How To Earn More Money

I was chatting with one of the kids recently and he pointed out that it seemed that most people pursuing FIRE were on really good salaries. He said that for them it was really just a question of pointing it out to them that they should save a big chunk of their earnings and they’ll be there in a few years. It should be easy for them as they can cover their basic needs with a tiny percentage of their salary, still have some fun money left over and then save the rest without too many problems.

First of all it’s nice to know that he’s been paying attention over the years when I’ve been banging on about money and FIRE. Is he right though? Well, certainly up to a point yes. It’s not rocket science that if you’re earning good money you have a much bigger capacity to save. Of course lifestyle inflation can all too easily creep in, and you might find yourself earning good money but with even bigger commitments. You can always do something about that though.

Although it can be frustrating to read about the big hitters in the FIRE community on fantastic money and being able to save a huge proportion of their salaries, there are plenty of us out there on much more modest income still doing our FIRE thing. Within a FIRE context I’m definitely on a low salary, and yet is that really the case in a wider context? A very quick google shows that the average UK income last year was around £30k, and I would imagine that would be down this year. I’m on about £32,500, so actually a little bit above average. Add in the extra perks I get, such as a base rate mortgage then I’m probably quite a bit better off than the average UK worker. I’m guessing if we averaged out the salaries for people striving for FIRE then I’d be very much near the bottom.

I’m not moaning about my salary, quite the opposite. For me this is the most I’ve ever earned. I’ve always valued time over money and have never gone for the sort of jobs that would have required me being “on” all the time. Compared to what I was earning seven years ago, this is a great salary for me. I’ve gone from £17k to £32,500 in seven years, which has definitely taken a lot of pressure of me as the sole bread winner in the house. It’s allowed us to have some fun money, which is always much appreciated.

I guess the next logical step would be for me to start earning more money. There are a few ways I could go about this:

  • Move companies and get a new job
  • Stick with the same job and be so good at it I get a pay rise
  • Keep the same job but develop some sort of a side hustle
  • Get a new job within the same company

Of these options a couple of them have some drawbacks associated with them., so let’s have a look at them in a bit more detail.

Move Companies And Get A New Job

If I join a new company I’m going to be penalised on my defined benefits pension. Although it was capped when I was working part time on a much lower salary and so isn’t still a full final salary pension, it’s still pretty attractive and there are some reasonably severe penalties for leaving the company early. It’s not that I couldn’t go down this route, but it would have to be a pretty spectacular job with a really good salary/benefits to make up for what I already have. Lots of the benefits I have now are typically still available to long standing staff, but aren’t offered to new starts. So if I went to a new company in the same industry I’d likely be losing quite a few perks.

I think if I was going to move companies then it would be because I decided to do something completely different. If there was something I was definitely decided on (there isn’t!) then it would be worthwhile to jump ship and accept that I might be slightly worse off for a period of time, but hopefully better off long term. I could retrain, and I have looked at some courses, but it’s a question of the costs involved and whether I would be working long enough to recoup those costs and make it worthwhile. The jury is still out on that. If I had a burning passion to do something then it’s quite likely I would just go for it, but in the absence of that conviction there’s a lot to be said for sticking where I am and keeping the benefits that I already have.

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Be So Good At My Job They Give Me A Massive Pay Rise

In terms of keep doing the same job but managing to get good pay rises, it’s a good theory, the practicalities of that not so much so. First of all it’s very hard to control pay rises, and I certainly don’t work in an environment where you can negotiate your salary. A few years ago I set myself an objective of getting a particular rating which would impact my pay rise and bonus positively. I worked my butt off all year, creating roles that didn’t exist and shoehorning myself into them. It was a time in my career when anything seemed possible. I got the rating I wanted and the pay rise that came with it. The issue is that there’s a limit to what the pay rise can be, and I’m limited by the grade that I am.

Nowadays we don’t even get ratings. It’s all down to what your manager thinks of you and what proportion of the pay rise pot they think you deserve. Of course you can be the best at your job possible, but without a formal rating system, it’s very difficult to judge how you’re doing. I regularly volunteer for additional duties to try and raise my profile within the department, but it does sometimes feel that you’re banging your head against a brick wall. We are so busy this year that I am regularly working for free just to manage my cases, so the thought of doing additional work on top of this to help with my development is sometimes too much to contemplate.

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Side Hustles

I could keep doing what I’m doing on the grounds that it’s not a bad job. On a good day I like talking to customers about their money and I’m good at what I do. Extra money would bring me closer to FIRE though, and I could keep doing any side hustle after I stop work, which reduces the amount I would need to save to live on. That’s a win win in my book. I’ve tried a few different side hustles so far, with varying success.

I like to get ideas from customers I speak to about how they earn their money, and my ears always prick up when I hear about potential side hustles. It’s always good if you can hear about it from someone who’s actually doing it already and making it work. One day I talked to someone who was self-employed. I probed a bit about his business. He sold things and was an author. Sounded intriguing, so I asked him to tell me more. All strictly work related, not at all to see if it could help me with FIRE. Obviously. Turns out he was making a fortune selling stuff on eBay and had written a best-selling book about it. On my next break I was straight on Amazon ordering his book.

I think it’s fair to say that side hustle wasn’t exactly an unqualified success. I think I was maybe a wee bit half-hearted about it. Probably the key to building an eBay empire is to source your goods from somewhere other than just your bookshelves and DVD collections. I made a bit, and I quite enjoyed it, but it most definitely did not make my fortune.

I then moved on to matched betting. I did better with this. I made a few mistakes, which I think is normal, but I soon got myself organised. I made a reasonable amount with this, but nothing earth shattering. I found the amount of time I was spending on it was difficult to justify based around the amount of profit that I was making. I may well revisit this at some point in the future to see if I can make it work for me.

My thoughts just now are thinking about ways that I can make use of my house to make money. In two year’s time both my kids will be off at university. That is going to leave me an awful lot of room in the house. Renting a room out may be something I look into. I’m really not keen on that whilst the pandemic continues, but hopefully at some point in the mythical future the world will be virus free again. I probably wouldn’t want to have a lodger all the time, but maybe students from abroad staying for a period of time might be a possibility. It’s something to think about anyway.

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Same Company, New Job

Probably a more realistic option to earn more is to move roles within the company. This is definitely something I need to work on. Up till now I’ve been somewhat restricted with what I can do hours wise because of the kids. I have a lovely fixed shift of 8am-4pm. I work every second Saturday which I could do without (although I guess as parkrun is not on just now it’s less of an issue!), but apart from that it’s a pretty sweet shift. This shift has been essential up till now because of the whole single parent thing, but now I definitely have more flexibility with them being older. Saying that, it’s not all about the kids. I have running clubs I want to go to on an evening, and you know, a life I’d like to live.

I used to worry that going for a different job would mean I’d need to add a commute into the mix. Just now I live a ten minute drive from the office. A lot of the other jobs are likely to be over in Edinburgh, which whilst not horrendous, would probably mean a 45 minute each way commute on the train. You’ve got the travel costs and the extra time out of your day to think about. In the current Coronavirus world though I’m guessing most of those jobs will be home working for the foreseeable future. That makes the thought of a new job a lot more attractive.

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My thought was always that when my youngest goes to university in two year’s time I’d be happy to go for a new job at that time. Which probably means that now is the right time for me to start to explore my options and work out what would be a good fit for me. I’ll start to build up some evidence of skills I have that I can use in interviews. I’ve just started a one year talent programme, which should give me lots of opportunities to get out of the comfort zone that I’m well and truly stuck in and build up some experience and new skills.

So really it looks as though I either look for a new job within the same company and/or develop a lucrative (ish) side hustle. Either way some extra money in the kitty is going to help with me reaching my FIRE targets. I know I’ll get there one way or another, as it’s something I’ve set my mind on, and once I’ve decided on something then it gets done one way or another.

The True Cost Of Having Children

The first thing to say is that I love my children with all my heart. Having them is without a doubt the best decision I have ever made. I was desperate to have children. I wanted a different sort of life from the one that I was living. I spent a few years surreptitiously going around the shops and looking at baby clothes. My husband at the time and I waited a few years before we started a family. Money was tight and he in particular was keen that we get ourselves in a better financial position before we added kids in to the equation. That was definitely a good plan, if somewhat frustrating at the time. So we cleared the credit cards and tried to get a little bit of money behind us to try and cover my maternity leave.

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Everybody tells you how expensive having children is. They’re not wrong of course, although I’m never quite sure where they get their figures from about how much it costs to raise a child. Based on the figures you see bandied about only millionaires would be able to afford one child, never mind multiple kids. I tend to think that children cost as much as you choose to make them cost. There are certain things that you can’t avoid, but plenty that you can minimise. I think I pretty much lived in Mothercare when I was pregnant with the first one. You’re growing this baby inside you and you just want all the nicest things that are completely unnecessary. Let’s be honest, baby stuff is cute and you want the best for your unborn child. The fact of the matter is that what’s important with children is the time you spend with them, not the stuff they have.

Set Up Costs

There are certain basics that you need – pram, car seat, something for it to sleep in etc. A lot of the extra stuff is not needed, and if you decide that it’s going to make your life easier then the chances are you’re going to be able to get it either for free or very cheap. By the time I had the second one I’d figured out that most of the baby stuff isn’t used for very long, so even if you get it pre-loved it’s probably not seen all that much usage. I was lucky that in our family there are four male cousins. What that meant was that the clothes would get handed down from my nephew to my two and then on to my younger nephew. Result! Even if you’re not in this lucky position, in my experience people are always trying to get rid of their kids stuff. There’s a lot of it and it clutters up your house. People would much rather give it to someone they know can make use of it.

