March 2021 Review

It’s time for me to have a look and see how March was for me. I’ll put my Net Worth figures up and an update on how I did with my monthly goals.

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. As I reached Mortgage Neutrality last month I’m not including that figure any more. Funny how something that was so important to me last month is not even getting included this time. I’m sure I’ll find something else to focus on as I strive for FIRE.

Debts

Mortgage £93,853.99 (£94,345.97)

Assets

Cash £35,668.12 (£35,523.72)

Defined Benefits Pension £130,653.60 (£130,653.60)

AVC’s £11,634.04 (£10,814.45)

Shares £57,266.53 (£52,479.19)

House £250,000 (£250,000)

Total £485,222.29 (£479,470.96)

Net Worth including house equity

£485,222.29 – £93,853.99 = £391,368.30 (£385,124.99)

Another great month from a shares point of view. The work share price is up yet again, and my Vanguard ISA is doing great as well. I still need to diversify as I have more than half my equities in an individual share. Mind you a year ago I had about £600 in index trackers and the rest in my work shares, so I’m actually doing great on shifting the balance. I’ve not actually sold any of the work shares as yet, but rather have cashed in ongoing share saves as the option price most definitely wasn’t worth taking advantage of. I’ve decided I’m not doing any more share saves. I don’t want to have to wait three years to get my money in the market. Plus I don’t want to add any more to my already top heavy share allocation. I buy a tiny amount each month as work offer a share match scheme which is really just too good to pass up. In the grand scheme of things though it’s nothing, and my plan is index trackers all the way from here on in.

Somehow I managed to fill my ISA allowance during the tax year, which sadly is not something I would usually be able to do. That gives me options moving forward for selling some of the individual shares and sticking them into the ISA in index trackers. I’m continuing to invest each month to my Vanguard account and I’m loving how quickly it’s growing. Well, you know, it’s all relative. I’ll not be able to chuck in work any time soon, but it’s most definitely going in the right direction. It’s not that long since my Equities hit £50k and already I have £60k in my sights for my next target.

Cash is up again very slightly. With the eldest going off to uni (and now back in his bedroom studying remotely) and the subsequent reduction in maintenance, child benefit and the miniscule amount of working tax credit that I get, my budgets don’t actually balance. So it’s an absolute miracle that I’m not eating into my cash reserves. Actually it’s a reflection of lockdown. I still have budgets for petrol, entertainment, holidays etc for when these things were possible and necessary. For now I’m filling the car up once every few months and although I’ve booked a few shows, I’ve already had some cancellations and subsequent refunds. What I’m not currently spending of my various budgets I’m shoving towards the house budget to save up to get a working ensuite. Once that’s done the cash amount will go down considerably, but considering the amount of cash I have sitting there I can definitely live with that. I’ve decided to spend a bit of money on the house. I moved in almost four years ago and spent next to nothing on it. Time for a bit of TLC on the place. Nothing major, but I got a new rug for the lounge and it’s made such a difference. I was planning on buying a bookcase too, but luckily my ex husband was moving and getting rid of a load of stuff. I managed to blag a bookcase, and he even helped me carry it out of his place. An amicable relationship with the ex husband certainly has plenty of benefits! The lounge looks much cosier now for not too much of an outlay. Money well spent I would say.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

Not much else to say on the money side of things. Things are going in the right direction. As always I know I need to diversify, I have too much cash and I could do with earning more so that I can invest more, or at the very least keep investing the same amount without depleting my cash reserves to do so. Somehow I seem to keep plodding away without a fantastic salary. I have a good life. I spend enough, but not a ridiculous amount. My strategy of waiting to replace things until absolutely necessary seems to be working so far. Just now the things that almost certainly need replaced include the boiler, my laptop, my phone, the ensuite and potentially the car.

I’m hoping to limp through to the end of my phone contract at the end of the year. The phone itself works ok, but every so often (more often as times goes on) the display goes really strange, with parts of the screen in darkness. It’s always remained useable, but it would probably help if I stopped dropping it all the time. My resident computer expert put Linux on my laptop which seems to have revived it, but I now get a critical disc error periodically. I’m just backing stuff up and hoping for the best. The ensuite is just not getting used. The car I’ll keep you posted on, as it’s getting the MOT and service done this month. I bought it new ten years ago and it has just over 70,000 miles on the clock. It was looking a bit dodgy last year but I’m hoping the lack of driving over the last year has bought me some extra time. The boiler mostly works, but it needs topping up every few days which is a pain. They can’t get parts for it any more apparently, so if something goes on it I’ll need to get a new one.

With all of these things I have the cash sitting there to replace them. My plan as always though is just to keep going with them as long as I possibly can. That way I keep hold of my cash for real emergencies. Run of the mill people think I’m crazy for doing this. Why would I have something sub-optimal in my life? Honestly though I’d rather have the money in my account. If it gets to the point where any of these things are really bothering me then I’ll replace them. Until then I’ll just keep going as I am. Better for the environment too.

That’s enough about the money part of my life. Let’s move on to my goals for March now. He’s a quick reminder of what I was working on.

  • Watch 16 episodes of Cien días. PASS No problems at all with this one. I’m not quite sure how many I watched, but I think it was closer to twenty.
  • Weigh under ten and a half stone on 1st April. PASS 10 stone 6 lb I don’t want to jinx it, but I seem to pretty much have this one cracked. I’m trying to make healthy choices, but I’m not denying myself. Chocolate is most definitely featuring yet again, and you know Easter is a thing. I love to be ten stone, but I have to be hungry to be that weight. That’s not sustainable long term, so I can definitely live with ten and a half. Considering at the height of my lock down weight I was not far off twelve stone I’m delighted to be back at much more of my fighting weight.
  • Do my physio exercises at least five days a week. PASS This is just what I do now. They seem to be working, so all the more reason to keep them going.
  • Research one of the trips on my 60 for 60 list. PASS (sort of) I’ve started to dive in to the detail of a trip to Russia. I’ve found a trip that seems to balance some sort of support in terms of providing flights, hotels and transfers along with some excursions, but also gives us enough time to explore on our own. It’s too early to be able to book holiday from work for next year, which makes it tricky, but research is well under way. Still lots of planning to do, but we have decided we want to visit Moscow and St Petersburg and have guide books for both places and a Russian phrase book. We’re having lots of fun talking about places we want to visit in the two cities and I have high hopes of this being a great holiday, assuming Covid restrictions have eased by next year.

So all in all that’s been a pretty successful month. I’ve done well on my goals, so time to set some new ones for April

  • Finish Cien días series 2. This should most definitely be achievable. It’s suitably trashy that even when I can’t really be bothered doing anything I’ll happily sit down and watch an episode.
  • Complete up to week 5 of Couch 2 5k I’ve come to the conclusion that my hip is probably as good as it’s going to get. I’m able to walk and cycle without any problems. The physio advised I do Couch 2 5k to give the tissue time to recover. It seems ridiculous to be running for a minute and then walking for a minute, but I’ll do what’s needed to get me back in the game.
  • Read the Moscow Rough Guide. I don’t want the planning for this trip to stop. I’m conscious that I can’t book next year’s holiday from work yet and I don’t want the momentum for this trip to just fizzle out.

I think that’s enough for now. I’m doing lots of decluttering at the moment, which is keeping me quite busy. I can’t quite bring myself to set throwing things out goals, but the reality is that’s how I’m spending quite a lot of my time just now, and it’s going well. There is an element of moving things from room to room, and parts of the house now look like a pig sty, but it’s all part of a master plan. I’ve even thinned out a lot of old paperwork and photos. The loft has been sorted and the garage will be getting done at some point.

