Thrifty living: What I've learnt from 30 months of living thriftily

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The Independent Online

How to wind this up? I know, the credit crunch continues apace, but what have I learnt after a programme of almost 30 months in a strict financial harness?

First, that hustling is good. Richard Templar, author of The Rules of Wealth, is quite clear about the need to sell yourself well, often and efficiently. He scoffs at eking out your money at the bargain counter, and urges readers to learn how basically to earn more. But why not do both? I've become far better at hustling, but also I'm now a mistress of the economically packed shopping trolley. Money saved on the boring necessities of life means you have more for things you really want.

So, for this last Thrifty Living, where have I found the best savings? Regular audits on your wardrobe, bathroom and dressing-table are crucial. Clean all your shoes. Hang up all your clothes. If you regularly go through your clothes, you will stop moths eating them and will also find a whole lot of things you never realised you had, thus leading directly to the conclusion that you have no need for yet another black dress.

Ditto soap, mascara, hair mousse and all those other things that suddenly pile up to such an extent that it looks as if you are collecting them as a hobby.

After this, the high street is quite easy. Essentially, always carry a list with you, and avoid the prefix "designer". After you've bought it, no one cares what you use on your face, hair or toes, so try to look past the packaging and simply get the cheapest on offer. It usually works just as well.

Be sceptical. Advertised bargains usually aren't. This is not to say you shouldn't look out for good deals; it's just that a tortuous tariff for a phone, or a train ticket so limited you have to travel only at 3am on a Tuesday, is usually not the bargain it at first seems to be. Plus, once the "bargain" is in your basket – either online or in reality – you need a will of Herculean proportions not to stop it feeling lonely, and so inevitably fill up the basket with a load of other tat.

Borders has this down to a fine art: one book full price, the next book half-price, and five minutes later you're standing in the queue wondering how greetings cards, a DVD and a guide to Paris have somehow joined your originally rather economical purchase.

To really save money, don't go into Borders. Spend your time and save your money practicing cheap and easy things instead: go running, do some gardening, go to a gallery, cook something at home. Restaurants have lost the plot, in my view, and enjoy a mark-up so astronomical it is a wonder that they are ever full. Invest in a recipe book instead.

DIY is always cheaper – apart from sewing your own clothes, but I'm even willing to argue the toss on that one. DIY manicures, facials and the rest are areas replete with savings. From Colorsport 30 Day Mascara onwards, chemists are full of cheap stuff that relegates beauticians to quagga-like status.

Children are obviously a financial free-for-all, not least for their peerless habit of standing beside you at the shop or computer, bleating for treats. If you have children, allow them pester power, but just a little. Investing in a £7 pack of Blendy Pens from Woolworths is OK. Investing in a £400 computer is probably not. But the Blendy Pens will leave them just as satisfied. Children have no idea about money, or who Alistair Darling is, so arguments about budgets are meaningless. Just move the subject on and get them excited about something that, hopefully, has zero cost. Like playing with sand, hairdressing, or kicking a ball about. And if you take them to the cinema, get the popcorn at the newsagent next door.

Meanwhile, treats for you, the thrifty one, must not be banned completely. Just limit them. By all means, keep your gym membership but make sure you use it. Yes, go to Paris on the Eurostar with your mum, but organise it so that you get a really cheap ticket (ie book it online and well in advance).

Essentially, what this column has taught me is to ensure that I'm in control of my finances. Organise an online account so you can check your balance regularly, and a savings account so you can put in a regular amount, and have an emergency fund when your budgeting goes awry. Which it probably will, from time to time. Don't beat yourself up about it. But don't use it as an excuse to go shopping, either.

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