Lisa Markwell: Free at last from spend, spend, spend

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The Independent Online

You wouldn't know it from logging on to your bank's website, but loans are out of fashion. Despite the flashing, dancing, screamer adverts for borrowing money that bellow out at us, as a nation we're paying back our debts like never before. It's a move which can only be seen (by us) as an upside to the recession.

Let's not get too excited, there's still £1.5 trillion of debt to go round, but we managed to knock more than £600m off the balance sheet in July, more than any other single month since records began. My esteemed colleague, economics editor Sean O'Grady states that it's bad news for the economy, since if we don't spend, then Britain can't be hauled out of recession. But on a personal level, doesn't it feel better to be in the black with fewer geegaws around the house, than still firmly in the red, with a swanky '59' numberplated car on the driveway? Companies have spent most of the last few months restructuring, working out ways to keep afloat, so it should come as no surprise that individuals might have a go at the same approach. Looking at our personal bottom lines and all that...

The "spend now, pay later" model of economics has caused plenty of casualties – I should know, I've come perilously close to insolvency through such pursuits as trading credit cards like Top Trumps. It's been a source of great satisfaction to receive letters from Barclaycard/Capital One/Egg saying, "we've decided to close your account, due to lack of activity over the last 12 months". I thought I'd never shake the buggers off.

The new austerity has already had us attempting to see our houses as somewhere to live, rather than get-rich-quick investments, and wearing clothes for longer than six weeks, no matter how much magazines blare out announcements about "the new drop" of "must-haves".

Now we want to pay off our debts instead of paying money into a sad-sack, no-interest savings account. The Centre for Economics and Business Research says its bad news for the Bank of England and the Government, because it shows that quantitative easing hasn't worked, while the Mortgage Advice Bureau call it a massive retrenchment.

But there will always be better-off folk who can be relied on to spend, spend, spend (hello to Victoria Beckham and her dozens of £5,000 Hermes Birkin bags). Chanel put the price of their insanely expensive handbags up recently, to keep them exclusive. They're not worried about the lack of consumers, then.

What's peculiar about the giant repayment movement is the reported phrase "since records began". When I read that I thought, wow, that's major. Then I noticed that records began in, er, 1993. Why on earth didn't anyone keep a record of personal lending before? It's not as if loans for home improvements or new cars were invented in the 1990s.

I'm informed by a veteran wealth-watcher that while that's true, it's only in the last couple of decades that personal lending has become as important as personal expenditure, the traditional method of calculating where we are as a nation, financially. Our parents' generation didn't borrow like we do, after all. My mother is bemused by my habit of booking holidays on a credit card only to grumble about how the interest has increased the cost of the trip over the next 12 months.

This year I, like myriad others, have flown less, spent less and paid for it all from my current account – being part of the new austerity is a good feeling. (I still got stiffed on the nightmare Euro exchange rate, but that's another story.)

We come in all shapes and sizes

A new book by design guru Stephen Bayley imagines the female body as a structural form. It's tempting to look at it as a jazz-mag dressed up as art – there are dozens of pictures of naked women – but since we're objectified every day, in every way, all over the world, I'd rather it was by an erudite commentator than a bloke on a building site.

He calls us a masterpiece of design, the perfect marriage of form and function. It's worth remembering that, using it as a mantra, even. We are allowed to be rounded like Marilyn Monroe, or bony, like Carla Bruni. And as an aside, it's also worth noting what a friend of mine once said: if a gentleman caller is close enough to notice your imperfections, he's too close to care. Or maybe they're not even imperfections, just alterations to the original building, eh Mr Bayley?

Perhaps the new editor of The Sun could contemplate replacing the traditional Page 3 girl with an image from "Woman as Design", complete with the author's comment on why our differing shapes are all part of the blueprint.

Memories to inspire our children

Could any of us fail to be moved by accounts of evacuees, celebrating – if that's the right word – the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War? Hearing them recount their experiences – of being sent to the distant countryside with just a label on their lapel and a change of clothes – it seems extraordinary now. The idea of children being chosen by complete strangers that would become their foster parents, as they are penned in trainloads at a village cattle market, is unimaginable. Then there's the almost unbearably poignant memories of little ones who returned home years later, their accents and behaviour changed irrevocably by their strange, temporary world.

My children love to hear my mother talk about her gaggle of siblings waved off at the station, but the scene is blurred in their minds with the fictional Narnia evacuees. They just can't believe that any circumstances called for something as drastic as Operation Pied Piper. It behoves us to keep memories of the kindness of strangers alive for the next generation.