All in all March has been a pretty good month. The money side of things is looking pretty good. I’m making steady progress; never as fast as I’d hope for, but still on track for where I want to be. I’ve smashed my goals and I’ve got some good targets to aim for in April. It’s great to be back running, even if it’s most definitely baby steps. I need to take it easy and take a step back if needed to avoid further injury. Hopefully the weather will start to perk up soon, and these hail and snow showers will make way for wall to wall sunshine. That would be nice. Have a great April everyone and let me know what you’re up to.

Freezing February Review

Let’s have a look and see what my Net Worth is looking like for February. I’ll also have a look at how I got in with the goals I set myself for February and set myself some things to work on in March.

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 £94,345.97 (£94,838.70)

Assets

Cash £35,523.72 (£34,965.12)

Defined Benefits Pension £130,653.60 (£130,653.60)

AVC’s £10,814.45 (£10,307.70)

Shares £52,479.19 (£49,209.19)

House £250,000 (£250,000)

Total Assets £479,470.96 (£475,135.61)

Net Worth including house equity

£479,470.96 – £94,345.97 = £385,124.99 (£380,296.91)

Net Worth excluding house equity and Defined Benefits Pension

£98,817.36 – £94,345.97 = £4,471.39 (-£356.69)

So let’s unpick those figures a little bit. A nice little bump up in the work share price has had a rather nice impact on my numbers. The only slight down side to that is that the proportion of my investments in work shares as opposed to index trackers has increased. It’s good that they’re worth more, but it still really concerns me that I’m not diversified enough. I’ve more or less filled up this year’s ISA allowance, so next month when we pass the cut off date I can think about selling some of them and putting more into my Vanguard account. The problem is every time the share price recovers a bit I get all optimistic about them and think that they might go somewhere close to where they were before. That would make FIRE sooner rather than later much more realistic, but at some point I will have to just cut my losses and accept that it’s more important to be diversified rather than wait for some magical jump up in the share price. That’s a mental adjustment that I need to make rather than anything else though.

The really big news this month is that I’ve become mortgage neutral. Cue champagne corks popping and fireworks going off. Actually as I don’t drink that’s not quite right, but there was rather a lot of smiling happily at my spreadsheets the night I did my net worth figures this month. I’ve been banging on about becoming mortgage neutral for a long time now, so it feels fantastic to have actually got there. Post lockdown I’ve got some spending planned to have a bit of a life and to tick off some things on my 60 for 60 list, so the key is going to be to try and stay mortgage neutral.

Mortgage Neutral, whoop whoop!!

I was mortgage neutral in my last house, even though I didn’t measure all my figures in nearly so much detail as I do now as that was pre my discovery of FIRE. It’s almost four years since I moved, so it’s really nice to get back to that same position financially. I moved from a 3 bedroom semi to a 4 bedroom detached house. The move wasn’t strictly speaking necessary, but with two teenage boys the extra bathroom has certainly come in handy. And I have to say that it would have been incredibly difficult to work from home in the last house. Strictly speaking it wouldn’t have been allowed as you need to have a room where the door shuts and people don’t need to walk through it to get to other rooms. Pre Covid for people who worked from home you had to have an inspection to make sure there set up in the house was suitable as we are speaking to customers on the phone, so privacy is an issue. Things have relaxed slightly to get the majority of people safely out of the office, but you still have to have somewhere to work. One of my colleagues has spent the last year working on an ironing board as she doesn’t have room for a desk. Having the spare room to work in has made working from home so much more convenient. On balance, although moving hasn’t helped my FIRE figures I’m still really glad I did it. It’s not like the money is lost either. I can always downsize as my teenagers make their way in the world, or even rent a room out at some point in the future.

All in all it’s safe to say I’m pretty happy with this month’s figures. Let’s move on now to see how I got on with my goals for February. The fact that I’m about to have to go and check what they were probably doesn’t bode all that well.

  • Get under 10 stone. FAIL I’m going to officially give up on this one, but to be fair I got within spitting distance of it. I got down to 10 stone 0.4 lb, so I think I can probably live with that.
  • Weigh under ten and a half stone on 1st March. PASS Just, but I was 10 stone 6.4 lb on 1st March. It all went a bit pear shaped (literally) the last few days of the month, but I snuck under the magic ten and a half stone and I’m back much closer to the ten stone mark again.
  • Exercise at least four times a week for at least 30 minutes each time. FAIL I was well on track with this right up until the last week of the month. I haven’t been able to run due to injury, but I was walking four times a week for about 50 minutes a time. I was loving it. Unfortunately I went out walking in the snow and ice and fell and ended up flat on my back. This really hurt my already injured hip, and I’ve not been able to exercise since. I can’t wait to get back to it, but for now recovering from the injury is more important. So it’s physio exercises and lots of rest.
  • At least once a week cook a recipe that isn’t one of our go to recipes. PASS I was messaging one of my friends saying that I was bored with what I was cooking and wanted to try some different recipes, and was interested in trying out more veggie meals. This somehow turned into us doing a month long challenge to not eat any meat. We exchanged recipes and sent photos of our meals to each other. I must have done at least ten different recipes during the month, and I’ve now got some new meals that will be part of our repertoire.
  • Finish Cien Días. PASS I’m putting this as a pass, but strictly speaking that’s not quite right. The day after I set my goals they released an extra 35 episodes on Netflix. I’m currently working my way through them, but that’s going to take a bit of time. As long as I amend the goal to finish series one of Cien Días then I can safely say I’ve achieved it.

February has been a bit of a tricky month for me. I feel like I’m making lots of good healthy choices, my weight is staying pretty low and I was doing well on the exercise front. My injury has really put a spanner in the works for me, but I was doing well with keeping up with walking when I couldn’t run. Falling on the ice is really annoying, but I know that it’s too sore now to even be able to walk. I even had to take some time off sick as it was too painful to work. That is definitely a sign that I need to give my body a chance to recover. I’m doing my physio exercises and I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to get back to the walking fairly soon and build up to running at some point. I need to listen to my body and not be tempted to push too hard too soon. I need my body to keep working for the long haul, so it’s really important that I take my time and heal properly.

Let’s get some goals set for March then

  • Watch 16 episodes of Cien días. This should definitely be possible. I’m still not understanding all of it, but I think it is helping my Spanish skills. There is a danger that if I watch it after work I’m tired and not concentrating all that much, but I reckon even just immersing myself in the language without focussing massively has to be helpful.
  • Weigh under ten and a half stone on 1st April. Sound familiar? I really just want to keep myself accountable here. I want to continue to make healthy choices and part of that should be reflected in my weight. Ideally I want to be around the ten stone mark, but the extra half a stone gives me some leeway for emergency chocolate eating.
  • Do my physio exercises at least five days a week. Ideally this will be every day, but I’ll build a little bit of slack into my goal. I would like to increase the number of reps I’m doing, but I’m finding if I do too much it’s too sore, so that’s counter productive.
  • Research one of the trips on my 60 for 60 list. Pretty much nothing on my list is possible at the moment with lockdown restrictions, but that doesn’t stop me planning trips away for the future. The current thinking is maybe a trip to Russia next year with the younger son. It’s somewhere we’ve both always wanted to go to, so I’m thinking maybe next year will be the year. I need to get an idea of the costs involved and balance my spending on experiences with my desire to reach FIRE. Hopefully I’ll be able to do both.

I think that’s enough for now. I need to start to recover from this injury, and it’s really tempting to put some running goals in there, but I need to be sensible about that and listen to my body about when I’m ready to start that up again. I’ll continue to make healthy choices most of the time, work on recovering from my injury and work towards getting back to my running. I’ll keep plugging away with my Spanish TV watching and start to look into a trip to Russia. That should give me something to look forward to, which I think is crucial in these difficult times.

