September’s Net Worth

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


Mortgage £83,459.58 (£84,107.72)  


Cash £15,897.60 (£16,157.39)

Money in sharesave £13,304 (£12,804)

AVC’s £4,530.85 (£4,486.86)

Shares £30,833.00 (£31,523.07)

House £245,000  (£245,000)

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

Net Worth including house equity

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

Net Worth excluding house equity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Constant Striving For Improvement

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

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

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

The Need To Take Action

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

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

Streaking Is a Wonderful Thing!

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

Coding Is Messing With My Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get Out Of That Comfort Zone

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

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

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

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

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

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

On The Buses

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

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

Has Driving Everywhere Made Me Soft?

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

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

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

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

Any Down Sides To This No Car Malarkey?

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

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

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

There’s A Lot Of Good In The World

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

How Have The Kids Coped?

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

Too Lazy to Run To Running Club

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

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

Money, Money, Money

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

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

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

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