On the desk in front of me is a bottle of pills, labelled “digestive enzyme complex”. They are the only visible reminder of one of my less impressive moments: the time I went to a homeopath as a last, desperate resort when I was suffering from terrible heartburn that the usual meds didn’t seem to touch. He charged me £80 for the appointment, during which he wired me up to a machine which he said would pinpoint the cause of the problem, and I seem to recall having to pay another £15 for the tablets – tablets which, I discovered days afterwards, cost £6 at the health food shop on Farringdon Road. (The cause of the problem was apparently mobile phones, incidentally. I expect it usually is.)
Of course, none of it made any difference, and eventually the original prescription of Omeprazole did the trick. But looking at that bottle of pills just now, I started to think “what’s the most money I’ve ever wasted on something I didn’t need, want or use?” That trip to the homeopath is up there, but other candidates include:
- The Vivienne Westwood shoes which I imported from San Francisco two years ago. They are beautiful, but they don’t fit, so they sit in a box under the bed awaiting the day when I can bring myself to do something with them.
- The trip to the hypnotist who was supposed to make me stop smoking. He didn’t. (Though I did do it myself a couple of years later.)
- The holiday an ex and I had booked before we broke up, for which we couldn’t get a refund on anything – flights, villa, hire car. I tried to hawk it around my friends but nobody could go away for a week at a fortnight’s notice. I am still cross at having missed out on a week in the sun, even though it was technically my fault for running away.
Together they represent about a thousand pounds’ worth of waste. That’s terrible! Except that there is a converse phenomenon, which is things which I have bought that have turned out to be worth way more than I spent on them. Things like:
- Great Answers to Tough Interview Questions, which I hold 100% responsible for landing me my current job as well as the last three, meaning the £9.99 it cost me was actually worth six years’ salary (and counting).
- The winter coat I bought for £90 in 1999, which I have worn regularly every winter since. That’s fifteen winters and (conservatively) fifty wears per winter, giving an average cost per wear of 12 pence (and falling).
- The Saturday Guardian. Specifically, the Saturday Guardian‘s cryptic crossword, which usually takes me most of Saturday and which – along with a leisurely breakfast and some football in the afternoon – is the high point of my weekend*. The Saturday Guardian costs £2.30, which is the price of half a pint of beer and it’s more fun and lasts longer and doesn’t, usually, give me a headache.
- My digital piano, which didn’t cost me anything at all (thanks, Grandpa) but which was nonetheless quite expensive, except that I’ve had it twelve years and it’s more like a flatmate than a musical instrument, and if I am ever bored or sad half an hour on it will blow away the blues and set me fair for a new course. I am still not very good at playing the piano, and I’m definitely worse than I was when I used to play properly, but even busking away at a Beatles song is enough to lift me out of all but the darkest funk. (For the darkest funk I need Agatha Christie, but since all my Christies were acquired for 70p a time in the second-hand bookshops of Colchester in the mid-nineties, they also make the list.)
So overall, I think I’m in credit. Which means it’s time to buy some new shoes from Vivienne Westwood! Right?
*I know that makes me sound like a retired member of the clergy. It’s not that I NEVER have more fun at the weekend than when I do the crossword, it’s just that the rest of the weekend is variable, whereas the crossword is guaranteed.