Sixty Things To Do By The Time I’m Sixty List

I turned fifty last year. It wasn’t nearly as traumatic as I thought it might be, despite having most of my celebrations cancelled due to lockdown. About six months before I turned the big 5-0 I started writing a list of fifty things to do before I was fifty. I think it’s safe to say that I’d probably left writing this list a little bit late. For me I think that long term goals are what I like to aim for when it comes to lists like this. I ended up putting things on there that I didn’t really care about, just so I had things that I felt I’d be able to do quickly and fairly easily. I think if I’d got to almost 50 without feeling the need to go and get my nails done, then it’s fair to say that it wasn’t something that I was all that bothered about. That turned out to be a pretty rubbish list and I barely got anything ticked off on it. At the same time though I started writing a 60 things to do by the time I was 60 list. I found I actually had more things on this list than the one for when I turned 50, although nowhere near 60 things.

Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

Recently I’ve picked up both of these lists and had a good look through them. A lot of the things on the 50 for 50 list quickly got discarded, but there was plenty on the 60 list that I really wanted to do. Just under ten years gives me a good bit of time to actually make some progress on these things that are important to me. Quite a few of these things are going to take a bit of planning and will need a bit of money spending on them, so it’s good that I’ve got plenty of time. There’s some really big FIRE milestones in there too, which is really exciting to see.

The challenge I guess is balancing spending money on experiences that I want to have with achieving my FIRE goals. The two things seem to be somewhat incompatible, but I suppose as long as I spread them out and try and do some of the travel aspirations in a budget manner then I should be ok. There are quite a few completely free things on there, along with plenty of pretty frugal ones. Some of them require a big time commitment, and others are just plain indulgent. There are some things on there that terrify me, which I think is probably a good sign that I should definitely go for it.

I’ve committed my list to the back of my bullet journal. No doubt the list will change over time. I’ve not worried about how I’m going to do all of these things, I’ve just put down that I want to do them. There are already some things that I wish I’d put on there, but which at the time didn’t quite make the cut. No doubt I’ll make some adjustments as time goes by. And if this running injury doesn’t heal then I’m going to have to think of a lot more things to go on the list, as a fair chunk is devoted to running activities!

So here’s my list.

  1. Vogrie parkrun
  2. South Shields parkrun
  3. Gibside parkrun
  4. Run a marathon (Again, but made a better job of it than I did last time)
  5. Do an ultra
  6. Do a triathlon
  7. Become a parkrun tourist
  8. Do parkrun A-Z
  9. Do the Granada half marathon
  10. Do 100 parkruns
  11. Do 250 parkruns
  12. Volunteer 25 times at parkrun
  13. Run the Road to the Isles half marathon
  14. Do the Kielder Dark Skies run
  15. Do the Chariots of Fire race
  16. Do a parkrun abroad
  17. Walk up Arthur’s Seat
  18. Walk the West Highland Way
  19. Cycle around Loch Leven
  20. Run the Loch Leven half marathon
  21. Learn a ballroom dance
  22. Finish the Duolingo Spanish tree
  23. Write a book
  24. Do some volunteering
  25. Become mortgage neutral
  26. Get my AVC fund to £50k
  27. Get my Equities fund to £125k
  28. Pay off my mortgage
  29. Go part time at work
  30. Retire
  31. Learn to do the 3×3 cube without notes (again, and don’t forget how to do it this time)
  32. Do the cube in under 1 minute 30 seconds
  33. Climb Ben Nevis
  34. Climb Scafell
  35. Climb Snowden
  36. Get the en suite done
  37. Ge the kitchen done
  38. Get the bathroom done
  39. Get new carpets
  40. Go to Italy
  41. Visit Copenhagen
  42. Go to Russia
  43. Go back to Cuba
  44. Do a tour of the Scottish Islands
  45. Go camping in Europe
  46. Go to the Alhambra in Granada (again, but I love it there)
  47. Go to the German Christmas markets in Germany rather than Edinburgh
  48. Do a trip in a campervan
  49. Go to San Sebastián
  50. Go to Cyprus
  51. Go to Canada
  52. See the Northern Lights
  53. Have a trip on the Jacobite Express
  54. Stay in a wigwam
  55. Go white water rafting
  56. Watch the Graham Norton show being filmed
  57. Go out for a really good breakfast
  58. Go to a TEDx event
  59. Visit London
  60. Go to Gairloch and my favourite ever campsite

Reading that list makes me so excited to get started. The only one I’ve actually done already is that I became a parkrun tourist just before lockdown. Every good list always has at least one thing on it that you’ve already done. The parkruns are free to do, but time constraints are going to be against me. Unless I change my job and no longer work every second Saturday then getting 250 parkruns in by the time I’m 60 will be tight. I need to factor in injuries, volunteering and of course the fact that it’s not on just now due to lockdown. We’ll not even talk about the ultra and triathlon that I’ve recklessly added to the list. I’ll worry about those another time, as they terrify the hell out of me. As does the marathon, as I remember how much that took over my life when I did one once before. I’m not entirely convinced my body is up to all these physical challenges, but I guess I don’t have to do any of them fast, I just have to do them.

Photo by Daniel Reche on Pexels.com

There’s a reasonable amount of travel in there, but hopefully not so much that it will be unachievable on my budget. I’m really excited to go to Italy. Considering how much I love Italian men and food it’s a travesty that I’ve never been there before. The really good thing about the different destinations I’ve listed is that I have a fair idea who I’ll go to each place with. These are all places that I’ve talked about going with different people over the years, we’ve just never quite got around to it.

The white water rafting is something my sister and I have been supposed to do for years. We postponed it when she got pregnant with my nephew, but as he’s twelve now we’re long overdue that adventure! And the climbing of Ben Nevis, Scafell and Snowden is something that myself, my sister and my brother have been talking about during lockdown.

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

It’s really great to see that by the time I’m 60 I should have reached FIRE, with some important milestones reached during the next decade. I should be mortgage neutral really soon and then my next targets will be my AVC and Equities fund. I’m hoping I should hit those in the next five years or so. At that point I can consider the possibility of negotiating a shorter working week. I’ve very optimistically put pay the mortgage off in the list. That’s probably going to take me longer, but it’s a good target to aim for. At the very least it should be at a much more manageable level. Once I turn sixty my work pension kicks in, so full retirement should be mine for the taking. That’s pretty exciting to think about. Only a decade to go. The key is going to be to fill that decade with lots of meaningful experiences so that I can enjoy this last part of my working life.

Does anyone else have a list like mine? Any suggestions of any really great things that I’ve missed off?

January 2021 Review

That’s January well and truly done and dusted. A quick update to see how my Net Worth is doing and how I did with working towards the goals that I set myself. We’ll start with what my money looks like for the month.

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 £94,838.70 (£95,330.62)

Assets

Cash £34,965.12 (£34,503.66)

Defined Benefits Pension £130,653.60 (£130,653.60)

AVC’s £10,307.70 (£9,826.32)

Shares £49,209.19 (£49,278.21)

House £250,000 (£250,000)

Total Assets £475,135.61 (£474,261.79)

Net Worth including house equity

£475,135.61- £94,838.70 = £380,296.91 (378,931.17)

Net Worth excluding house equity and Defined Benefits Pension

£94,482.01 – £94,838.70 = -£356.69 (-£1,722.43)

So how do I feel about those figures? Not too bad I think. The shares have gone down slightly, which considering I invested another £675 in January isn’t exactly ideal. It’s not horrendous though. It would be nice to be back above £50k again, but I’m sure I’ll get there sooner rather than later. I’m happy to get the AVC fund above £10k, especially as that means I’m now a fifth of the way towards my target. Cash has gone up again a little bit, which it really shouldn’t be doing now that I have a cut in my maintenance due to my eldest having gone off to uni, albeit only for one term before lockdown forced him back home to study online from his bedroom. (Cambridge’s loss is my gain, I’m delighted to have a temporary reprieve and have him back in the house!) I had my lowest ever credit card bill in January, coming in at around £250. Considering I pay for everything except my utility bills with this card and clear it each month this is definitely good going for a family of three that includes two teenage boys who are eating machines.

