IT is snakes and ladders when it comes to hanging onto your money these days and no mistake.
In the same breath that a marvellous bargain drops in your lap, a hefty and disproportionate charge tends to wipe the slate clean again.
Last week I went to Newcastle. I parked at the NCP on Stowell Street for 36 minutes.
Guess how much the cost was. Go on, guess, I bet you can’t guess how much it was ...
It was £4.90! That’s almost 14p a minute! The NCP offices are made from gold and carpeted with rubies I expect.
Their water fountain’s got to be Don Perignon.
Never mind journalism, my new aim in life is to own and run a car park. In a year I could use the profit to eliminate all UK debt and have enough loose change for a yacht and a new sunhat.
But then, you see, it works the other way too. Not two nights later but I found a copy of Kung Fu Panda in the supermarket for £4.
In direct contrast to the insanity of car parking prices, a Kung Fu Panda DVD for under a fiver is very good value.
I’ve watched it twice already, and I’ll no doubt lend it to a friend who’ll also laugh heartily at it while eating party food.
The film definitely improved my wisdom by giving me a very good saying: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present” delivered from the mouth of a Kung Fu master tortoise, no less.
I like to learn life lessons from cartoon animals. Also, the animation and jokes made me happy, whereas a concrete multi-storey has never stirred that particular emotion in my soul.
It’s also unnecessary, since I parked for two hours the day after in Durham at a very nice car park where I wasn’t at all afraid of being stabbed and which cost £2.20.
But there you go, one minute you’re being taxed like a peasant in feudal times and the next you’re laughing at a fat panda tying himself to a load of fireworks.
The trick is to shop around. Being tight is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity while pay freezes and redundancies are commoner than colds.
And if you want a refund, it pays to keep asking. “No” becomes “yes” when you pester the right people. I’m £80 better off because my friend e-mailed the chairman of a hotel chain and asked them to refund a booking I had to cancel.
Don’t forget to keep your eye on your direct debits either. I ended a phone contract recently and they kept billing me. After a lot of emailing they wavered and gave me my money back but I bet there are plenty of times when people don’t check and get stung.
“A fool and his money are soon parted,” was one of my dad’s favourite sayings. I used to think he was being over dramatic but these days I know what he means. And I bet readers of this column will be thrilled at my new interest in ... car parking and direct debits. It’s exciting stuff after all.