Rosie Millard: Thrifty Living

I love it when a meal plan comes together
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SO ONE OR other of the Williams sisters is really, really fed up with the fact that if she wins the Wimbledon Ladies' Crown, she will get a modicum less prize-money than the men's winner to add to her already grossly overinflated income.

In my view, her complaints just come over as greedy. Frankly, since the ladies' final only involves two players, this is a problem hardly of Suffragette magnitude. And, laydeez, if you want to wade into the murky waters of gender pay discrimination, please start somewhere other than the wholly covetous arena of professional sport.

"Of course, it used to all be amateur," says Thrift Queen Laura nostalgically. My friend and I are in nostalgic mood, having just seen something on TV about Barclaycard, Britain's first credit card, born 40 years ago this week.

The Barclaycard was covered entirely with a giant brand logo, presumably to stop people confusing it with their library card. The first print run, as it were, was of one million. Now there are 70 million credit cards, 67 million debit cards and five million charge cards in circulation within the UK, and plastic has overtaken cash and cheques as the most popular form of payment.

Those days now seem ludicrously simple, when the modus vivendi included library cards, amateur sporting heroes, sole credit card availability and cash shopping. With lists. Indeed, lists are about the only thing that has lasted the course. Lists are the only way to cope with the modern dangers that spring from Gold Mastercard temptation.

I didn't make any lists last month, and where did that land me? With a pair of Marni sandals, a visit to the hairdresser and a bill of £2,467, that's where. I let myself go list free into London. Marni was just one of the off-list places that was visited. Now I have a giant bill and feet covered with plasters (thanks to the Marni sandals).

So, back to the lists. "You have to do a meal plan," says Laura. My heart sinks. Not "four meals out of a chicken", again? Please, no. The junior Millards got so tired of that same old chicken reappearing around the dinner table. She looks at me quizzically. "Not at all. It's just that you have to plan your week. Otherwise you will end up panicking at 6.30pm and eating out."

I know that feeling. It usually ends with asking the nanny to clock up some overtime and Mr Millard and I charging off to the nearest restaurant, there to pick up a £65 bill. And still we have no food for tomorrow, although with any luck we might have a hangover.

So I do a menu plan, closely followed by a list for the family's weekly evening fare. Beef stew, fish pie, spaghetti pesto, boiled chicken, chicken pie, spag bol, chicken and rice. We look at the plan. "That looks great," enthuses Laura. I think it looks like something from my mother's 1950s Constance Spry cookbook. All I need to do is bring in some brisket, swap it with the pesto, and hey presto! It's the 1940s House.

"Now," continues Laura. "Let's just make a list for what we will need for that lot." What about puddings, though? Much as I endorse the healthy values of 1940s cooking, surely some Angel Delight wouldn't go amiss. Or a cheesecake?

"Add some fruit," says Laura. "You can give everyone crumble for pudding, and fresh fruit medley on the other nights. And don't forget to buy a bottle of cheap Coke." Oh, great. So we can rot our teeth, 1940s style? "No," says my dear friend, a glint in her eye. "I've discovered it's a great loo cleaner. Bung some coke down the loo. Leave it overnight. In the morning, flush it away and no more limescale." Blimey.

I write the list. The next day, I get fish from the market and meat from my local butcher, which, as I have often said, is the truly thrifty way to buy meat. Total cost: £23. For seven people. Over seven nights. It's rather biblical. Then I go to Lidl. My luck is in. There are no hideous deformed people ranging around the shopping trolley area, frightening all the middle-class bankrupts. I stick to my list. £77.60. As ever, I bless the day I discovered Lidl. I go home and clean the loo with some weird Germano-Hungarian brand of Coca-Cola. It's a glamorous life, this thrifty lark.

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