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Magazines – ? 6.40

Which makes a grand total so far of… ?14.09.

Gosh. I suppose that's quite a lot, bearing in mind it's only 9.40 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.

Oh God, though. 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.

I love 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 Christmas present. What happened in fact was, I'd already built up 1653 points – and I needed 1800 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 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 grey as well. The most perfect, soft, dove-grey angora cardigan, with little pearly buttons.

Oh God. You see, the thing is, I've been looking for a nice grey cardigan for ages. Honestly, I have. You can ask Suze, my mum, anybody. And the other thing is, I'm not actually on 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 t act on my natural impulses and buy it. It would be false not to. It would ruin the whole point.

And 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' nothing, is it?

So I buy it. The most perfect little cardigan in the world. People will call me the Girl in the Grey 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 favourite job – I can't understand why Philip always offloads it onto someone 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 matter 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 an afternoon. (A paid afternoon, that is. Obviously, I'd be thinking a bit differently if this was a Saturday.)

I get there before Elly and mutter 'Becky Bloomwood from Successful Saving', to the girl at reception, wishing I could say 'Becky Bloomwood from Vogue' or 'Becky Bloomwood from Wall Street 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 importantly pull out my notebook. We had a meeting about the cover yesterday, and eventually decided on Portfolio Management: getting the right balance. Before your head falls off with boredom, let me just point out that last month, the coverline was Deposit accounts: put to the test. Why can't we just once 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 being paid 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-coloured 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 towards 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 transparencies 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 not Cosmo, 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 slight nod, and I frown in bemusement. Why is she applying to Wetherby's Investments? '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 decisions and all that. But I'm sorry, a fund manager?

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


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 just 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 bargaining 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 must ignore the shops. I must practise frugality, go straight home and plot my expenditure graph. If I need entertainment, I can watch some nice free television and perhaps make some inexpensive, nutritious soup.

But there's nothing good on tonight, at least not until EastEnders. And I don't feel like soup. I really feel as if I need something 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 towards 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…

Hmmm. I'm no 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.

Buy two skincare products, and receive FREE beauty bag, containing trial-size cleanser, toner and moisturizer, Autumn Blaze lipstick, Extra Strength mascara and sample size Eau Dynamisante.

Stocks limited so hurry.

But this is fantastic! Do you know how much Clarins lipstick usually costs? And here they are, giving it away free! Excitedly, I start rooting through all the skincare products, trying to decide which two to buy.

How about some neck cream? I've never used that before. And some of this revitalizing moisturiser. 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 moisturiser. 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 colour. 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 so 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 done straightaway, 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.

'EastEnders in 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 writing 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:

Cappuccino – ?1.50

Muffin – ?1.00

Magazines – ?6.40

Egg and cress sandwich – 99p

Coconut bath oil – ?2.55

Boots moisturizers – ?20.97

Two cardigans – ?90

Evening Standard – 35p

Clarins neck cream – ?14.50

Clarins moisturizer – ?32.50

Beauty bag Free!

Banana smoothie – ?2.00

Carrot cake – ?1.20

And that comes to a grand total of ?173.96! I stare at this figure in utter shock. No, I'm sorry, that just can't be right. It can'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 had time 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 God, this is depressing. I'm going to go and watch EastEnders.

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