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So as far as stuff goes, minimise what you buy, get stuff for free or second hand and remember that when your baby is first born you are inundated with presents for the wee one. People love it when a baby is born, and I found that neighbours I didn’t even know would leave gifts on the doorstep. A baby is a wonderful thing for bringing a neighbourhood together. Now although buying stuff for children can get out of hand, remember that you are in control of what comes into your house. I really don’t subscribe to the theory that you have to give your children what everybody else has. Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but my kids have never come home and asked for the latest designer label. That’s probably partly due to the way I’ve raised them and also the fact that they’re just not into that sort of thing.

Prioritise Experiences Over Stuff

I’ve always made sure that my kids could do what interested them in terms of activities. I’d much rather that I was spending my money on experiences for them – whether that’s them going to things like drama club, judo, swimming lessons or trips away with the school. I’ve also been comfortable saying no to things too. They didn’t even bother asking, but I saw there was a school trip to New York that cost thousands of pounds. Er no. If I don’t spend that sort of money on a family holiday then I’m not going to pay that out for just one of them to go. That’s the thing, as a parent you’re in control. You get to say no. As a parent there are plenty of things you’re going to be saying no to over the years, so you might as well get used to it. Is it any worse to say “no you can’t watch telly, go and find something else to do” or “no you can’t juggle with knives, it’s dangerous” or “no I’m not buying that for you, it’s a waste of money. If you still want it when it’s your birthday/Christmas then add it to your list”?

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Clearly everybody brings their children up differently, and I’m not trying to tell anybody what to do here, just saying what I did and how it worked. For me it was partly that I couldn’t afford to spend much on stuff, but mainly that I just didn’t think it was worthwhile. The house filled up with a tsunami of plastic crap no matter what I did, so there was certainly no need for me to add to what they had.

And don’t get me started on those Facebook posts at Christmas with the mountain of presents for the kids. Don’t, just don’t. There’s no need for it. The more you give the less impact each individual present has. You know what gift is going to bring joy to your child, not just on Christmas morning, but throughout the year. Some of the best gifts I got my kids over the years were a puppet theatre along with dressing up clothes for them to put shows on, bikes, an Xbox shared between the two of them and a shared laptop. I’ve been lucky in that my kids are only 18 months apart in age and have similar interests. This has meant that a present for one is effectively useful for both of them.

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The Extortionate Cost Of Childcare

That’s us dealt with some of the costs you can control with kids. Clearly there are some extra costs that you can’t do anything about. Childcare is an absolute killer. Unless you can manage your work around your kids then you’re going to need some sort of childcare or loss of income. Maybe some people manage to run a business from the house with the kids running around their feet. Hats off to them if so, because I cannot for the life of me see how that would be feasible.

Initially I went back to work full time working a late shift starting at lunchtime. This meant that I “only” needed childcare in the afternoon. With one child this was tough financially, but just about doable. Eighteen months later I added a second child into the mix. This time I had learned my lesson from the first time around where I’d gone back to work with a three month old baby at home. No sleep, a full on job and a touch of post-natal depression made that tough.

Second time around I took a full year off and went back to work part time, working in the evenings when my now ex came home from work. I couldn’t organise part time hours in the job I’d been doing, so I had to switch departments, drop a grade and obviously deal with less money coming in because of the fewer hours I was working. My eldest didn’t sleep through the night until he was four, my youngest used to get up at 6 am and I was working till 10.00 at night. So basically I was constantly exhausted, working a soul sucking job and never seeing my husband. We used to take it in turns to sleep at the weekends. Funnily enough we ended up getting divorced!

For me then I didn’t have any childcare costs second time around, but of course I was earning a lot less as a result. My pension got capped during this time as well, so what I’ll get in retirement is based on what I was earning during that time. A nice financial hangover of the child rearing years. Once the kids were at school I switched my hours to the daytime, but still worked part time so I could collect them from school. They went to the breakfast club in the morning as that was much better value than the after school club.

Luckily my parents have always had the kids to stay in the school holidays. That has been an absolute lifesaver. It’s meant the kids have a brilliant relationship with their grandparents, my folks have loved it and it has saved me a massive amount in childcare over the years. I honestly don’t know how I would have managed without them. Even now my dad’s been on hand to take them off to university interview days etc when I’ve been working.

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So from a cost point of view we’ve got the set up costs of having a baby, which as we’ve seen can most definitely be minimised. You’ve got childcare, which is hard to avoid. You either have to pay out for childcare or you have to organise your work life in such a way that you can look after your kids yourself. I went down the route of wanting to be there for them myself and earning less. In all honesty it probably would have suited me better to have worked during the day when they were younger. Being with them all day and then going out to work all evening was just too much. I think I might have appreciated them a bit more too if I’d had a bit more time away from them. A bit of time for myself. Linked to the childcare is the loss of income. You might choose to work less and not earn as much, change the type of work you do to fit in with your kid’s needs and earn less and you might be less invested in your career because of prioritising your children and so miss out on opportunities and so earn less. There seems to be a bit of a common theme going on here!

Maybe that’s not always the way it goes. It could be that having children motivates people to do well in their career and so be able to provide for their children. That’s not the way it worked for me, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t. There are plenty of people in higher grades than me at work that are parents, so maybe I’m just using that as a bit of an excuse. Certainly for me the kids were my priority, and anything else came secondary to that.

I’m definitely more risk averse since I became a mum. I very much feel that I have to be in a position to provide for the kids and make sure that we’re all OK. I used to be much more inclined to move from job to job and feel that if it didn’t work out then it wasn’t the end of the world. Now one of my first concerns is that my working arrangements fit around family life. They’re old enough now that this isn’t really something I need to worry about, and yet still I do. In order to move on within the area that I work in just now it’s likely that I would have to work much more often in the evenings. This has always stopped me going for other roles, as I feel I want to be there for my boys when they need me.

It doesn’t seem very positive so far does it? Kids are expensive in terms of getting set up for them. You have loss of income from maternity/paternity leave. You either need childcare or a change in working hours to look after them, which in all likelihood will mean you have less money coming in. You’re likely to be less flexible in taking advantage of advancement opportunities at work. And of course you can’t work away from home, which many roles might require. So you have less money, a less good career potentially and you’re constantly juggling schedules to make sure that your kids are looked after and are healthy and happy.

Babies Are Torture Machines

Oh, and did I mention that the first five years are brutal. Total and utter torture. Yes, babies are cute and your heart fills with joy when you see them. Yes, you know that you would die to protect them and would do anything within your power to keep them safe. That doesn’t take away from the fact that they don’t sleep, they cry a lot and they completely and utterly take over your life. I could not go back to the baby stage no matter what you paid me. I know this is not everybody’s experience. People love babies, they want to be needed and they just love how dependent their kids are on them. Not me. I was always trying to get my children to the next stage, to get them to need me less.

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I am willing to admit that I might not have been doing my parenting in quite ideal circumstances. A child that doesn’t sleep until he’s 4 is not necessarily the norm. My working arrangements, whist ideal from a financial point of view where not great from a life stand point. And when you throw a divorce into the mix when the kids are just 2 and 3 then it’s never going to be easy. I felt like I lost myself for quite a long time. I don’t feel like that any more, but I think it’s important to acknowledge how I felt at the time. Too often we see the idealised parts of family life on social media. I can’t be the only one who felt like this when my children were young.

Prepare To Be Exhausted

The children took absolutely everything that I had in terms of my energy levels. I was exhausted for such a long time. It’s hard being a parent, especially if you want to do it well. Maybe I could have given them more screen time to give myself a break, but that wasn’t how I wanted to play it. I have been far from a perfect parent. I have made lots of mistakes. I’ve been grumpy with my children, when I wanted to exude patience. I’ve craved time to myself rather than wanting to spend every waking minute with them. I am confident though that I have done the very best I could have done. Parenting is something I’ve taken incredibly seriously. I wanted to do my absolute best. I’ve fallen short on many, many occasions, but I know that I’ve given it my all.

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Reading this it sounds as though I regret having my children. This could not be further from the truth. Being a mum is the most important thing in my life. My kids are my top priority. I get the greatest joy from time with my family. Even when they were younger and it was much harder I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. It was hard though, really hard, and I think we need to talk about that more. I desperately wanted children, I waited a number of years before I started my family to make sure we were ready, and yet still it was incredibly difficult. The hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life by far. The most rewarding too mind you. If it’s something you really want to do, then go for it. Be aware though that it’s going to be tough. It’s also going to be the ride of your life.

September Net Worth and Goals Update

What Was I Worth In September?

It’s time for an update on my Net Worth figures and to see how I’ve done in working towards my September goals. I’ll also set myself some new goals for October to ensure that I don’t just coast towards the end of the year, which is far too easy to do.

Here’s my figures for September. As usual I’ve got last month’s figures in brackets for comparison. I’ve got my Defined Benefits Pension in there based on twenty years worth of money if I start drawing it at 60. I’ve also got my Net Worth not including the DB Pension or the house equity, which seems barmy, but is really just to represent how close I’m getting to mortgage neutrality.

Debts

Mortgage £96,806.40 (£97,298.42)

Assets

Cash £34,128.46 (£34,066.27)

Defined Benefits Pension £123.683 (£123,683)

AVC’s £7,002.82 (£6,452.88)

Shares £38,766.86 (£38,246.93)

House £250,000 (£250,000)

Total Assets £453,581.14 (£452,449.08)

Net Worth including house equity

£453,581.14 – £96,806.40 = £356,774.74 (£355,150.66)

Net Worth excluding house equity and Defined Benefits Pension

£79,898.14 – £96,806.40 = -£16,908.26 (-£18,532.34)

There’s not really too much to say about these figures. Things are ticking along quite nicely. My cash amount is almost the same. The shares are very slightly up. Rather unusually this month the Vanguard Index Trackers have not increased by quite as much as the extra money I invested. They have been pretty solid for me since I started putting money into them earlier this year, so I think I can forgive them an off month. Luckily my work shares very slightly increased, rather than the drops that I’ve seen during the year. Maybe they’re starting to pick up, or maybe there’s it’s just not possible for them to go any lower!

