Lockdown Easing

It feels that we’re starting to shift towards a slightly different mentality when it comes to lockdown. Things are beginning to open up a little bit, but more than that, people’s thinking seems to be changing. It’s noticeable in the supermarket where you see people huddled together chatting rather than getting in and out as quickly as possible to avoid infection. Whether that’s right or not is a can of worms that I think I’ll leave well and truly alone. It seems a bit quick to me, but I can just follow my own rules and leave other people to behave as they see fit. I’ve absolutely no interest in becoming the lockdown police.

I’ve got the added complication that I live in Scotland but all my family are down in England. So I’ve had the joy of trying to decipher two lots of rules. For my day to day life it’s Nicola Sturgeon that I’ve been listening to. Whatever you think about her politics I think most people would agree that she’s handled this situation well. She’s been a voice of reason and not scared to say the unpopular things that keep us safe. She’s not been afraid to say that although Boris is saying it’s now about staying safe not staying home, I’m telling you to stay home. And if you haven’t yet seen the voice overs that Janey Godley does of her speeches then check them out, as they are brilliant.

I’ve been trying to keep up with things south of the border as well so that I can figure out what’s going on with my family, make sure they’re safe and crucially trying to figure out when I can get down to see them. I have to say I’ve found a lot of Boris’s advice pretty much incomprehensible. Safe to say I’m very glad I’m in Scotland and following Nicola. She’s come across as very statesman like through all this. Or should that be stateswoman like? Either way she’s been reassuring, confident and told it like it is.

We’re not out of lockdown yet, but we are starting to see some easing. We still can’t get haircuts yet, but that should be coming in soon. I’ve become a dab hand at cutting my fringe, but that’s about as much as I’ve dared. My kids are looking slightly like shaggy dogs, but they’re not bothered and I quite like their somewhat hippy looks. The most exciting thing for me is that we can now meet up with two other households outside. And of course we all know what that means. I get to run with friends again. I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed that. I totally lost any motivation to run at the start of all this, but I’ve gradually got back into it. I’m totally unfit still, but at least I’m consistently running again. I’ve had two runs now with other people and it was just the nicest thing ever.

I’ve really been missing parkrun. That’s usually such an important part of my weekend. I’d done lots of touristing to various parkruns, but when it was clear that we were about to have the final parkrun for the foreseeable future then I headed back to my local park for the final Saturday and volunteered as a marshal to cheer everybody on. This gave me a chance to catch up with everyone and get more or less caught up on my volunteering debt before everything stopped. That was a perfect morning, made all the more poignant for knowing that we wouldn’t be seeing each other for some time.

This morning I was out for a run with a friend. We were doing a 10km route that used to be a race a few years ago, and was being put on as a virtual lockdown challenge by our running club. You do it whenever you want during the allocated week and post your results. I’ve been studiously ignoring these challenges as I didn’t want to be reminded how unfit I was. This one looked fun though, so the two of us plodded around and put the world to rights. It’s amazing how much I’d lost the ability to talk and run at the same time. Not if I wanted to be able to breathe too anyway. I used to be quite good at that, so that’s definitely a skill I need to relearn.

The route was three laps starting and finishing in the park where parkrun is normally held. We met at 9 and were chatting before we got started. Then we saw a runner we knew so had a lovely talk with him. As we were running through the park on each lap we kept seeing people we knew from parkrun and more general running circles. Then it twigged that it was the anniversary of that particular parkrun, so lots of people were doing a pretend parkrun to celebrate. At the end we were talking to loads of runners we knew. It was at that point I realised just how much I’d missed the social aspect of running. Going out for a run is a lot of fun, but add friends into the mix and it becomes this amazing experience.

I really can’t wait for parkrun to get going again, but I fear that’s a long way off. Parkrun HQ have said the a whole country needs to be in a position to put on the event for any to be able to start. We’re classed as part of the UK, so although we might be able to cope locally with the numbers involved, some of the bigger ones down south would be swamped and unable to do any kind of social distancing. Bushy, where it all started routinely gets massive numbers, so there’s no way it would be feasible for them. I’m doubtful that we’ll be back this year, but I’d be delighted to be proved wrong.

At the start, like everyone,I was feeling pretty stressed about the pandemic. I was still going into the office, in a cubicle crammed in with people everywhere. I work in a call centre environment, which is hardly ideal for social distancing. They were paying lip service to keeping people apart. We had a one way system in place in the office, which was ridiculous and did absolutely no good. Teams were having meetings in the stairwells to say they were socially distancing, but all that meant was you had to walk past them to get to your part of the office.

Eventually they realised that there wasn’t enough space to have everyone in at the same time, so I came back after lunch one Monday to be told to go home for the rest of the week so that everyone could be spaced out in the office. That lasted until the Wednesday when they realised that they needed everyone working, so just come back the next day and it would be fine. Then we had a confirmed case in the building so were closed for two days for a deep clean. I had a few day’s holiday after that and I was dreading going back into the building.

There are fifty five of us working in my particular area. We are crammed into cubicles with a walkway between the middle of our part. There was no way to be two metres apart. They were claiming it was fine and that we could still use the walkway without there being any problems. How ridiculous this assertion was has now been demonstrated by the fact that they have now decided that out of the fifty five of us that work in that part, we can safely accommodate six of us in the office.

When I was due to go back on the Monday I decided that I wasn’t prepared to work there any more. They were trying to get laptops for everybody so that we could work from home, but it was taking some time to organise. I sat down with my good old spreadsheets and worked out how long I could live on my stash if I had to. I’d recently done some extra borrowing on my mortgage as I knew at some point I was going to need to replace my car and the boiler. I’ve also not been able to use my en suite since it leaked through the kitchen ceiling last year, so at some point I’ll want to get that sorted. I decided to borrow an extra £20k on my mortgage.

I’m very fortunate to have a base rate mortgage through work, so at 0.1% I’m not too worried about increasing my borrowing. I’ve just stuck it in a cash ISA for the meantime and it’s making me more than it’s costing me. As they’re due to withdraw the staff mortgage for any new borrowing at some point this year I figured it would be good to take advantage of that whilst it’s still available. I’m actually wondering if I shouldn’t maybe take some more and just tuck it away. It goes against the grain for me as I have spent a long time overpaying my mortgage and love to see it coming down, but the numbers don’t lie. Since I’ve done the extra borrowing I’ve reduced the amount that I’m overpaying and put that extra money into index trackers again. I would love to be mortgage free, but for now I think it’s probably more important to build my investments.

So my cash figure is almost certainly higher than it should be at the moment. As I’m barely using my car just now it will hopefully not need replacing quite so quickly. I’m going to wait till the boiler completely gives up the ghost. The last time it got serviced the said that they can’t get parts for it any more, and a couple of times a year it stops working for a couple of days and we have no heating or hot water. Cold showers are far from ideal, but most of the time it works, so I’ll just hang fire until there’s no option but to replace it. The en suite I’m hoping I can mostly pay for out of the cash that’s built up in my current account, but I’m in no rush to get that done either.

So the bottom line is that I have a good amount of cash if I needed it to live off. When I worked my figures out on the Sunday night when I was due to go back in to the office the next day I reckoned that on a bare bones survival budget I could probably last for about three years. Clearly that’s a sign that I have too much cash, but it definitely worked in my favour. I wasn’t going to quit the next day, but having that money gave me the confidence to say I’m happy to work from home if you have a laptop for me, but otherwise I’m away home and let me know when my laptop’s here. I’m not sure how comfortable I would have felt saying that if I didn’t have a back up plan of cash in the bank. So even without being financially independent working towards FIRE gave me options that I might not otherwise have had.

When I went in on the Monday though there was a laptop for me, so I was able to head straight home and get set up in the spare room. It took a while to get all the technology working, but it’s gone pretty well. I was initially a little sceptical about how I would find working from home. We already had some people home working before all this kicked off. They had to come in to the office one day a week at least, but the rest of the time they worked at home. I had thought about it when it was offered and I was very tempted. I thought it would be a really good opportunity to see how I found being at home and not having the interaction at the office. This is something I worry about a little bit for that mythical point in the future when I reach FIRE and can quit the rat race. As I don’t have a partner and just have two teenage boys for company in the house I worried that I might find it quite isolating.

Turns out I didn’t need to worry. I love working from home. Admittedly it’s only been a few months, but I’m pretty sure I’d be fine doing this long term. I’m just doing my normal job, taking calls through the laptop, speaking to customers and keying applications for them. I was concerned that I’d find it hard to switch off without having the separation of home and office. Of course I sometimes think about work when I’m off, but then that was the same when I was working from the office too. I love being able to pop down on my break and put the washing out or just sit in the garden. We’ve been very lucky with the weather, but it hasn’t been sunny the whole time and I’ve still loved being at home.

