False economies. For a financial dunderhead like me, it's difficult to spot them. I get seduced by the BOGOF signs, the three-for-twos, the interest-free periods, and so on. It's only later, when I'm chucking away uneaten food or studying the small print on a credit card bill with a giant interest charge attached that my foolishness occurs to me.
With a family to feed, I'm particularly suggestible to special offers, but there are only so many packets of Carman's fruit-free muesli bars two children can eat. My kitchen just isn't big enough to store all the food. If I had a larder, as my grandmother did, then it would be different. At the moment there are Hula Hoops squirreled away in the saucepan drawer, and tins of beans under the sink. It is – as everyone but me seems to know – a false economy to buy something because it's cheap, rather than because it's needed.
It's worse, inevitably, with perishables. I often get home to find "No more goujons" on the kitchen blackboard, when I've bought a slew of something that the children like (health-giving fish on that occasion), only to discover after one supper that they've gone off them in a major way. The freezer is crammed with such things – why foraging in the frosty depths for something then reheating it should make it more appealing is a mystery...
So I'm learning the hard way that food is just like clothing – never buy something that doesn't work with something you've already got. OK, it's not very catchy, but it's a slogan I must learn to love.
I'm sure I'm not alone in having an "interesting" patterned skirt that goes with precisely nothing in the wardrobe. Or some jazzy silver shoes that seemed so versatile in the shop, but now just look gaudy.
It's particularly pertinent at this time of year, with sale "bargains" everywhere. It's almost worth making a note of what you own that works, and duplicating it. Maybe Richard Gere was on to something with his American Gigolo wardrobe of a dozen identical shirts, suits and ties... No margin for error, nothing that doesn't "go".
This is the time to stock up on classics – it's time for me to take a leaf out of my husband's book (who is, incidentally, better looking than Gere any day). He has just bought 10 T-shirts from Gap to last him for the next year – and that's it. No impulse purchase of a pair of plaid shorts, just because they're down to £5. No wandering into the shop next door for a suit that's too long in the arm but, well, it's cheap.
I, on the other hand, recently bought two lovely nautical-style skirts from Laura Ashley online, because I'd seen them recommended in Easy Living magazine and they were very reasonable. The chic, sailor-buttoned clothes seduced me – and I couldn't decide between the navy and white. So naturally I bought both, one to keep once tried on. I'm currently wearing the white one, the navy one... well, that's on a clothes mountain in the bedroom. The receipt? Er, gone.
So, back to food. From now on I shall only buy mix'n'match separates when it comes to produce, and I won't buy more than one of anything unless it's an absolute classic, destined to be gobbled up. De Cecco pasta, for instance, a recent bulk buy and far better than any other brand in Britain. (Sadly, this also applies to Sainsbury's current "2 for £2" on Cadbury's Dairy Milk. A moment on the lips...)
I'll go back, ironically, to my grandmother's technique of menu planning – and buy accordingly. Courgettes, feta, peppers and eggs for a giant tortilla; chicken for roast, risotto and stew, in that order; sausages, lentils and broad beans (my supper one night, children's packed lunch the next day). I could get used to this. No more bags of ancient salad turned to slurry in the fridge. And my eyes averted from those tempting offers.
The 0-per cent card I've just applied for, however? Well, that's another story.
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