Thrifty Living: I'm shopping in Lidl And TK Maxx And I'm still broke, Alvin

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The Independent Online

STATE OF 0 per cent interest credit cards: heavy. State of current account: red, due to paying off chunks of above. State of mind: despairing. Hello, Alvin. Alvin? Alvin Hall, financial guru, self-made man and unafraid voyager through the dark waters of fiscal sagacity, are you there? I'm following your ways and its gone all wrong. I have fallen back deep into the Slough of Financial Despond. I am trying to cut back. I have tried to do as you suggest. We are all living on lentils. When money comes in, I carve it up and plop bits here and bits there. As soon as my account so much as sniffs the arrival of anything sterling-shaped, it sends it plopping off into all sorts of piggy banks. The idea about this is that it will endow me with a huge feeling of being in control. The reality is that I seem to be more broke than ever.

And I want to tell you, Mr Alvin Self-help Hall. D'you know what? Plopping little bits of money in various accounts, in order to tick all the boxes and fill in all the grids, doesn't work. I honestly think things were better when I only had one bank account, and a vague acquaintance with it at that.

In the good old days, my typical financial modus operandi was as follows. Get paid. Feel smug about being in credit, for about two days. Go guilt-free shopping. Pick up lovely things from a Soho boutique, and generally feel cheerful. Marc Jacobs jeans. Ballet pumps. A Birkin bag. By the time the bill hits my account I have grown used to my acquisitions. In fact, I might have even forgotten they were new acquisitions. I certainly would have forgotten how much they cost. They inhabited my wardrobe as if they had always lived there.

The parlous state of my account was in some strange way disassociated with the buying of them (particularly the Birkin bag). There is probably some psychological term for this. Now that carefully crafted state has been ruined. I have such a forensic overview of all my various cards, overdrafts and debts that this week I even queried the checkout bill at Lidl.

I went shopping this week to TK Maxx with my friend Laura and her friend Wendy. They are TK Maxx experts. We wander around a neon-lit barn in Hammersmith looking at designer jeans. It is 8pm. Laura tells me how you can make a chicken last for four meals. "Boil it with vegetables and make soup. Then cut it up and turn it into a pie. Then make risotto. Finally mix the left overs with a white sauce and stuff mushrooms with it. All from an £8 chicken from Tesco. It's so much better than roasting it." I haven't the heart to tell her I'm vegetarian. "I hear you've been hanging out in Lidl," says Wendy. We discuss the 13p tins of chopped tomatoes and relative problems involving the greenish tinge on its baking potatoes.

TK Maxx is a laugh and I find a Betty Jackson cardigan for £25, which seems a bargain. But is going around TK Maxx in search of Bargains as nice as going around Whistles in search of Treats? It depends on whether you are a Bargain person or a Treat person. And deep within my spendthrifty heart I know I am a Treat person. And morphing into a Bargain person is hard. It's a bit like giving up smoking. In fact, seven weeks into my Bargain/Treat changeover, I feel as if I have given up smoking. Grumpy, in other words.

Clearly, an inner pep talk is needed. I remind myself of Alvin Hall's words: "At least you know where all the bodies are buried." Yes, but that only makes me more depressed. This morning, I counted up all the bodies and do you know what, Alvin? They still come to £50,000. Even after shopping at Lidl and wearing stuff from Tesco. Even after going to TK Maxx. Even after insisting the Junior Millards walk everywhere, my debt has plummeted by the grand total of about seven grand. Plus, I have a tax bill of eye-watering magnitude, that is to say quite a lot larger than seven grand.

Thrifty living has changed me, I moan to Dr Millard, my mother. No longer am I a devil-may-care Treat babe. I am a worrier questing for Bargains in TK Maxx. And it really is making me bad-tempered. This weekend I only avoided having a row with Mr Millard on the mobile because I was in Paris and foreign chat costs a bomb. Oh, yes, I forgot to mention. I went to Paris. Sorry, Alvin. I couldn't help it.

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