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Chapter 5

FRUGALITY. SIMPLICITY. These are my new watchwords. A new, uncluttered, Zen-like life, in which I spend nothing. Spendnothing. I mean, when you think about it, how much money do we all waste every day? No wonder I’m in a little bit of debt. And really, it’s not my fault. I’ve merely been succumbing to the Western drag of materialism—which you have to have the strength of ele-phants to resist. At least, that’s what it says in my new book.

You see, yesterday, when Mum and I went into Waterstone’s to buy her paperback for the week, I sidled off to the self-help section and bought the most wonderful book I’ve ever read. Quite honestly, it’s going to change my life. I’ve got it now, in my bag. It’s calledControlling Your Cash by David E. Barton, and it’s fantastic. What it says is that we can all fritter away money with-out realizing it, and that most of us could easily cut our cash consumption by half in just one week.

In one week!

You just have to do things like make your own sandwiches instead of eating in restaurants and ride a bike to work instead of taking the tube. When you start thinking about it, you can save money everywhere. And as David E. Barton says, there are lots offree pleasures which we forget because we’reso busy spending money, like parks and museums and the simple joy of a country walk.

Come to think of it, why don’t we put information like this inSuccessful Saving ? It’s so much more useful than knowing about some fancy new unit trust which might make a profit or might not. I mean, with this scheme you start making money straight away!

It’s all so easy and straightforward. And the best thing is, you have to start out by going shopping! The book says you should begin by itemizing every single purchase in a single normal spending day and plot it on a graph. It stresses that you should be honest and not suddenly curtail or alter your spending pattern—which is lucky, because it’s Suze’s birthday on Friday and I’ve got to get her a present.

So on Monday morning, I stop off at Lucio’s on the way into work and buy an extralarge cappuccino and a chocolate muffin, just like I usually do. I have to admit I feel a bit sorrowful as I hand over my money, because this is my last-ever cappuccino and my last-ever chocolate muffin. My new frugality starts tomorrow—and cappuccinos aren’t allowed. David E. Barton says if you have a coffee habit you should make it at home and take it into the office in a flask, and if you like eating snacks you should buy cheap cakes from the supermarket. “The coffee merchants are fleecing you for what is little more than hot water and poly-styrene,” he points out—and I suppose he’s right. But I will miss my morning cappuccino. Still, I’ve promised myself I’ll follow the rules of the book—and I will.

As I come out of the coffee shop, clutching my last-ever cup, I realize I don’t actually have a flask for coffee. But that’s OK, I’ll buy one. There are some lovely sleek chrome ones in Habitat. Flasks are actually quite trendy these days. I think Alessi might even do one. Wouldn’t that be cool? Drinking coffee out of an Alessi flask. Much cooler than a take-away cappuccino.

So I’m feeling quite happy as I walk along the street. When Iget to Smiths I pop in and stock up on a few magazines to keep me going—and I also buy a sweet little silver notebook and pen to write down everything I spend. I’m going to be really rigorous about this, because David E. Barton says the very act of noting down purchases should have a curtailing effect. So when I get into work, I start my list.













Which makes a grand total so far of . . . £14.09.

Gosh. I suppose that’s quite a lot, bearing in mind it’s only nine-forty in the morning.

But the notebook and pen don’t count, do they? They’re like course requirements. I mean, how on earth are you supposed to note down all your purchases without a notebook and pen? So I subtract both of those, and now my total comes to . . . £8.90. Which is much better.

Anyway, I’m at work now. I probably won’t spend anything else all day.



But somehow, spending nothing is absolutely impossible. First of all, Guy from Accounts comes round with yet another leaving present to give to. Then I have to go out and get some lunch. I’m very restrained with my sandwich—I choose egg and cress, which is the cheapest one at Boots, and I don’t even like egg and cress.

David E. Barton says that when you make a real effort, particularly in the early stages, you should reward yourself—so I pick up some coconut bath oil from the Natural range as a little treat. Then I notice there are double advantage points on the moisturizer I use.