My net worth excluding the DB pension and the house equity is continuing to go in the right direction. I can’t wait until I get to zero where I can effectively say that I am mortgage neutral. I probably shouldn’t really include my AVC’s in that calculation as they are not strictly speaking something I could just cash in and use to clear my mortgage if I was so inclined. I’ve started doing it that way though, and quite frankly it’s too depressing to remove at this stage and feel that I’m going back the way. I guess they’re my figures so I can include and exclude as I see fit!

It shouldn’t be too long until my shares and index trackers sneak over £40k. I’m looking forward to that and then I can start to aim for £50k. So much of this FIRE business is psychological. You need to give yourself mini-targets to aim for so that you don’t get discouraged. It’s the long game we’re playing, but there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the mini successes along the way.

That doesn’t seem like a particularly exciting month, but at least things are continuing to move in the right direction, albeit slightly slower than I would like. I’m impatient as always and would like to see much bigger improvements in my figures month on month. With the best will in the world though I can only work with the income that I have coming in. For now anyway. More income would definitely give me more options in terms of investing and paying down the mortgage. From a purely financial point of view it makes perfect sense to put more into my pension and take advantage of the tax savings rather than paying off a base rate mortgage more quickly. I would really love to be mortgage free though. I spent so many years trying to pay my mortgage off that it goes against the grain to not be throwing as much towards it as possible. I have to prioritise though. My current strategy is the best way to make the most of the income I have coming in just now. If I can figure out a way to make more money then that will give me the luxury of also chipping away a bit more at the mortgage. That would be the ideal scenario for me.

Progress On My Goals

Not much more to say about my finances for the month, so let’s move on and see how I did against the goals I set myself. A quick reminder of what I was working on.

  • Get 7 hours sleep a night, 5 nights a week. PASS. There’s only been five days this month where I’ve not got at least 7 hours sleep. I definitely feel better for this, and am now in a habit of going up to bed early enough to get plenty of shut eye.
  • Do 4 forms of exercise every week. In an ideal world this would be 3 runs and 1 cycle or walk. PASS (SORT OF) Most of the weeks I did more than 4 lots of exercise. The minimum runs I did in a week was 3, although most weeks it was 4. The only week that let me down was last week. I had a really heavy cold and so did no exercise at all. As I knew I had a really busy weekend dropping number 1 son at uni I was trying to get healthy and was sensible enough to know that running wasn’t going to do me any favours!
  • Complete section 5 of the Duolingo Spanish tree by the end of the year. ON TRACK. I am now on a 497 day streak. I can almost taste the victory of getting to 500 days! I’m well on track to get section 5 finished by the end of the year. In fact at my current pace I should finish around the start of December. I’m really enjoying it and feel like I’m learning a lot.
  • Find a new Spanish series that I want to watch and see at least 2 episodes every week. KIND OF PASS. On paper this is a pass. I found a YouTube series to watch. I’ve see a lot more than the 2 episodes a week, but as they are about 10 minutes an episode this feels like a bit of a cheat. I still haven’t looked for a proper box set. This is mainly because I’ve not been watching any TV and I’ve really been enjoying that. I’ve been reading loads and generally feeling like I’ve been much more productive. However I need to recognise the fact that Spanish TV watching is productive and isn’t the same as just vegging out with no purpose in mind.
  • Keep my car mileage under 69,000 by the end of the year. FAIL. I’m at 69,635 miles now. Although clearly I’ve failed at this one, I’m not at all worried. This is one of those situations where life is much more important than goals. I had to do a round trip of 800 miles to go to a family funeral. My dad had just had an operation and so was in a wheelchair and my mum doesn’t drive. My sister’s car is too small to get a wheelchair in. It was great that I was able to get time off work, have a big enough car to get all of us in and safely transport us all down south. It ended up being a really lovely if exhausting trip. Of course funerals are always sad, but this was a real celebration of my auntie’s life. I got to catch up in a socially distanced way with cousins that I’ve not seen for nearly 30 years. Even the whole road trip with my folks and sister was a lot of fun. You’ve got to look for the positives in life, and as funerals go that was a lovely one. In an ideal world you wouldn’t be having reunions with family at funerals, but as you get older this seems to be one of the main sources of far flung family getting together. I’ll try and stick to under 70,000 miles for the year now. I’m still avoiding using the car for short journeys, which seems like fiddling whilst Rome burns considering my monster road trip, but I can only do what I can do. I’ll control what I can and not worry too much about the rest.

October Goals

So what do I want to work on during October? I’m not going to set myself too much I don’t think. There’s quite a bit going on family wise just now, so I feel like I need to be a bit kind to myself. Saying that, I do like to have something to work on, so here goes.

  • Track what I eat using MyFitness pal. I’ve had a lot of success when I’ve used this in the past. It is a bit of a faff when you first start using it, but once you’ve got some meals logged it becomes a lot easier.
  • Lose three pounds. My weight is all over the place at the moment. I keep losing a bit and then putting it back on again. My weight does tend to fluctuate quite a bit, but this is getting ridiculous even for me. This year I’ve been consistently heavier than my normal post Christmas weight. That’s not good. I really need to do something about that.
  • Complete section 5 of the Duolingo Spanish tree by the end of the year. I just need to keep plugging away at this. I’m on track, but it’s still a big stretch goal so I need to stay consistent.
  • Find a new Spanish series that I want to watch and see at least 2 episodes every week. Sounds familiar, but this is how I’m really going to improve my Spanish listening skills.
  • Learn to solve the white cross on the Rubik’s cube. I have Weenie from Quietly Saving to thank for this one! When I mentioned in one of my previous posts about one of the kids being really good at cubing she told me how she’d learned to do it a few years ago and has now challenged herself to learn the 4×4. I used to be able to do the normal 3×3 cube, but only with the help of my notes on how to solve it. It’s on my bucket list to be able to solve the cube without notes. Weenie has very kindly sent me the instructions that she used. The white cross is the first stage, so I think that’ll be enough for me to getting on with for this month. I think the key is to learn each stage in isolation, practising until it’s in my muscle memory, and then move on to the next stage.
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So after saying that I was going to give myself an easy month, I think there’s plenty there for me to be working on.

September has been a fairly good month. Lots going on family wise, which luckily I was in a position to be able to help out with. Work were good with putting in emergency holidays for me to get to the funeral. I had already decided though that if that wasn’t forthcoming I would just take unpaid leave. Having FU money really is a help even if you aren’t anywhere near full FIRE. Yet more benefits of knowing what you’re worth financially and being aware of what your priorities are and how you can make use of your money to ensure that your actions match what’s important to you.

I’m reasonably pleased with how I’ve done against my September goals. The odd spanner in the works, but that’s how life goes sometimes. I’m going to keep up my focus on getting enough sleep as that’s working really well for me. I’ll keep working away at my Spanish and get started on a TV series to help with my listening skills. I’ll get cracking on learning the Rubik’s cube (whilst trying to avoid getting obsessed, which is what happened about 7 years ago!) I think that’s probably enough to keep me out of mischief. Let me know what you’re working on just now and any tips on how to keep motivated and ensure that you achieve your goals.

Musings on Turning Fifty

The Big 5-0

I’ve found myself thinking about the passing of time a lot recently. This is partly to do with turning 50 over the summer. It wasn’t nearly as traumatic as I thought it would be, but it does rather make you think about what you’re doing with your life. My plan is to live till I’m one hundred. Being a staunch anti-royalist I don’t want a telegram from the queen or king (although I suppose it would be fun to send it back saying I didn’t recognise their authority as a monarch to acknowledge my birthday). Now in this scenario where I’m living to 100 I am really healthy, still park running every Saturday and I have all of my faculties about me. If that’s not the case then I’m maybe not be quite so keen to hang about so long. My best friend has already made me promise that I’ll take him to Switzerland when the time comes as he has no wish to hang about in a decrepit state. I’m sure he’d return the favour if needs be if he was still around and I needed finished off.

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Let’s assume that I make it to at least 100. That means that I have already lived half of my life. OK, so we can pretty much discount the early years as I have no recollection of them. My teenage years and early twenties I wouldn’t go back to if you paid me, but from then on in and I’m happy to say they’ve been pretty good years. Ups and downs of course like everybody else, but mostly I’m fairly happy with the way my life has turned out.

If we say that I’ve been making decisions for myself since my late teens and early twenties. To make things neat and tidy, let’s say twenty. That means I’ve had thirty years already as a fully functioning adult. In another thirty I’ll be 80. I’m guessing I might be starting to slow down a bit at that point. I met a woman in her 80’s the other week who seemed full of life, was at park run every week before lock down and seemed bright as a button. That’s the way that I want to age, but I guess there’s no guarantee of that.

Potentially that means I’ve got another 30 years to go until I might find it more difficult to do everything I want to with my life. Hopefully I’ll still be able to do plenty, but I’m not sure I’d be able to rely on it. I think maybe the way to think about it is that anything after 80 is a bonus. With a bit of luck I’ll still be going strong, but I really need to try and plan on getting everything done before then. So that works out rather nicely. The first 20 years were really all just about getting to the point of becoming an adult. The last 20 years up to 100 will be a nice bonus where I might be slowing down a bit. That means I have 60 years to play with. I’ve had 30 of them already, so I’d really better get on with making the most of the next 30

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How’s It Been So Far?

If I’m completely honest I’m not sure I’m living the best possible version of my life that I could be. I have an alright job, that at times I really enjoy, but at other times drives me to distraction. It’s not fantastically well paid, but it keeps the wolf from the door reasonably well. The only debt I have is my mortgage. I’d love to be free of that, but for now it’s more important that I work on building my investments. If you compare me to Joe Bloggs then I guess I’m doing pretty well financially. Certainly compared to my peers in the office (back when that was a thing!) then I’m doing amazingly well with the salary that I earn.