I thought I would miss my colleagues, but no, not so much. I’d like to say there’s no office politics now, but that would be pushing it a bit. We’re operating business as usual. We’re incredibly busy, so there’s a lot of pressure to get on and take calls. Balancing that with dealing with cases for customers you’ve already dealt with is always tricky. So that’s no different. My boss is still on my back about my stats, but it’s a lot easier to deal with that when I’m in my lovely spare room rather than in a soulless cubicle. I’m enjoying the video meetings with my team, but I’m finding that twenty minutes a day is enough contact with my colleagues.

I’m definitely more focussed on my customers. I feel like I’m having better conversations with them because I’m not in such a distracting environment. It feels like I’m doing a better job and my confidence in my abilities has definitely grown. The job I do has a lot of grey areas. We’ve policies we have to follow, but because I’m advising people on their finances there aren’t always definite answers. I used to rely a lot more on discussing cases with colleagues. Now I tend to just read the policy, follow my gut and stick to my guns. So homeworking is a big tick in the box. I enjoy it, I’m managing without the office gossip and I feel like I’m developing new skills.

Like everyone else I’m now finding that I’m getting about three weeks to the gallon with my car. I’ve actually not had to fill up once since lockdown, which is amazing. I didn’t feel like I did an awful lot of driving before, and only used to have to fill up about once a month. These last few months have really made me start to think about my car usage. I had already been trying not to use the car so much for short journeys. As I only work about three miles from home I really shouldn’t be using by car for commuting, but I was. My current thinking is that even once everything starts to ease I’ll just keep home working. Even if I have to go to the office once a week eventually, then that will still cut down my car use considerably. I have even been thinking about cycling to work. It’s definitely doable.

My old bike has been on it’s last legs for a long time now. The tyres and brakes were completely shot and it was a heavy old beast at the best of times. I’d got rid of it just before lockdown hit and the plan was always to get a new one. The start of lockdown seemed as good a time as any to do this, so I got myself a new bike delivered. Just under £200 got me a decent hybrid bike, suitable for road and a bit of off roading too. I was very excited about this and the first day it arrived I got myself out after work to the cycle path that’s only half a mile from my house. It was a lot of fun and over the next few weeks I managed to build up to about an hour’s riding without feeling like I was going to die.

I’m ashamed to admit though that I’ve only been out on it a grand total of five times. I’ve enjoyed it every time I’ve gone out, but I just don’t seem to have got in the habit of getting myself out there. It’s partly because I’m really enjoying my running again, and I never feel the need to exercise more than once a day. I’ve realised that rather than going out on the bike for exercise, I would rather that it was a means of transport to avoid me going in the car. I haven’t actually done anything about this, but I have started thinking about ways to get places I would want to go on the bike without needing to be on main roads. Where I live I’m really central for getting to the local town, so there’s no excuse for me using my car all that much. Definitely something for me to ponder a bit more and think about implementing some changes to the way I get about.

It will be interesting to see what changes come about once we do come out of lockdown fully. No doubt some things will go back to normal, but hopefully some of the more beneficial changes will be here to stay. I need to gather my thoughts on that and see what changes I want to bring about in my life from what I’ve learned from lockdown. Once I’ve come to some conclusions I’ll no doubt share my thoughts.

My First Net Worth of 2020

That’s us well into 2020 now, so time to see how my figures are looking for the first month of the year.As always last month’s figures are in brackets for comparison. 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 £80,767.87 (£81,415.99) 

Assets

Cash £14,988.95 (£15,248.10)

Money in share save £15,304 (£14,804)

AVC’s £5,175.36 (£5,055.46)

Shares £33,554.66 (£36,932.81)

House £250,000 (£250,000) 

Total Assets £319,022.97 (£322,040.37)

Net Worth including house equity

£319,022.97 – £80,767.87 = £238,255.10 (£240,624.38) 

Net Worth excluding house equity

£69,022.97 – £80,767.87 = -£11,744.90 (-£9,375.62)

Slightly depressing to see things going back the way. Although actually, when I look at the figures properly it’s really “just” the shares that are letting the side down. Slightly less cash, but hardly anything to speak of. Considering that I had two much larger than normal credit card bills to pay, with Christmas and a couple of trips away for this year to pay for, that’s really rather encouraging. Slightly helped by a couple of hundred pounds for a forced sale of some old work shares. That’s just sitting there in my current account just now waiting for me to have enough for the minimum lump sum payment to my index trackers.

The share save balance has gone up again. One of the schemes has finished now and the money is just there waiting for me to give my instruction to buy and immediately sell to take the profit. I’m waiting rather optimistically for the share price to go up a bit to optimise my profit. Once I’ve done that the money will be going straight into my Vanguard Index trackers.

My AVC’s balance is pitifully low, so just today I’ve increased my monthly contribution to that. Looking at my budgets I don’t have any spare money left over to put more into AVC’s, but I’m working on the philosophy that I always have money left over at the end of the month, so I’ll manage somehow. I’m due a pay rise in April which is what I was hoping to use to put towards my pension. They’ve announced that it’s going to be a flat percentage rise irrespective of performance, which is not how it’s normally handled. Not exactly providing an incentive to go the extra mile. It doesn’t bode well for the bonus either. The pay rise is going to be tiny, but at least it will go towards the extra I’m going to put to my AVC’s.

I’m trying not to get too downhearted about the figures looking worse for this month than last. I need to remember that it’s the big picture that’s important, not the month to month fluctuations. I am definitely going in the right direction, albeit maybe just not quite as quickly as I would like.

Maybe it’s worth a quick look at how I’m doing compared to this time last year. That’s me been recording my net worth for a whole year now, so it will be interesting to see how I’m getting on. So this time the figures in brackets will be from January 2019.

Debts

Mortgage £80,767.87 (£89,432.06) 

Assets

Cash £14,988.95 (£15,404.81)

Money in share save £15,304 (£9,304)

AVC’s £5,175.36 (£3,278.05)

Shares £33,554.66 (£31,206.67)

House £250,000 (£228,000) 

Total Assets £319,022.97 (£287,193.53)

Net Worth including house equity

£319,022.97 – £80,767.87 = £238,255.10 (£197,761.47) 

Net Worth excluding house equity

£69,022.97 – £80,767.87 = -£11,744.90 (-£30,238.53)

So suddenly I don’t feel quite so bad about my figures. I can see that I am definitely making some progress. If I was just starting out then I would feel fabulous about these figures. As it is, I keep getting frustrated with how long it’s going to take me to reach FIRE. Now saying that, there is one big figure missing from my net worth. My defined benefit pension is going to pay me out £10K a year if I can stick it out until I’m 60. That’s only just over ten years away. So I’m only really needing to bridge the gap between that £10K a year and what I need for a decent life.

Retiring at sixty is definitely possible, whereas before that was just a pipe dream. I would love to stop working at 55, but I just can’t seem to make the figures work for that. I guess if I sold up and bought somewhere smaller for cash then it starts to seem a bit more realistic. Realistically though I will probably still have kids at home at that point, for at least part of the year.

My eldest is going off to university this year. I’m starting to realise some of the financial implications of this. I’ve already had my letter through saying that his child benefit is going to stop. I also get a tiny amount of child tax credit and maintenance, which will reduce. He will still be spending about half the year at home though with the amount of holidays that students get. I’m delighted that he’ll still be spending time at home, but I can foresee that my finances are likely to take a bit of a hit as a result. No doubt I’ll adapt and figure out a way to try and help him a bit with his money and not bankrupt myself in the process.

So my plan for this year continues to be to diversify. I still have a ridiculous amount in shares of the company I work for. Moving forward I’m just taking the profit from any share saves that I do and putting the money straight in to index trackers. I also need to sell off some of the existing shares I have. Again, I’m waiting for the share price to look a tiny bit better.

I’ll keep going with my plan to try and increase my AVC fund so I can use that to get my cash lump sum without needing to reduce the amount I get from my defined benefits pension annually. I’ve got some work I need to do to the house this year. I managed to get my bathroom sorted on the cheap last year, but it is slightly ridiculous that I have an en-suite that I can’t use because of a cracked shower tray and a toilet that doesn’t flush. I might use my dividend this year to put towards sorting that out, rather than reinvesting. It goes against the grain for me, but the only other option is to use up my emergency fund, which I’m loath to do. At some point I’m going to need a new boiler, and my car is not going to last forever. One step at a time though.

