Oh no, I sound just like my dad

WHEN I was seven, I asked my parents: “How much does this house cost?” “Don’t tell her!” cried Dad. “She doesn’t understand the meaning of money.” This was the refrain of my childhood. In fact, I still hear it quite often now. I’m 51.

Oh no, I sound just like my dad

Growing up with Mr Mean with Money — that is, my father, Hunter Davies — was an education in making money, saving money and, most importantly, not getting ripped off. “Waste not, want not” should have been tattooed on his forehead, as readers of his monthly column in Money will know.

Three weeks ago, Dad revealed that he has always wished his three children were as low-maintenance as our pet tortoise. He certainly was as a child.

When my father was seven, he followed horses through the streets of his home town, Carlisle, picking up freshly dropped manure to sell. His family had one egg a week: his father ate it and the four children took turns to have the top.

Unsurprisingly, any sign of unnecessary expense drove him crazy. Why was Mum cooking us steak? Did she know what that cost? We were children — we could have something else. What was I doing taking a firm yellow banana from the fruit bowl? I should be eating the half-rotten brown one first. That tea bag could make another 10 cups, and the stamp that has escaped the postmark should be soaked off and glued onto another envelope.

We were not to make phone calls before 6pm, which was when cheap rate started, and no central heating would be turned on before October.

Caitlin Davies on a family trip to Malta aged 4 with brother Jake, 2, and mother Margaret

Caitlin Davies on a family trip to Malta aged 4 with brother Jake, 2, and mother Margaret (Frank Herrmann)

Dad was notorious for his Christmas and birthday gifts. Look, a lovely mini-toothbrush from British Airways that has not even been opened. Wow, a gorgeous shower cap from a budget hotel.

He would never get rid of clothes because “they’ll come back into fashion”. No wonder that when Mum bought a nice dress, she would cut off the price tag and the label.

All this should have meant I was canny with my finances, but I wasn’t. Until I reached my twenties I was useless. When I got pocket money and, later, an allowance, I spent it at once. Budgeting? What was that?

But I did also earn it, through babysitting, working on a market stall, and waitressing at a pancake restaurant. While Dad says he had two jobs by the age of 15, I actually had three. And he was not that keen on mine either. Who was this dodgy-sounding man I was working for at a market? And 10pm was too late, he said, to be finishing my waitressing shift.

At some point my attitude to money changed. It may have been while I was at university and a bank manager called me in, took a pair of scissors and cut up my credit card because I was continuously overdrawn. I made a promise to myself that I would never owe money again, if at all possible. Still, today, I do not have a credit card.

I have turned into my father. I’m sensible and always go for the cheapest option, walk instead of taking a bus, grab every chance to get a discount or a refund, cut my own hair and swim in a river rather than join a gym.

I’ve found a lot of my household furniture on the street, and nearly all my clothes are from charity shops. I’m very proud of my reading glasses from the 99p store.

I bought National Savings & Investments’ Children’s Bonus Bonds for my daughter when she was three. I have small amounts of Premium Bonds and Isas, and I try to stay awake while Dad advises me on fixed and variable rates. But no, I don’t have a pension.

Even if I had lots of money, I’d be just like him. We both find it painful to hear of anything that costs more than £10. I’m delighted that he buys stationery in bulk, because that supply of 1,000 boxes of Post-it notes has to go somewhere and often it’s to me.

But when it comes to special offers and other “bargains”, we don’t agree at all. Why buy six cartons of blueberries, most already soggy, just because it’s 3-for-2? He’s just bought a pair of shoes from a car boot sale that are not his size. Why? Because they were a bargain.

Oddly, my partner, Nigel, is just like Dad. He buys three loaves of bread that have all expired — and we do not have a freezer. Who is going to eat all that bread?

But while I’m grateful and privileged because of how my parents’ relative wealth has helped me, the intricacies of finance do not fascinate me.

My attitude to money, meanwhile, infuriates my 15-year-old daughter, Ruby. I have tried to bring her up to understand money, following the tips Dad loves to hand out. It has not worked.