My colleagues think it’s ridiculous the amount that I save and tell me that I should treat myself with my hard earned money. The problem is that I don’t feel that spending money is treating myself. I would rather see more money in my Vanguard account. I sometimes feel that I go too much down the frugal route though. Last year I had a leak from a crack in the shower tray in my en-suite. The whole bathroom needs doing so we just all use the main bathroom now instead. I’m saving up the money to get that done, but as I have the money sitting there in savings already should I just use my emergency money for that? After all there was water pouring through my kitchen ceiling – how much more of an emergency can your get?!

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FIRE Community Peers

It’s hard sometimes when you look at others in the FIRE community and see how well they are doing and how much they are managing to save. I’m not a big one for comparing myself to others, unless it’s to learn from them and to get motivated to do better. That’s also the good thing about finding like minded people though. Rather than listening to Mr Spendy Pants at work I can read Mr Money Moustache and realise I am completely and utterly extravagant and need to stop spending immediately. When you find people that are either where you want to be already or are working on arriving there then it makes it much easier to feel that you’re on the right path.

Now saying that, FIRE can look very different from person to person. As a single parent on a not fantastic salary I am never going to be in a position to save as much as some others. Not unless I somehow increase my income of course. The good thing with not earning that much and then saving a fair chunk of that is that you get pretty good at living on not that much. Which means that my FIRE fund doesn’t need to look all that healthy for me to be able to manage on it. I don’t just want to be able to manage though. I want to be in a position to live a fabulous life. I’m not convinced I need a massive amount of money for that, but I need enough that I’m not worrying about the money side of things and have sufficient to live the life I want with all the extra time that I’ll have.

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Wanderlust

Something I love to do is travel, but I haven’t done an awful lot of that since I had the kids. When they were younger we used to go camping in the north of Scotland. I loved those trips away and wouldn’t have missed them for the world. Now though they’re not interested in camping, so we need to find other things to do. I have a friend over in Germany, so we’ve visited her a few times. She has a great lake for swimming just across from her house, so it really is idyllic. Then we had a road trip around England and Wales last year, which was amazing. This year we’ve made do with a staycation like everybody else.

In the last few years I’ve managed away three times without the kids. The first time was to Gran Canaria for a week of sunbathing and out dancing the night away. It was fun, and just what was needed, but usually I like a bit more to do when I’m away. The next trip was to Cuba, which was totally amazing. Havana was incredible and I would go back there in a heartbeat. I also got away to Malta, which is somewhere I’d always wanted to go, but which blew me away with how much there was to see and do. For such a small island it definitely warrants a return trip.

I think one of the things I might look back on and regret is that I haven’t travelled as much as I would have liked to. It’s something I love to do, and it’s just not been a regular part of my life. I’m not sure my Lean FIRE budget is going to allow a massive amount of travel. Although I suppose if I do slow travel then that should keep the costs down. I’ve already told my friend in Germany that she should expect to see a lot more of me when I stop working!

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My finances have almost certainly restricted my life choices somewhat, but I’m not sure my life’s been any the worse because of it. You cut your cloth accordingly and make the most of what you do have. Luckily I like the free things in life. As long as I can get outside – whether that’s running, walking, cycling or camping then I’m going to be happy. Sometimes I have to remind myself of this fact. Lock down has really not been a problem for me; more an opportunity to be allowed to stay home. It’s become perfectly clear to me though that I need to make myself go out. Much as I like staying in my own little safe bubble of my house, I need to go out into the world and have new experiences. It’s not good to stagnate, no matter how comfortable it might feel.

Bargain Basement Hobbies (Mostly!)

It is good though that for a lot of the time I am very happy pottering about on my laptop. I restrict my social media usage somewhat, as that’s most definitely a time suck that I could do without. I love to learn things online. I’m currently up to a 489 day streak on Duolingo learning Spanish. That’s such a fun thing to do, although I do need to step out of my cosy little Duolingo world and get back to watching some Spanish TV and find some new podcasts. I like to watch online lectures from universities too. I’m part way through an intro to Psychology course from Yale. I’m hoping it might help me figure out myself and the people around me, but if not it’s a really interesting way to spend a few hours.

My hobbies then are pretty much free or low cost. Most of the online stuff is free. OK, with my running I get through a couple of pairs of trainers a year, and we won’t talk about race fees! It’s well worth it though, and the local races are really good value. There’s no feeling quite like lining up with 50,000 other people to do the Great North Run. When you run over the Tyne Bridge it’s worth every penny of the extortionate entry fee. And the good news is most of this year’s race entries have rolled over to next year, so I shouldn’t have much to pay out for in 2021.

Now that I think about it, my life is pretty sweet. OK, so I don’t totally love my job, but a lot of the time I don’t hate it either. I’m not sure that’s quite as positive as I’d hope for, but I can work on that. Although I’m not going to leave the company I work for as it makes no sense with my pension and staff mortgage, there’s no reason why I have to do the same job for ever either. Especially taking into consideration the fact that in two year’s time both my boys will be off at uni, and so I will have a lot more time to myself.

I’ve already talked to my boss about the fact that in the next few year’s I’m going to be looking for my next opportunity. A couple of years before my youngest started high school I started to prepare for that time when I knew I’d be able to go full time and would have slightly more flexibility. I started volunteering for extra things within my role so that I would have evidence to show what I was capable of. It worked and I managed to get my current job, which was a big step up from what I was doing before. That’s my plan again. I’ve already been accepted on a one year talent programme, which I’m hoping could be a stepping stone to other things. We’ll see.

Be A Bit More Of A Sociable Sassenach

I think the one area of my life that I maybe need to work on is the social side of things. I have some good friends, but a fair few of them live a long way from me. I only seem to make friends with people who move around. I worked it out one time that I don’t have a single friend who still lives in the place they were originally from. Some of them have moved back, but they have all gone out into the world rather than sticking with their original birth place. This makes them interesting people, but also means that just because they are geographically close to me when we become friends, doesn’t necessarily mean that will always be the case! It does mean I have plenty of people to go and visit though.

What I really need to work on is seeing people face to face and actually going out and doing things with them. I have a great group of running friends, so training with them is always a lot of fun. Unless you get injured of course and then you drop out of the group for a period of time and it’s easy to start to feel isolated. We do occasionally do non-running related things (or we did pre-covid), but mostly it’s training and going to races. Considering the amount of time I seem to spend injured and how these women are most of my local friends I really need to see them outside of the running sphere too.

I do have hermit tendencies, which if left unchecked can get a bit out of control. Although I love being in the house it’s not all that good for me. I tend to think of myself as very shy and incredibly anti-social, but actually that was much more true of my younger self than me now. I definitely need time to myself and quiet time to think, but I also need company much more than I have ever really acknowledged to myself. When I do go out I love it and really feel that I get a positive uplift and am ready to tackle the world afresh. I also find it totally exhausting and then need some time to myself to recover! Balance is the key to this one I think.

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Cupid’s Arrow

My love life I suppose is another area where I haven’t exactly excelled. Two divorces and one five year living together relationship that also failed. Funnily enough though I don’t really see this as a bad part of my life. I am forever the optimist and always look for the good in situations. OK, so I’ve not had a happily ever after, but it’s not all been doom and gloom. I’m a big believer in divorce rather than than living unhappily ever after. I’ve not completely given up on finding love. And I am very good friends with my most recent ex husband. Fourteen years after we got divorced we’ll happily hang out together with the kids and I think he probably talks to me almost more than he does to the kids. Although he is house hunting just now and he mentioned the house opposite mine that has just gone on the market. I’ve told him to forget that immediately as that is far too close for comfort!

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My wonderful boys

I’ve saved the best for last. My fabulous, fabulous children. All parents are biased, that’s how it’s supposed to me. I’m not immune to their faults; they have many. That’s as it should be. Who wants to know somebody without any flaws; how boring would that be? They are incredible though. I can’t take any credit for this. They are very much their own people, and I’m sure at one point I was able to have some sort of influence on them, but this is very much a thing of the past now. As it should be. They are 16 and 17, so are exploring the men that they are going to be. Of course I still tell them what I think, but they need to make their own decisions. I was very strict when they were younger, and this has allowed me to be much more relaxed about things now.

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They’re very intelligent, which is not really important in the grand scheme of things and is just a luck of the genes for them. Obviously all parents think their offspring are bright, so it’s not really surprising that I’m saying this. They are though. The eldest is about to head off to Trinity College, Cambridge to study maths. I know. The younger one is just as clever. Quite frankly I have no idea what they’re talking about most of the time. I just smile and nod. As I say, this is just luck on their part. Well, luck and the fact that I like clever men! What can I say, there’s nothing sexier than a man who can punctuate and speak eloquently. But seriously, if one more person asks me if their dad is clever I’m going to scream!I’m definitely not on their level, but I’m not some sort of a simpleton either.

More importantly though they work hard, they pursue their goals and they are constantly learning. One of them taught himself Esperanto just for fun. They’ve both self-studied subjects that they were interested in but which the school didn’t offer (Maths of Mechanics and Statistics, “just because they’re really fun subjects mum”). We had a spell where one of them was obsessed with various Rubik cubes (there’s a surprising amount of different shapes and sizes) and he went along to compete in a cubing competition. One of them is in the Labour party and the other one is an ardent communist. It’s a really fun house I live in! I’m not sure you should see your children as role models, but I really do. I value their advice and really listen to what they say to me.

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Of course they’re still teenagers, so they’re also infuriating, messy, grumpy and sleep at ridiculous times of the day. Generally speaking though I feel like being a mum is the one thing that I’ve definitely got right. I’m not saying I’ve not made mistakes, because I definitely have. All you can do is your best, but I know that I have tried my absolute hardest as a parent. Whatever has been going on in my life my boys have been my priority. I’ve based decisions around what is best for them. That includes giving up drinking fourteen years ago. I used to love drinking, but I realised that I wasn’t going to be able to be the sort of mum I wanted my boys to have if I kept up with my hobby of downing glasses of wine. So I stopped. Best decision I have ever made.

