Rosie Millard: Thrifty Living

Don't go broke trying to make money on the great virtual auction
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The Independent Online

After four months of trying to saw through debt, and realising it is as resilient as a Californian Redwood, I've come to the sage conclusion that there is a gulf between actual saving, and perceived saving. I am rather rubbish at the first, and rather brilliant at the second, although I have the fervent hope that one will eventually merge into the other.

My bedtime reading, The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn (available on Amazon), is full of gripping rags-to-riches anecdotes from Americans saying: "We now dry all our clothes on the clothes line, turn our appliances off from standby, and now we save $998 a year on our electricity bill!", or "We halved our food bill by using budget grocery stores!" I'm not so sure. I do all these things, yet nothing seems to have been halved, neither food, electricity or indeed any other bill.

Take my recent foray into the frugal world of eBay. Landed with seven pairs of beautiful curtains after a house move I decided the time had come. "I'm going to auction all those curtains on eBay," I announced to Mr Millard at midnight one night.

Three hours later I was ready to go. I had achieved my eBay password, taken loads of photographs of the curtains, downloaded them and presented them for sale on the great virtual auction. Of course, in preparation for the sale of the century, I had already had them all cleaned, which had cost me £300. And then there were all the payments to eBay for listing each curtain and each photograph, which came to £60. Never mind. Who knows what they will get on eBay, I thought excitedly.

The next day, there they were, sitting on eBay under designer curtains. "Hooray! The auction has begun," I said, running through the house before sitting down at my computer.

"Do you know," I said to Mr Millard, "I really think we may make enough money on this sale to go to Tuscany this summer." He rolled his eyes at me and wandered off to see how the garden was progressing. Frugally, we are growing everything from seed this year. What with an Arctic spring this plan has so far been a bit of a non-starter.

My seven pairs of curtains were on eBay for 10 days. Nine days after putting them on, I still had no bids. Loads of "watchers" had logged on, but no-one who was prepared to show me the money. I now know this is the way eBay works. Everyone waits until the last few minutes and then tries to scoop a bargain by paying as little as possible. I eventually sold three pairs to a nice woman in Bristol called Lucy, who paid just over £400 for them. "It was so exciting," she said to me the next day. "The bids went mad in the last few seconds!" I only wish they had gone mad a bit earlier. They cost about £4,000 to buy.

Her husband drove up from Bristol the next day to collect them, probably spending about £100 on petrol.

"I hope this purchase is going to be more successful than Lucy's last venture onto eBay," he said dryly. "She bought a VW Combi for £1,500. It was beautifully kitted out, but impossible to drive. We had to sell it back. At a loss."

Still, the sight of the curtains going out of the house, in return for an actual cheque in my hand, even if the net gain was a mere £50, has got me thinking. "Let's have an attic sale," I say to Mr Millard over re-heated lentil casserole and a bottle of wine from Berry Brothers Wine Club, (which I suggest is a brilliant way of saving money yet still having decent booze in the house. You fork out £60 a month and a case of delicious wine appears on your doorstep once every two months. Is this thrifty? Debatable, but it will save those last minute dashes to the supermarket which can wreck a weekly budget.)

"Let's have an attic sale," I continue, "and then, when we've built up some cash, let's buy a VW Combi Van and go to Tuscany in it. That would be a cheap way of going on holiday."

He looks at me as if I'm mad. "What happens when it breaks down and all the children are sick everywhere?" he says. "And we don't have anywhere to park it." Alright, Mr Grumpy. Call it the eBay enthusiasm of the early adaptor.

Here's Rosie's thrift tip. Don't buy jars of baby food. Spend £12 on a hand blender instead. Then, watch the Pavlovian reaction of your baby when he hears you blending his lunch.

cashl@independent.co.uk

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