'Don't let the b*****ds get you down!' Broke? Don't fret, be a frugalista says JANET STREET PORTER

When Mrs Beeton wrote her bestselling Book Of Household Management almost 150 years ago, she believed the key to running things efficiently, within a budget, was to set out rules and make sure everyone knew what they were.

She also outlined a strict code of etiquette, with instructions for how to behave in every conceivable social situation - it was important that everyone felt comfortable, no matter what they earned. Like the Victorians, we need to adapt to the new mantra of frugality - but how?

We've spent so many years living off our credit cards that the idea of saving, not spending, is hard to grasp.

Guide to living frugally: Janet Street Porter

Guide to living frugally: Janet Street Porter

And there's another problem: we've become so very good at putting ourselves first, making sure we've got the requisite amount of 'me time', that we're totally relaxed about letting the kids get their own food, buying ready meals they can bung in the microwave.

We work long hours, so we can't be bothered to waste our free time cooking, cleaning or listening to our partner whingeing on about the boring minutiae of their world.

But once you find out that you've got less money to spend on yourself after paying to heat your home, you'll have to accept that attending yoga classes and booking mini-breaks in Tuscany will be a thing of the past.

The day has come when you must face reality: you're broke. But then, so is most of Britain. The days of inviting mates round to slurp your nice wine and dine on a menu you culled from Gordon Ramsay's or Jamie Oliver's latest book are over. You still want to see mates and socialise - but at a tenth of the price.

So follow my tips for the new etiquette of being broke.


One of the things I find very strange about modern life is the small amount of time we spend at home. Think about the huge proportion of our earnings devoted to buying or renting somewhere to live. After hours slogging away at work earning this cash, what do we do? Go out. It's the ultimate paradox.

We go for drinks on the way home with workmates to moan about how crap our job is. We meet our friends every week to moan about how crap our workmates are.

We join our partners for cheap meals at the local pizzeria or wine bar to moan about how crap our bosses are and how we're undervalued.

We rush off to yoga/pilates/spin classes to wind down after a stressful day at work and then grab an overpriced ready meal to bung in the microwave when we get home.

I was as guilty as anyone of all the above. My mantra for most of my life has been: 'Why be in when you can be out?' Even when I'd spent years building a new house from scratch, designed by an old friend and built by another - a house that the BBC made a film about and the public would write fan letters to - what did I do?

I spent nearly every night in a restaurant or club, sitting around in a darkened room hoping to meet Mr 60 per cent. Madness! It took me several decades to realise that spending two consecutive nights at home isn't a sign of social failure. I was convinced that if I was in, I was missing out on something and somebody, and that my brain would atrophy from lack of input.

Guess what? I wasn't and it didn't. I finally got to my 50s and managed the impossible - two nights spent in my own home in one single week!

I know it's pathetic, but what I suffered from is very common - this fear of social failure, fear of being a sad, lonely singleton, fear of being thought boring. A Johnny no-mates who's anxious that they aren't getting invited to the most happening parties.

And if you work from home (which I do a lot of the time), you are so sick of talking to your own fridge and checking your emails hourly that even a trip to buy the morning papers turns you into a babbling idiot, talking incessantly to anyone who'll listen, just to get a bit of social interaction.

These days, I feel like someone who's been through rehab - proud to be able to control my deep-seated and desperate urge to be social. I've got it in check. I still consider going out, but I don't feel I definitely need to.

I have learned to say: 'No, I'm not available.'

The stack of CDs I bought and never listened to during the decades of frenetic socialising are gradually getting played. Ditto the DVDs. The piles of books that built up either side of the bed are gradually shrinking. For the first time in my entire life, I've sat on my sofa for longer than a news bulletin and I've gone to bed and enjoyed a book instead of some notes I needed for the next day's work.


The recession has meant we have had to refocus things, get our social ambitions scaled down to what we can afford. Our friends are in the same position, so what better time for a reappraisal?

To achieve my goal of spending time at home, I had to embrace one difficult new idea - re-learning the long-forgotten art of being proud to look after and spend time in a home.

This is anathema to most women under 70. We have been brainwashed and reared from childhood to think that talking about, let alone owning up to, doing housework is demeaning, degrading and not worthy of us.

Not any more. I put my hands up in shame - we can all make mistakes. After four husbands and I don't know how many men, all I can say is that there's a lot to be said for investing your time, energy, passion and commitment in running a house!

It doesn't answer back. It doesn't lose interest in sex. It doesn't get middle-age spread - in fact, the more time you invest in it, the better it looks. Your hard work rewards you with a comfortable, non-judgmental cocoon where you can rest and regroup, realise your true personality.


I buy second-hand furniture at jumble sales and little auctions in Yorkshire, and have it re-covered in fabulous fabrics. I never throw picture frames away, but re-use them and swap around the pictures in them every few years - old photographs, stuff cut out of old magazines.

I buy cheap saucepans and cutlery from catering wholesalers; recycled glasses and water jugs from Tesco; old teapots, jugs and mismatched teacups and saucers, all from house clearance sales and junk shops. Dozens of different dinner plates - none of them match.

The comforts of home: Staying in is the new going out

The comforts of home: Staying in is the new going out

When I travel, I buy cheap cotton-in street markets for curtains and tablecloths - I just cut it and let it fray in the wash, who's going to notice?