All in all then not a bad set of figures. Not as good as December’s, but when you look at how far I’ve come in a year I’m reasonably happy with that. I’ll keep plodding away and try and manoeuvre the eldest moving away to university. The mortgage is coming down steadily, although not as fast as I would like. I would definitely have more freedom if I didn’t have that commitment. I’ve decided though that the seven hundred pound a month I pay towards it is enough. It’s more important to increase my investments rather than reduce that debt. Especially as I have a base rate mortgage. I’ll just have to be patient with that and remember that in the grand scheme of things another ten years of mortgage payments is not the end of the world.

December 2019 Net Worth and Update on End of Year Goals

A very quick round up today to put my December figures out there and have a look at how I got on with the goals I set myself towards the end of the year.

As always last month’s figures are in brackets for comparison. 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 £81,415.99 (£82,063.70)  

Assets

Cash £15,248.10 (£15,568.45)

Money in share save £14,804 (£14,304)  

AVC’s £5,055.46 (£4,750.46)  

Shares £36,932.81 (£35,562.18)

House £250,000 (£250,000)

Total Assets £322,040.37 (£320,185.09)

Net Worth including house equity

£322,040.37 – £81,415.99 = £240,624.38 (£238,121.39)

Net Worth excluding house equity

£72,040.37 – £81,415.99 = -£9,375.62 (-£11,878.61)

That was a pretty good month for me. Cash is down a little bit, but considering I paid the balance on my Berlin trip and booked a June break to Fort William for myself and the folks for a trip on the Jacobite steam train over the Glenfinnan viaduct made famous in the Harry Potter films, I think I’ve  done not too badly. My December credit card bill is in now and that’s higher than I’d like it to be, but that’s Christmas for you. It’ll get cleared anyway, so no doubt the cash will be even lower in January, so time for a wee bit of belt tightening.

All the other categories are doing pretty well. As always the one that is pleasing me the most is the net worth excluding the house equity. Barring any disasters I should reach mortgage neutrality this year. I’ve been there before, but to get back there only three years after buying a bigger house and effectively starting again with my mortgage is especially pleasing. The good thing is that although I am undoubtedly spending more on housing than I need to, I have a lovely house to live in just now whilst my boys are still at home. Once the kids are out in the world and living independently I’ve got something there to sell to free up some cash to add to the FIRE coffers.

One of my share saves has now matured, so I’m just keeping an eye on the share price to offload that. I’m going to cash them in and take the profit, which should be a good few thousand hopefully, and invest the whole lot in index trackers. I opened up a Vanguard ISA last year, which currently has just over £650 in it, which was set up using the final dividend payment I received last year on my work shares. I’m looking forward to being able to put a good chunk in there and start the all important diversification of my investments, which is what 2020 is going to be all about.

Now let’s have a look back at how I did on my end of year goals.

  • Go to running club twice a week. Continue to work hard and challenge myself so that I start to see improvements. It’s difficult to quantify what “work hard” means, but I’ll know if I’ve been taking it easy or not. PASS I missed a few sessions due to illness, but I went along to all the ones that I was able to. I have really been pushing myself and there have definitely been some encouraging signs of improvement. I was getting a few comments about how I was running strongly, and I was keeping up with people that I normally only see in the distance, so I’m taking that as a good sign.
  • Watch at least one film every week with at least one of the kids. PASS I didn’t actually track this, but we definitely watched quite a few films, so I’m going to say that I did this.
  • Meet up with my parents in Edinburgh for the Christmas markets and generally a bit of a catch up. PASS We had a lovely day out at the markets and a delicious lunch. Great to get together and spend some time enjoying the Christmas atmosphere in Edinburgh.
  • Keep my Duolingo streak going and get section 3 of the Spanish tree finished. PASS I just checked my streak, and I’m currently on 228 days. I finished section 3 on Christmas day.
  • Get caught up on my volunteering debt with parkrun. PASS I’ve volunteered 6 times now, and did my 69th parkrun on Christmas day. I’m subsequently up to 72 parkruns, so I’ll need to volunteer again to keep my 1 in 10 quota up, but it feels good to have repaid my volunteering “debt”
  • Do one new parkrun. PASS I got Polkemmet done in November, which I really enjoyed. I’m getting ever closer to tourist status, with seventeen completed now, and just another three to go for this particular challenge.

I’d set myself some nice fun goals for the end of 2019, and it was nice to achieve them. I’ve been working really hard at my running, and am starting to reap the rewards from that. I was spending a lot of time working on my Spanish, not just on Duolingo but listening to podcasts and watching TV in Spanish with Spanish subtitles on (Big Bang Theory in Spanish without Spanish subtitles was a step too far for me, I just about had a nervous breakdown trying to keep up with the breakneck speed!)

So overall I think that’s been a pretty solid finish to the year. The Net Worth figures are looking fairly promising, going in the right direction anyway. Now that we’re in 2020 it’s probably time to sit down and assess my finances again. I definitely need to be paying more into my AVC fund, so I need to work out how I can afford to do that. Some rejigging may be required.

I had a nice balance of a fun time at the end of the year enjoying the festivities, but also running and studying reasonably hard. I’ve eaten too much, but I’ve kept running right through the holidays (not that I had many actual days off work, but you know, it’s still holiday time) including a parkrun on Christmas day and two parkruns on New Year’s Day. I even had the chance to try out my new trail shoes on a forest run, so all is good with the world. Hope you all had a great time over the holidays and are raring to go now that we’re in 2020.

November 2019 Net Worth

Time for a quick update on how my figures looked for last month. We’re flying through the year, so it will be interesting to look back to how I was doing at the start of the year compared to where I finish up. For now though I’ll just look at November. As always last month’s figures are in brackets for comparison. 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 £82,063.70 (£82,712.71)  

Assets

Cash £15,568.45 (£15,289.89)

Money in share save £14,304 (£13,804)

AVC’s £4,750.46 (£4,573.30)

Shares £35,562.18 (£33,128.09)

House £250,000 (£245,000)

Total Assets £320,185.09 (£311,795.28)

Net Worth including house equity

£320.185.09 – £82,063.70 = £238,121.39 (£229,082.57)

Net Worth excluding house equity

£70,185.09 – £82,063.70 = -£11,878.61 (-£15,917.43)

So I’m definitely happy when it comes to November’s figures. Absolutely every category has improved. I’m not entirely convinced about the Zoopla house estimate that I’ve put in there, but it’s difficult to know how else to judge it. As I’m not planning on moving any time soon it’s not really a vital figure anyway. Even my cash amount increased slightly. I’m pretty sure that will not be the case for much longer, with Christmas to pay for and the final payment for my Berlin trip due two days before Christmas.

The share price is still going in the right direction and giving my figures a much needed boost. My plan is still to sell a good chunk of my work shares and put them in Vanguard Index Trackers. I’ve got my next Share Save maturing in January so I’m going to buy and immediately sell those so I’m not increasing the amount of my work shares anymore. I was doing a few back of an envelope calculations yesterday in a quiet moment at work, and I reckon I can probably fill my £20K ISA allowance before April with my January Share Save and selling some of my other work shares. I’ve only used £650 of my allowance so far this year, so it will be great to get that filled up. It will be the first time I’ve ever been in the position to put the full amount in. I’m just keeping an eye on the share price and trying to figure out a good time to sell.

I’m absolutely delighted to see that I’m getting closer and closer to mortgage neutrality. It was lovely to duck under the £12K figure for the first time this month. I think I like this one so much because it’s something that seems achievable in the short term. My mortgage is still ten years away from being paid off, my investments are nowhere near a position where I’d be able to live off them, but at least I know I could almost cash everything in and be mortgage free. Clearly that’s not the plan, but still, it’s nice to know that it’s getting near to that being an option. I need to work on building my AVC pot up. That’s looking pitifully low. I used my pay rise this year to start that up, and the plan is to do the same next year. Unfortunately it’s not looking like the pay rise is going to be all that great, so I might need to have a think about how I can bump up my contributions another way.

All in all things are looking not too bad in the Sassenach garden. I’ve got Share Saves maturing in January 2020, 2021 and 2023. Based on the current share price I’m due to make just over £10K profit on those three schemes, so I’m happy with that. Clearly a lot can happen in the meantime, but there should be a nice wee boost to my net worth once they have all matured.

I’m already starting to think about next year and things that I want to achieve. I’m not really a big Hogmanay person in the sense of wanting to go out and have a wild old time. Even before I stopped drinking it didn’t really float my boat. What I do like though is the opportunity to reflect on the year that’s just past and looking forward to what’s to come. I enjoy setting up all my budgeting spreadsheets for the year to come. As this is the first year I’ve properly tracked my net worth, I am really excited to play around with the figures and see how much progress I’ve made.

