Reframing your viewpoint

Yesterday, I read a great blog about a woman who has got rid of all her debt, and it just seemed so timely to revisit what she says in light of M. Fillon’s second austerity budget. One isn’t enough for all of us in France. It seems that how we’ve spent in the past has caught up with us – and we’re paying for our neighbours’ credit problems too, and I don’t just mean on a European scale, I mean on a personal scale.

I thought about the girl’s blog – about living a frugal life – I guess the French would say an austere life – and I thought ‘that’s the way to start… you’ve got to go from thinking about ‘poverty’ and think about ‘thrift’… and when you do that, you make this ugly topic into something quite beautiful.’

See, poverty is something we’re ashamed of. Nobody talks about debt. We keep it secret. It’s a horrible, horrible feeling and a horrible, horrible place to be. Yet thrift and frugality are beautiful notions, albeit ones that people who shop in Selfridges regularly might sneer at, if you don’t do it right. I include me. I like Selfridges. I like make-up and expensive boots and beautiful clothes. I admit it. I like the sushi bars and I like spending. I like money. I like having money.

But then I thought about it.

If you do frugal right, you can still be Selfridges too.

Luckily, I learned this from my mum. I never had the sense we went without stuff, although I grew up in very different times than kids today. When I saw girls in gorgeous clothes, they were just girls in gorgeous clothes. I didn’t think: oh, I want that! I MUST have that. This stood me in good stead. Now I don’t feel like I have to go with the crowd. I don’t have an iphone. We don’t have a flat-screen television. I could say I’m too poor to buy one, but I know in my heart if I really wanted one, I’d get one. We have plenty of computers (albeit mine has a plug-in keyboard because Basil threw up on my laptop and when the PC World man sucked his teeth and said, ‘that’ll be, like, over £100 to fix,’ I just said ‘can’t I just buy a USB keyboard and plug it in?’

Obviously I can.

I’d LIKE a Sony Vaio. I’d LIKE a Kindle. But I don’t NEED them. I know the difference. I think a lot of people don’t, any more. LIKE or WANT becomes MUST HAVE.

And I can prettify frugality, as well as use it as a sensible argument against consumerism. Instead of buying new wardrobes, I can buy ‘vintage’. I can buy a 10€ bookcase, strip it and paint it, because you know what? It’s a tenner. And that 10€ bookcase is actually more attractive than the 20€ from Ikea. Nobody would doubt that. It’s actually chic. As long as I keep my good taste and don’t start buying unpleasant formica or chipboard replica furniture, I’m safe.

Frugal is beautiful.

Being poor is not.

For example, if I thought ‘poor’, I might not celebrate how wonderful our menu is, on a 50€ budget a week. Let’s get something clear. When I lived on my own with more money than sense, I used to spend about £50 a week on food. I don’t rightly remember what. I ate porridge, rice and beans, pasta. I didn’t eat meat, which is vastly expensive. But it was still £50. That was also just me. In England. Where sausages don’t cost 3.50€ for enough to feed two people. Where a box of oats aren’t 5€.

Last night, for example, we had a splendid feast. Alright, it was the most expensive meal I’ve cooked all week, since it had minced beef in it. But it was still only 6€ for the three of us. Tonight, our meal will be cheese and onion quiche, baked potatoes, and tuna and sweetcorn for the boy. That comes in at a whopping 3€ for the lot. I’d actually say we eat better now than we ever did. Jake ate lentils last night. He doesn’t know it, but he did. And he had chickpeas the night before. And Steve and I had chickpea and chorizo soup which came in at a staggering 1.73€ for the meal – and it was so sumptuous, so gorgeous that I’d have paid £2 for a quarter the amount from Covent Garden soups. Luckily, I am a good cook. I don’t skimp on flavour. Flavour is the cheap bit. Herbs, garlic, onions, stock. Cheap. And it’s the difference between it tasting like water and it tasting like something that came off the cooler counter in Selfridges.

I’m proud of this thrift. In a land where people complain vociferously (and rightly so) about how expensive food is, we still eat like kings. I just can’t see any reason oats should be 5€. But that’s just me. Maybe someone should start an Occupy Carrefour movement in France? It’s obscene. And it can’t just be the euro.

I’ve made my own Christmas cards, this year. If you get one, you’ll know why I’m super-proud. They are better than shop-bought ones, more personal and more thoughtful. Now it might only be a fiver, but it all adds up.

How then did I go from being the girl who didn’t quake at spending money (and I must point out, I never bought junk! All of the stuff I bought is stuff I really, really wanted – and I have issues parting with it!) to the girl who makes Christmas cards?

The answer is ‘I always was’.

I’ve always been the girl who bought a £2 velvet jacket and embroidered sequins all over it. I’m the girl who bought a purple satin coat with gold embroidery and kimono sleeves (think Noel Coward meets Memoirs of a Geisha) and wore it out. I’m the girl who’s leather jacket didn’t have a space on it, kind of like a leather version of the Illustrated Man. I’ve always celebrated my inner frugal. Even when I was very rich, I still used the library.

So, my tips?

  • Have a money-free day where you don’t spend anything.
  • Check out great DIY blogs, like Centsational Girl and tell me you’re not wowed!
  • Downsize your stuff
  • Get rid of all the stuff you’ve got that you don’t need
  • Eat well and grow things yourself, even if it’s just herbs and garlic!
  • Sell anything you don’t need and recuperate some of the cost
  • Buy new on ebay
  • Bargain-hunt for the things you do need
  • Enjoy and use what you have
  • Think ‘frugal’, not ‘poor’
  • Be poor in possessions and rich in spirit
  • Save your money for those little luxuries that really make you smile
  • Never throw away if you can pass on, sell or re-gift
  • Embrace your inner creator and make stuff

It might all just be a drop in the ocean in terms of world debt, but maybe if we all got a little frugal, from Governments down, we’d not be in such a global mess…




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