Thrifty Living: All my debts wiped out at a stroke? Dream on...

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The Independent Online

I didn't feel particularly jolly over the "festive season", largely due to an experiment to see how little I could spend during the two-week period whose sole rationale is to liberate as much of your cash as possible. There's the spending build-up to Christmas, then the spending build-down from Boxing Day, then the sales. Staying away from Marylebone High Street takes will power to a terrifying new level. Even the news bulletins are no escape, banging on about 70 per cent reductions at John Lewis.

I could bear no more of Fiona Bruce and her Chanel jackets, and took the family swimming. We went to the library. We went for hearty walks. We even went to the Queen's Gallery to see Rolf's portrait of HM. After 15.30 GMT, of course; free admission after then.

I also went to parties hosted by friends, burdened with home-made delicacies. Forget dressing up as a shepherd; this Christmas, I spent a lot of time pretending to be Juliette Binoche in Chocolat.

At the parties, a routine began to appear. People couldn't help but give me advice on thrifty living. Someone told me about a friend of his who loved single malt whisky. His tip was never to share the bottle. When company called, he would leave a small glassful by the fireside. Alcoholic fumes would permeate the air, endowing everyone with the idea that they had had a tot, but somehow excusing them the dull necessity of actually holding a glass and tipping the contents down their throat.

Or, how about the charming pair who got into the habit of laying empty milk bottles on their side in the fridge. The gag here is that any stray drops fall off the base, and gather along the side - all the easier for collection and deposition into a needy cup of coffee.

Who are these people? And no, I don't know whether it works with a carton. I feel like going to Waitrose and buying a dozen cartons of the world's most expensive milk (Rachel's Organic).

The most dramatic suggestion came from a woman who said she was so fed up with her brother being in debt that she had actually cleared his £34,000 overdraft. Falling on the mercy of rich relations; an oldie, but a goodie. Actually, this wasn't her tip. "I was so fed up I suggested he went bank-rupt," she said. "Why don't you?"

Apparently, this year about 66,000 people will go bust. It's something of a trend. If the debt is unsecured (ie not attached to your house), what do you have to lose, she said. For a fee of £500 (a mere canapé in the drinks party of debt), you get out of everything in a trice. Your whole debt. Wiped off. Goodbye, midnight juggling sessions with Halifax One (0 per cent interest), BAAmex (4.9 per cent, for the life of the debt, but only if you arrange it within six months of opening the account), all those silly tables - and goodbye to the horrid "OD" on your statement.

For advice, I call Dr Millard, aka my father, never knowingly overdrawn, who's been wagging his finger over my OD status since 1980. "There are snags. No bank will take your account. And you might have to cancel your mortgage. You won't be allowed a Visa card," he warns. Well, he has an index-linked health service pension.

My second call is to my long-suffering financial adviser. Can I go bankrupt, George? Like in Monopoly? "If you have property, your trustee in bankruptcy will try to realise as much as he can to your creditors, secured or unsecured," he says. "Anything that can be sold, will be. Apart from your tools-of-trade. They can't take your PC."

But I thought an unsecured debt meant it didn't affect your property, I falter. Then I remember Aitken, J, and the Foxtons signs on his beautiful houses. Maybe that rich woman was wrong. "Your creditors haven't got security for the debt, fair enough, but if you have assets, they'll go for those. It's only workable if Pip owns everything." So all I need do is transfer everything to my spouse? Er... no. "People try to arrange their affairs in such a way that they transfer assets a few months before going bust, but the courts will look beyond that and see that you have been trying to defraud your creditors. All going bust will do is to stop you from going forward."

Indeed, dear reader, I am progressing. My £50,000 debt is now about £38,000. I'm giving myself a year.

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