So once Christmas is all done and dusted I’ll settle myself down and have a look at how I want next year to pan out. I already have a few fun trips booked, so I have high hopes for 2020. In the meantime though I’d better go and get myself vaguely organised for Christmas. With teenage kids there’s not too much actual shopping to do, but I’m still fairly sure I’ve been a bit lax in my preparation this year. The tree’s up though and I finally got around to buying lights for outside the house that I’ve meant to buy for a few years now.  They fill my heart with joy every time I see them, so that was money well spent and well worth the wobbling on a chair I did to put them up.  We also have candy canes, many many candy canes, so all is good with the world.

October 2019 Net Worth And Trying Not To Buy Yet Another Party Dress

Here we go with how my finances are looking for the month of October. As always last month’s figures are in brackets for comparison. 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 £82,712.71 (£83,459.58)

Assets

Cash £15,289.89 (£15,897.60)

Money in share save £13,804 (£13,304)

AVC’s £4,573.30 (£4,530.85)

Shares £33,128.09 (£30,833.00)

House £245,000 (£245,000) 

Total Assets £311,795.28 (£309,565.45)  

Net Worth including house equity

£311,795.28 – £82,712.71 = £229,082.57 (£226,105.87)

Net Worth excluding house equity

£66,795.28 – £82,712.71 = -£15,917.43 (-£18,894.13) 

I’m pretty happy with those figures I think. My cash figure seems to be getting a little bit lower every month. This seems to be an almost imperceptible creep down the way. With one thing and another it seems to have been quite an expensive year. House and car expenses have been quite high, as have general life costs. I guess that’s just the way it goes sometimes.  The good thing is that I’ve not needed to touch the £10k that I have in a cash ISA, but rather I’ve been using the surplus that I keep in my current accounts. So it could be worse, but I could do with a cheap few months. Seems unlikely with Christmas coming up and the fact that I’ve just booked a trip to Berlin with friends to run the half marathon over there next year. You have to live a bit though, so I’m not going to worry unduly about it.

My AVC’s seem to be faltering a bit, but I’m trying to ignore that and remind myself that this is the long game I’m playing, rather than get caught up in the month to month values. That’s the downside of a monthly catch up on what you’re worth. It’s great for keeping you motivated, but it can cause a certain amount of fixation on what’s happening to particular parts of your money.

Overall things seem to moving in the right direction. The big picture figures all seem to be doing rather nicely (helped by a healthy share price of the work ones that I own). I can see that I’m getting closer and closer to mortgage neutrality, which is something I’m really looking forward to. I’ve got a big birthday coming up next year and it would be lovely to get to the point where I could cash in enough assets to clear the mortgage if I was so inclined. There’s something about a birthday with a zero on the end of it that makes it even more important than normal to have FU money. I don’t think I’ll quite hit the sweet point of mortgage neutrality by the time I get to 50, but I won’t be far off it. Something to aim for anyway.

I’ve started playing around with some graphs showing how my figures have been doing this year, the first year that I formally started tracking what I’m worth. It’s interesting to see the upwards trajectory, despite a few dips over the months. Once we get to 2020 I’ll put out a summary of 2019 showing how I’ve done. It will be nice to have a record of where I started the year and how I got to the end point.  

So overall I’m feeling quite positive about my figures. I feel like I’m haemorrhaging money at the moment, so it’s good to see that things are still going in the right direction. I’ve got some potentially expensive times coming up. My boiler is a little temperamental at times. It doesn’t seem to cope all that well in very cold weather, which is inconvenient in a boiler to say the least! Last weekend it died a death and refused to come on, just when we needed it most. We don’t have an electric shower, so if the boiler isn’t working we have cold showers, which is a character building way to start the day. I’ve managed to coax it back to life, but I think I either need to accept that every few months we’ll have a couple of days without heating or hot water, or bite the bullet and replace it. For now I’m ignoring the issue and hoping that we’ll get another couple of years out of it. At some point I’ll need to address the issue though.

As I said I’ve booked a trip to Berlin with the girls for a bit of a running getaway. I’m very excited about this, but of course it all has to be paid for. Entry to the race, the all-important T-shirt (which you have to pay for separately!) and rental of the chip so you can get a time(I’ll never complain about the cost of entry in to the Great North Run again) comes to just shy of 100 Euros. It’ll be worth it though. This trip is to celebrate a couple of us turning 50 next year, and quite frankly I can’t think of a better way to mark my advancing age.

I was talking to someone at work this week about my finances. I was saying to him that I still can’t use my ensuite, as since the shower tray cracked and the subsequent leak I haven’t got it fixed. He thought I was crazy and should get it sorted before Christmas. I explained that what made most sense was completely doing out the bathroom, as already the loo won’t flush, the wet wall could do with replacing and the floor will need to be changed. I said that I would get it done, but just not immediately. I said that instead I’d spent £700 getting my main bathroom sorted so that we had a shower screen, new wet wall and the existing shower attached to the wall. He clearly thought I was crazy for having an ensuite there but not spending money on it to get it usable again.

Now I definitely will be getting the ensuite sorted, but the money isn’t there in the budget just now. Yes I could dip into my cash ISA money. It’s there for emergencies, and isn’t this an emergency? Well not really. We still have a bathroom that we can use. In our last house we only had one bathroom and we managed just fine. And in this house we also have the luxury of a downstairs loo, so there’s no crossing your legs if someone is in the shower. I’m pretty sure we can wait until next year to get the extra bathroom sorted.

The general consensus at work seems to be that I’m loaded but very tight with my money and won’t spend any of it. There is an acknowledgement that I am in such a relatively good financial position because I am careful with my money, and yet still I get some good natured ribbing for my reluctance to part with my hard earned cash. I’m not tight when it comes to collections for people at work, or paying my share when we’re out, just on spending unnecessarily on myself. I get told on the one hand that I have done so well as a single parent to get myself so financially sorted, but then the same people also tell me that I should spend more on myself. I do get where they’re coming from, but sometimes you can’t have it both ways. There’s only a finite amount of money coming in to the family coffers, so I can either save and invest it or spend it. I can’t really do both. Well I could, but that would slow my plans down, and quite frankly they’re going to take long enough to achieve as it is. I just smile, agree that I should treat myself more and carry on as I am.

I seem to be out of step with much of the world in this way of thinking though. The mind set seems to be I want it now and I deserve to not to have to wait. I think that’s one of the reasons why I like the FIRE movement so much and the idea that planning for the future sometimes means delaying your gratification. And realising that maybe the thing that you think you want/need is not all that it’s cracked up to be.

Case in point, Christmas night out dresses. I have a Christmas ceilidh to go to next month with my running club. I found myself in Debenhams (my guilty pleasure) and suddenly I was perusing party dresses. I don’t need another going out dress, particularly as I don’t go out very often any more. Somehow though I was in the dressing room with a very fetching green number on twirling in front of the mirror. I tried very hard to remember what The Minimalists would say about this. I could definitely have done with Josh and Ryan on speed dial to talk me down from that dress. I remembered their rule about waiting for purchases, so I put it back and went home. I then went to my wardrobe and counted the twelve perfectly nice dresses that I already had that would be perfect for a Christmas night out. I’ve decided that next time I think I need a new dress I’ll just go shopping in my own wardrobe.

I’ll continue trying to not buy things unnecessarily, without depriving myself. I’ll spend money on experiences that will enhance mine and my family’s life, and try to avoid buying yet more unneeded party dresses, no matter how pretty they are or how nicely they’ll twirl around when I’m trying my best to follow the directions at the ceilidh. I love a wee ceilidh, even if I didn’t have the advantage of learning all the dances when I was at school. I usually get cut a bit of slack though, on account of me being a Sassenach. Going wrong and getting confused is all part of the fun, especially at Christmas time.

September And October Didn’t Quite Go According To Plan

Time’s marching on again, so time to see how I did on my combined September and October goals. This should be a quick update. I’ll just put a big fat fail next to all of them and we’ll say no more about the matter. I think the fact that I couldn’t actually remember what my goals were tells you all you need to know. Still, for the sake of being thorough, here goes.