I am so close to being mortgage neutral now that I can practically taste it. Only £356.69 stands between me and mortgage neutrality. When I mentioned this to the kids one of them offered to transfer me the money just so I could get there straight away. I politely declined. This is going to be all the sweeter for waiting for it. Hopefully next month if I can keep my spending under control.

This month is already proving more spendy than last, but with a bit of luck it won’t stop me hitting the magic number for mortgage neutrality. I’ve had to get a bit of work done to the house as some mice got in. I got a company in to sort them, which luckily was included in the home emergency cover that comes with my bank account. What isn’t included is the mouse proofing of the house that I needed done. This is classed as essential work, so I was able to get my handyman out to fill holes and he’s going to come back to fit a guard to the bottom of the garage door to stop them making themselves at home in my garage. All in it’s only costing me £150, which I think is money well spent for the peace of mind it’s giving me. I know I shouldn’t freak out about mice in the house, but I totally was. I’ve calmed down now, and fingers crossed the problem is sorted now. I’ve also ordered a new desk for home working. The one I’ve been using is far from ideal and as my plan is to work from home indefinitely it makes sense to get an optimal home office set up. So more expenses than usual this month, and I even had to put petrol in the car for the first time in months, but it still shouldn’t be horrendous I don’t think.

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I’m finding I’m getting a bit bored with checking what I’m worth. I still like doing my monthly Net Worth, but the obsessive checking of my Vanguard account is not really doing it for me any more. I think this is a good thing. It’s probably a sign that things are going ok in my life and I’m not looking to FIRE to save me. I do find that the worse I’m finding work the more I check my spreadsheets. I think I’m finally coming to the conclusion that I have things set up as they should be and it’s just going to take time for me to get where I want to be. I don’t have a magic wand that’s going to suddenly make my spreadsheets say something different. Yes, I need to tweak my investments, but I have a plan in place for that. Constantly logging in to my accounts doesn’t improve my life and it just makes me frustrated that I’m not where I want to be yet. I’m slowly weaning myself off my post work checking of my Vanguard account habit!

  • Get under ten stone. FAIL I got down to 10 stone 3.8lb. Although I didn’t achieve this one I’m actually not too bothered. I really want this to be a long term goal more about health than a particular number on the scales. I had a few weeks where I went slightly off the rails, but even then my weight only went up to ten and a half stone. This is a lot better than I was doing last year, and I’m eating really healthy foods, which is kind of the point.
  • Weigh less than ten and a half stone on the first of February. PASS On 1st February I weighed 10 stone 5.2lb. That’s a good weight for me, and I would be delighted to be able to keep it around that level.
  • Exercise four times a week. PASS I’ve finally admitted that I have an injury. It’s been going on for months, but it’s been getting worse. I managed to get a phone appointment with the doctor who referred me to the physio. The good old NHS. Within 24 hours of me phoning the doctors I was in seeing the physio. She examined me and the good news is it’s not osteoarthritis, which was looking like a possibility. Instead it is bursitis. Annoying, but something that should go away. I’ve got exercises to do and I need to rest, so sadly no running. I was told to rest for four weeks, but it’s been that already and there’s not much improvement, so I’ll keep being a good Sassenach and not run for now. I have however been walking plenty. I’ve done a few too many long walks that have not done my hip any favours, but there have been some perfect walking days with sunshine and lots of snow. What can you do? Sometimes you just have to get out there. I’ve been managing to get out at least four times a week for a walk, and I’m really enjoying it.
  • Finish cien días. FAIL I’m not sure why, but I just didn’t do this. I’m still not feeling all that motivated with my Spanish studying, and this has been yet another Spanish thing that I’ve just not done. I’ve got back into it now, so I’ll put this as a goal again to get it finished off.
  • Pick another Spanish series to watch. PASS A bit of a cheat this one, as I didn’t actually do this during January, but it is done now. As I’ve still not finished Cien días yet I have plenty of time for this, but I now have Velvet added to my Netflix list. On the Duolingo forum this one seems to get good reviews, so I’m hoping I enjoy it when I eventually get round to watching it.

So most definitely a mixed month for me. And to be fair that is what it felt like. It has felt really hard to go in to this lockdown. I was hoping to get down to Newcastle for a weekend where my support bubble is. With the border effectively being closed and universities closed my trip down south to drop my son with my parents for dad to take him down to uni was never going to happen. Until this got cancelled I hadn’t realised how much the thought of that was keeping me going. It took me a few weeks to adjust, but I think I’ve more or less bounced back now. And as I said it’s lovely to have him home, although for his sake I hope he gets back to uni soon

So I suppose I’d better set some goals for February. It’s a bit of a cheat this really as we’re so far through February already. I have got some things that I’m working on, but to be honest for now it’s mostly just about getting through lockdown and making sure everybody stays safe. Mum and dad have both now had their first vaccinations, as has my sister as she works for the NHS. I’m really still focussed on healthy eating and making sure that my injury doesn’t mean I stop exercising altogether just because I can’t run. I think quite a few of these goals are going to look pretty familiar, but better late than never if I finally get around to achieving them.

  • Get under 10 stone. As I’ve said before this would really be as low as I would want my weight to go. Even at this weight I still have a belly, but I don’t think that’s ever going to go. I’ve had it my whole life. I really want to focus on eating healthily and feeling good. Weight can be a helpful guide, but it’s not the be all and end all. Saying that, it would be nice to get under the magic ten stone just so I know I can do it
  • Weigh under ten and a half stone on 1st March. Same as before, just to keep me on track
  • Exercise at least four times a week for at least 30 minutes each time. This is especially important now that I’m injured. If nothing else it will ensure I actually get out of the house
  • At least once a week cook a recipe that isn’t one of our go to recipes. It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut with what you cook. I’m sure this boredom then leads to snacking and unhealthy choices. I’m really enjoying lots of veggie meals just now, so I’d like to continue exploring new recipes
  • Finish Cien Días. This is definitely achievable. I’m back watching it again, still struggling to understand it, but the only way I’m going to improve is by sticking at it

That’s enough for now for to me working on. I really want to continue to focus on my health. I’m loving all the healthy eating that I’m doing and I hope that I can reap the rewards from this in the years to come. I’ll keep doing my walking until my body is strong enough for me to run again. If I focus on eating well, getting enough sleep and trying not to sweat the small stuff then I think I’ll have the building blocks for a long and happy life. Here’s hoping anyway.

December 2020 Review

It’s time to review how the month of December went for me. I’ll have a look at my net worth figures and how I did on working towards my goals. December is always a funny month; more to do with having fun than achieving goals. Of course 2020 was a bit different to a normal year, but Christmas was still part of the equation. Let’s have a look first of all at the money side of things.

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 £95,330.62 (£95,822.50)

Assets

Cash £34,503.66 (£34,304.08)

Defined Benefits Pension £130,653.60 (£130,653.60)

AVC’s £9,826.32 (£9,139.84)

Shares £49,278.21 (£50,102.75)

House £250,000 (£250,000)

Total Assets £474,261.79 (£474,200.27)

Net Worth including house equity

£474,261.79 – £95,330.62 = £378,931.17 (£378,377.77)

Net Worth excluding house equity and Defined Benefits Pension

£93,608.19 – £95,330.62 = –£1,722.43 (£2,275.83)

I’m fairly happy with those figures. The work share price dropped again, but with my Vanguard Index trackers going up it doesn’t look quite as bad as it could do. A bit frustrating to dip under the £50k mark for my shares, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not the end of the world. My AVC’s are doing well, and with a bit of rounding I’m now 20% towards my target for that particular part of my investments. That will allow me to take the cash lump sum option of £50k at 60 without reducing the amount of pension that I receive. The extra money I’m putting towards that side of things came from a reduction in the overpayments I was making towards my mortgage. Psychologically I would prefer to see my mortgage coming down more quickly, but from a purely numbers point of view it’s definitely been the right decision.