I’m pretty sure I’d have been a more relaxed parent if I’d kept drinking (there’s no equivalent of the relaxation you feel when you have a drink after work; running comes close, but it’s not quite the same). I’m pretty sure my boys wouldn’t describe me as a relaxed parent, but I think that’s OK. They know I expect them to try their hardest, but they expect the same of me too. And they’ve been free to pursue whatever interests they were passionate about. What wasn’t encouraged was sitting about passively watching mindless TV. I’ve expected them to find things to do to entertain themselves, and they’ve managed that without any difficulty. Let’s be honest, there’s loads of really interesting stuff to find out about in this world.

So all in all, maybe my first 50 years have been pretty good. My finances could be better, but I’m working on that. I don’t have a kick ass career, but that’s allowed me to spend time with my boys whilst they’ve been growing up. I have some great friends, even if I don’t see them quite as much as I should. What I do have is two amazing boys who are getting ready to launch themselves on the world. Look out world is what I say! Maybe now it’s going to be my time to work on myself and make sure that the next fifty years are totally amazing. I’d better get working on that ASAP.

August 2020 Net Worth

I’m late to the party as usual with getting my figures out for August. I had thought I might get them done a week ago, but on one of my day’s off I was exhausted and prioritised sleeping. The other day I had the chance to meet up with one of my friends who was up in Scotland for the weekend, so we took the opportunity of getting together and putting the world to rights. Much more important than getting my figures published!

As usual I’ve got last month’s figures in brackets for comparison. I’ve got my Defined Benefits Pension in there based on twenty years worth of money if I start drawing it at 60. I’ve also got my Net Worth not including the DB Pension or the house equity, which seems barmy, but is really just to represent how close I’m getting to mortgage neutrality.

Debts

Mortgage £97,298.42 (£97,790.14)

Assets

Cash £34,066.27 (£33,612.22)

Defined Benefits Pension £123.683 (£123,683)

AVC’s £6,452.88 (£6,440.24)

Shares £38,246.93 (£37,782.93)

House £250,000 (£250,000)

Total Assets £452,449.08 (£451,518.39)

Net Worth including house equity

£452,449.08 – £97,298.42 = £355,150.66 (£353,728.25)

Net Worth excluding house equity and Defined Benefits Pension

£78,766.08 – £97,298.42 = -£18,532.34 (-£19,954.75)

Slightly more cash than last month due to an incredibly low credit card bill for the month. I pay for all of my discretionary spending on a credit card and clear it in full by direct debit each month. My utility bills go straight out from my current account, but apart from that all the food, petrol, going out, haircuts, takeaways, anything else you can think of goes on this card. Which makes me quietly very pleased that the credit card bill for the month was only £239. Not bad for the three of us for a whole month. It was partly just luck with the way things worked out. We ate our way through the freezer and cupboards, didn’t need to put petrol in the car and just generally had a pretty frugal month. It’s never been that low before and I doubt it ever will be again. Not until the kids leave home anyway. I’m already way above that level for September, but I think I can live with that.

The shares are up, but by a bit less than what I’ve invested this month. As always my Vanguard index trackers are doing well, it’s my stupid work shares that are letting the side down. I’m definitely going to have to address that at some point, but that’s a job for next year. I’m on track to use up this year’s ISA allowance anyway, so I’ll think about offloading some work shares next year to make a start on my 2021 ISA allocation.

I don’t know what the hell is going on with my AVC fund. Considering I’m putting in £477 a month, that is a spectacularly piss poor increase. I don’t know if it was just maybe a bit slow being invested this month, as when I looked last night it’s much healthier. Should give me a nice little boost in my September figures!

I’ve set some new charts up showing how I’m doing in getting to where I want to be in terms of my AVC fund and investments. My aim is to get to £50k in the AVC fund, which will allow me to take my cash lump sum without reducing the amount of annual pension I receive. My target for investments not in a pension is £125k. This will give me enough to live (still very frugally) when combined with my DB pension and the state pension when that kicks in.

Fairly pleased with August’s figures. Every section has increased (obviously apart from house value and DB pension which I just keep the same), maybe not hugely, but they’re all up. I need to just keep plugging away. I went through a stage of spending hours staring at my spreadsheets and pie charts willing them to look more promising. I realised that I was wishing my life away hoping to be further along my journey. This is going to take time. What I need to do is enjoy my life in the meantime.

I’ve had a really dodgy spell at work where I’ve been hating it. I think this has had a fair amount to do with my frame of mind as much as the realities of the job. It has been very busy and tough at work this year, but I’ve had a word with myself and decided to not hate it so much and look for the positives (of which there are quite a few). I think that’s why I was getting frustrated with how long it felt like it was taking me to reach FIRE. I really wanted to be able to quit imminently, which I’m not able to do. Now that I’ve settled down a bit more I have rediscovered the vital skill of patience on this long and winding road to FIRE.

Goals For September And Beyond

Quite frankly the last year has been pretty piss poor for me in terms of setting goals, getting stuff done and generally feeling like I’m moving forward with my life. I went through a time in my life about two years ago where things seemed to be going really well. I was making sure I got lots of sleep, which meant I had plenty of energy. That had the knock on effect of me getting loads more done. Work was going well, I was enthusiastic and felt like I was gaining new skills and carving out a role for myself in the department that hadn’t really existed before, but which suited me down to the ground. That’s no longer the case.

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I’m hating work at the moment, which is making it really difficult to feel that I’m making any progress with the rest of my life. Work is so busy and stressful that it’s sucking any motivation for me to do anything else. I finish work and am so exhausted and mentally drained that I don’t seem to have the will to do anything other than sleep on the couch and do the bare minimum to survive and keep me and my boys ticking over. That’s never been enough for me. I need to feel that I’m getting somewhere with my life, no matter where that happens to be. As long as it’s moving the way I want it to then I’m happy. Just now I feel like I’m somewhat stuck.

I’m barely running, which is always a bad sign. I know I feel so much better when I exercise, but I just don’t want to go out. I’m averaging about one or two runs a week, mainly when my friends arrange for us to meet up and get a few miles in. I can’t keep up with them any more as I’ve lost so much fitness, which again makes me not want to run. It’s not helped by the fact that I have an ongoing problem with my knees, which doesn’t particularly seem to be helped by resting or the physio exercises that is the one thing that I have been continuing to do. I always feel much more in control of my life when my running is going well. It really does make you feel like you can do anything you put your mind to.

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It’s not all doom and gloom though. On the financial side of things I have things pretty much automated so that I don’t need any willpower to stick with my plan. I’m more or less on autopilot with my budgeting and my investments go straight out of my salary and fly out of my bank account by direct debit. The one good thing I have done during this lacklustre period of time in my life is diversify my investments. This is very much still a work in progress, but at least I’ve pretty much stopped investing in shares of the company that I work for (apart from one too good to refuse deal – £75 worth of shares every month for only £30 of an outlay from me – yes please) and have started buying index trackers instead. I still hold far too many work shares, but I’m working on changing the balance on that over the next few years.

To try and jolt myself out of this lethargy I’ve decided to start setting myself goals again. I always used to do this. I like to have things to work towards and feel that I’m making progress on the things that are important to me. I usually set myself far too many goals and end up feeling overwhelmed, but sometimes that’s the only way to get things done. You might not achieve absolutely everything, but at least you do nudge yourself along in the right direction.

As usual, despite this supposedly being a FIRE blog, (actually I think it’s more a journey of the ups and downs of my life and an attempt to keep myself accountable to me if nobody else) the goals are not finance based. As I said I have a lot of my finances automated. If anything what I need to do is stop checking my money so often. I have a ritual whereby at the end of every working day I check my Vanguard account to see what it’s worth. That’s not useful, healthy or even all that encouraging. I do it anyway. It’s my treat to myself for surviving the day and a reminder that I won’t be living this life forever. It does however often lead to me wishing my life away by focussing solely on when I am going to reach my magic number and can stop working.

The ridiculous thing is that because a major part of my retirement plans focus on my defined benefits pension, and because there are some pretty serious penalties for retiring before the normal retirement age of 60, chances are I’ll be working for the next ten years come what may. Now saying that, I’m hopeful that once I reach some of my financial targets that I can negotiate a shorter working week. A four or even better three day working week sounds pretty civilised to me. As my pension is based on a salary that was capped a lot of years ago when I was working part time and quite a few grades lower than I am now, I could reduce my working hours and not impact my pension much. So although I might not be able to RE – or at least as early as I would like, I am hoping that I can take advantage of FI if I ever get there and make the last part of my working life much more tolerable.

Really I should be setting myself a target restricting the number of times I check my Vanguard account and look at my Net Worth figures and charts. I should do that, but where’s the fun in should. So I’m not going to restrict myself in that way for now. I am just going to try and remind myself that we have a finite amount of time on this planet and that I should be spending the time I have living my life to the full rather than looking longingly towards a time in some mythical future when I don’t have to work.

I’m going to try and enjoy the parts of my job that I do enjoy – which rather ironically is the bits that are ostensibly my actual job title. I do actually like talking to customers about their finances and helping them to sort things out. Of course there are days when I can’t really be bothered, but overall it’s not a bad job to have. It’s the nonsense that goes alongside it that is hard to take. The lack of time to manage your cases and the constant pressure to get on the phone and take yet another call despite having things to sort out for customers you’ve already spoken to.

So, enough about goals that I’m not going to set myself. What is important to me and is going to set me up for success in all areas of my life?

