Cheap Thrills

Shopping has become a national hobby, with plenty of women 'rewarding' themselves with retail therapy on a regular basis. How will we cope without this emotional crutch in these tough economic times? We talk to India Knight, author of The Thrift Book, about how to get a thrill from not spending money.

It must be a sign of the times when an ex-big spender and self-confessed shopaholic decides to write a manual on how to be thrifty.

But that's exactly what India Knight has done. Five years on, in stark contrast to her best-selling book, The Shops, she now guides us through the joys of... not shopping.

"Admittedly, there is a slight u-turn," she confesses.

"As you might imagine, the whole ethos of The Shops was that acquisition is pleasurable.

"But the things I wrote about in detail were, for example, drawing pencils. Or a really nice washing-up brush that made you feel cheerful when you did the dishes. It wasn't about buying Louis Vuitton handbags and expensive shoes."

It's fair to say, if you put the two books side by side the configuration of titles might seem a bit strange. But both books are about taking pleasure in the smaller things in life.

"In The Shops, it's small things that you've purchased," India says.

"In The Thrift Book, it's small things that you've made or got very cheaply. But the vibe is the same.

"Quite selfishly, I always write the books I want to read, whether they're comic novels or diet books. I'd really liked to have read this book about two years ago at the height of my financial inadequacy.

"It would have cheered me up and made me realise that getting a grip didn't have to be miserable, painful and depressing."

A child of the more-is-more 1980s, India doesn't advocate giving up the things you really love "because life's too short".

But thanks to the credit crunch, she does think we're turning a corner into a more sober society.

"I think people are realising that the mindless consumption we've all merrily been engaging with for the last two decades has kind of had its
day.

"There's also an overlap with green issues. I've certainly started to mind about being wasteful.

A single mother of three, India readily admits to being naturally extravagant and irresponsible with money.

In 2007, even though she had two books in the Top 10 best-seller charts, she was served with bankruptcy papers!

"It wasn't the first time, alas," she sighs.

"I've been so financially disastrous that once I went to my bailiff's child's christening!

"I thought, I'm 42, enough is enough. I don't want to be in this world of debt anymore."

Most women are usually in control of various aspects of their lives, but their financial state can often be precarious.

"Certainly, it was for me," India admits.

"A lamentably high number of women aren't as clued up financially as they should be and exist in a state of 'Oh, stick the Visa bill under the fridge and it'll go away!'"

After 20 years of an easy-come-easy-go approach to her bank account and overdraft, India decided to tighten her purse strings.

"To my complete amazement, I found I was saving hundreds and hundreds of dollars a month. And the changes weren't painful, or grotty. My life
didn't turn grey.

"What I'd feared the most was that all the fun would go out of it. But it didn't at all. On the contrary, it's amazingly empowering to suddenly think, 'My God, I've got money left at the end of the month and I can do this, this and this!'"

India's cost cutting didn't mean having to give up the luxury of a car, as she doesn't drive. But she has said goodbye to taxis and now travels on the bus.

"And I walk... I never used to walk. It's a great feeling. And I've dug my bicycle out of retirement and I cycle."

Expensive beauty treatments, make-up and skincare are now a thing of the past, she says.

"I used to spend a fortune and it's made absolutely no difference. If anything my skin's better!"

Although she's successfully managed to edit a few luxuries out of her life, she doesn't believe in giving up something if it makes you unhappy.

India admits she still enjoys a few guilty pleasures.

"I think presents and treats are lovely and everybody needs them. It's just my treat of choice is now much more modest.

"I might do something like take my children out for lunch to the local Greek restaurant which could cost $50.

"And that lunch will give me just as much pleasure, if not more, than going to a department store and spending $300 on a pair of shoes for myself."

Having managed to mend her wicked ways and tighten the reins on her shopping habits, India has advice for women who are still chasing a fashion fix;

"I think it's about a woman's sense of self. I think there's quite a lot in my book that suggests there are other ways to feel good about yourself. You don't just have to be acquiring things all the time.

"Prioritise your time," she advises.

"Don't hang out in city centres looking at stuff you can't afford. Forget that expensive Marc Jacobs handbag."

But for the millions of women who depend on retail therapy, India says this doesn't mean you should spend your Saturday afternoons shopping in K-Mart instead.

"I don't believe in treating clothes like tissues, buying something because it's incredibly cheap and knowing it's going to break, and then buying another one. I think that's quite obscene."

"When it comes to buying clothes I believe in buying better, fewer, and less often!"

This once-dedicated consumer has turned a corner in her life and hopes the book will encourage other women do the same. She really wants us to embrace the new thrift.

"Women need to realise that the highlights or the handbag aren't suddenly going to make your husband nicer, the children easier to manage, or your job better. It's an illusion on a really grand scale."

Once she had got over the urge to buy the latest It-bag, India says it was the little cuts she made that yielded the greatest results.

"People think they have to make one giant sacrifice. What I've found living this way is that it's all the little things you do put together that make a difference.

"If you shop sensibly and buy your food locally. If you buy discounted food as opposed to premium ranges. If you don't go to a restaurant but entertain at home, drinking reasonably priced wine and you don't buy crazily priced cocktails in bars etc, etc.

"Then, by the end of the month, you will have saved a really considerable amount of money."

Presumably though, she still wants you to go and spend your savings on her book. For real thrift, perhaps it's best to borrow it from the library.

:: The Thrift Book - Live Well And Spend Less by India Knight is published by Penguin, RRP$24.95. Available now.
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