When she was 10 I opened a bank account for her, for cheques given by relatives at Christmas. “Don’t spend it all at once, and if you leave it in there you will actually make more money, which is called interest,” I said. “Look,” I told her when she received a statement. “You’ve made 5p.”

But it was her money, she wanted it and soon it had gone. When she was 13, she got a debit card and we went to the bank to make her first withdrawal. When we got home, she had lost it. Fifty quid! I could have wept. How could she have lost £50, and why wasn’t she more upset? I insisted we retrace our steps and asked to see the bank’s CCTV, but the money was never found.

“When I was your age,” I tell her, “I had three jobs.” “But you are not me!” she shouts. When she announced that for her birthday she wanted a pair of trainers costing £115, I felt faint. “The problem is,” I tell her, “you don’t understand the meaning of money.”

If there is such a thing as a money gene, it runs in Dad’s side of the family. My grandmother used old stockings to make crowdie, a Scottish cream cheese. An inch of water was perfect for a bath, as long as it was used by several people, and she had a sideboard full of sugar in case there was a shortage. One of Dad’s sisters once bought two shoes, both for the right foot, because they were cheap.

If I’ve inherited Dad’s money gene, my daughter certainly has not. “I’m materialistic,” she says. “You’re not. We have different needs. I like make-up and brands. It’s got a lot to do with my generation. You might have begged for a pair of Converse; we want Prada. The price has gone up.”

She says she’s grown more wary. “I have to come to terms with the fact that I can’t have my nails done every month, so I paint them myself.” Every month! Is she mad?

But what I hope I’ve given her is what Dad gave me: he might be mean with money (at least when it comes to small amounts) but he’s generous with praise and love.

That doesn’t mean I’ve forgiven him for his last “present”. After a trip to a luxury hotel in Italy, he brought me back a can of tomatoes. I don’t think even a tortoise would be too excited at that.

The saving graces of Mr Mean

Hunter Davies has been writing a monthly column for us about his relentlessly frugal approach to life since 1998.

Here are some of our favourites of his top money-saving tips. You may never view rotten fruit and cold bathwater in the same light again.

July 2005

I get such pleasure out of money — saving it, of course, not spending it — and at the moment I am having more pleasure than I’ve had for ages.

Eating up the last squashy, moulding fruit in the fruit bowl, I do get such pleasure out of that. Otherwise the utter wasters in this house will chuck it out. How can they? It’s like chucking money away.

Lying in the bathwater my wife has just vacated, that’s probably my bestest fun of all. First of all, it has saved me running it. Second, she has her bath far too hot, so it is just right for me. Third, I lie and think of all the money being saved. Fourth, I feel patriotic.

Hunter’s piece on his children and the family tortoise in May

Hunter’s piece on his children and the family tortoise in May

September 2006

I used to embarrass my children when we went skiing by refusing to buy any special clothes, preferring to ski in old trackie bottoms with pyjamas underneath. They, of course, insisted on dressing as if for the Winter Olympics.

July 2007

My children don’t seem to have the same standards as me. Not one has a decent rubber band collection, picked up from the pavement after the postie has been . . .

Paul Getty had a payphone installed for visitors in his stately home, which sounds eminently sensible. I didn’t know he also washed his own underpants every night. On hols, I always do. Doesn’t everyone? Saves laundry bills and also means you have to carry less.

January 2010

I don’t mean to mock and I am not cynical about global warming — though I won’t really believe it until I see it and feel it — but what strikes me about this whole campaign to save resources is that I HAVE BEEN DOING IT ALL MY LIFE. Yet nobody ever praised me. Nobody said well done Hunt, you are our role model, you showed us the way, will you take your MBE now or have it posted?

[Davies was eventually appointed OBE last year.]

Even in my own house, I have been the one mocked — for rushing round putting off lights, picking up rubber bands, re-using cling film, throwing nothing out, taking things from skips, haunting the charity shops.

I have not bought anything new since, well, it might even have been 1986, when I got some sandals from Saxone for my first trip to Barbados. They still talk about it.

I do have a car, 14 years old, but never do more than 2,000 miles a year and take buses everywhere or walk. I don’t have any electrical gadgets or Peapods or Blackcurrants. Our loft was insulated 47 years ago when we moved in.