My mortgage neutrality is edging down ever closer to zero. Not that much of a change this month, but it is at least going in the right direction. It’s great to see there’s less than two thousand to go until I’m mortgage neutral. That’s such an important target for me. It’s one I reached a long time ago in my last house, so it will be great to achieve it in this home. It’s quite likely that will fluctuate a bit as I use some of my savings to do work to the house. What I’ll probably do is have a bit of time where I can enjoy being mortgage neutral before I dip into my savings. I guess I could wait until I’m in a sufficiently positive financial position whereby even by spending on the house I would still be mortgage neutral. We’ll see.

My cash amount has increased ever so slightly. This really shouldn’t be the case. With the reduction in the maintenance that I receive once number one son started uni last year I don’t have enough coming in to cover the amount I am paying out. I would worry about this more, but it’s only because I’m throwing so much towards investments. I’ve got plenty of cash savings, so in reality all I’m really doing is drip feeding some of these cash savings towards investments. Although at the moment I’m not even needing to use the savings. Not being able to do anything does have an advantage from the financial point of view.

What I am actually doing though is virtually moving budgets around to put towards saving for getting my en suite sorted. Every month that I don’t spend my petrol, hair cut, entertainment etc budget I put it towards my house budget. I’m definitely getting there, and it shouldn’t be too much longer until I have enough to get the work done. Not that I’m actually planning on getting it done yet. I think I’ll wait until the vaccine is fully rolled out before I have people in my house doing non essential work.

I realise this is a bit of a bonkers way to work my finances. It works for me though and keeps me accountable to myself. I have cut some of my budgets to try and keep within what I earn, but there’s a limit to how low I can go. I’m not going to worry too much. With the latest lockdown my eldest is likely to be studying from home for the foreseeable, which naturally is putting my expenses back up. It’s lovely having him home again, so the extra costs are something I’m more than happy to deal with.

I have decided to spend a little bit more money to try and have some things in the diary to look forward to. I’ve booked a trip away to the Highlands for myself and my parents. This got cancelled last year, so I was keen to get it organised again. It’s a night away in Fort William and then going on the Jacobite Express, or as it’s better known, the Harry Potter train. It looks absolutely amazing, so I’m really looking forward to that. The scenery you pass through is out of this world, so it should be an incredible experience. It’s booked for early May, so I’m not entirely confident it will go ahead, but I thought it was important to be optimistic and get it booked in. I don’t have to pay for the hotel until the day itself, and I can cancel at any time, so I won’t be out of pocket if it does get cancelled. And the train tickets themselves were already paid for last year, so there’s no added expense there.

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I’ve also started to organise tickets for events at the local theatre. I’ve got a dance show booked for June, which might be a touch optimistic, but here’s hoping! And there’s some comedy for 2022 that I really want to go to, so I’m currently organising friends to see who wants to go and see that with me. I think if I just try and book one or two things a month for later in the year it will spread the cost and give me something to look forward to. This not spending any money has been great, but I’m not sure how good it is for your soul to do nothing. There’s plenty of free things I love to do, but if there’s things that do cost money but which need paid for then I think it’s ok to do some of those things too.

Let’s move on now and have a look at how I got on with my goals for December. Here’s a quick reminder of what I wanted to achieve.

  • Get under 10 and a half stone. I don’t need to stay there for the rest of the month, but I would like to at least know that I’ve managed it at least once during the month. PASS My lowest weight for the month was when I weighed myself on Christmas morning and I weighed 10 stone 3.2 pounds. I’m absolutely delighted with this.
  • Don’t start the Christmas eating until the week of the 21st December. PASS Remarkably I didn’t really start what I would class as Christmas eating until boxing day night. I had the full Christmas dinner, Christmas pudding and then another Christmas dinner as leftovers on Christmas night, so I did eat a lot on Christmas day itself. What I didn’t do though was eat just for the sake of it. There was probably no need for the leftovers on the night time, but it wasn’t a horrendous amount of food that I had. It did all go a little bit wrong after that. I got stuck into the chocolate on the 26th. Considering this was my first lot of chocolate since the end of October, I’m surprised I didn’t crack earlier.
  • Weigh less than 11 stone on the 1st January. PASS I weighed 10 stone 7.2 pounds on the morning of New Year. This is a lot less than I would normally weigh after Christmas, so I am very pleased with that. I’ve had a few slips where I’ve gone into “eat everything in the house” mode, but I’ve mainly gone back to being healthy.
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I set myself some fairly straightforward goals for December. Straightforward but not necessarily easy. I didn’t want to undo all the good work that I’d done on losing weight and eating healthily. There was a point where I thought I might just not go back to eating chocolate. When it got to boxing day night and I still hadn’t had any chocolate I did think I might have accidentally given up eating chocolate. When it came down to it though that was just a step too far for me.

Time now to set myself some goals for January. I’m not quite sure how motivated I’m feeling. I know it’s the start of a new year, but I’m really just not feeling it. I’m enjoying feeling healthy and want to keep working on that, but otherwise I might be quite easy on myself. I’m feeling a bit conflicted at the moment as I’ve read the James Clear book Atomic Habits. He talks about not setting goals, but rather establishing habits that move you in the right direction. That makes perfect sense to me, but I do love a good goal to work towards. Thinking about it though, some of my most successful goals have been where I’ve been establishing good habits as part of the goal achievement process. When I set myself sleep targets earlier in the year this established good habits about going to bed that I have continued long after I’m setting myself sleep goals.

Here goes then. Let’s see what I’m going to be working on this month.

  • Get under ten stone. This should be achievable, although getting there by the end of the month might be a bit tough. This will be as low as I want my weight to go. My clothes fit brilliantly at this weight, but often people will comment that they think I look a bit too thin. My face and wrists tend to get quite thin, even though I still have a sizeable belly. It’s very frustrating!
  • Weigh less than ten and a half stone on the first of February. I’ve learned my lesson on this one. If I just set a goal for a target weight then I tend to go off the rails once I’ve hit it. This should deal with that.
  • Exercise four times a week. This shouldn’t really be a goal I need to set for myself. I’m absolutely loving my running and am getting out four times a week without fail. The issue I’ve got is that I’m injured. I’ve been ignoring it and have kept running, but I am going to have to take some time off. I need to make sure this doesn’t morph into doing no exercise at all as I’m sulking because I can’t run. Even just getting out for a walk will be good. Especially with working from home, I need to make sure I get out of the house for some exercise.
  • Finish cien días. I was really enjoying this, so I don’t quite know why I’ve stopped watching it. I’ve only got about ten episodes left to go, so this shouldn’t be too difficult to achieve. I’m still not managing to understand all the Spanish, but I’m not going to improve if I don’t stick in.
  • Pick another Spanish series to watch. When I finished the last one I was watching I got out of the habit of putting a Spanish programme on. If I have another one picked out I can go seamlessly from one to the other.

That’s all I’m setting for myself this month. As I say, I’m not feeling particularly motivated. Work is always crazy busy in January, so sometimes just slumping after work is the order of the day. If I can keep working on my weight, get some non running exercise whilst I’m injured and get back into the swing of watching Spanish TV then I think that’s probably enough for January. Hope you all have a great January and are doing some great work on achieving your goals. Let me know how you’re getting on.