Ilove advantage points. Aren’t they a wonderful invention? If you spend enough, you can get really good prizes, like a beauty day at a hotel. Last Christmas I was really canny—I let my points build up until I’d accumulated enough to buy my granny’s Christ-mas present. What happened in fact was, I’d already built up 1,653 points—and I needed 1,800 to buy her a heated roller set. So I bought myself a great big bottle of Samsara perfume, and that gave me 150 extra points on my card—and then I got the heated roller set absolutely free! The only thing is, I don’t much like Samsara perfume—but I didn’t realize that until I got home. Still, never mind.

The clever way to use advantage points—as with all special offers—is to spot the opportunity and use it, because it may not come your way again. So I grab three pots of moisturizer and buy them. Double advantage points! I mean, it’s just free money, isn’t it?

Then I have to get Suze’s birthday present. I’ve actually already bought her a set of aromatherapy oils—but the other day I saw this gorgeous pink angora cardigan in Benetton, and I know she’d love it. I can always take the aromatherapy oils back or give them to someone for Christmas.

So I go into Benetton and pick up the pink cardigan. I’m about to pay . . . when I notice they’ve got it in gray as well. The most perfect, soft, dove-gray angora cardigan, with little pearly buttons.

OhGod. You see, the thing is, I’ve been looking for a nice gray cardigan for ages. Honestly, I have. You can ask Suze, my mum, anybody. And the other thing is, I’m not actuallyon my new frugal regime yet, am I? I’m just monitoring myself.

David E. Barton says I should act as naturally as possible. So really, I ought to act on my natural impulses and buy it. It would be false not to. It would ruin the whole point.

It only costs forty-five quid. And I can put it on VISA.

Look at it another way—what’s forty-five quid in the grand scheme of things? I mean, it’s nothing, is it?

So I buy it. The most perfect little cardigan in the world.People will call me the Girl in the Gray Cardigan. I’ll be able to live in it. Really, it’s an investment.



After lunch, I have to go and visit Image Store to choose a front-cover picture for the next issue. This is my absolute favorite job—I can’t understand why Philip always offloads it onto some-one else. It basically means you get to go and sit drinking coffee all afternoon, looking at rows and rows of transparencies.

Because, of course, we don’t have the editorial budget to create our own front covers. God, no. When I first started out in journalism, I thought I’d be able to go to shoots, and meet models, and have a really glamorous time. But we don’t even have a cameraman. All our sorts of magazines use picture libraries like Image Store, and the same images tend to go round and round. There’s a picture of a roaring tiger that’s been on at least three personal finance covers in the last year. Still, the readers don’t mind, do they? They’re not exactly buying the magazines to look at Kate Moss.

The good thing is that Elly’s editor doesn’t like choosing front covers either—and they use Image Store, too. So we always try to work it that we’ll go together and have a good natter over the pics. Even better, Image Store is all the way over in Notting Hill Gate, so you can legitimately take ages getting there and back. Usually I don’t bother going back to the office. Really, it’s the perfect way to spend a weekday afternoon.

I get there before Elly and mutter, “Becky Bloomwood fromSuccessful Saving ,” to the girl at reception, wishing I could say “Becky Bloomwood fromVogue ” or “Becky Bloomwood fromWallStreet Journal.” Then I sit on a squashy black leather chair, flicking through a catalogue of pictures of glossy happy families, until one of the trendy young men who works there comes and leads me to my own illuminated table.

“I’m Paul,” he says, “and I’ll be looking after you today. Do you know what you’re looking for?”

“Well. . .” I say, and pull out my notebook. We had a meeting about the cover yesterday and eventually decided on “Portfolio Management: Getting the Right Balance.” And before your head falls off with boredom, let me just point out that last month, the cover line was “Deposit Accounts: Put to the Test.”

Why can’t we justonce put self-tanning creams to the test instead? Oh well.

“I’m looking for pictures of scales,” I say, reading off my list. “Or tightropes, unicycles . . .”

“Balancing images,” says Paul. “No problem. Would you like a coffee?”

“Yes, please,” I beam, and relax back in my chair. You see what I mean? It’s so nice here. And I’m beingpaid to sit in this chair, doing nothing at all.

A few moments later, Elly appears with Paul, and I look at her in surprise. She’s looking really smart, in an aubergine-colored suit and high heels.