  • Lose another 4 pounds. PASS. I’m going to give myself this one. I did definitely get down to 10 and a half stone. I think I even maintained it for a good few weeks. I am no longer using My Fitness Pal or weighing myself, which is a very bad sign. Oh well. I’m still a lot thinner than I was and as it feels like we’re hurtling towards Christmas at a fair rate of knots I’m not sure this is going to get much better for the time being.
  • Get 8 hours of sleep 2 nights a week and 7 hours a night 3 nights a week FAIL. Actually this is not nearly as bad as I thought it was. I just had a look at my sleep tracker and I’m getting more than seven hours pretty much every night. The nights when it’s closer to six and a half I feel dreadful the next day, so I tend not to repeat it. Considering six to six and a half hours was pretty much standard for me, this is definitely an improvement. I don’t see any eight hours in there, and considering how fantastic I feel the next day when I’ve slept that long that’s something I really should rectify.
  • Do yoga once a week. FAIL. I’ve maybe done this once or twice. I know how good it is for me, but I just find it a bit tedious. I know it will do wonders for my running, but I just don’t find it all that interesting.
  • Swim once a week. FAIL. I still haven’t slotted this in to my schedule. I love it when I go, so it’s ridiculous that I’m not doing it, but such is life.
  • Make a start on that book that I always meant to write. FAIL. I’ve done nothing on this. Well, that’s not quite true. I’ve written profiles for the main characters, but I’ve not got any further than that.

I think it’s fair to say that working on my goals the last month or so hasn’t been an unqualified success. I don’t know if they were goals that I wasn’t all that interested in, if I was just having a lazy spell, if life got in the way or more likely a combination of all those factors.

When I look back over the last couple of months I do feel that I achieved some things. Maybe not as much as I would have hoped, and definitely not in the areas that I thought I’d be working on, but we’ll take our victories where we can. Although I do seem to be somewhat self-sabotaging my weight loss at the moment, the fact remains that I lost a stone and I’m a lot trimmer than I was. The key now is going to be to find a balance that I can live with where I don’t feel like I’m deprived, but I’m also not scarfing chocolate down like it’s going out of fashion. I’m not really very good at moderation, so this is always a tough one for me to get right.

I ran the Great North Run again and was happy with my time. Due to injury it hadn’t looked likely that I would be able to start, but my knees held up and yet again I loved the race. I’m loving my running at the moment. I’m getting much more consistent with going to my running club, and I’m really working hard when I’m there. I’m hoping I’ll start to reap the rewards from this with improved times.

Work has been very full on. I got trained up on a new skill and I’ve now been signed off to take these different types of applications. It’s always a bit daunting going out of your comfort zone and feeling like a newbie again, but I’m definitely making good progress and getting the hang of the new type of work. When you’re so focussed at work on getting things right, it’s sometimes difficult to come home and work on things there too. Maybe that’s why I’ve been cutting myself some slack on my goals.

I’m still working away at my Spanish on Duolingo. I had a bit of a rough patch where I felt that I wasn’t making much progress. With hindsight that probably coincided with that very intense period at work where my brain was pretty much fried and probably couldn’t cope with learning a new language as well as work stuff. I’m really enjoying Spanish again and it feels that I’ve made a bit of a jump forward. I’m loving listening to the Duolingo Spanish podcasts and am currently looking for other intermediate level audio to listen to once I’ve finished all the Duolingo podcasts. I tried to watch The Big Bang in Spanish, but that was a step too far for me, and made me realise I still can only cope with listening to relatively slow Spanish!

So running and Spanish went pretty well. I did fantastic on my weight loss but I’m eating a fair amount of rubbish again. My sleeping isn’t as good as it could be, but it’s better than it was. I’ve been working hard at work and learning new skills. My friend came over from Germany to stay for a few days which was a lot of fun. I’ve watched quite a few films with one of the kids, including a cinema trip to watch The Shining (the original) which scared the hell out of me just like I knew it would. So some great times with friends and family, which is always important, even if it doesn’t appear in any of my goals. So although I failed in almost all of my goals, I’m going to take the positives from the last few months and run with that.

As far as goals for the rest of the year go, I think I’m going to be quite kind to myself. This is not the time of year to be locking yourself away working on solo projects. I think I’d rather set myself some realistic goals and meet them rather than be constantly feeling that I should be working at something that’s not going to happen just now. So here goes for what I’d like to achieve by the end of the year.

  • Go to running club twice a week. Continue to work hard and challenge myself so that I start to see improvements. It’s difficult to quantify what “work hard” means, but I’ll know if I’ve been taking it easy or not.
  • Watch at least one film every week with at least one of the kids. I have one kid who’s a film buff, and the other who’s not really all that fussed. We seem to be on a bit of a Kubrick watching kick just now, and are managing to get quite a few of his ticked off the list that has been drawn up for me by the teenage film expert in the house. I’m hoping to sneak a few Christmas films in there too.
  • Meet up with my parents in Edinburgh for the Christmas markets and generally a bit of a catch up. We’ve done this a few times now, but didn’t manage it last year. This is always a fun day out and a good opportunity to see each other over the festive period as I will be home in Scotland as always for Christmas and won’t make it down to England to visit till after the new year.
  • Keep my Duolingo streak going and get section 3 of the Spanish tree finished.
  • Get caught up on my volunteering debt with parkrun. You’re supposed to volunteer once for every 10 parkruns you do. I’d been very lax on this, but I’ve been trying to get caught up on that this year. I’ve done 66 parkruns now but only volunteered 5 times. I’ll try and get one more lot of volunteering done before the end of the year. I usually marshall, and it’s great fun cheering everybody on.
  • Do one new parkrun. This will give me 16 different parkruns that I’ve done. I’m aiming for 20 which will earn me the status of parkrun tourist. I’m also working my way through the alphabet, and am very excited that University of Stirling parkrun recently started up, giving me the opportunity to get a very elusive “U”. Finishing the alphabet is a bit more of a long term project for me though.

Actually, considering I wasn’t really going to bother with setting any goals I’ve got a fair few there. They’re all ones that I’m excited about achieving, which hopefully bodes well for a slightly more successful update than this one! I was going to put a parkrun PB in as one of my goals, but decided to avoid the pressure of that. Also it means I can just enjoy gadding about beautiful Scotland to notch up a different parkrun without worrying about how fast I’m running. I think I’ve got enough there to keep me out of mischief, but at the same time have a really lovely end to the year. Here’s hoping anyway.

September’s Net Worth

It’s almost time to do the October figures, so I’ll do a quick update on how September went as far as my net worth is concerned. As always last month’s figures are in brackets for comparison. I’ve included my net worth both including and excluding the house equity. The latter figure is to show how I’m doing in achieving mortgage neutrality.

Debts

Mortgage £83,459.58 (£84,107.72)  

Assets

Cash £15,897.60 (£16,157.39)

Money in sharesave £13,304 (£12,804)

AVC’s £4,530.85 (£4,486.86)

Shares £30,833.00 (£31,523.07)

House £245,000  (£245,000)

Total Assets £309,565.45 (£309,971.22)

Net Worth including house equity

£309,565.45 – £83,459.58 = £226,105.87 (£225,863.50)

Net Worth excluding house equity

£64,565.45 – £83,459.58 = -£18,894.13  (-£19,136.50)

Nothing to write home about, but nothing horrendous either. Cash and share values are down a bit. I feel that my cash reserves are getting a bit depleted. I haven’t touched my cash ISA, but I’ve needed to dip into the excess cash that I have in my various current accounts. Life’s just a bit expensive sometimes. I can’t even really remember what I’ve spent the money on, but I do know it’s not been anything extravagant. Continuing car and house expenses. My budgets are still balancing, but I do feel that I’ve been paying out a lot over the last few months.

Saying that, it’s nice to see that my net worth both including and excluding the house equity have improved. There’s not much I can do about the share price, but at least if I keep chipping away at the mortgage and saving each month then I’ll hopefully keep going in the right direction. I think the key is not to get too het up about the volatility of the market. It’s strange times that we’re living in, which is being reflected in the markets. As long as I continue to keep my expenses as low as I can, whilst spending on things that add value to my life (I’m thinking travel and experiences with friends and family rather than hitting the shops for the latest designer whatever) then I should continue to move toward my goal of reaching FIRE at some mythical point in the future.

I think the next focus for me needs to be building my AVC pot to a much better level. I’ve had confirmation from my pension that I can use my AVC fund to take the tax free lump sum from my defined benefits pension, rather than using the funds from the main fund and so reducing down my annual pension amount. So if I can get my AVC fund big enough I can get my tax free lump sum and the higher level of pension that I could expect if I didn’t take the cash. Sounds like a win win situation to me, so now just the small matter of saving enough in AVC’s to make this happen. I think my next pay rise will again be siphoned off straight away to AVC’s before I get used to the extra money in my pocket.