November Has Been A Belter

I’m very excited to be doing this November review. The markets have been kind, and my figures should be good. I’ve been working hard on my goals too, so all in all a great November. Let’s start with my Net Worth for the month.

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.

My annual pension statement is finally out (18 months after the last one; you’d think there was a global pandemic or something). The figure I use for my Defined Benefit pension is the annual amount that I would get if I left my company now and then started taking the money when I’m 60, which is the usual retirement age for that pension scheme. I then multiply that by 20 on the basis that I’m hoping to last at least 20 years after I start drawing my pension. I’m actually hoping to get to 100, but I guess that’s not a given. Since I clearly have more service since the last statement was out, my annual figure has increased, so you’ll see that reflected in my Net Worth figures.

Debts

Mortgage £95,822.50 (£96,314.61)

Assets

Cash £34,304.08 (£34,114.80)

Defined Benefits Pension £130,653.60 (£123.683)

AVC’s £9,139.84 (£7,176.61)

Shares £50,102.75 (£40,001.04)

House £250,000 (£250,000)

Total Assets £474,200.27(£454,975.45)

Net Worth including house equity

£474,200.27 – £95,822.50 = £378,377.77 (£358,660.84)

Net Worth excluding house equity and Defined Benefits Pension

£93,546.67 – £95,822.50 = –£2,275.83 (£15,022.16)

Those figures are making me very happy. Of course the work share price has dropped slightly since I updated my spreadsheets, but I’m not going to worry about that too much now. In October I was delighted to sneak over the £40k mark for my shares, and now I’ve broken the £50k mark. I’m aiming for £125k, so it most definitely feels like I’m making progress. My Vanguard index trackers are doing well, and as I say the work share price is much improved. It’s still got a way to go before I break even, but hopefully it’s going in the right direction. The plan is still to sell off the work shares gradually and get everything into Vanguard index trackers within an ISA. A way to go yet, but I’ll get there.

It’s good to see my AVC fund jumping up so much. I’m aiming to get £50k in there so I can take my cash lump sum without impacting the annual amount that I receive. It was great to be able to put in a higher amount for my DB pension figure. It often feels like a bit of a slog sticking with the same company, but I’ll reap the rewards in terms of a bigger pension the longer I can stick it out.

The figure that is making me the happiest out of all of these is the net worth excluding the house value or the DB pension. This is how I measure how close I am to mortgage neutrality. There’s something really lovely about knowing that you could cash everything in and clear the mortgage if you were so inclined. I’m not going to of course, but just knowing that possibility exists would be very comforting. I was in that position previously, but then I bought a bigger house. Very un-FIRE like of me I know. Sometimes I doubt my decision, but mostly I think it was the right thing to do. Particularly with everything that’s gone on this year. Knowing that we have plenty of space has made lockdown much easier. And I’ve always got an asset to sell, or even make money from in terms of renting out rooms in the future.

I can almost touch mortgage neutrality now, and I can’t wait. I am however expecting that I might become mortgage neutral and then go back the way from time to time. I’ve got a fair bit of work I want to do to the house. I’m squirrelling money away for that, and at some point I’ll be splashing the cash to get the work done. That’s life though. It’s not always about having money in the bank and in investments. Sometimes you need to spend a bit to improve your surroundings or just generally to live a bit. Saying that, I’ll probably try and enjoy my mortgage neutrality for a few months once I get there before I spoil it all by spending my cash.

I’m getting used to having less income coming in because my eldest son has gone off to university. My maintenance money has halved and I’m getting less child benefit and working tax credits. Luckily(!) the tax credits were tiny anyway, so I wasn’t reliant on them. On the face of it you’d think that I should be in the same financial situation as before. There’s one less person in the house, so my expenses should drop. It’s a good theory. I am spending less on food etc, but already he’s home for the Christmas holidays and so the food bill has gone through the roof.

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Over the whole year the holidays are slightly longer than the term time, so I do still have a decent amount of expenses for him. Add to that the fact that I will be stocking him up with a decent supply of food to take away with him so that he actually has something to eat. I absolutely don’t care though. It’s fantastic having him home for the holidays. I’ll manage the money side of things one way or another. I don’t ever want him to stop coming home. He’s been such a miss. It’s great that he’s out in the world doing his thing, but it’s also brilliant to have him back and that he still wants to hang out with us. It was good to see that my cash has actually very slightly increased this month, despite having less money coming in. This not going out or driving anywhere certainly has some financial benefits.

Let’s move on now and have a look at my goals for November. Here’s a quick reminder of what I had set myself to work on.

  • Get under 11 stone. And stay there. I am only going to count this as a success if I am under 11 stone on 1st December. PASS I’m absolutely delighted with this one. On 1st December I weighed 10 stone 8.6lb
  • Exercise four times a week. Ideally this will be four runs, but with my propensity for injuries, I’m going to say any exercise for at least 30 minutes counts. PASS I exercised 4 times a week in November, with a total of 17 exercise sessions. It was good that I put in that it didn’t need to be running, as a period of self-isolation after my running partner tested positive for Covid meant I had to do some inside exercise.
  • No chocolate for the whole of November. PASS A couple of sticky moments where I was absolutely desperate for chocolate, but I resisted. What’s more it’s now 10th December and I still haven’t had any chocolate. Hard to see how that could continue for much longer with Christmas just around the corner, but you never know.
  • Finish section 5 of the Duolingo Spanish tree. PASS No problems on this one at all. I’m giving myself a bit of a break on this one now, just doing the bare minimum to keep my streak going.
  • Watch fifteen episodes of 100 días para enamorarnos. PASS I actually watched 19 episodes. This is not even a chore, just something I do for relaxation. I’m still not understanding a massive amount of the language, but it’s definitely helping.
  • Get under 2 minutes for the Rubik’s cube. PASS In November I did the cube in under 2 minutes 19 times. I can’t do it that quickly every time, and I still sometimes forget the algorithms. I’ve definitely done this enough to say I achieved this. I’ve barely picked up a cube for a few weeks now, so I’ll need to make sure I solve it from time to time so I don’t lose the skill.

I have to say that has been an absolutely cracking month for me. I’m not sure if I realised how well I was doing until I sat down and looked at what I’d achieved. It’s not too often I achieve every single goal that I set myself. They were fairly challenging goals too. What’s very good is that I’ve continued the weight loss, exercise and lack of chocolate even after the month ended.

Goal wise for December I’m going to be quite easy on myself. Tis the season to be jolly after all. Saying that I’m keen not to reverse all the good work I’ve done up till now. I’m enjoying eating healthy food, exercising plenty and generally trying to get myself into good shape. I don’t want Christmas to ruin that. I do want to be able to enjoy Christmas though. I have 5 days off work, starting on Christmas eve, so I want to make the most of my time off.

Let’s set a couple of goals for myself for what’s left of December.

  • Get under 10 and a half stone. I don’t need to stay there for the rest of the month, but I would like to at least know that I’ve managed it at least once during the month
  • Don’t start the Christmas eating until the week of the 21st December. Christmas is typically the time for me to eat my body weight in rubbish. I would like to try and a avoid doing that for as much of the month as possible. It’s proving easier than normal with not being in the office and surrounded by tins of chocolates.
  • Weigh less than 11 stone on the 1st January. This should be easy, but it won’t be. I’ve hit that age where I can’t get away with eating rubbish. My body puts weight on really easily, so if I have a week of eating nonsense the scales will reflect this. We’ll see.

That’s it for January. No massive goals, just try not to reverse all the good that I’ve done over the last month or so with my eating habits. I’m looking forward to getting my house looking lovely for the holidays, watching some Christmas films and spending some time with my children. That’s what life’s all about after all, time with the people you love. Have a great Christmas everybody and then we can all start 2021 raring to go and ready to work on our goals to make 2021 the best year ever.

