DO you and yours play the family shopping game, Deception? The rules are easy, just buy something new, try to sneak it into the house and claim you have had it forever. It's a game usually for two married players, but females are best at it.

There are some wickedly deceitful variations in play, but it's all about pretending you have not been dipping too deeply into the housekeeping money.

Let me say from the start, if we have the cash in our house, She can spend it.

The She in this instance is actually plural. There's little She, at 16 going on 27, and She Who Must Be Obeyed.

The spoils of winning are obvious: new outfits for her, new boys' toys for him, all without recriminations and with the smug satisfaction of outwitting the opposition.

Losing - if you are married to a woman who can kill a man at 20 paces with one lash of her tongue - can be a bloody affair.

Now even if you have two live-together wage earners who have no joint bank account, there is still an element of guilt about spending on oneself. So they can still play the game.

There's no shaking of dice to start play. Contestants can make their move any time, with sneaky surprise a distinct advantage.

So, unsuspecting husband is sprawled on the settee watching a Saturday afternoon match, maybe a little mellow after a can or two, when in walks wife after an unusually, inordinately long trip to the supermarket.

He has no idea that she has been down to the designer label store and has smuggled the illicit buys into the house in an Asda carrier bag.

And so she has won the round, because no matter when she wears the outfit, if he remarks "That's nice, is it new?" she will invariably insist she has had it ages and worn it several times, "don't you remember?"

There's another ploy in the game of Deception.

She will get the goods into the house, safely away into the wardrobe, and destroy the price label.

Then she can claim it was an absolute bargain down from £100 to £1 in the DK Hexx monster looney sale.

Either that or weird (clever) female logic cuts in to insist that it was half price so she has saved a fortune just by buying it even if she did not need it.

The girls are way ahead in the game so far, and that's usually where they stay.

You see, they have an unfailing instinct for detecting when a new Black & Decker is sneaked into the house, even when it is transferred quietly from the boot of the car direct to your shed.

It's as if an invisible security tag sets off an alarm, not when it leaves the shop but when it enters your home.

Or perhaps it's because they notice new boys' toys when they are carrying out a quiet inventory of the shed to see how many new empty cans have appeared or whether there is a whiff of tobacco smoke.

The girls also know whether you have been spending too freely in the pub sales - they won't stand for it and you can't stand.

Even when he claims his new power tool was dirt cheap, she just consults her household price oracle - the Argos catalogue - and proves him a lying blaggard.

And when the male of the house tries to insist, untruthfully, he got a bargain with his latest designer suit, he's thwarted again - because she was there and chose it for him!

Sorry, boys, if you want to win, play another game.

Anyway, even when you lose at Deception, you don't come out of it too badly.

Her lingering guilt makes her far more affectionate - and she does look lovely in the new outfit.

Updated: 13:18 Wednesday, March 19, 2003