“So it’s swimmers, boats, and European images,” says Paul to her.

“That’s it,” says Elly, and sinks into the chair beside me.

“Let me guess,” I say. “Something about floating currencies.”

“Very good,” says Elly. “Actually, it’s ‘Europe: Sink or Swim’?” She says it in an incredibly dramatic voice, and Paul and I both start giggling. When he’s walked away, I look her up and down.

“So how come you’re so smart?”

“I always look smart,” she parries. “You know that.” Paul’s already wheeling trolley-loads of transparencies toward us and she looks over at them. “Are these yours or mine?”

She’s avoiding the subject. What’s going on?

“Have you got an interview?” I say, in a sudden flash of genius. She looks at me, flushes, then pulls a sheet of transparen-cies out of the trolley.

“Circus acts,” she says. “People juggling. Is that what you wanted?”

“Elly! Have you got an interview? Tell me!”

There’s silence for a while. Elly stares down at the sheet, then looks up.

“Yes,” she says, and bites her lip. “But—”

“That’s fantastic!” I exclaim, and a couple of smooth-looking girls in the corner look up. “Who for?” I say more quietly. “It’s notCosmo , is it?”

We’re interrupted by Paul, who comes over with a coffee and puts it in front of Elly.

“Swimmers coming up,” he says, then grins and walks off.

“Who’s it for?” I repeat. Elly applies for so many jobs, I lose track.

“It’s Wetherby’s,” she says, and a pink flush creeps over her face.

“Wetherby’s Investments?” She gives a very slight nod, and I frown in bemusement. Why is she applying to Wetherby’s Invest-ments? “Have they got an in-house magazine or something?”

“I’m not applying to be a journalist,” she says in a low voice. “I’m applying to be a fund manager.”

“What?”I say, appalled.

I know friends should be supportive of each other’s life deci-sions and all that. But I’m sorry, afund manager?

“I probably won’t even get it,” she says, and looks away. “It’s no big deal.”

“But . . .”

I’m speechless. How can Elly even be thinking of becoming a fund manager? Fund managers aren’t real people. They’re the characters we laugh at on press trips.

“It’s just an idea,” she says defensively. “Maybe I want to show Carol I can do something else. You know?”

“So it’s like . . . a bargaining tool?” I hazard.

“Yes,” she says, and gives a little shrug. “That’s it. A bargain-ing tool.”



But she doesn’t sound exactly convinced—and she’s not nearly as chatty as usual during the rest of the afternoon. What’s

happened to her? I’m still puzzling over it as I make my way home from Image Store. I walk down to High Street Kensington, cross over the road, and hesitate in front of Marks and Spencer.

The tube is to my right. The shops are to my left.

I mustignore the shops. I must practice frugality, go straight home, and plot my expenditure graph. If I need entertainment, I can watch some nice free television and perhaps make some inex-pensive, nutritious soup.

But there’s nothing good on tonight, at least not untilEastEnders. And I don’t want soup. I really feel as if I need some-thing to cheer me up. And besides—my mind’s working fast—I’ll be giving it all up tomorrow, won’t I? It’s like the beginning of Lent. This is my Shopping Pancake Day. I need to cram it all in before the fast begins.

With a surge of excitement I hurry toward the Barkers Centre. I won’t go mad, I promise myself. Just one little treat to see me through. I’ve already got my cardigan—so not clothes . . . and I bought some new kitten heels the other day—so not that . . . although there are some nice Prada-type shoes in Hobbs . . . Hmm. I’m not sure.

I arrive at the cosmetics department of Barkers and suddenly I know. Makeup! That’s what I need. A new mascara, and maybe a new lipstick. Happily I start to wander around the bright, heady room, dodging sprays of perfume and painting lipsticks onto the back of my hand. I want a really pale lipstick, I decide. Sort of nudey beige/pink, and a lip liner to go with it . . .

At the Clarins counter, my attention is grabbed by a big promotional sign.




