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Skint in the City: Living the Prada Lifestyle on a Primark Budget

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I had my very own Carrie Bradshaw moment this week: I bagged a Balenciaga for 25 quid! The Shrug - oh yes, handbags this posh have their very own names - nestled on my arm as I dashed between meetings. It whispered sweet nothings as we sailed around the supermarket and even brought glamour to a sweaty, crowded bus journey. Standing room only? An armpit shoved in my face? With The Shrug by my side I could rise above it all.

Needless to say, our love affair didn't last. After discovering that designer bag rental is the latest credit-crunch way to remain on-trend, I hired The Shrug for a week to add some oomph to my outfit at a very posh function. Just like Cinderella, however, my bag was on the clock. As midnight chimed we scuttled home, then tearfully parted company next morning, when I lovingly wrapped The Shrug inside The Jiffy and posted it back to its rightful owner.

Still, my few days with the Balenciaga reminded me that, in these cash-strapped times, it's more important than ever to find short-cuts for living the high life. After all, just because the economy has nosedived, we don't want to, do we? Sure, our budgets might be getting tighter than our skinny jeans, but that doesn't mean we're ready to stop having fun. Recession or not, we still want a home that looks great, a wardrobe to rival Carrie Bradshaw's and enough left over to enjoy a special dinner at the end of a hard week. Not easy on a credit-crunch salary, but I'm on a mission to prove that it's possible to find ways to wear Prada on a Primark budget.

Every week in Skint in the City I'll be sharing my efforts to live like a million dollars on a less-than-wonderful wage. From feathering my nest for free to grabbing the luxe look for less, I'll bring you a warts-and-all account of my adventures in riding out the recession with style and passing along all the tips I learn along the way, such as where to ferret out the best spa deals and how to cut corners when it comes to entertaining friends.

Having spent years living on a titchy salary in some of the world's most expensive places, including Barcelona and St Tropez, I've learned plenty of tips from my continental sisters; such as how to buy Pucci and enjoy supper at the must-go restaurants while living on the slimmest of budgets. I've learned to decorate apartments on a shoestring in some of Europe's property hotspots, but it's not been plain sailing. Just recently, for example, I fell in love with the tobacco-coloured walls of a Parisian bistro and set about trying to recreate them at home. The result? Let's say it was more Scunthorpe Working Men's Club circa 1952 than a 1930s bistro by the Seine.

Still, now that I'm happily settled back in Glasgow, my quest to bag the high life on a shoestring budget continues. Week by week, I'll be road testing ways to live like a million dollars on a credit-crunch wage and finding out how to cut corners without anyone noticing - and I want to spread the news.

This week's been a busy one. As well as renting The Shrug for a fraction of its retail price I also arranged a house-swapping holiday. Yep, I've just agreed to hand over my home to a total stranger and her family, in return for using her place in Malaga over Christmas. Free accommodation and all we pay is the flights. Barmy or brilliant? Time will tell. Her house comes with a pool, so swapping Glasgow's southside for southern Spain seems like a no-brainer - on paper at least.

In preparation I'm now packing away all the things that are too good / embarrassing / shabby to share with my guests, and cleaning the house like it's never been cleaned before. The thing is: can I trust my fellow-swappers not to trash the place? In my quest to save a few quid, have I gone too far? My guests have assured me that they're very laidback, but some of their recent questions are making me wonder. I'll let you know how it goes.

You can read more tips for living stylishly on a budget at www.skintinthecity.com.

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