Did We Really Invent FIRE?

Pursuing FIRE feels like being in a secret club. A weird nerdy spreadsheet obsessed club. I like that. We’re all out there in the world doing our thing (in a socially distanced way of course), but we have this whole other side to us that most people know nothing about. I’m fairly open about my obsession with my finances and the fact that I want to retire before I’m dead, but I tend not to talk openly about the FIRE movement. I talk to my kids about it, as I’d like them to learn from my mistakes and for them to be able to buy themselves options in life by making smart decisions. Outside my immediate family though I don’t say a lot, and I certainly don’t talk about the fact that I blog about FIRE.

I love being part of the FIRE community. It’s great to see people doing so well pursuing their goals. FIRE people are my sort of people. They’re goal focussed, driven, good at coming up with solutions to problems, and the fact that there are a ridiculous number of runners in our number is an added bonus. There’s a real mix of demographics too. We’re not all the cliché of a well paid software engineer raking in the big bucks and being able to retire in our thirties. Some of us discovered FIRE much later in life, are on much lower salaries and have kids to support. FIRE doesn’t discriminate though. If you’re willing to work on your spending, set up your investments and stick with it, then you will get there eventually.

The online FIRE community gives you a great opportunity to learn strategies and keep motivated. Let’s be honest though, it’s not exactly rocket science. Yes, there’s some maths behind it, but once you’ve learned the basics it’s really just a question of getting your head down and being patient. This is the difficult bit, and where it’s great to be surrounded by people who are on the same path as you. They understand that it’s important not to be splashing the cash on rubbish. We keep each other accountable by publishing our figures and giving ourselves goals to work towards.

Do you have to have stumbled upon FIRE to be able to quit your job and do something different though? Well clearly no. Maybe there’s a whole other group of people out there who have reached FIRE without even knowing what it was. I’ve been kicking about on this planet for fifty years now. Even as an introvert who avoids social interaction like the plague I’ve still had a fair amount of contact with lots of different types of people. I’ve been thinking about people I’ve known over the years who have made big changes to their lives, and with quite a few of them it looks suspiciously like they’ve reached FIRE and have pulled the plug on their 9-5 and taken their lives in a whole different direction. None of them has ever mentioned FIRE, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t something they knew about.

After about five minutes of ruminating I’ve come up with a group of people in my life that would fit the bill as having reached FIRE and done something completely new with their life. I’ve always been so impressed when people make massive changes to their lives, but I’d never really seen the connection before between what they had done and the fact that they’d hit FIRE without even knowing what it was. I’ll introduce you to these people and we’ll see if there’s anything to learn from them.

First up my ex-husband’s sister and her husband. They were both chemists and live in the south of England in a big house. They chose not to have kids and have always had a good lifestyle. They love their golf and have travelled all over the world. They’re not into spending money needlessly on stuff, but rather would spend it on trips away and nice meals. When they were in their late forties they both got made redundant. They both worked for the same company and had a lot of years service. The severance package was generous and they jumped at the chance to never work again.

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This could look like a lucky break, and it certainly helped them to achieve the great life that they have post work. If we look a bit closer though, good decision making along the way helped make their new life possible. They didn’t have debts, their mortgage was already paid off and they didn’t have an extravagant lifestyle to fund. Lots of other people in their situation would have found redundancy a disaster. Both of them getting laid off at the same time would have meant no money coming in to the house. If they had large outgoings and no income then they could have quickly been in dire straights. They would have been scrabbling around trying to get work, which wouldn’t have been easy at their time of life.

Instead though they were able to spend lots of time playing golf and having some amazing slow travel holidays. My ex sister in law has taken up photography and now regularly gets her pictures published, so she’s even developed another stream of income. What’s even more gratifying about the lifestyle they were able to adopt is the fact that my ex brother in law is now having lots of quite serious health problems. He has great difficulties getting around and is likely to end up in a wheelchair before too long. If they hadn’t been in a position to take advantage of their redundancies then they would have missed out on all those great experiences and many, many rounds of golf.

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Next up is my step cousin and her husband. They lived in Oxfordshire and she had a really high powered job. She spent a lot of time flying all around the world training people in various call centres. This was a high stress job and involved a lot of time away from her husband. They opted not to have children (I’m sensing a theme here!) and instead spent their money on a nice lifestyle and a holiday home in Devon that they bought jointly with my auntie and uncle.

It got to the point where she resented spending time away from home and wanted more time rather than more money. Lots of late night chats ensued plotting an escape route. They realised that if they sold their Oxfordshire house and moved to Devon that they could both afford to give up work. So that’s what they did. They moved to Devon, got themselves a couple of dogs and and seem as happy as it is humanly possible to be. They travel back to Oxfordshire reasonably regularly to see family there and for the husband to do some gardening work for a long time customer. This keeps them in touch with family and brings in some extra cash.

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Another cousin now. I must have a family that’s particularly motivated to change their lives! Let’s hope it’s in the genes and has been passed on to me. This is one of my Newcastle cousins. He’d moved to London when he was starting his career and got into marketing. He did very well for himself and quickly rose up the ranks. Along with that though came the almost compulsory socialising with clients and the heavy drinking that inevitably went hand in hand with that. He met his now wife and they started a family.

Having three young children didn’t mean he worked any less. If anything the pressure to earn seemed greater, and the lovely house they now lived in needed an ever bigger mortgage to pay for. The lifestyle wasn’t sustainable, and they started to talk about him quitting and doing something else. Whenever he mentioned at work about leaving though they offered him more and more money to stay. Nice to be appreciated that way, but I imagine it must make it much more difficult to walk away when they are throwing money at you like that.

Eventually things came to a head as they invariably do. It became clear that things couldn’t continue as they were. His wife hatched a plan. Years of a fantastic salary meant they were in a reasonably good place financially. They sold the London house and moved to Cornwall. They now live in a house with a view of the sea. The kids play on the beach after school and enjoy family time with both their mum and their dad. And the financial side of things? My cousin’s wife set up a small business making soap. My cousin helps her now and they have grown sufficiently to be able to employ one other person. They are even doing well enough to have a small business premises for manufacture and dispatch, rather than just using the kitchen table. The business is big enough to sustain them, yet small enough to allow a quality of family life that was never possible previously.

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And finally a non-family member. This is a man I met at parkrun on Christmas day last year. We got chatting and exchanged numbers. There then ensued 10 months of messaging, flirting and a handful of dates. I had high hopes that this might turn into something promising on the romantic front, but sadly we were after different things so I had to put an end to it. Although it didn’t work out on the dating side of things he has become a bit of a role model for me on the FIRE front.

He’s a retired GP. He was 58 when I met him and had retired at 52. He made a decision fairly early on in his career that he didn’t want to be working forever. He loves the outdoors and spends his time cycling, kayaking and walking. Although he’s retired he pretty much spends most of his weekdays volunteering doing wildlife surveys, so it’s almost like he has a job but he just doesn’t get paid for it. It’s his idea of heaven. He gets himself to some beautiful spot and counts birds, whales, butterflies, or whatever else has been allocated to him that particular day.

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I told him about the FIRE movement and although he’d never heard of it his reaction was that he’d pretty much followed the FIRE principles, but had just figured out a plan himself and implemented it over the years. He put massive amounts into his pension and never had an extravagant lifestyle. From the sounds of it this was a bit of an issue with his wife during their marriage. She couldn’t understand why she didn’t have the lifestyle of a doctor’s wife. Once they were divorced he was able to put even more money away for his future.

Towards the end of his career he moved north from England to the islands of Scotland. He worked as a locum GP moving between the islands. This allowed him plenty of time off to spend his leisure in the mountains. Eventually though he wanted to pull the plug completely. He told me that his spreadsheets got a really good work out at that time as he tried to figure out if he could afford to quit. He realised being mortgage free would be crucial, so he sold his house and bought a modest ex council house for cash. He’s never looked back.