My bookshelves and kitchen units are from IKEA; I just changed the handles. I collected Fifties school posters found in flea markets and bric-a-brac street stalls in France, and framed them for my bathroom. Old seed packets are framed in the loo.

There's no right or wrong way to decorate - just do exactly what you want and sod the taste police.

And, by the way, forget the notion of starting on serious DIY. There's bound to be a friend or neighbour who can wire a plug or do some painting, or why not offer to swap something in return (a cake or babysitting or gardening)? Life's definitely too short to start buying tools at my age.

Once you're happy to spend more time and less money being at home, you can embrace the new social etiquette for frugalistas.


Let's bring back cheerful meals like shepherd's pie and chilli con carne - cheap, simple to make in large quantities, and easy to eat when you've had a few drinks.

Every December, I cook my birthday dinner for up to 40 people - it's been Lancashire hotpot, mutton or venison stew (made from cheap offcuts), or chicken and leek pie. All are straightforward, tasty and hard to muck up.

Having a party once or twice a year means you can see a lot of friends in one go and plan it in advance. It could be a summer Sunday lunch or a winter supper. I always make the invites myself and photocopy them. I have my birthday dinner in the local village hall (certainly a value-for-money venue), decorate it with old bunting and fairy lights, lay the tables and do all the serving.

For entertainment, we have several rounds of pass the parcel (I make the parcels with old wrapping paper and newspapers, re-use ribbon and string) and musical chairs. Everyone has to bring a gift (usually an unwanted present) costing less than £10, which goes into the tombola, so each guest gets one to take home - the ultimate in recycling!

If we have a summer supper, we'll play ping-pong or have a disco in the living room later - who cares if you look ridiculous - and for dessert we have trifle (some guests will always be pleased to bring them). I have been known to hold trifle-making competitions.

Paul O'Grady makes the best trifle, but he spends about four days doing it!

Paul O'Grady triumphs in Janet's trifle-making competitions

Paul O'Grady triumphs in Janet's trifle-making competitions

Sales of convenience foods have risen 300 per cent over the past ten years: now you have to find ways of cooking that are not just cheaper, but don't take all your time.

I make my own bread on the weekend and freeze it for the week (sales of bread machines have gone up by 50 per cent and it costs much less as well as being dead easy) and always cook using home-made stock from bits of veg and bones.

Slow-cooked casseroles and stews are good - make them the day before, they taste better that way.

Just use big tins of roasted root vegetables - potatoes, beetroot, parsnips, carrots and onions - cut up into pieces of approximately the same size and briefly tossed in hot oil on the top of the stove before being sprinkled with salt, pepper and a bit of sugar and bunged in a very hot oven for 45 minutes.

Fancy-dress dinners are another cheap way of spending a fun evening. Once a year, I have a holiday with friends, which always ends with a fancy-dress dinner - you have to go to the local supermarket and not spend more than e20 on your outfit. I usually go as a cleaning lady (I wonder why?). I adore fancy-dress parties: over the years, I've turned up as Wonder Woman, Andy Warhol's muse Edie Sedgwick, a runner bean (my friend went as Jack) and Carmen Miranda.


If you're entertaining, encourage your guests to turn up with something to drink, but stress you want Cava, not Champagne (that just screams 'money to burn').

If you're going out, take your host a plant from your garden (something that splits easily like hostas, or dahlias), a bunch of flowers you picked, or a small potted vegetable plant you grew from seed - chilli or tomato or a small pot of baby mizuna.

Afterwards, send handwritten notes or postcards, never an email or a text. Be personal, not efficient.


1. Don't be too scared to ask your friends if you can borrow something - I am always pleased to lend stuff to girlfriends who aren't as chunky as me and can get into my party frocks of yesteryear. Just ask them to clean the dress afterwards.

2. Scour charity shops and eBay for something second-hand - the only downside is getting something that won't fit you, and the time it takes trawling through stuff. Top tip: always buy a size too big; most clothes are dead easy to get taken in (and it's not that expensive), but you can't do anything about a dress that's too small.

Make like Gok Wan and re-fashion old outfits

Make like Gok Wan and customise old outfits

3. Take a frock in a nice fabric you already have and get a dressmaker to customise it - no one will notice and you will be happy for a third of the price.

Gok Wan does this every week on his C4 show, using bits and pieces like lace, buttons and ribbons from haberdashery departments. Dressmakers can also lengthen/ shorten sleeves, put in contrasting panels, turn baggy trousers into skirts. (You can find a dressmaker via a good dry-cleaners or your local newspaper.)

4. If you already have a dress you like, get it copied in another fabric. There are some great bargains in sari shops - you can buy cheap material and get it lined if it's going to crease or be too see-through.

5. If you need a wedding dress, there are websites which sell second-hand ones online - why waste money on a new one?


Be honest, it's always the best policy. You'd be surprised how sympathetic most people are - if they are your true friends, they will try to find you somewhere to stay in someone's house, see if they can get you a lift with someone else, and they certainly won't expect a present. Just don't ever lie about why you're not going to something - you'll get found out, or your hosts will be offended that you didn't give a good enough reason for not attending.

It's perfectly OK to admit you're broke.

EXTRACTED from Don't Let The Bastards Get You Down by Janet Street-Porter, published by Quadrille on October 2 at £12.99. ° Janet Street-Porter 2009 To order a copy (p&p free), call 0845 155 0720.

The comments below have been moderated in advance.

The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now