  • Get 7 hours sleep a night, 5 nights a week. This is a crucial one for me. I’ve always needed a lot of sleep. If I’m tired , which I usually am, then I can’t get anything done. When I was regularly getting 7-8 hours of sleep a couple of years ago I felt fantastic. The nights I got a full eight hours I felt invincible the next day.
  • Do 4 forms of exercise every week. In an ideal world this would be 3 runs and 1 cycle or walk. Back in the real world I know that my knee often can’t deal with this. I’m loving going out on my lockdown bike and really want to do more of that. This should get me back in the swing of exercising and hopefully I can build my running fitness back up.
  • Complete section 5 of the Duolingo Spanish tree by the end of the year. I am now on a 455 day streak on Duolingo. This sounds quite impressive, but quite a few of those days were just a quick 5 minute burst, useful but not enough to see real improvements. I finished section 3 on Christmas day and only finished the fourth section the other day, so I really should be further on than I am. This is going to be a real stretch goal for me and will require a decent amount of studying every day. It should be achievable, but only if I really stick in.
  • Find a new Spanish series that I want to watch and see at least 2 episodes every week. I finished watching Valeria on Netflix a month or so ago. It was far too fast for me, so really difficult to understand, but crucially I loved it and really wanted to watch it to find out what happened next. I need something else like that as it’s the only real way I’m going to improve my listening skills
  • Keep my car mileage under 69,000 by the end of the year. It’s raining and I can’t be bothered going out to check my current mileage, but the last time I checked a few weeks ago it was sitting at 68,648. Hitting this one will depend on a number of factors. It’s either totally achievable or completely impossible. Since lockdown I have implemented a rule that if a journey is 3 miles or under that I don’t take the car. The exception to this is if I have shopping to get, the kids are with me or there is a time constraint. Sounds like lots of get out clauses, but actually even on a 5 litre paint buying expeditions that was 3.5 miles away I walked rather than taking the car. I’m still doing the weekly Aldi shop by car, but as one of the kids comes with me and I have shopping I think that’s acceptable. I have no intention of stopping homeworking, so there’s no commute to do. The issue is going to arise if I need/want to go to Newcastle to see family, and I’m not going to restrict myself on that. Also maths boy is going off to university in October and so I’ll be going down to drop him off. The ex hubby and I are going down together. If we can get all the stuff in his car then he will probably drive as he thinks I drive too slowly, (AKA sticking to the speed limit) but if we need to go in my car then that’ll be me screwed for hitting this goal. I suppose I could take long journeys out of the target if needs be.
Photo by Daniel on Pexels.com

I think that’s plenty to be getting on with. More sleep will help my energy levels, which hopefully will make me more motivated to exercise, which in turn will give me the will to get stuff done. Maybe then I can look at some more stretching goals. At some point I will need to address my shocking eating habits that have developed during lockdown and the subsequent weight gain, but that is something I’ll worry about another time. For now I’ll keep it simple. Get more sleep, exercise more, work on improving my Spanish and keep up the good work on restricting my car use.

My Very Meandering Road To FIRE

Later this month it will be my twenty year anniversary with work. I honestly don’t know how that happened. I moved to Scotland around the Easter time and had already sorted out a job as a sales rep selling advertising for one of the free newspapers. I lasted all of three months in that job and realised that it wasn’t really for me. It was certainly an eye opener. Driving around various small towns in Fife and calling into small businesses. I used to have to go back to the office and ask what certain words meant. Divided by a common language doesn’t just apply to Britain and the States.

That was a really exciting time for me. I was moving up to live with the now ex husband. We’d met the year before and had a bit of a whirlwind romance. We met on a two week residential training course for BT, so effectively we had a holiday romance whilst getting paid to learn how to sell phone systems. We both fell pretty hard and pretty fast, so by the Christmas we were talking about whether he would move down to England or I would move up to Scotland. To be fair there wasn’t much of a discussion. After a fairly recent divorce I was ready for a fresh start. I’d always loved Scotland, and having devoured the Outlander books as a teenager I had a bit of a thing for all things Scottish and men in kilts! Also there’s a lot more job opportunities up in Edinburgh and the surrounding areas than there ever would be in Newcastle.

That was a fairly interesting year that I had. I did pretty much every stressful thing that you can think of. I got divorced, fell in love, learned to drive, moved countries, started four new jobs, moved house four times and got married. Oh, and turned thirty too, which at the time felt incredibly significant and a sign that I needed to sort my life, but with hindsight was me still being incredibly young and with most of my life still ahead of me. The funny thing is though that it didn’t feel stressful at all. It was one of the happiest times of my life. The world seemed full of possibilities. And because I hadn’t had kids with hubby number one the divorce felt incredibly freeing, although of course really sad too.

I had a flat in Newcastle that was on the market, but took a little bit of time to sell. I bought a flat a couple of miles from Newcastle city centre for £32k. I sold it three years later for more or less what I’d bought it for. I had one of the infamous Northern Rock 120% mortgages, but luckily I’d been very restrained and hadn’t borrowed any more than was absolutely necessary. The real reason I went for that type of mortgage was that it offered the opportunity to have a guarantor. I needed this as I was working through an agency and was sadly lacking a permanent contract. My dad duly stepped up and with him on the mortgage I was able to borrow what I needed for my first flat. The folks lent me the money for a deposit as well, so that I didn’t need to go anywhere near the amount Northern Rock were looking to throw at me. Maybe I wasn’t quite so disastrous with my money back in the day as I thought I was. Over the next two years I worked overtime whenever I could, regularly working extra at the start and end of my shift and every Saturday too. Within two years I’d saved up enough for pay back the money for the deposit. Very Sassenach Saving of me!

Although my now ex ex husband lived there with me it was me that bought the property. He was an absolute nightmare with money, and even way back then I knew it was a good idea to keep my finances to myself. I loved that flat. There’s something really magical about the first place you actually buy. It was so handy for town too, that I could just hop on a bus to get into Newcastle, but a lot of the time I’d just walk in. I was sad to sell it when I moved to Scotland. I did think about renting it out, and I guess my finances could look quite a bit different if I’d done that. I took out a twenty five year mortgage, as everybody did back then. That would have been all paid up next year, so if I’d kept it on a repayment basis then I would be about to be mortgage free on a two bedroom flat within walking distance of Newcastle city centre.

On a side note, it’s a really bad idea to go online and see what properties you’ve previously owned have subsequently sold for. I did this last year, and discovered that the person I’d sold it to for £32,000 had sold it about four years later for more than double what I’d got for it. And when you see that same flat is worth over £100k now it’s somewhat annoying. Oh well. I did sell as I thought it would be a hassle trying to manage things remotely.

I quickly realised that filling the paper week in and week out with ads for car garages, furniture shops and various tiny businesses was a thankless task that would quickly become dull. The most exciting thing about that job was the day’s training in Edinburgh in The Scotsman building. It was pretty exciting being in there and seeing the hustle and bustle of a large newspaper. Sadly the regional office where I worked was nothing like that.

I started to look around for other opportunities. Back then that’s what I used to do. I didn’t feel weighed down by responsibilities. I didn’t have kids, I certainly didn’t worry about pensions, investing or any of that stuff. The two of us were having a grand old time. Initially we were living on the outskirts of Edinburgh, so would have plenty of nights out in the city centre. We also made the most of nearby cycling opportunities, heading out on the bikes after work in the summer. We were having a grand old time being young(ish), in love and generally having a lovely time going out for meals, drinking and buying whatever we fancied.

That’s when we started building up credit card debt. Not horrendous in the grand scheme of things, but certainly not very Sassenach Saving of me. Neither of us was on great money, but we should most definitely have been able to manage if we hadn’t been going out so much and buying random things. That went on for a couple of years and then we had a word with ourselves. We started paying a set amount off each month and stopped spending more than we were earning. We were married by this stage and talking about starting a family a few years down the line. I think we both felt that a solid financial base would be better than racking up yet more credit card debt. I remember being very focussed on paying off that debt, and delighted when it was finally cleared. At that point we started overpaying the mortgage, so things were most definitely going in the right direction.

Although the internet was most definitely a thing back then, it wasn’t such an everyday part of people’s lives. You certainly weren’t going online with a phone, it was a big box in the corner of the room. Maybe if we were online more we would have discovered the whole FIRE thing. I remember obsessively reading a book about people changing their lives by downshifting. It was really something I was keen to pursue, but it was very short on practical advice. There was lots of talk of people getting big redundancy payouts and wafting around teaching yoga and the like. No real advice though for how to come up with a plan to get you to financial independence without a payout from work or a rich husband. Over the years I kept coming back to that book, but I could never figure out how to get to the place I wanted to be. Not until many years later anyway.

I can’t even remember how I discovered FIRE. I stumbled on The Minimalists by seeing their film on Netflix. From there I think I started seeing links for financial sites and I must have found FIRE from that. Who knows really. What I can’t believe is how long it took me, considering this movement is exactly what I am all about. I’ve long believed that money is a tool to buy you options. I’ve always known that stuff isn’t important to me and that I would rather have more time than more money. I might have lost my way slightly at times, but I’ve always been searching for a way to live my life without being consumed by work.

I might have come to my FIRE journey late, but I’m certainly committed now. My FIRE journey most definitely isn’t the most conventional. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, and am continuing to make choices that are right for me, but most definitely not the most efficient or perhaps even the most sensible. I guess that’s one of the things I love so much about this FIRE movement. Everybody’s journey is different, and that’s ok. We are all aiming for slightly different destinations, and will get there in a multitude of fashions. We’re not all the same, and I think we should embrace that. We can learn from each other, whilst accepting that’s what right for you might feel completely wrong to me. As long as we end up where we want to be and enjoy the ride then it’s all good.

July 2020 Net Worth

It’s time to tot up what I’m worth again. I’ve decided to make a change to how I calculate my figures. I have a defined benefits pension with work that I have never actually included in any of my net worth figures. Considering this is one of the big reasons where I stay working where I am then this seems absolute madness. A big part of my retirement plans centre around the fact that I will have about ten thousand a year from this pension if I can stick it out for another ten years.