None of these people knew about FIRE, and yet all of them achieved what we’re looking to do. They were all on good money, so maybe that made all the strategising that the FIRE community is so good at slightly less important. Most of them have started some sort of new income stream, but in all cases this has been something that fits around their lifestyle. I don’t think most of them would have been able to predict in advance where this money would come from. The freedom of time allows you to develop your passions and money will often flow from that. They all took a leap of faith. They couldn’t know how it would work out, but they went for it anyway. That’s something I’m going to try and take from knowing these people. Yes, planning is important, but sometimes you just have to jump off that cliff.

Review Of October 2020

It’s that time again. The monthly review of how I’ve done in terms of my net worth and working on the goals that I set myself. I’ll set myself some new goals too so that I’ve got something productive to do in the last part of the year.

So without further ado, here’s my figures for October. 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 £96,314.61 (£96,806.40)

Assets

Cash £34,114.80 (£34,128.46)

Defined Benefits Pension £123.683 (£123,683)

AVC’s £7,176.61 (£7,002.82 )

Shares £40,001.04 (£38,766.86)

House £250,000 (£250,000)

Total Assets £454,975.45(£453,581.14)

Net Worth including house equity

£454,975.45 – £96,314.61 = £358,660.84 (£356,774.74)

Net Worth excluding house equity and Defined Benefits Pension

£81,292.45 – £96,314.61 = –£15,022.16 (£16,908.26)

A fairly steady month then. Cash more or less where it was, which I’m happy about. My income has dropped a bit with number one son going off to uni, but I’ve not really had that much of a reduction in my costs. The AVC fund is pitiful, but what can you do. I’ll just keep plugging away at it. As I’m only looking to get that up to £50k or so I’m probably more or less on track with that, but it does seem to be growing really slowly. Patience is most definitely not my strongest virtue, but it’s an attribute I really need to develop on my road to FIRE.

I was looking forward to my shares going over the £40k mark, and I just scraped over the line on that one. Thank goodness my work shares picked up a bit this month, as my Vanguard fund was crashing and burning. It’s since picked up I’m happy to say, but I’ve stuck with the figures I’d put into my spreadsheet a few days ago. I was sorely tempted to update, but there has to be a cut off at some point!

My mortgage neutrality quest is coming along nicely. It’s slightly galling to look back and know that I’d got as close as £9k away from mortgage neutrality before the share price for my work shares came crashing down. I’m almost back to the position I was in nearly a year ago. I’m still not nearly as diversified as I should be, but much more than I was before. With the regular amount I’m putting in my stocks and shares ISA I’ll have used up my allowance by April, so I’m not going to think about diversifying any more until next year’s allowance kicks in. Of course I’ve not managed to use up the whole £20k allowance with monthly payments from my salary. I wish. No, I cashed in a number of ongoing share save schemes, took the cash and stuck the money in index trackers.

The mortgage figure is depressing me. I’ve overpaid my mortgage for such a long time, and used to love seeing the balance dropping. I borrowed an extra £20k earlier in the year to make the most of the staff mortgage before they closed it for extra borrowing. I still think that was a good decision. In this scary Covid world I think that cash is king. It also helps that I’m paying 0.1% on the mortgage, and even with dire savings interest rates I’m still making money on the extra that I borrowed. At the same time I also reduced the amount of overpaying I was doing on the mortgage. Financially this was the right call. The reduction in the overpayment I put towards my AVC fund for my pension. The tax savings mean that I’m able to save a good bit more than I was able to overpay the mortgage. I’d love to be mortgage free though. Sometimes it’s not all about the numbers. With starting so late though I don’t feel that I have the luxury of paying off the mortgage quicker just to make myself feel better.

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Let’s move on and look at my goals for October. Just to remind ourselves my goals were:

  • Track what I eat using MyFitnessPal. FAIL I’m not going to lie, I didn’t log one single meal this month. No excuse, I just could not be bothered.
  • Lose three pounds. FAIL Technically I finished October about a pound a half lighter than I finished September, but I think that was just a natural fluctuation in my weight.
  • Complete section 5 of the Duolingo Spanish tree by the end of the year. ON TRACK This is still going really well. At my current rate I’m going to have this finished in the next two weeks.
  • Find a new Spanish series that I want to watch and see at least 2 episodes every week. PASS I’m currently watching 100 días para enamorarnos on Netflix. It’s suitably trashy that it’s holding my interest and I can work out what’s going on without being able to understand a lot of what’s actually being said! By the end of October I’d watched 14 episodes, and it is definitely helping my atrocious Spanish listening skills.
  • Learn to solve the white cross on the Rubik’s cube. PASS I totally crushed this goal. I managed to learn how to solve the whole cube. I am ridiculously pleased with myself about this.

Most definitely a mixed bag in terms of how I did against my monthly goals. The weight has been an ongoing issue all year, really since lockdown started. I’ve not been running as much and have quite frankly been eating rubbish. Yet again I’m going to say this, but I really need to address this. I’m really pleased with how my Spanish is going. I’m nowhere near where I want to be, but it’s something I work on every day. I think the key is going to be watching, listening to and reading lots of things in Spanish. I was delighted when Tony from Onemillionjourney.com did his first blog post in Spanish. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I could understand, and really hope he’ll put out some more in his native Spanish. To say I am pleased about the rubik’s cube would be the understatement of the century. I did get stupidly obsessed with it a number of years ago, but never managed to solve it without notes. Now that I’m able to do it without the safety net of my notebook I’m delighted. My next goal is not to be the slowest person in the house at solving it. My youngest is a speed demon at it, so I won’t beat him, but the oldest is in my sights. Competitive? Moi? I don’t know what you mean.

Let’s move on to what I want to achieve in November. I’m feeling pretty motivated and want to finish the year with plenty of achievements under my belt. Time for me to set myself some goals for November:

  • Get under 11 stone. And stay there. I am only going to count this as a success if I am under 11 stone on 1st December. Christmas is coming and I am already not far off my normal post Christmas weight, which is not a good way to approach the holiday season.
  • Exercise four times a week. Ideally this will be four runs, but with my propensity for injuries, I’m going to say any exercise for at least 30 minutes counts.
  • No chocolate for the whole of November. This includes hot chocolate, as when there’s no chocolate in the house I have been known to eat hot chocolate powder straight from the tub. Oh my God. I can’t believe I’m actually setting this for myself. Considering I gave up coffee and alcohol about a million years ago then chocolate is my real treat to myself. I can do this. How hard can it be?
  • Finish section 5 of the Duolingo Spanish tree. This should be a given. Two weeks should do it, as long as I stick to my schedule.
  • Watch fifteen episodes of 100 días para enamorarnos. This sounds like a really easy goal. Watch a load of telly. I have to really concentrate though to follow what’s going on and try and pick out words that I understand. It is true that the total hotness of one of the actors ,David Chocarro, gives me plenty of motivation to keep watching!
  • Get under 2 minutes for the Rubik’s cube. I really don’t want to get too fixated on doing the cube really quickly. I’ve been there before and it’s too easy to lose whole days doing solve after solve. Sub 2 minutes should be more than achievable without needing to put in too much time.
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I’m really excited to get started on those goals. I’m in a good place with my mindset for being healthy just now. I’m enjoying my running and am already being much more consistent, if much slower than I would like. The no chocolate is going to be a major challenge. I’m going to try not to fixate on it, but I’m already experiencing some cravings. I’m enjoying eating lots of healthy foods, so I need to focus on that rather than what I’m not having. I’m excited to continue working on my Spanish, and of course improving my cubing skills. It should be a good November.

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.