I don’t really know what my finances will look like over the next few years. This time next year one of the kids will have just gone off to university, and the other one will have either one or two years left at school, depending on whether he goes off to uni a year early or at the usual time. He’s banking on a general election brining in a Labour government and a subsequent abolition of tuition fees. He’s in the lucky position of having free tuition fees here in Scotland, but he’d like to go to an English university if he doesn’t need to pay fees. So he’s hedging his bets and waiting to see what happens in the mess that is our political system.

Anyway, either way for a good few years to come I’m going to have kids away at uni, but no doubt spending a good part of the year back home for the holidays (or half the year as us regular folks call it). So I’ll still have plenty of upkeep costs for them, but my maintenance, child benefit and tiny amount of working tax credit will have stopped. My plan was always to do the share saves whilst I had maintenance etc coming in, so that when that stopped I would be able to stop saving to make up the shortfall. Then I discovered FIRE and realised that if I ever want to retire then I need to keep saving and investing.   

So now I’m thinking that I really need to find a way to earn more money so that I can keep saving and working towards FIRE. No doubt there are areas of my life where I could reduce my spending, but whether I’m prepared to or not is another matter. After my recent experience of riding the buses, part of me did think that getting rid of the car might be the way to go. This was reinforced by the very first day that I was allowed to drive again I went out to Aldi and heard an ominous noise coming from the car. New brakes and discs and £200 later I was on the road again. It’s almost like the universe was taunting me with my decision to go back to the car. For now though, no car is a step too far for me.

Rather than cut my spending down further I do think that earning more might be more realistic. I’m working on that, but I’m not sure it’s going to be a quick thing to fix. Maybe it doesn’t need to be though. I’m exploring a few options at the moment, which is quite exciting. I don’t know if anything will come of these ideas, but if I don’t try then I’ll always be asking myself “what if?”

That’s about it for today. I was delighted to discover the extra hour this morning with the clocks having changed. My phone had changed automatically, so I was up at the right time to meet my friends for a run this morning. When I got back home from the run I couldn’t work out why I’d been out running for so long. Turns out I hadn’t changed my digital running watch, so I was an hour ahead of myself. Love a bonus hour like that. I’d love to say I’d done something really productive with that hour, but honestly I just wrote this blog post, which I was planning to do anyway. At least I still have a good bit of the day left to enjoy.

A Constant Striving For Improvement

I recently watched Eliud Kipchoge breaking the 2 hour mark for the marathon. It was an incredible thing to see. I stood in my lounge shouting encouragement and crying when he achieved his dream. The physical aspect of it is totally amazing. I was delighted when I managed to break the 2 hour mark for a half marathon, so the fact that he’s done that for a full marathon completely blows my mind. He clearly has a remarkable talent. The conditions were just right for him, with everything from the location, the pacers, his shoes and his fuelling all controlled as closely as possible. Ultimately though it was down to him. His belief that he could do it this time and pushing through the pain to succeed in his goal.

Listening to the commentators, they were talking about some of the things that make him such a great athlete. Clearly he has the innate talent to make him an incredible runner. That’s not enough though. He had a tough start in life, with hardship being an expected part of his life. Even now in his training camp the mantra is “run, eat, sleep, repeat.” That’s what’s needed to be the best. Even if I had the talent I don’t think that life would be for me. There’s too many things I want to achieve in my life to focus exclusively on one thing.

Apparently Eliud is a big believer in reading self-help books. He likes to think deeply about things and then applies this to his running. He doesn’t have a mental coach, which is a bit unusual for a top athlete, but rather he likes to read and apply what he’s learned to his sport. I must admit that I’m a big fan of books that help me to improve myself. I like to read books about setting and achieving goals and how to make changes to my life. Some of these types of books are a bit too pie in the sky for me, but as long as they’re offering practical advice that I can see how to implement in my own ife then I’m in.

The Need To Take Action

Of course the danger with these types of books is that you just read endlessly, nod sagely and do nothing about implementing the changes that are needed to change your life. I’ve definitely been guilty of this in the past, and although I do take action nowadays, I’m sure I could be doing more and making grander changes to get me to where I want to be much quicker. I think the key is to read enough to galvanise you into action, but not to spend all your time setting goals and reading about how to achieve them, rather than actually doing something about bringing about the change you want to see.

I like to think that I’m pretty good at reaching my goals once I’ve set my mind to them. For me the difficult thing is working out what I want to do in the first place. I have a spreadsheet set up with goals for the different aspects of my life. So I have separate tabs for health, running, work, learning, money and the house. The danger is that this just turns in to a massive To Do list. As long as these are all steps along the way to reaching an overarching goal, then that’s good, but sometimes these feel as though they are a little unconnected.

Streaking Is a Wonderful Thing!

Something I’m really enjoying working on at the moment is improving my Spanish. I’m currently on a 143 day streak on Duolingo. I work on this twice a day, going through the tree and listening to the stories and podcasts. This is something that I love doing. I like to feel that I’m learning new things and improving my skills. But how is this going to help me in my life? I’m not planning on using it in my job and I don’t even have a holiday planned where it would come in useful. I suppose it’s possible that at some point in the future I might move back to Spain so keeping up with my Spanish keeps that open as an option for me. I’m not sure if that’s really why I’m doing it though. It’s fine if I’m just doing it for fun, but I didn’t really plan to spend so much time on this, I just started and got really into it.

Coding Is Messing With My Mind

Something new that I’ve started working on is coding. Again, it’s not something that I’ve consciously planned to do, but I suppose it was in the back of my mind. You know when opportunities just seem to present themselves and everything seems to come together almost as if it was meant to be. The kids are both into their coding, with one of them in the midst of building a game for his Computing project as part of his Higher course. The other kid wants to do this as a living, so there is a decent amount of computing/coding chat around the house. It’s maybe inevitable then that it would be on my radar at some level.

At work we have the opportunity to give back to the community with a day off work to volunteer. Most people go and do gardening or painting or something similar. In the past I’ve done that, but last year I went into a school to talk to the students about managing their money. It was a bit nerve racking, but I really enjoyed it. Don’t even get me started on how little so many of the kids knew about basic budgeting, saving and borrowing. Anyway this year I’ve been holding off on using my day looking for another interesting opportunity.

Finally a project was advertised to go in to schools to help kids with coding projects. It said it was suitable for complete beginners as the idea was you would work through the project first of all yourself and then guide the kids through it. The idea terrified me, so that immediately told me it was a great idea for me to apply for it. I’m going for my induction shortly to get all my vetting done and I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in.

Meanwhile posters appeared where I work about drop in sessions to learn how to code. They will be once a week and you work away yourself on the freeCodeCamp website, but there’s someone there to talk things through with. Again I was terrified, so again a good reason to go along. Sometimes things just seem to come together and you just have to go with the flow. Probably if I hadn’t gone for the volunteering opportunity to teach the kids how to code then I wouldn’t have even noticed the drop in sessions that were on offer.

So I’ve been to that first coding session and to say I was bamboozled to start with would be the understatement of the century. I think I probably already knew that I would find it hard, but that’s no reason to give up. I worked away during my hour’s lunch break and made some progress. I then got home that night and worked away some more, this time with the assistance of my home grown computer experts. I’m on holiday this week, so that’s given me some time for some more practicing. It’s hard, but I’m really enjoying it. When the penny drops on a particular part and I get something to work I’m so pleased with myself.

So for now my plan is to keep working away at the free Code Camp curriculum. I’ve started with html and seem to be managing that without too many issues (well, you know, a bit of tearing out of my hair, but I’m getting there). I’ll just keep plugging away, use my lunch break once a week to go to the drop in sessions and keep practicing at home. Hopefully my vetting will come through quite quickly for getting in to the schools and I’ll manage to help the kids with some of the projects. Who knows where all this will lead? Not me anyway. Will this lead to a change in career? I have my doubts, but I suppose it’s not beyond the realms of possibility. The fact of the matter is though that I’m learning new things, expanding my horizons and peering into the future to see what might be possible. If I don’t try then I won’t know what I can do.

Get Out Of That Comfort Zone

I’m shocking at dealing with change. I retreat into myself and try and resist at all costs. Ironically though I get bored if things don’t change often enough. Although I want things to remain constant, I get incredibly frustrated when they do. I really need to force myself out of my comfort zone. Learning is what sustains me. I’ve always loved learning new things. Ideally I would be a student or on a training course for the rest of my life. Probably not the most practical plan, but lifelong learning is definitely the way to go for me.

This is partly down to loving learning, but also because I always want to be improving myself. I always feel that I have so much more potential than I’ve ever come close to achieving. It seems to me that there should be a switch inside myself that I could just put on that means I would understand so much more about the world. I know this switch doesn’t exist, but I sometimes feel that I’m so close to understanding things, but I just can’t get my head around them. Although I studied sciences up to O level, I’m much more on the social sciences side of things. I love language and my brain really struggles with the maths side of things. I do feel though that if I could just understand some basic maths concepts then lots more things would become clear to me.

