Thrifty Living: Help! I'm suffering from seasonal mini Boden disorder

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The Independent Online

And so, it shall come to pass that, just as the first jingle from the ice-cream van comes tinkling from the nearby park, the Mini Boden catalogue shall flop on to your doormat, and verily, the children of the household will take up their customary stance around it.

Aggressively positioned in the hall, that is, black marker-pen poised, ready to indicate which elegant summer garments from the aspirational pages they would like you to purchase. "But Mummee, we have no clothes," they wail. At this point, you have to stand firm. Not only against their pleading (which is more about having a nice big box arriving in the post than anything else), but also against your lowly wish to parade your child before other parents in Johnnie Boden's finest.

"But what is the alternative? Hooded tops and trainers!" says my friend Janie, aghast. "My children are not going to wear trainers." And why not, I ask her. Alright, it's taken me four children, eight years and a £40,000 overdraft to realise it, but £3 trainers from Woolworths are as good, or bad, for children's feet as Mini Boden Two-strap Sneakers (£19). Plus, you can try on Woolies stuff, which you can't with Boden, unless you take a day out of your life to visit the Boden shop, which is situated on a distant planet called the Hanger Lane Gyratory System.

So what if Janie's children are wholly clad in Petit Bateau, I say to myself as I throw the Mini Boden catalogue away. Since my financial "realignment", the Junior Millards have been almost wholly clad in Woolworths and the Gap sale rail. They have one "smart" outfit, ie, it doesn't feature a hood, held in clean readiness for Grandparent Touring Duties.

Child No 3 also has a wildly expensive sparkly shirt that I bought (at her request) in a moment of parental weakness. Parental Weakness is to be avoided as it bows to nothing other than the desire of the parent to show how much they love their offspring. It is what most children's outfitters depend on for their profit margin.

In my instance, however, Parental Weakness was justified. No, really. Child No 3, (who is, in fact, three), had leapt into the deep end of the Virgin Gym pool without her water-wings, and no one saw her do it. Apart, that is, from Tom the chunky lifeguard. Wonderful Tom, who jumped in and hauled her out. I bought Tom a bottle of brandy and Child No 3 her sparkly top. Once I'd stopped wailing hysterically.

Aha, I hear you say. Virgin Gym - that's no way to save money! Well, not if you don't use your membership. Or only use it intermittently. Then you're into the realm of the £70 swim, which is about as useful to your current account as Seasonal Mini Boden Disorder. No, to save money you must spend lots of time at the gym. Instead of going shopping. Then you'll save lots of money, and probably get slim into the bargain.

Anyway, gym membership comes under Treats, and you have to have treats. I got an e-mail this week from Julia Cazorla, who sounds like a bona fide Thrift Queen, and gave me lots of tips, one of which is to "include a sense of luxury in your life as an essential". The twist is that you have to find ways within your budget to afford it. Her approach is rather hardline, I must admit. It once included visiting a local mosque rather than going to Asia on holiday, which is creative budgeting on a scale I suspect even Alvin Hall could not have dreamt up.

Julia likes fresh flowers, but she buys them from the market at a knock-down price; she loves a good cup of coffee, so she forgoes public transport in order to get her caffeine fix. "I've walked countless miles over the years to save the bus fares that I've budgeted for, to finance the cappuccino habit I couldn't otherwise afford," she writes.

To indulgent parents, she advises getting out of the power struggle over pocket money and "sharing the bottom-line budgetary reality" with the children, which sounds a bit of a mouthful. I suppose it could work. Particularly as my "bottom-line budgetary reality", as far as the Junior Millards are concerned, is on a par with their taste, in other words, trainers from Woolies and hoodies from the market.

Thrift tip: get to know your public library rather than spending yet another £20 in Borders.

cashl@independent.co.uk

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