As of this month I am now going to include it in my figures. I’m going to take what I have accrued so far, well at least as of my April 2019 statement, which is the most recent one that has been produced. I’ll take that annual figure and multiply it by twenty to give an approximation of what it might be worth once I can start drawing it. To complicate matters slightly I’m going to include it in some of my figures, but not all. I like to be able to separate out what I could theoretically cash in right now if I have a mid life crisis that necessitates me liquidating everything.

The plan for now then is to include the DB pension in the overall net worth figures, but also separate it out along with the house equity to give me an idea what things look like if I want to stay living where I am but cash everything in to clear the mortgage. This allows me to see how close I am to being mortgage neutral, which is an important target for me. I don’t want the pension muddying the waters on those figures, so it’s getting put to one side for that calculation.

As usual last month’s figures are in brackets for comparison. Clearly it’s going to look like I’ve had a massive bump up of my net worth from last month to this. I wish. At least moving forward it will give a more realistic picture of what my finances look like. I definitely need to have a think about how to represent my finances in a way that more reflects my own situation.

As I have the DB pension giving me a half decent starting point I really need to find some way to measure how I’m doing in making up the shortfall in what I’ll get and what my living expenses are likely to be. I have a bit of an idea in my head about how much I need to live on and so how much I need to grow my investments by. I think I’m on track, but I definitely need to flesh that out a bit.

I really need to start measuring my savings rate as well. I had a bit of a shot at calculating that, but things are all going to change come October when maths boy goes off to university and my maintenance halves. My tax credits and child benefit have already reduced down, so I’m living on slightly less than before, but still trying to save just as much. At the moment I’m struggling to see how I will manage to keep saving the same amount, but no doubt there are some savings that I will manage to make. That sounds like a bit of a project for me towards the end of the year, to measure things a bit more and see how I’m doing towards the targets that I have in my head, but not recorded anywhere.

Enough of my thoughts about new things to record. Without further ado here are July’s figures and how they look in comparison to June.

Debts

Mortgage £97,790.14 (£98,281.81)

Assets

Cash £33,612.22 (£36,507.46)

Defined Benefits Pension £123,683

AVC’s £6,440.24 (£5,567.13)

Shares £37,782.93 (£36,282.17)

House £250,000 (£250,000)

Total Assets £451,518.39 (£328,356.76)

Net Worth including house equity

£451,518.39 – £97,790.14 = £353,728.25(£230,074.95)

Net Worth excluding house equity and Defined Benefits Pension

£77,835.39 – £97,790.14 = -£19,954.75(-£19,925.05)

The cash amount went down not because I went on a spending spree, but rather because I took about three thousand from my savings and bought some more index trackers. I had too much cash on hand as a result of the further advance that I did earlier in the year on my mortgage. I’ve still got enough savings sitting there that I can get my boiler replaced when it finally gives up the ghost and get my en-suite sorted when I’m more comfortable with having people working in the house when it’s not strictly speaking necessary. As far as getting a new car is concerned, I’m still of the mindset that as I’m currently driving about three miles a week to go to Aldi then the new car can probably go on the back burner for the foreseeable future.

The fact that I’ve spent £3,000 on new trackers along with my normal £600 that I do anyway, means that the increase in my shares value is particularly poor. The index trackers are actually doing pretty well. As usual it’s my work shares that are letting the side down. If I could go back in time I would tell my younger self to forget about doing share saves and just stick the money in index trackers. Unfortunately I don’t have a tardis in my back garden, so I am where I am. My plan is to pretty much just forget about the work shares and maybe at some mythical point in the future they will recover. In the meantime I will just keep sticking as much as I can into my Vanguard ISA. By the end of the tax year I will be up to the maximum £20k, which is pretty good going. That’s going to be a one off though, as it includes the money from cashing in two share saves, transfers from my savings as well as my normal monthly amount. I’m definitely not going to be in a position to do that every year.

I’m reasonably happy with this month’s figures. My AVC’s and index trackers are doing pretty well. The work shares are down about £2k, but what’s new there? I’m quite comfortable with the strategy that I’ve got going now. I’m slowly getting a bit more diversified away from having everything in work shares. At some point I’ll offload a big chunk of these, but not just now. Even if they start paying dividends again next year that would be a bit of a help and a reason to keep hold of them until the price is very slightly less dire. I’ll keep plugging away with my index trackers and hopefully they will continue to rise in value. I was happy to see this month that the combined value of my AVC’s and trackers are now worth more than my work shares. That definitely feels like I’m making some progress on project diversification.

Reflections On Lockdown

It feels like things are changing now, so it’s been making me reflect on how lockdown has been and lessons that I want to take from it. I feel almost embarrassed to be saying this, but I’ve actually enjoyed lockdown. I mean, clearly not the death, worry and not being able to see friends and family. That part has sucked, but there’s definitely been a lot of good things to come out of this awful situation.

Now that things are starting to open up and get back to some sort of normality, is it just me that has decidedly mixed feelings about this? Clearly there are some things that I am desperate to get back to. Seeing family, parkrun, races, not needing to be constantly looking when you’re about and about to make sure nobody is within 2 metres of you. There are also lots of things that I really want to keep. As we come out of this really weird situation I really hope that we take the opportunity for some self-reflection and work out what’s really important to us and what has just been a distraction all along.

For me I’ve realised that I have a lot of the basics covered already. I’m pretty clear on my values and know what adds value to my life and what is a waste of my time, effort and money. My family unit is pretty strong. Despite sharing lockdown with two teenage boys we are closer than ever. There’s been very little conflict and we still enjoy spending time together. We’ve given each other plenty of space. We’re really lucky in having a good sized house and a nice garden. I’ve got four bedrooms, so even with using one as an office there’s still lots of room for us all to spread out. I do appreciate how fortunate I am. My sister shares a two bedroom flat with her twelve year old son. They are very cramped in there and there has inevitably been a few fallings out between the two of them.

What I really hope is that as things start to ease up things don’t just go back to how they were. I really see this as a chance for the earth to heal itself from all the damage that we’ve inflicted on it. If you’d said to us last year that planes wouldn’t be flying, the roads would be empty, shops would be closed and we would mostly all be working from home then we’d have thought that you were crazy. There’s no way that would ever happen. But happen it has.

The Country’s Finances

I talk to lots of people every day with my job. It seems to me that the world has pretty much split into furloughed and still working people. I’ve had to come off Facebook as I think if I read one more post about how bored someone was then I was going to scream. I realise it must be incredibly difficult if you’ve got nothing to do and you’re worried about the money side of things. It is however incredibly frustrating to keep hearing about how bored people are when you’re rushed off your feet working harder than ever to try and keep up with customer demand.

The health aspect is obviously awful, but the economic fallout is almost as bad. This pandemic has starkly demonstrated the fragility of people’s finances. People were phoning us almost immediately the crisis hit to say that they were struggling to pay their bills. They literally were one pay away from financial disaster. These are not just people earning minimum wage. Some of these people earn really good money. It doesn’t matter how good your salary is though if you spend all of it and more. If you have a pile of credit card debts built up over the years on all the essential things that you absolutely had to have, then when you get furloughed you’re going to have a problem.

What’s Going To Change?

Working towards FIRE is a real benefit when something awful like this pandemic hits. We’re already used to living on less than we’re earning, so if needs be we can look for other ways to adapt our finances. Clearly the financial buffer is a real asset, but perhaps even more so is the adaptable attitude. I’m really not great with change, but striving to reach FIRE has made me examine my finances more closely and look at different ways of doing things. Although I haven’t made any big changes as a result of CV19, I do feel that my frame of mind is slightly different than it was. Something truly shocking has happened to our world, which has resulted in wholesale change in the way we live our lives. Hopefully lots of these things will only be temporary deprivations, and we’ll gradually get to reintroduce some of the fun things that we’ve all been missing.

I honestly believe that things can’t just go back to how they were. I hope not anyway. For me there’s been a fundamental change in how I think about the world. It’s almost as though one of the worst things I could possibly have imagined has happened, and yet the world continues. Coming out of the other side how could we possibly go back to the hum drum worrying about trivial things. We will, of course we will. It’s only natural. I really want to try not to though. I’m not sure if it’s as a result of working from home, but I’m finding it much easier to focus on what’s really important to me. I’m not saying I’m not getting caught up in the day to day stresses of work, because there have certainly been plenty of those. I am however finding it slightly easier to remind myself that as long as my boys and I are healthy, happy and flourishing then there’s not really too much else to worry about.

Paying For Petrol For The First Time In Forever

I had to fill the car up the other day for the first time since lockdown. I’ve realised during this time how well set up I am to barely need a car at all. I’m definitely driving less than I was before. I’ve introduced a new personal rule that on any under 3 mile journeys I won’t use the car unless there’s some sort of a constraint such as taking the kids, heavy shopping or not having the time to go under my own steam. I walked to B&Q yesterday to pick up an order. It’s only a mile and a half from my house, and I definitely would have taken the car in the past. Instead I walked down, picked up my 5 litres of decking stain and set off with a fairly heavy rucksack for the walk home. Yes it was a bit uncomfortable walking home with that on my back, but I backpacked around Spain carrying all my camping equipment many years ago and survived that, so some decking stain definitely wasn’t going to break me. I still haven’t got into using the bike for errands, but I have bought a bike lock and started scoping out quiet routes into town. It might well be baby steps, but if it stops me having to replace my car for a while then that’ll all be to the good.

