It’s not easy being frugal. Especially when you’re travelling.
I’m visiting my parents, who moved to Ireland four years ago to retire – partly because of the affordable property prices there back then (now you have to fork out £450k for the pleasure of a small hole in a peat bog). Essentially I’m on holiday but was also hoping I might pick up the odd money saving tip from my mother. Frugality is in her blood – for years she’s been feeding us 6p tinned tomatoes and rationing toilet roll supplies in an effort to save money. "We’re on an economy drive!" was her frequent war cry during my childhood years. She even used to make us reuse teabags in our tea. Certainly, someone has to keep my father in check who has no frugal instincts, and if he had had his way, would have sold me and my Mum off to the white slave trade long ago and spent the proceeds on cowboy boots and Western DVDs.
Thankfully the wonder of cheap air travel, despite possibly polluting the environment, now means instead of paying over the odds for a ticket on British Airways to see the folks I can get across from Stansted to Belfast for the reasonable sum of £60. Although admittedly an open return ticket from Liverpool Street on the Stansted Express set me back a princely £25.50. I’m sure it used to be much less than that but the ticket office has closed and now you have to buy straight from a little machine at the station while four other people stand behind you tutting at you to hurry up.
But I can’t say that so far the trip has been particularly frugal. Foolishly I decided to travel the day after my leaving do from work, so couldn’t face much breakfast before hitting the road, cursing that I’d ever thought it was a good idea to fly Easyjet on a hangover. So of course by the time I got to Liverpool Street en route to Stansted with my grubby pink case stuffed with what felt like concrete slabs I was starving. With only four minutes to go before the train to the airport left I thought I’d best grab something to eat and fancied an almond croissant. But there wasn’t enough time to shop around so I ran to the nearest daylight robbery kiosk (DRK) on the concourse. What would normally be a £1 croissant was £1.69 there. I winced as I handed over the cash to the sullen assistant. At least there were about 20 real almonds stuck to the outside of the still warm croissant, perhaps they were even worth 2.8p each. Mmm…perhaps not, I thought as most of them ended up down my jumper as I took it out of the bag. But the real shocker was waiting on board for me on the train. £1.70 for a cup of tea. I ask you! It didn’t even taste of anything! I thought of those reused teabags of my youth and felt sick to my stomach.
But besides the annoying (but yes I know for our safety) regulations which mean you have to throw away a perfectly good bottle of water that you’ve just painfully exchanged an arm and a leg for at the DRK before you go through airport security, and then have to buy another one (although, on second thoughts I missed a trick there and should have simply poured the water away and then filled it up again in the loos – but my hangover meant I didn’t have the brain power to think of it), the worst thing about airports from a frugal standpoint is that they’re designed to make you haemorrhage money. You come through security, bored, hungry and impatient for your flight to leave, into what is a miniature Oxford Street. You’ve just had the humiliation of having your smalls x-rayed and having to remove your shoes in public. Now you’re suddenly surrounded by the sights and sounds of a glamorous shopping paradise. There’s a miniature Harrods for God’s sake, and debauched looking characters sitting in the middle of the airport eating oysters and quaffing champagne at a seafood bar. Who in their right mind does that before getting on a plane?!!
Walking calmly past the French Connection and a slinky shoe shop crammed with gorgeous looking boots on display in the windows, I calculated that it’s safe to risk a quick browse in the bookshop as long as I don’t go too far in. But even there the overwhelming feeling that I should be spending money assails me.
"Maybe I should buy Jordan’s new novel," I find myself thinking seriously for the first time ever in my 31 years without the help of hallucinatory drugs, even though I don’t actually want to read it or even use it to prop a door open. But the book shop proffers three for the price of two drivel lit. "This must be a bargain," says my confused brain. "Put the book down," my frugal angel says, coming to the rescue. I take her advice and instead go and buy the Times for 70p and find somewhere to sit down as far away from the shops as I can find.