Thrifty Living: I've lost 90 minutes of my life to save £500. Good deal?

Redundancy is in the air. Mr Millard is at the BBC and hardly a day goes by without a leaving party. Apparently, the BBC is giving official tips for those about to enter a post-BBC world. These include advice on how to do things like enter the West End for a meeting and leave without going shopping, and how to manage without an intravenous taxi account. If the BBC got a grip on the way its staff use taxis (I was there for 10 years and I know a bit about this), it could give every single licence-payer a free digital television. Two televisions, if it also clamped down on mobile phone usage.

On which point, having a three-hour window, I decided to visit Carphone Warehouse. This is how long it takes to get served at CW. Now I'm the princess of prudence, I wanted to see how much I could shave off my phone bill. For the last year, my tariff has been on the highest possible band, naturally; O2 Max, which is 1,000 minutes of talk per month for £75. But I find I've been chatting (or using voicemail retrieval) for about 600 minutes a month. So why not switch to a new band, 600 minutes for £55 - £240 a year cheaper. "Plus, you get free voicemail retrieval," says Brian, my salesman. But I thought that counted as talk-time? "Oh, they count as minutes of talk-time when they are within your bundle. But as soon as you have used up the 600 minutes, they are free." In other words, they weren't free before. "Well, if you look at it like that, then yes," says Brian.

"Now, about your handset." But I don't want a new handset. My old one has a quaint array of scratches and dents, caused by Baby Millard's habit of hurling it from his cot whenever he gets his fat hands on it. "What else can I have if not the handset?" I say. (With phones, always ask what else is on offer.)

Brian sighs. "You could have a 10 per cent discount on your tariff, which is nothing." But is it? 0n £55, 10 per cent is £5.50. "Yeah, that's nothing," Brian says. That's what Carphone Warehouse would like us to think. Actually, 10 per cent off for a year is £66, or a new pair of Office sandals.

Brian goes back to his computer. "Tell you what. If you have a new handset, I can offer you... £150!" Wow. How? "By Cheque Back." Cheque Back goes like this. You wait for four months, then you send in a bill. You get £50. Repeat every four months until a year is up. You have now got £150 back from Carphone Warehouse, which clearly thinks no one will be anal enough to bother with all this.

But, CW, you're wrong. I am now trained in the ways of thrift and I'll certainly send you those cheques. So, £150 in cheques, and £240 on the tariff saved. What else? "Do I have theft insurance?" I demand. Brian glumly looks it up. It appears I do, at £27 a quarter. "Cancel it," I say, saving £108. If my phone gets nicked from the house or car, existing policies will cover it.

Now, how about that Talk Talk broadband deal? Carphone Warehouse has been inundated with people anxious to sign up for its free broadband offer. He offers me a package consisting of £11 a month line rental, plus the £9.99 Talk 3 package for unlimited local and national calls in the UK and 28 overseas countries, plus the free broadband up to 8 meg, whatever that is. So, a total monthly bill of £20.99. There is also a one-off connection fee of £29.99. "Tell you what," says Brian, who has somehow cheered up quite a lot: "Because you are such a good customer [meaning what? That I spend hours on the phone?], I am going to waive this charge."

Clearly CW's staff do this to keep you from going mental about being in their stores all morning. When I stumble out I have used up 90 minutes of life-time (as opposed to talk-time). Still, I have saved £527.99.

I get home. The phone rings. Whaddya know, it's BT. "Hello. Would you like a discount on your existing broadband deal? We can knock £2 off your monthly bill, bringing it down to £15.99." Ah, I say; I've just signed up for Free Broadband Forever from Talk Talk. This, my friend, is how the capitalist competitive world operates. "Nothing in life is really for free," says the BT person, darkly. "It's just a case of how it breaks down."

Rosie's thrift tip: arrive at the theatre fashionably late. You'll only have time to bolt half a sandwich and won't have to cop dinner as well as Judi Dench.

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