Rosie Millard: Thrifty Living

For my saving plan, the first thing I need is a parasol
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The Independent Online

I'm suffering from credit envy. Janie, my dear friend and fellow sufferer in the fields of debt, is debt free. I think she pleaded poverty so plaintively, and so often, to her parents that they just took a deep breath and took the problem away in one stroke. I believe they offloaded her inheritance early. "So, no debt!" says Janie to me gleefully as we swelter under the unremitting glare of the unfamiliar world that is London in a heat wave. "Absolutely no debt whatsoever. Apart from, you know, a debt of love and gratitude to the parentals. I am starting again from rock bottom. All my accounts are IN CREDIT. And do you know," she continues, rather like being a student again, only one who is in her 40s, "my accounts are going to continue to be IN CREDIT. Always. I really mean it this time. I'm not going to do any shopping. Apart from buying food, of course."

I've had those moments. Not, I may add, courtesy of a parental backhander, (well, not for the last decade, at least), but from passing spasms of efficiency wherein I have taken all my debts, put them into a single lump and "paid them off" courtesy of an interest-free loan. Everything goes brilliantly for the first few months. The novelty of confident, embarrassment-free cash point use is particularly delightful. Then, as night follows day, the burden of the repayments gradually erodes away your OD-Free status and before you know it, its one visit to Selfridges too many and whoops! you're once more facing the minus sign on your statements and blushes at the hole in the wall. Plus, you now have a giant loan to cope with as well the familiar overdraft.

After Janie leaves, I wrestle with the temptation to hot-foot it to the Millard parental residence in Wimbledon, there to either demand that the incumbents therein think about starting to perish, or to burst into tears and insist they write me out a cheque there and then. But I do have my pride. Anyway, instead of sitting quietly and saving money, as they should be, I dimly recall my parents are currently frittering away their children's inheritance courtesy of a week in Paris.

I, therefore, mull things over via a refreshing swim at the Virgin Gym. I decide my plan shall be to save money by encouraging the family to spend the entire summer season in the exotic location of the back garden. I know camping is fashionable, and cheap; camping at home is even cheaper.

After the swim, I go to the garden furnishing department of a giant emporium on Oxford Street, because the first thing I need is a parasol. With the help of a delightful assistant, I select a parasol (£70), a pole with weighted base (£35), and two delightful Chinese lanterns designed to hang off the parasol (£7 each, which is a lot, but suspending Chinese lanterns from a parasol seems to be a new idea, at least in Western Europe, and you have to pay a premium for innovation). I also pick up a child's deck-chair (£25). It's very sweet. I follow my assistant towards to the till.

I envisage the family sitting beneath the parasol drinking water enhanced by ice cubes from the fridge, while my account gradually rights itself.

The bill is £144. "How would you like to pay?" asks the assistant. "Switch," I say, breezily putting my hand into my pocket where I have carefully stashed my card. It's too hot for handbags, and I am thus into minimalist mode, travelling with one credit card on my person.

Imagine my surprise when I bring forth from my pocket not the trusty Switch, but my Virgin Gym card. Same size, same shape; zero paying power. "Oh, God" I say, scarlet-faced. "I'll have to go home." The line of hot people behind me starts to agitate. Then I am struck by a brainwave. "Can I dictate the number to you via my husband?" Amazingly, he agrees to this. Mr Millard is roused from World Cup duties and obediently dictates the numbers down the phone.

I feel a bit like the Queen, namely a person who can pull off a shopping spree in Oxford Street with but a Virgin Gym card to my name. I start joshing with the assistant. "I bet this sort of thing happens all the time. You know, people trying to pay their bills with only a gym membership card!" I roll my eyes as if envisaging queues of similarly forgetful shoppers. He looks at me steadily. "No," he says. "This has never happened before."

cashl@independent.co.uk

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