Holiday Time

I’m just coming towards the end of a week’s holiday. My teenagers are spending two weeks with their dad so I get to be just Sassenach Saving, and not Ms Mum as they call me. I had planned to spend this week studying Spanish, watching some more of the free Yale online lectures, running, walking, cycling, writing, reading etc etc. I would needed to have been off for about a month to get through everything I had planned. Instead things panned out quite differently. I was video chatting with my folks last Sunday and mentioned that I was off work for a week. They turned to each other and suggested that I create a bubble with them so I could come down to visit. They’d been reluctant to do this before as they were shielding due to their age. They were feeling a bit more confident as time passed and were now happy for me to visit.

I threw some things in the car, actually paid out for some petrol and had a beautiful sunny drive down the A68 to start my trip away. It was so lovely to catch up with them. I also managed to do some socially distanced socialising with my sister and nephew. I was only down there for a few days, but we managed to pack quite a few things in. Video chatting is great, but it’s no substitute for actually being able to see someone in person and make sure that they actually are doing ok. I felt much reassured after having spent some time with them.

My sister loves to walk so she found a lovely route for us to do on the beautifully named Red Kite Trail. Named as they released 94 red kites in the area. We didn’t manage to see any that day, but my sis repeating the route a few days later and was lucky enough to see one soaring above her. We did manage to see rabbits, deer and a particularly acrobatic squirrel leaping from a post to the branches of a tree, along with the usual farm animals. The whole thing was twelve and a half miles, including taking the scenic route along the river (it’s not getting lost if you get to enjoy beautiful scenery whilst enjoying a slight diversion).

Another day myself and the folks had a trip to the seaside. We drove the route of the Great North Run, as clearly that’s not going ahead this year and I’ve had to defer my place till next year. Right from the start on the central motorway, all the way along to the front at South Shields. I have to say it was much easier in the car, but even then it did seem quite a long way. I don’t very often get to drive the route of one of the half marathons that I’ve run, so it really brought home how it is a pretty big achievement to run one. I tend to think that a half is not that big a deal. You know what, it kind of is.

We spent a few hours in South Shields where the sun was very conveniently shining for us. Even so the place was reasonably quiet and it was easy enough to keep our distance from other people. We had fish and chips and I kept up my usual tradition of paddling in the sea, getting soaking and realising that I probably should have brought a towel with me. I really should learn the lesson that if I’m at the coast I’ll be going in the sea come what may. It was even pretty warm, which is not something you can usually say about the sea on that particular stretch of coastline.

So all in all it was a fantastic break away. I caught up with family, did some great walking and managed to get out and about whilst remaining safe. It did make me realise that although I’ve enjoyed staying home during lockdown I really need to make myself go out. I have hermit tendencies that can get out of hand if left unchecked. Sometimes you need to get out in the world and experience new things and places.

For me the biggest things to come out of lockdown are I want to keep working from home, driving less and focussing on reaching FIRE. I need to make sure that I also remember to make time for fun activities and catching up with family and friends. I love to learn and get exercise, but I also need to make sure that I actually see people. It’s absolutely fantastic that I can now run with my friends again. That is such a big part of my life, and things seemed slightly out of balance when I was having to run on my own. I think moving forward getting enough social interaction is going to be crucial to ensure that homeworking is sustainable for me, particularly as my boys grow up and fly the nest.

June 2020 Net Worth

It’s been a while since I’ve put my figures up, although I have continued to track them myself. I’m not quite sure why I’ve stopped posting them, as I always feel that it’s a way to keep myself accountable. I guess I feel that I’m already keeping a check myself, but it can be useful to share them to anybody who is out there and listening. Normally I would put last month’s figures in brackets for comparison. This month however I’ve put January’s figures in brackets just to show what’s happened since the start of the year. I break down my figures to both include and exclude my house equity. The latter figure is to show how I’m doing in my quest to reach mortgage neutrality.

Debts

Mortgage £98,281.81 (£80,767.87)

Assets

Cash £36,507.46 (£14,988.95)

Money in share save £0 (£15,304 )

AVC’s £5,567.13 (£5,175.36)

Shares £36,282.17 (£33,554.66)

House £250,000 (£250,000)

Total Assets £328,356.76 (£319,022.97)

Net Worth including house equity

£328,356.76 – £98,281.81 = £230,074.95 (£238,255.10)

Net Worth excluding house equity

£78,356.76 – £98,281.81 = -£19,925.05 (-£11,744.90)

There’s probably quite a few things to say about these figures. So first up the mortgage. Clearly from what’s showing above I have borrowed more money on the mortgage. There are a number of factors that came into play with regards to this. I have access to a base rate mortgage through work. Only having to pay 0.1% is a pretty compelling reason to borrow money against your house. It is a benefit in kind, so there are some tax implications, but still you know, it’s 0.1% This is a benefit that work are going to remove for any new borrowing this year. What you have at base rate you get to keep, but if you want to borrow extra, move house or don’t yet have a staff mortgage then tough luck, it won’t be available.

On that basis there was an argument to be made for borrowing extra even if it wasn’t needed and tucking it away in a cash ISA and being up on the deal. I am going to need access to extra money at some point. My boiler is not in a brilliant state. We have a few days every year where it doesn’t work, so we have no heating or hot water. Not ideal, but also not a disaster. Rather crucially though they can no longer get spare parts for it, so it’s no longer able to be repaired when it does hit a problem. So far it’s always spontaneously started working again, but I can’t bank on this forever. My en suite is also not useable due to a cracked shower tray and subsequent leaking through the kitchen ceiling last year. Add that to the fact that the loo in there has never really worked. At some point a total redoing of the en suite will be in order. And my car had been proving very expensive to repair, so I was thinking about replacing it. With lockdown and the consequent lack of driving I’m currently rethinking that, but we’ll see.

Anyway I figured that I would not spend all this extra money for as long as possible, but that I would borrow it and stick it away and earn some interest on it and be up on the deal. I’d done the application just before lockdown with the thought that I wouldn’t draw the funds down straight away. Once everything kicked off Coronavirus wise though I decided to get the money in my bank account ASAP in case they pulled extra borrowing. I was worrying unnecessarily, but it was certainly nice to have the extra cash in my account. So that explains the extra cash in my balance.

The next big thing is the share save money. A big fat zero in there. I had two share saves still on the go, but as the share price dropped like a stone and it became clear that it wasn’t going to get anywhere near the option price anytime soon I cashed them in and took the cash without any penalty. This worked out really well as it allowed me to put the money into index trackers. I finally have got myself a bit diversified. Not nearly enough, but I’ve made a really good start. I’m not doing any more share saves. It’s index trackers all the way for me now. I’ve gone from putting £500 a month into share saves to doing £600 month to Vanguard Index trackers. It’s been my plan all along to do this. I don’t know what took me so long, but at least I got there eventually.

Work do a share match where when I buy £30 shares each month they’ll give me £45 worth for free. If I keep them for five years it’s even tax and NI free. I’ll keep doing them, but other than that I’m done with work shares. I just need to offload the ones I have already. Due to the current share price and what I paid for them I can’t quite bring myself to do that just yet, but at some point I’m just going to have to accept that money is gone and it’s never coming back. The index trackers are doing really well, so I’ll be better off putting the money in there. I’ll start to do that gradually to make sure that I get everything in ISA’s.

I had a share save mature in January. I got totally stung on that. I was in the process of transferring the shares to my share dealing account ready to sell immediately and put into index trackers. It took two weeks to move them across and during that time I could see the price getting lower and lower, I went from having £1200 profit to being so much down on them that it barely seems worth selling them now. At some point they will need to go, but the pain is too recent to make it real by selling and realising the loss.

The values of my shares are up slightly from January, but considering that includes the matured share save where I was saving £500 a month for three years, that’s pretty rubbish. The least said about that the better. I’m not expecting the work share price to recover any time soon. There’s always something with it. First it was let’s just get past the PPI deadline then the price will be better, then it was Brexit (remember that?!) and now it’s Coronavirus and the subsequent economic fallout. I feel like it’s the end of an abusive relationship. I can’t believe I stayed with them so long, what was I thinking, my life is so much better without them in it etc etc etc. The final straw was when they announced that they wouldn’t be paying the dividend. I realise that wasn’t their decision, but I was furious as it was actually the final dividend from last year. We went so many years without one being paid at all, so to have it pulled now is doubly gutting. Maybe that means next year’s dividend will be extra good, but I don’t think I can count on that.

The AVC balance is not looking too healthy either. There seems to be a bit of a pattern emerging here! It’s up slightly, but considering I have quadrupled the amount I’m paying into my AVC’s that’s pretty piss poor. My thoughts on this one are to stop overpaying my mortgage so much and take advantage of the tax benefits of the pension. So I’ve borrowed an extra £20K on the mortgage, but reduced by monthly payment by £200. I was massively overpaying the mortgage, and I still am paying about £80 a month more than I need to. At such a low interest rate though it seemed silly to be bringing my mortgage down. I still would love to clear my mortgage, but for now my priority is to build up enough money in my AVC balance to get my £50k cash lump sum at retirement without needing to reduce the amount of my annual pension. I can then use that lump sum to hopefully more or less clear the mortgage. I’m slightly conflicted on this strategy as the mortgage feels like somewhat of a burden, but for now I’m happy to go with the maths.

So to summarise, I owe more on my mortgage, my work shares have tanked, my AVC balance is not great and my net worth is down. On the plus side though I have a lot more cash on reserve at a very low interest rate that gives me scope to do something useful with. I have finally diversified, even if there is still plenty of work to do on that front. I’ve made the decision to not overpay my mortgage as much but instead to put more into my AVC fund. The index trackers I’ve got are doing well and hopefully demonstrating that I’ve made a good decision with my finances. So I’m going to try and take the positives from what could be a very depressing update. Yes the figures are pants, but I’ve finally got my finger out and made some decisions about my money. Whether they are the right decisions remains to be seen, but as always taking action is a good thing. Action conquers fear as they say, so here’s hoping I’ve made some good choices and I’ll start to reap the rewards moving forward.