It just so happens that I have two maths and science fiends living in my house with me. Both of them have those sorts of brains that revel in maths and science. One wants to study maths at university and the other computing.  I know all parents think their children are amazing, and I’m no exception, but just from an objective point of view my kids are good at this sort of stuff. Both of them have taken exams a year early and sailed through them and one of them is trying to get in to Cambridge to study maths. The other one wants to study computing, and would aim for Cambridge too but unless tuition fees get abolished he’s going to stay in Scotland (clearly my FIRE rantings have had some effect!) I have to say I can take absolutely no credit for the brains on these two. I’m not exactly dragging my knuckles on the ground, but I’m not in the same league as them. What can I say, clever men are my thing, which means you get clever kids when you procreate.

It would be ridiculous not to make use of these live in maths brains to get them to help me to understand some of this stuff. They won’t be living at home forever, so I might as well make the most of it now. So one of them is teaching me some algebra. I don’t quite know how this started, but suddenly I was solving equations on the blackboard. My house is a bit random in that we have blackboards around the place and both of them have a blackboard wall in their bedrooms.

One day I was walking home from work thinking about how big a pot I needed to accrue so that using the safe withdrawal rate I would have enough to top up my defined benefits pension. My sociology brain somehow realised that algebra would be able to help me with this. I burst through the door and got one of the kids to sit down with me and point me in the right direction to figure it out. I was insanely pleased with myself, and this has become a bit of a regular thing over the last week or so.

Part of this is that I just want to know how to do this stuff. To some people it just seems so easy, and I want it to be like that for me. Sadly it’s not, well not yet anyway. The other part is that I want my kids to be proud of me. I’m not saying that I’m some dummy, or even that intelligence is the only important thing in life, but I really want to be the best that I can be. What is it that they say? You are the sum of the five people you surround yourself with? Something like that anyway. Well at least two of those people are my kids, and they are pretty incredible, and I want to be like that too. They’re still only teenagers and yet they are so interested in learning things. I really don’t feel like I can have any credibility in the house if I’m not striving to improve. I realise that I should be the role model to my kids, and not the other way round, but honestly if I could be half as clever and interesting as they are then I’d be more than satisfied with myself.

On The Buses

We all know that cars are expensive, bad for the environment and can be crippling on the old finances. Every so often I’ll have a chat with myself about the fact that I probably could do without a car. This usually occurs to me around the time when my car has just needed some expensive repairs. I don’t really do guilt, but I have to admit that sometimes when I’m reading about people who have done away with their cars I feel like I could do so much better with my transport choices.

 On the face of it my life is set up perfectly to easily manage without a car. I live just over 3 miles from work, about 1.5 miles from the nearest town, there’s plenty of buses and trains to get me wherever I might want to go. I got the opportunity recently to put this to the test. I’ve been having a few health problems and the doctor wanted me to avoid driving for a month or so. So out of the blue I went from being a car person to a bus person. I have to admit that it was a bit of a shock to the system. This was partly down to the fact that it was such a sudden change. I went from driving everywhere one minute to either bussing or walking it the next.

Has Driving Everywhere Made Me Soft?

Now I didn’t pass my driving test until I was 30, so it’s not like I’m not used to public transport. Also when I was growing up mum didn’t drive, and as she was the one taking us everywhere during the week that meant we did plenty of walking and we were on first name terms with the bus drivers. But in the last 19 years or so I’ve barely been on a bus. Getting to the airport or going through to Edinburgh for the day are pretty much the only times I go on public transport nowadays. Well, not anymore.

I have to say it’s a lot easier nowadays to plan your trip via bus than it was back in the day. There’s a bus app (of course there is) and you can pay via contactless on the bus if you haven’t already paid online. So far so good. I start work at 8.00 am so need to be there for about 7.45 to give me time to get logged on etc. I normally leave by car at 7.30 and this works like a dream. I went online to work out when I would need to leave using public transport.

There’s a bus stop just a couple of minute walk from my house which would take me to the bus station so that I could catch the bus up to work. From there the buses are frequent and quick, so as long as I was on a bus heading for work by about 7.30 I would be fine and dandy. That meant just getting to the station for 7.30. The way it worked out I would need to be at the bus stop for about 6.55 and then have about 15 minutes hanging about at the station. Not horrendous, but I decided I’d rather leave 5 minutes earlier and walk into town. That way I was getting a 30 minute walk and at least felt that I was gaining something from not having the car.

Coming home I would just wander to the bus stop right outside of work and wait ten minutes or so to get a bus into town. I didn’t even bother working out what time the bus was up to my part of town. I was happy to walk the thirty minutes home, even when it was chucking it down (I do live in Scotland after all!)  Without even needing to think about it I suddenly had an hour’s exercise built into my day. I was still walking on a lunchtime as well (just as well I’d implemented that a while ago and stopped the lunchtime napping in my now non-existent car), so all in all I was walking for an hour and a half a day without needing any motivation to get myself out there.

Any Down Sides To This No Car Malarkey?

That was all really positive. Ok, so my alarm was going off fifteen minutes earlier in the morning and although I still made time for my physio exercises for my knee, my Duolingo Spanish had to wait till I got home on a night time. Also I didn’t really have much time to speak to the kids before I went out the door. One of them was up, but the other one was still in bed. I don’t normally have much time with them anyway, but I would normally be able to have a quick chat and touch base with them. No time for that on my bus schedule. So a couple of negative points, but all in all I loved the extra walking and the thinking time that it gave me.

I felt a bit like I was there observing on the bus, rather than being a part of it all. I’m sure in time it would just become business as usual for me, but so far it doesn’t feel quite natural yet. In my head I knew that lots of people took the bus, but I had almost forgotten about that world existing. It was nice to be reminded that it’s there, and that not everyone is cossetted in their own little car world.

I have to admit there have been a few times when I would have killed to have the car back in use. One Saturday after work I was stood at the bus stop waiting. I had finished work 15 minutes ago and if I’d had the car I would have already been home. I then had to stop at the shops to get some food for the weekend and then carry it up the road in the lashing rain. I should have waited for a bus, but the rain was so heavy and by the time the bus was due I would be home already if I just kept walking. That was a pretty miserable walk home.

There’s A Lot Of Good In The World

I have to say though that people have gone out of their way to help me. One of the weeks my colleague was on the same shift as me, so she altered her route to work to bring me in and then take me home afterwards. I also had one of my friends staying with me for a couple of days and she got up early to take me to work. I’m not a big one for asking for help (that’s probably the understatement of the century!) but people have been really kind in offering to help me out. My eldest has been going to Aldi once a week on his way home from school and lugging the shopping all the way home. I have to say getting the shopping is much easier with a car. When I first got a car that was the best thing for me, not having to carry heavy shopping bags on and off the bus. I think if I continued to be reliant on buses I might need to go back to online food shopping deliveries. If only Aldi delivered.

How Have The Kids Coped?

There’s been a bit of an impact on the kids as well. They’re fairly self-reliant, they walk to and from school and don’t really need me to get them too many places. One of them goes to a labour party meeting once a month and I would normally drop him off on the way to my running club. That couldn’t happen this time, but he checked out the bus timetable and got himself there and back without any problems. The other one goes to a chess club and he decided to give it a miss whilst I was out of action. I’m sure if it continued he’d start making his own way there, but for now he’s definitely missed out.

Too Lazy to Run To Running Club

I have to admit my running has definitely been impacted by the lack of driving. I would normally be at a couple of running clubs a week, and I’m sorry to say I haven’t been once since I’ve been without the car. There are a couple of reasons for this. Initially I wasn’t feeling great, so the thought of going out running wasn’t all that appealing. Also the longer days caused by a longer commute time meant I was more tired and had less time to do things in the evening.  Honestly though the thought of working out how to get to the various meeting points via bus and yet more walking or running before and after a hard running session was more than I wanted to deal with. I could no doubt have got lifts from friends, but it just seemed easier to give it a miss instead. I could of course have just gone out running myself, but I took it easy and just enjoyed all the walking I was doing.

Also I was supposed to be down south this weekend visiting the folks. I was going down early on the Saturday to tick off one of the borders parkruns in my quest to become a parkrun tourist.  I’m pretty sure it would have been nigh on impossible to get to the borders for a 9.30 start for parkrun.  I know I could have got the train to Newcastle, but with three tickets to pay for I don’t think this would have been all that cheap. So we didn’t go. Not the end of the world, but a bit disappointing. I know if we didn’t have a car we could hire one, but would we? You’ve definitely got more flexibility with a car sitting there, and it’s easier planning trips away when you’ve got a car.

