Day 2: Bye buy books


“When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”

Erasmus Roterodamus

Day 2 was all about gathering advice; friends and family shared useful tips on where I should start the cut backs. The buying (or rather, not buying) of books came up several times. It’s an obvious place to start, I suppose. With our libraries underused and at risk of closure, it’s about time I swapped from buying to borrowing. Last weekend I finally got around to signing up at the local library, and am currently making my way through five tomes simultaneously. Unfortunately the selection of my favourite authors is sad, with no Julian Barnes, little Sebastian Faulks and even less Ian McEwan. Still, if I suddenly decide I want to read every one of Agatha Christie’s Poirot series, a job-lot of fluorescent pink chick lit or any number of diet manuals, I’ll be sorted.

As I haven’t yet taken the radical step of writing a shopping list and getting ingredients to cook with, I’m still buying my evening meal with the express aim of having as few minutes as possible between paying and eating. Up until now, this has meant buying a ready meal, and attaching a helium balloon to the amount I spend on food. While I haven’t yet cooked a meal from scratch, I have taken up scouring the shelves for almost-out-of-date ready meals, which saves just over a third on the usual price. Not perfect, but it’s a start.

Figure out what you have left over after the necessities like rent, insurance, and coffee.

Budgeting advice from a friend

Call me profligate, but the one thing I am particularly struggling with is cutting down on my intensive caffeine habit. They say smoking costs a fortune; they should try working in an office where the only drinkable tea comes at 75p a time. Yesterday I managed two, today I got myself down to one cup of palatable stuff, and around ten shots of machine-produced sludge. Disgusting, with a rank aftertaste, this is surely a clue as to how reliant I am on the drug (or, more likely, a placebo of caffeine, since the vended liquid bears little resemblance to actual tea…)
Tomorrow I’ll get down to zero cups bought. That’s not because I’ll be particularly wilful after a night’s rest, but because I’ve run down the balance on my staff card, and have no more money to top it up. Wish me luck in staying awake at work!


Day 1 : Facing Up To It

Like an alcoholic at her first AA meeting, today I’m taking the first step in admitting that I’m in trouble, and that I need help.

The debt crept up on me. Every month I’d get a couple of hundred pounds worse off, but I shrugged it off. Somehow, in my head, I was rich. It didn’t matter if I had the shadow of a steady deficit, because I’d be fine. Why? Because I’m middle class? Because my parents and grandparents never got into debt?

Mine is an old-fashioned family, where the word “debt” is synonymous with “shame”. It’s just not done. My parents have never bought a sofa, holiday, car, house or telly on credit. They work, and they save. I suppose I assumed I’d live my life in the same way, without actually putting in any effort to do so.

Admitting it, then, is the first step. I’m using two overdrafts and a credit card. I’ve got a car on credit. A mobile phone on a lengthy, pricey contract. I tied myself into a year-long gym membership because I could afford to do so at the time.

Deep breath. I’m in debt. I’m overspending to the tune of £200 a month. I need to change. This is my journey. Now. Live. Today.

Step 2: Potentially even harder, even more humiliating. I scuttle back to my parents. The very people who have brought me up to live within my means, and tutted and scowled at my compulsive purchasing and ugly materiality. I ask for £500, to stop the debts from boiling over.

In return for a promise to live more frugally, and to pay back the loan by 30th November, I am thrown a rubber ring. Now I just have to learn how to swim…