Revelation - I can say no to shopping

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The Independent Online
THE OTHER evening I was hit by a thunderbolt. It took the form of a decision that for a year, I shall stop spending. I will leave my cheque book at home; throw away catalogues unopened - yea, verily, even the Oxfam catalogue] I shall boycott all shops and department stores, even, in fact especially, the ones where I have an account. I shall stop buying glossy magazines, which incite me to covetousness. I shall give no presents except at Christmas and birthdays. I shall lend no money to my adult children, not even when they promise to pay it back. I shall use up what I've got, make do and mend, until 14 February 1995.

There is no immediately obvious reason for this. Lent doesn't start until Wednesday and in any case it only lasts 40 days; my bank manager isn't harassing me: on the contrary, he greets me with his habitual expression of pained optimism; and my overdraft, though not small, is a lot smaller than it has been in the past.

And yet I suddenly knew, with absolute certainty, that I must not spend any but essential money for a year. This decision will probably nip the green shoots of recovery in the bud, and may close Harvey Nichols.

I am more attracted by an absolute prohibition than by a partial ban. Thus, I found it easier to give up smoking, which means no cigarettes at all, than to lose weight, which merely entails eating less. By the same token, it may be simpler to stop spending altogether (barring essentials, of course: I shall not starve, or walk to work) than to try to economise or to buy cheaper or fewer clothes, shoes or whatever.

Curiosity is another powerful motive. What will it be like to step off the consumer conveyor belt; to become impervious to the blandishments of advertising, to ignore window displays, boycott sales? Will I become a pariah in Major's Britain: the Woman Who Did Not Pull Her Weight; who refused to consume?

Plenty of people will be thinking, no doubt, that I'm lucky to have any disposable income at all. For years I did not. I used to joke that my salary might as well be paid straight into Sainsbury's and the Abbey National, and the gas board could argue with British Telecom about how to divide up the rest, since there was certainly never anything left over for me. For years I bought no new clothes. At one stage my colleagues offered to club together and give me a new coat, since the corduroy on the old one had worn smooth. Not until the last two or three years have I had money to spare for extravagance - and goodness, how I've enjoyed it]

I am lucky in that whole categories of things do not appeal to me at all. I can't drive, and the fact that my partner's car is an eight-year-old Citroen troubles me not in the least. My computer and camera are both second-hand, positively antediluvian by the standards of the techno- hungry young, but I have no desire to replace them, nor my Bang & Olufsen, which was still called a radiogram in the days when I bought it. I don't want tapes, let alone compact discs, and I have no interest in videos now that I possess the only two films I might want to watch several times. (Les Enfants du Paradis and Bondarchuk's magisterial War and Peace.)

That still leaves plenty of other things to spend money on, and not only for myself, but for my children and my children's children, my partner and my partner's children, to the point where almost everything I see would thrill somebody, and thus tempts me to buy it. Generosity is extravagance under a kinder name, and as compulsive as meanness (for which the kinder word is thrift).

Over and above all these considerations, there is a real desire to stop spending in a materialistic society, and see what it feels like. When I do start to buy things again, will I value them more? No pair of shoes has ever thrilled me as much as the sand-coloured suede shoes I bought at Dolcis for 49/11d ( pounds 2.50) in 1958, after saving up for eight weeks. I remember them more precisely than any of the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of pairs that have shod me since.

We shall see. I may abandon the whole idea after a month, although one reason for writing this column is to make my humiliation the more public if I do. And if I succeed, I shall try to work out how much my parsimony has saved, and in February next year I'll let you know.