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Experiencing the pain of budget cuts

It’s that time of the year again. When the office grapevine begins to buzz with how the raise scenario will play itself out this year. If you are one of God’s chosen creatures, you will probably end up...

brunch Updated: Jan 21, 2012 20:01 IST
Seema Goswami

It’s that time of the year again. When the office grapevine begins to buzz with how the raise scenario will play itself out this year. If you are one of God’s chosen creatures, you will probably end up scoring a decent raise. But if you’re not and given the state of the economy, I’m guessing this is far more likely you will be fobbed off by a token increase that is risible given the rate of inflation.

And if the Fates truly have it in for you, then you will be sent a sad little form letter from the HR department telling you this is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of the company by sacrificing their salary hikes at the altar of corporate profitability.

MagazinesIn that case, like millions of other hapless souls, you will be forced to live on a wage that buys much less than it did and doesn’t, in fact, go very far. And that means those dreaded words that strike terror in every middle-class heart: budget cuts.

Cuts. How cruel it sounds! Cuts: as in something that hurts, causes you pain, injures you and leaves you less than whole. But however traumatic we find it, cuts are something that all of us will have to make as our salaries fail to keep up with our expenses. And the first thing to go will be the little luxuries that make life a bit more fun.

But when it comes right down to it, what luxuries would you be willing to forgo? And which of them would you find impossible to live without? In other words, which of your luxuries do you need rather than just want? Which of them are just luxuries; and which of them have become that dangerous thing called Luxecessities luxuries that have turned into necessities as you try to cope with your daily grind.

Coffee makerSpeaking for myself, there are some things that I simply refuse to forgo, no matter how frivolous they may seem to the rest of the world. And on top of that list is hair-styling: highlighting, trimming, conditioning, blow-drying. The rituals just add up every year as indeed, does the expense.

But I don’t grudge a rupee that I drop at my friendly neighbourhood hair salon because it is simply the best pick-me-up in the world. Fine, go ahead and judge me (as I am sure you are!) but I consider the money spent here the best investment ever. It makes me feel good about myself, and there’s no substitute for that in an increasingly gloomy world.

To make up for this profligate spending, I have given up on my coffee habit well, after a fashion anyway. I no longer drop by Barista for an early morning cappuccino or two; I don’t send out for a couple of double espresso shots in the late afternoon; I don’t buy a tall glass of creamy cold coffee when I’m feeling a bit peckish.

Instead, I’ve invested in a coffee-maker which is considerably less complicated to operate than it looks and spews forth coffee that would do any Italian restaurant proud. It makes espresso, it serves Americanos and froths up a mean cappuccino. (Word to the wise: use south Indian roasted beans; they’re a fraction of the price of Illy and Co and just as good.)

Another luxecessity I find hard to give up is book-buying. There is something so supremely addictive about the high that I get from browsing through book shops that I find it hard to go cold turkey.

I love the smell of freshly-bound books, the clutter on the shelves, the colourful covers, the juxtaposition of the sublime with the ridiculous. I love the inevitable dithering between two equalling compelling volumes and then heading home, warm with the anticipation of spending the evening curled up with my latest purchase.

To fund this addiction, I’ve given up on magazines. I’ve always been a bit of a mag hag, devouring everything from shaming gossip rags to elevated publications that lecture me about the state of the world. But of late, I’ve begun to feel that the expense is simply not worth it. There’s nothing here that I can’t get for free on the Internet. And if there’s some really compelling content then it’s easier and cheaper to download the app on my iPad anyway.

Don’t ask me if any of my cuts have made the slightest difference to my household budget. I haven’t the foggiest. But just the thought that I’m trying to cut down on frivolous expenses does make me a little better.

If you’re looking to make a few economies of your own, here are some ideas.

n Cut down on eating out; restaurant bills have a way of piling up. And if you’re paying by credit card you may not even notice until it’s too late. Instead, tap into your inner Domestic Goddess (or whatever the male equivalent is) and turn cooking into a fun, family activity.

Rid yourself of the multiplex habit. The expensive tickets, the popcorn and soda combo offers begin to add up after a while. Discover the joys of ordering movies on Showcase or the delights of DVD box sets.

n Forget about exploring exotic, foreign locales on your vacations. Revive those old-style home-stays you enjoyed as a child when you spent holidays in the houses of family and friends. Who knows, you may just end up gaining much more than the money saved.

Follow Seema on Twitter at twitter.com/seemagoswami

From HT Brunch, January 22

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