‘Borrowing to invest is like lighting a bonfire of your cash in the back garden’

Are you a saver or a spender?

I get figaries to buy things, like gardening stuff earlier this summer. I couldn’t pass anywhere selling plants without going in to see what bedding plants they had. That said, I always make sure I have enough money for my sons’ education and bills. I have always worried hugely about money. I didn’t grow up with money and as a self-employed person, if I can’t work, I don’t get paid.

Do you shop around for better value?

In years gone by, I wasn’t much of a shopper-arounder, but I’m much better at checking out prices now. The concept of changing providers is a new one for me and I have taken to it happily.

What has been your most extravagant purchase and how much did it cost?

It’s been years since I bought anything extravagant. My first big purchase when I got my first paying book deal was a pair of designer shoes. Champagne had been taken and, delighted with the thought of having actual money after two years of writing, I bought these daft pointy shoes. They were around £200 and I still have them. They represent both a moment of happiness and a moment of buying something in advance of money to come, which is always a mistake!

What purchase have you made that you consider the best value for money?

About three years ago I became a convert to the type of over-the-shoulder carrying case for your phone. My current one is a German brand but I have had ones by XouXou that cost about €40 for a basic version. You never lose your phone, and you don’t drop it, either. I am a great dropper of phones, so it’s a fabulous purchase.

How did you prefer to shop during the Covid-19 restrictions – online or local?

I live in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, and I love supporting local shops, and I certainly did during Covid. I tried to support local bookshops, too. I’m also a fan of supporting Irish.

Do you haggle over prices?

I couldn’t haggle to save my life. I work with Unicef and once, at a market in Mozambique, a lovely Unicef person accompanied me because I am so useless at purchasing anything where haggling is part of the deal. I will give people twice the money if I think they need it.

How has the Covid-19 crisis changed your spending habits?

I was never a fashionista but Covid meant I could give in to my inner wrecked jeans and elderly woolly sweater look. Meetings were online or on the phone and I realised I had loads of clothes I never wanted to wear again. I donated a huge amount to charity, and I buy lots of charity shop stuff now, too. The sheer joy of buying something quirky for a fiver! I come home waving the new purchase like it’s an Oscar.

Do you invest in shares?

I have a pension, which is obviously share-related, but on a personal level, no.

Cash or card?

I use cards mainly but like to have cash. I make a huge effort now to have some cash so I can tip people if I get a coffee, especially in my local coffee shop. Nobody has cash any more so people who work in service industries lose out on tips. I hate that.

What was the last thing you bought and was it good value for money?

I am going to a lovely event where I will be in the sun and I needed a new sun hat. I had skin cancer many years ago so a hat is part of the regime. This new straw one looks great.

Have you ever successfully saved up for a relatively big purchase?

Like most people, my first big saving experience was for my first house, and in the end I managed it. Saving up meant I was better able to cope with the utter lack of money of owning that first house.

Have you ever lost money?

Yes. If I was to tell you any more about it, I would have to kill you but all I’ll say is that borrowing to invest is like lighting a bonfire in the back garden and setting fire to your money.

Are you a gambler and, if so, have you ever had a big win?

I have no interest in gambling. I’ve been in a bookies twice in my life. I once won an office pool on the Grand National, but that meant we all went to the pub and I bought everyone a drink, so I think it was an overall loss.

Is money important to you?

Anyone who doesn’t think money is important has never seen people living in a mud-floored hut in Africa or living in a camp close to the Syrian border. Money does not make you happy but it can keep you fed, housed, safe, healthy – within reason. Millions of parents are watching their children dying of severe acute malnutrition in countries like Yemen, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa region. People in Ireland are homeless, sitting on streets trying to get money to get into a shelter for the night. People here can’t pay their bills and fear the winter because they won’t be able to turn the heating on. As long as I can work and take care of my sons and dependents, then I am doing far better than most. I do not need fancy handbags for that.

How much money do you have on you now?

I have €35 and that includes plenty of coins. I have a dinky clear purse that came from Penneys and is actually for holding a face mask but it makes the best purse as you can see what you have.

In conversation with Tony Clayton-Lea

Cathy Kelly’s latest novel, The Wedding Party, is published by Orion Fiction. www.cathykelly.co.uk

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