present from my lovely brother and sister-in-law. How did they know that I, a reformed woman who made 100 Christmas cards (thrift tip No 254; it's a complete pain and takes hours), would like a book on shopping? But it's a compelling page-turner full of magical advice such as: "Buy your lingerie in Paris" and: "The Gucci classic GG belt in the brand's signature colourway (£135)... epitomises cool, laid-back luxury." (I know it does; spendthrift Janie has two of them.) From desk lamps (Anglepoise), to red lipstick (Saint Laurent Rouge Pur), 101 Things... is really a heavenly shopping list of the Best of Everything. I'm not looking at it, though. Not this year.

No, this year I've made other resolutions. First, pay off those credit cards which, of course, are still hanging around. Where were we 12 months ago? I look at my table for January 2006, at which point I owed £28,082.31 on a clutch of cards. And now? The January 2007 grid reveals my credit-card debt to be around the £4,000 mark. Not bad. Not as good, however, as you'll get if you visit the moneysavingexpert.com website, where you'll see testimonies from some repayment demons who managed to shift upwards of £40,000 in a single year.

It's like going on a treadmill; it's very painful at first, but after you get going, there is a sort of inner masochism involved in really going for the burn of paying off debt. Also, the inner satisfaction that comes from accepting a 0 per cent interest balance transfer and paying it off (or moving it just before the 0 per cent moment ends) is second to none. Cards I currently inhabit include the Norwich & Peterborough, Goldfish and Bank of Scotland, all of which have good 0 per cent deals (although watch out for the start-up cost, a pernicious, easily overlooked catch).

It's also pointless denying yourself all luxuries. Treats are a vital flip-side of saving money, otherwise you go into utter self-denial and end up in a filthy mood. A gentler approach is to prune those things that are obviously just silly ways to waste cash. The following might be good to give up in 2007.

First, handbag fashion. I know bags are the new black, the world's greatest accessory, examples of astonishing technology and chic-ness, blah blah... I don't care. 101 Things... even says: "The 'it' bag is the fashion phenomenon of the 21st century" (and then suggests you stump up £3,500 for a Hermès Birkin). This is tautologous; all fashion is a phenomenon. Further, think about actually living with a Birkin. What do you do with said bag when you arrive at a restaurant, or someone's house, or even your own home? You'll bung it under a table or in the hall, or stuff it in the cloakroom. And has anyone ever clocked anyone carrying a real Hermès Birkin who has actually paid for it, rather than accepted it as a marketing freebie?

Second, jeans fashion. Give it up. I've recently read about 40 style guides, all of which say that skinny jeans are Out. But I have two pairs upstairs, bought six months ago when they were In. One is a highly sexy number from APC, sourced in Paris (as a treat, for being thrifty). And I'm sorry, but I'm not going to junk them because some style guide has said that I must trade up to boot-cut, or loose-fit, or whatever. If they look good, keep on wearing them.

And third, give up eating in places that are not actually food outlets - galleries, theatres, cinemas. You do not need to see Happy Feet accompanied by a carton of Maltesers, tempting though that might seem. Even theatres have bowed to the lure of the Foyer Café and now encourage you to balance cups of wine, flapjacks and so on on your knee (alongside a giant programme) throughout the show. They make so much money out of it, you see, particularly if there are cut-price tickets involved; it's a way of recouping the cost of a loss-leader. Forget it; just turn up at the venue, buy your ticket, go straight to the event, watch it and leave, congratulating yourself on your firmness of purpose. Even if you are wearing unfashionable skinny jeans and have a carrier bag on your arm.

cashl@independent.co.uk

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