‘How to budget was the best lesson I’ve ever had in my life’

Me & My Money: Tommy Fleming on bad managers and not having the heart to haggle

Are you a saver or a spender?

I’m a bit of both. As I’ve got older, I’ve become more careful with money. When I started in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was playing five nights a week in a pub band as well as keeping a day job. If I couldn’t get days or time off for an important audition or gig, I just left. Looking back, it was completely irresponsible and somewhat reckless. However, I always viewed the day job as a means to an end – it paid the rent and bills.

Do you shop around for better value?

I’m lazy when it comes to shopping around, especially online. I have the silly notion that the first item to show up is the better-quality one, and yet I’ll drive an extra five kilometres to save five cent on diesel. I also wait for sales to buy clothes, and that’s something I’ve always done. In the mid-’90s, I ended up broke every month after working day and night, so I had to learn how to budget. How to budget was the best lesson I’ve ever had in my life.

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

My career turned a corner in the early-2000s, and we had a very successful tour. I bought a brand-new Rexton Jeep for €50,000, even though I hadn’t a pot to pee in and had no idea what was coming in for future work. It was crazy, but we never looked back after that.

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

A Dolce & Gabbana black suit was reduced from €2,700 to €500. I still wear it five years later.

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

Shop local. I have shopped local pre-pandemic if the item is in a local shop. I always try and give local retailers the business.

Do you haggle over prices?

I never haggle. The price is the price and, to be honest, I don’t have the heart or the patience. When we are on holiday, we always end up buying stuff on the beach from hawkers. I always end up feeling guilty and then buying rubbish.

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

Our spending habits were halted in many ways at the beginning of the pandemic. As there were only two of us, we shopped as we needed. Mind you, the dinners got more adventurous as the weeks went by!

Do you invest in shares?

The only investment I make is in my pension fund. I’m not savvy enough with finance to go down the shares route.

Cash or card?

Card. I discovered Revolut before my last Australian tour, and it was a life-changer for me. Gone was panicking about finding receipts because they were all on the app. When it comes to cash, I’m hopeless. I lose money all the time or find it in pockets weeks later or find coins all over the Jeep, so cards are far more organised and tidier.

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

Jackets for the dogs, Ted and Jody. I always consider anything for the terrible two a good purchase. I’m mad about dogs and would have lost my reason in the early part of the pandemic without them.

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

A holiday to Lanzarote years ago. We put all loose change in a water-cooler bottle for a year and saved €1,800. It was the best surprise ever and we had a mad holiday. Good times.

Have you ever lost money?

Yes, on bad managers and agents. In the early years, I placed far too much trust in agents and managers and, after many months of touring, I was the only one not getting paid. I was working for everyone else and being a busy fool in many ways.

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

I’ve never placed a bet on a horse. The only card game I’m good at is snap. I do the lotto now and then, and once won €2,000 so, in reality, I’m not a gambler. I’ve gambled personally on taking a role in a play or musical, on promoting overseas tours with great success, so I’ve won big in those instances.

Is money important to you?

It’s important as it is necessary to live, but money doesn’t drive me. I like to know there’s money there when needed, but that’s it.

How much money do you have on your person now?

I have €25, but not for long: my niece is meeting me for lunch.

In conversation with Tony Clayton-Lea

Tommy Fleming performs at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin, on March 13th. tommyfleming.com