Rosie Millard: Thrifty Living

A little incentive for the children is music to their ears
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The Independent Online

I AM OUT in bosky Amersham having lunch with my husband's cousin, an accountant. Let us call him Charles. Charles is in buoyant mood, although as the July Tax Moment nears, he has had to cope with wails of panic from his myriad clients who suddenly find themselves looking at a big bill from the Inland Revenue. I, having saved up to cope with my Moment, am as buoyant as Charles is. We both agree what a silly-billy the "comic" Jim Davidson is, since he never spotted his Tax Moment, consisting of a £4 million bill, was heading towards him. He is now officially bankrupt and living in Dubai.

The only way to cope with taxes, as I'll tell Nick Nick when I'm next in Dubai, is to anticipate them and plan for them. No matter how thrifty you are, you must arrange a separate account, preferably at another bank, and drip-feed money into it from your main account throughout the year. It needs to be in a separate account because then you won't be tempted occasionally to reverse the drip-feed back into your overdraft. When the Tax Moment is near, simply dip into this account, and deal with it. Ditto your quarterly VAT Moment. It's taken me 20 years to figure out how to perform this simple operation.

Charles figured it out years ago. He is very savvy. "Accountancy is just about adding up figures," he says modestly. "But for other people. Quickly." Interestingly, it seems this thrifty thing is spreading among his clients. I explain that thanks to this column, I have had some fascinating saving tips from readers, who do things such as cart their own G&Ts around with them when they fly. "I know! I've heard of people bringing their own wine into restaurants these days!" says Charles. "And I've met people who have a fantastically thrifty way of cruising." What, kerb-crawling in Amersham? I'm not sure I want to hear this.

"No, no," says Charles hastily. "Cruising! On ships!" Oh, sorry.

"People have started taking their own cases of wine on board with them, and keeping them in their cabins. I don't know if the liners charge corkage, but it's a fantastic way of saving money. You just bring on your wine, and make sure you give the wine waiter at your table a big tip afterwards. On my last cruise, there were about 10 people next to us all merrily drinking their own booze." I make a mental note to remember this, next time I'm cruising around the Bahamas, or indeed, to Dubai.

Anything else? Charles leans towards me. It's all about schools. In Buckinghamshire, the 11-Plus still reigns supreme. Those who pass it gain entry to a clutch of top-rate, free grammar schools. And so, as Charles puts it, it was a question of dangling a bit of money over his offspring in order to save many thousands of pounds further down the line. Told you he was savvy.

Mind you, so were they. "I tutored them myself," Charles explains. "And I offered them quite a lot of money if they got, say 80 per cent. Quite a bit more if they got 90 per cent. And an awful lot if they got 100 per cent." This approach, although probably not for the faint-hearted, appeared to work a treat. All his children went to the local grammars. One even got 140 per cent in the 11-Plus. I nod my head. In North London word has got out that if you want to get your child into a decent state secondary school, but live outside the catchment area, the thing to do is get them in via the music ticket. What you need is Grade Five in one instrument, and basic competence in another. By the age of 10. It's a tough call, and rather like a tax bill, must be carefully planned.

I know parents who are currently whipping their six-, seven- and eight-year-olds through the Associated Board Grades in oboe, flute, bassoon, even harp. As Tim Rice once wrote, any dream will do. As long as it's orchestral, or piano. I acknowledge my wish to stay within the state system may or may not have something to do with my desire for my eldest child (eight) to pass her Grade Three piano, taken last week. Indeed I, like Charles, utilised blatant bribery. Not hundreds of pounds, but a daily handful of Smarties. Three for a perfect set of scales. Four for a perfect set of arpeggios. Five for a perfect set of broken chords. Six for a full house. The result will be out next week. After which I suspect we should pay a visit to the dentist.

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