Sunday, 24 January 2010

The Money Question... Part 1

My week started off badly, with my car breaking down outside a friends house. It left me firstly with the dilemma of how to get it to the garage, and secondly wondering how to pay for it when I am just recovering from Christmas and a monster pile of bills including road tax, insurance and a faulty water tank, so my bank account is looking redder than Dorothy's shoes! Since I gave up the rat race and my ridiculously huge salary, to live my simpler life as a photographer and writer, I have left the material world behind me and thoroughly enjoyed it, and it's only when several bills slap you around the face that you wish you were back on the road earning £70,000 a year.

There's only one thing worse than being skint, and that's being skint and single. If you're a cash strapped couple, at least you can spend evenings cuddled up on the sofa or weekends in the bedroom. But when it's only me, a bottle of cheap red and a Jackie Collins bonkbuster before bedtime - well, that's just rubbish. Worse still is being asked on a date when my bank account is in a dreadful state like it is now. If a man asks me out, chances are he'll pick up the bill, but I like to at least offer to go Dutch. Secondly, the key to a hot date is in the preparation: a new outfit, a haircut - hell even a new pair of shoes if I'm feeling really hopeful. Finally, what if I need a get out clause? There's nothing worse than being stuck on a date-from-hell in a remote country pub without enough cash for an emergency cab home. Trust me, I've been there for four hours and it wasn't pleasant.

I'm not against budget dates - some of my favourites have been low-cost picnics in the park or strolls on the beach. But I've learnt that scrimping on a first date can be a recipe for disaster. Like the time I agreed to go on a blind date set up by a mate: Date Boy told me excitedly beforehand, 'There's this amazing Chinese restaurant I'd like to take you to.' Brilliant, I thought, as I headed to meet him with an empty tummy and a head full of expectation. But when we arrived at a cafe-cum-kebab-house, with neon signs screaming 'Two courses and a drink for under £5!' I half expected Ashton Kutcher to jump out and tell me I'd been 'punk'd' (if only). I spent the next two hours sitting in a plastic chair, eating chow mein out of a polystyrene dish, wishing I'd worn my jeans instead of my best frock. And sadly, my date turned out to be more bland than my sweet-and-sour chicken balls.

The thing is, I don't expect to be whisked away to Paris in a chartered helicopter for a first date (although that would be cool). It's just that cutting corners from the start doesn't bode well for the future. Like my date with Ian, another guy I met on a singles website. Minutes after spotting him and before I could say 'Hi', he piped up with 'Just so you know I'm in the middle of buying a house right now so I only have £10 left in the world. How does it feel that I'm spending my last tenner on you?'

Actually, it felt really uncomfortable. All I could mutter was a meek 'Er, shall I buy this round?', followed by some tedious small talk before he told me at 9pm that he'd 'let me go'. Thanks, I thought, after nursing a glass of red wine (bought by me) for two of the longest hours of my life.

You see, I think first dates should be seen as a long-term investment. We devote time, energy and money to building a great shoe collection, or saving the deposit for a flat. So why not put the same expenditure into your love life? JLo might insist that Love Don't Cost A Thing, but I beg to differ. When it comes to relationships, you get out what you put in. And I like to think I'm worth slightly more than a handful of change.