But this is fantastic! Do you know how much Clarins lipstick usually costs? And here they are, giving it away! Excitedly I start rooting through all the skin-care products, trying to decide which two to buy. How about some neck cream? I’ve never used that before. And some of this Revitalizing Moisturizer. And then I’ll get a free lipstick! It’s a complete bargain.

“Hi,” I say to the woman in the white uniform. “I’d like the Neck Cream and the Revitalizing Moisturizer. And the beauty bag,” I add, suddenly petrified that I might be too late; that the limited stocks might have run out.

But they haven’t! Thank God. As my VISA card’s processing, the woman hands me my shiny red beauty bag (which I have to admit is a bit smaller than I was expecting) and I excitedly open it up. And there, sure enough, is my free lipstick!

It’s a kind of browny-red color. A bit weird, actually. But if I mix it up a bit with some of my others and add a bit of lip gloss, it’ll look really good.



By the time I get home, I’m exhausted. I open the door to the flat and Suze comes rushing up, like a puppy.

“What did you get?” she cries.

“Don’t look!” I cry back. “You’re not allowed to look! It’s your present.”

“My present!” Suze gets overexcited about birthdays. Well, to be honest, so do I.

I hurry into my bedroom and hide the Benetton bag in the wardrobe. Then I unpack all the rest of my shopping and get out my little silver notebook to itemize my purchases. David E. Barton says this should be donestraightaway, before items can be forgotten.

“D’you want a drink?” comes Suze’s voice through the door.

“Yes, please!” I shout back, writing in my book, and a moment later she comes in with a glass of wine.

“EastEndersin a minute,” she says.

“Thanks,” I say absently and keep on writing. I’m following the rules of the book exactly, taking out all my receipts and writ-ing them all down, and I’m feeling really pleased with myself. It just shows, as David E. Barton says, that with a bit of application, anyone can gain control of their finances.



Come to think of it, I’ve bought quite a lot of moisturizer today, haven’t I? To be honest, when I was at the Clarins counter, buying my Revitalizing Moisturizer, I forgot about all those pots I’d bought at Boots. Still, never mind. You always need moisturizer. It’s a staple, like bread and milk, and David E. Barton says you should never scrimp on staples. And apart from that, I don’t think I’ve done too badly. Of course I haven’t added it all up yet, but. . .

OK. So here is my final and complete list:












Leaving present


Egg and cress sandwich


Coconut bath oil


Boots Moisturizers


Two cardigans


Evening Standard


Clarins Neck Cream


Clarins Moisturizer


Beauty Bag


Banana smoothie


Carrot cake



And that comes to a grand total of. . . £177.96


I stare at this figure in utter shock.

No, I’m sorry, that just can’t be right. Itcan’t be right. I can’t have spent over £170 in one day.

I mean, it isn’t even the weekend. I’ve been at work. I wouldn’t have hadtime to spend that much. There has to be something wrong somewhere. Maybe I haven’t added it up right. Or maybe I’ve entered something twice.

My eye runs more carefully down the list and suddenly stops in triumph. “Two cardigans.” I knew it! I only bought. . .

Oh yes. I did buy two, didn’t I? Blast. Oh, this is too depress-ing. I’m going to go and watchEastEnders.

OCTAGON *flair. . .style. . .vision






Ms. Rebecca Bloomwood    Charge Card Number 7854 4567

Flat 2

4 Burney Rd.

London SW6 8FD


5 March 2000


Dear Ms. Bloomwood:


Thank you for your check for £43.00, received today.


Unfortunately, the check is unsigned. No doubt just an oversight on your part. I am therefore returning it to you and request that you sign it and return to us.


As you are no doubt aware, this payment is already late by eight days.


I look forward to receiving your signed check.


Yours sincerely,


John Hunter

Customer Accounts Manager



3 Fulham Road

London  SW6 9JH


Ms. Rebecca Bloomwood

Flat 2

4 Burney Rd

London SW6 8FD


5 March 2000


Dear Ms. Bloomwood:


Thank you for your answer-machine message of Sunday 4 March.


I am sorry to hear that your dog has died.


Nevertheless, I must insist that you make contact with myself or my assistant, Erica Parnell, within the next few days, in order to discuss your situation.


Yours sincerely,


Derek Smeath


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