Money, Money, Money

Now to the all important aspect of all of this. How did the costs compare of public transport compared to going by car. Now clearly this is not really a fair comparison at the moment. If I didn’t have a car at all then I wouldn’t have tax, insurance, MOT, servicing, repair bills etc etc etc. As my car is actually still sitting rather sadly on my drive, I still have all those costs to pay for.  For now though let’s just look at the petrol vs bus pass costs. I bought a weekly pass to cover the area that I needed on the bus. This cost me £12.70 for the week. Petrol wise I only need to fill up once a month unless I do any big trips. So it would typically cost me £60 for the month. With a very rough calculation I make that about £660 a year for the bus and £720 annually for petrol. If that was the only difference in cost then it would be a no brainer. The extra flexibility you get from having a car is well worth the £70 more in petrol.

As we well know though, petrol is only the half of it. Never mind the cost of buying the thing in the first place, the ongoing costs are not to be ignored. I budget £50 a month for car costs, and that hasn’t even come close this year. The money from the two free months on the council tax had to go towards the car, as did £500 of my bonus. When you look at it like that it seems like a bit of a no brainer for me. It’s only been a few weeks, but already I’ve got my life working pretty well without a car. I’m sure I’d get even more organised, and maybe even finally get my bike sorted out and make more use of that.

So now it comes to the crucial question. Will I ditch the car? I’m writing this on a Monday morning. I’m on holiday this week and today is the day that I’m allowed to start driving again. I don’t feel a desperate need to get back in the car immediately, but I also haven’t renewed my bus pass. I could very easily keep on with what I’ve been doing and leave the car sitting there on the drive. Or I could have car free weeks. There’s something to be said for that. I think making use of the bus has shown me how much I like the extra walking that I’m doing. It’s also really given me an appreciation of the flexibility and freedom that a car gives you.

You know what though? I just don’t want to get rid of it. Not yet anyway. I like the freedom that it gives me. Maybe when I reach FIRE and have got more time in my day it will be less of an issue. Saying that, I still want to be able to jump in the car on a Saturday morning and be a parkrun tourist. There’s places I want to go that aren’t served by public transport. If I was in a couple I think I might well think of getting rid of one of the cars. As long as I had a car for weekends and holidays I think I would be ok with that. But no car at all? I think that might be a step too far for me just now. Sometimes it’s not all about the money.  

August 2019 Net Worth Figures

Last month was not so great for the net worth figures, so let’s see how we’ve done for the month of August. As always I have put the previous month’s figures in brackets for comparison. I show my figures including my house equity, which is always a nice figure to see, even though I know that I’ll always need somewhere to live, so it’s not a true reflection of what I have to live on. I also show the figure excluding the house equity but including the mortgage. Although this seems counter-intuitive, as without the house you wouldn’t have the mortgage, I include it to show how I’m doing in my quest to become mortgage neutral.

Debts

Mortgage £84,107.72 (£84,843.68)

Assets

Cash £16,157.39 (£15,750.70)

Money in sharesave £12,804 (£12,304)

AVC’s £4,486.86 (£4,217.63)

Shares £31,523.07 (£27,982.60)

House £245,000  (£245,000)

Total Assets £309,971.22 (£305,254.93)

Net Worth including house equity

£309,971.22 – £84,107.72 = £225,863.50 (£220,411.25)

Net Worth excluding house equity

£64,971.22 – £84,107.72 =  -£19,136.50 (-£24,588.75)

It’s nice to see a bit of a bounce back of the shares that I own. Last month was a bit of a tricky month, with a big drop in the value of my shares. It’s satisfying to see that this has only been a temporary setback (here’s hoping!) and that things seem to be on the up again.

I’m very happy to dip under the twenty grand mark in terms of how far from being mortgage neutral I am. This continues to be a two pronged attack from me. I’m throwing as much as I can afford towards the mortgage to bring it down and also saving as much as possible to increase my assets. This is a really important target for me. I didn’t formally track my net worth in my last house, but I would periodically do a back of an envelope calculation, and was always delighted to know that my non-house assets totalled more than my mortgage. Psychologically there’s something very comforting about knowing that you could cash things in and pay off what you owe.

Then I decided that I wanted a bigger house for myself and my boys to enjoy now, and to have enough space for them to keep coming home to visit when they fly the nest. I’ve gone back and forwards on this decision about whether it was the right thing to do. We were probably ok where we were, but I’m such a homebody, that I really appreciate the extra space that we have now. And the thing is that I have an asset here that I can sell. There’s no saying that I have to stay put as and when my situation changes. I’ll definitely feel more comfortable though when I’m mortgage neutral.

Pensions, Pensions, It’s All About The Pensions

It’s nice to see my AVC contributions growing there. I don’t pay a lot towards this, it was basically just a pay rise that I got a year ago that I decided to put into AVC’s before I got used to having the money. As I’ve got a defined benefits pension that I don’t need to pay into, I’m in a reasonably good position. Saying that, because the company screwed us over big time as far as this pension is concerned, it’s nowhere near as good as it should/needs to be. So my plan is to try to enhance this pension with AVC contributions and shares.

I was blindly paying AVC’s without much thought having gone into it. This month I decided I needed to do a bit of research, so I’ve been ploughing through some rather heavy documents figuring out what charges I’m paying, looking at how I’ve got my money invested and what my options are when I do finally pull the trigger on work. I was pleasantly surprised on the charges side of things and I already knew that I needed to diversify the investments as it’s all UK based at the moment.

My plan on the pension side of things is to rejig the investments a bit to get a bit of diversity in there and to contact the pension company to ensure that my understanding of what happens to my AVC pot when I retire is correct. It looks as though I can put my AVC balance towards my cash free lump sum on my main pension, so that I’m not taking as much cash out of that side of things and so keep my pension income as high as possible.

I’ve Finally Embraced Index Trackers

I’ve opened up a Vanguard index tracker ISA this month and have put in the money I received from my dividend payments. At just over £600 it’s not a massive amount, but it’s a start. The next two sharesaves that mature I’m buying and immediately selling to get my money along with the profit, and that’s going straight into the index trackers too.

Water, Water Everywhere But None Of It Covered On The Home Insurance

I’ve got a bit of an expensive time coming up. I’ve had some home emergencies this month, with a leaking toilet downstairs and then a more serious problem with the ensuite shower developing a crack in the shower tray and water coming through the kitchen ceiling. Luckily I realised the ceiling was sagging ominously, so managed to poke to a couple of holes in it to avoid total collapse. I seem to have got to it just in time.

I thought I might be covered on the home insurance, but it seems not. There’s a £500 excess for water escape anyway, so it probably didn’t make much sense to claim. I’m not great at DIY, so I got my handyman round to have a look for me. The ensuite basically needs a fair amount of work to get it fit to use again. As the toilet in there is such a shocking design it can’t cope with a single sheet of toilet roll, there’s an argument to be made for starting from scratch with it. I’d keep the shower and shower screen, as they are fantastic, but other than that it’s basically a new bathroom that’s needed.

I’m not wanting to shell out for that just now, but we do need a bathroom that we can all use, as up till this point we’d all been making use of the ensuite as the shower in there is amazing. The plan that I’ve come up with is for him to sort out my main bathroom. Just now it’s only tiled half way and only has a hand held shower and no shower screen. He’s going to take off the tiles, put up wetwall, attach the shower to the wall and put up a shower screen. Total cost under £700. He’s also shaved a little bit off the bottom of the downstairs loo door which would no longer shut because of the leak. That means we can now use it again, and we’re just going to live with slightly wobbly floor tiles that have lifted because of the escaping water.

At some point I will get the ensuite done properly, but in the meantime at least we’ll have a fully functioning main bathroom. Oh, and at some point I’ll get something done about the kitchen ceiling. I’ve got a dehumidifier going to dry it out, but actually it doesn’t seem too bad, and I might even get away with just paining over it. Disaster averted. I always meant to get the main bathroom done at some point anyway, so this has at least forced my hand. Hopefully this won’t impact on my figures too much for next month. These things happen when you’re a home owner, and at least I have the money there to make use of.

Generally speaking I’m really happy with the figures for this month. They’ve definitely perked up a bit since July. There are still changes that I need to make to my finances, but I know what they are and I just need to wait for the right time as far as the share price is concerned. A little bit of tweaking to do with my pension, but nothing too drastic. I seem to have things fairly well automated, which for me is probably the key to being consistent. If things happen automatically with my money without me being involved then all I need to do is set and forget. That’s the plan anyway.