The Big 5-0
I’ve found myself thinking about the passing of time a lot recently. This is partly to do with turning 50 over the summer. It wasn’t nearly as traumatic as I thought it would be, but it does rather make you think about what you’re doing with your life. My plan is to live till I’m one hundred. Being a staunch anti-royalist I don’t want a telegram from the queen or king (although I suppose it would be fun to send it back saying I didn’t recognise their authority as a monarch to acknowledge my birthday). Now in this scenario where I’m living to 100 I am really healthy, still park running every Saturday and I have all of my faculties about me. If that’s not the case then I’m maybe not be quite so keen to hang about so long. My best friend has already made me promise that I’ll take him to Switzerland when the time comes as he has no wish to hang about in a decrepit state. I’m sure he’d return the favour if needs be if he was still around and I needed finished off.
Let’s assume that I make it to at least 100. That means that I have already lived half of my life. OK, so we can pretty much discount the early years as I have no recollection of them. My teenage years and early twenties I wouldn’t go back to if you paid me, but from then on in and I’m happy to say they’ve been pretty good years. Ups and downs of course like everybody else, but mostly I’m fairly happy with the way my life has turned out.
If we say that I’ve been making decisions for myself since my late teens and early twenties. To make things neat and tidy, let’s say twenty. That means I’ve had thirty years already as a fully functioning adult. In another thirty I’ll be 80. I’m guessing I might be starting to slow down a bit at that point. I met a woman in her 80’s the other week who seemed full of life, was at park run every week before lock down and seemed bright as a button. That’s the way that I want to age, but I guess there’s no guarantee of that.
Potentially that means I’ve got another 30 years to go until I might find it more difficult to do everything I want to with my life. Hopefully I’ll still be able to do plenty, but I’m not sure I’d be able to rely on it. I think maybe the way to think about it is that anything after 80 is a bonus. With a bit of luck I’ll still be going strong, but I really need to try and plan on getting everything done before then. So that works out rather nicely. The first 20 years were really all just about getting to the point of becoming an adult. The last 20 years up to 100 will be a nice bonus where I might be slowing down a bit. That means I have 60 years to play with. I’ve had 30 of them already, so I’d really better get on with making the most of the next 30
How’s It Been So Far?
If I’m completely honest I’m not sure I’m living the best possible version of my life that I could be. I have an alright job, that at times I really enjoy, but at other times drives me to distraction. It’s not fantastically well paid, but it keeps the wolf from the door reasonably well. The only debt I have is my mortgage. I’d love to be free of that, but for now it’s more important that I work on building my investments. If you compare me to Joe Bloggs then I guess I’m doing pretty well financially. Certainly compared to my peers in the office (back when that was a thing!) then I’m doing amazingly well with the salary that I earn.
My colleagues think it’s ridiculous the amount that I save and tell me that I should treat myself with my hard earned money. The problem is that I don’t feel that spending money is treating myself. I would rather see more money in my Vanguard account. I sometimes feel that I go too much down the frugal route though. Last year I had a leak from a crack in the shower tray in my en-suite. The whole bathroom needs doing so we just all use the main bathroom now instead. I’m saving up the money to get that done, but as I have the money sitting there in savings already should I just use my emergency money for that? After all there was water pouring through my kitchen ceiling – how much more of an emergency can your get?!
FIRE Community Peers
It’s hard sometimes when you look at others in the FIRE community and see how well they are doing and how much they are managing to save. I’m not a big one for comparing myself to others, unless it’s to learn from them and to get motivated to do better. That’s also the good thing about finding like minded people though. Rather than listening to Mr Spendy Pants at work I can read Mr Money Moustache and realise I am completely and utterly extravagant and need to stop spending immediately. When you find people that are either where you want to be already or are working on arriving there then it makes it much easier to feel that you’re on the right path.
Now saying that, FIRE can look very different from person to person. As a single parent on a not fantastic salary I am never going to be in a position to save as much as some others. Not unless I somehow increase my income of course. The good thing with not earning that much and then saving a fair chunk of that is that you get pretty good at living on not that much. Which means that my FIRE fund doesn’t need to look all that healthy for me to be able to manage on it. I don’t just want to be able to manage though. I want to be in a position to live a fabulous life. I’m not convinced I need a massive amount of money for that, but I need enough that I’m not worrying about the money side of things and have sufficient to live the life I want with all the extra time that I’ll have.
Something I love to do is travel, but I haven’t done an awful lot of that since I had the kids. When they were younger we used to go camping in the north of Scotland. I loved those trips away and wouldn’t have missed them for the world. Now though they’re not interested in camping, so we need to find other things to do. I have a friend over in Germany, so we’ve visited her a few times. She has a great lake for swimming just across from her house, so it really is idyllic. Then we had a road trip around England and Wales last year, which was amazing. This year we’ve made do with a staycation like everybody else.
In the last few years I’ve managed away three times without the kids. The first time was to Gran Canaria for a week of sunbathing and out dancing the night away. It was fun, and just what was needed, but usually I like a bit more to do when I’m away. The next trip was to Cuba, which was totally amazing. Havana was incredible and I would go back there in a heartbeat. I also got away to Malta, which is somewhere I’d always wanted to go, but which blew me away with how much there was to see and do. For such a small island it definitely warrants a return trip.
I think one of the things I might look back on and regret is that I haven’t travelled as much as I would have liked to. It’s something I love to do, and it’s just not been a regular part of my life. I’m not sure my Lean FIRE budget is going to allow a massive amount of travel. Although I suppose if I do slow travel then that should keep the costs down. I’ve already told my friend in Germany that she should expect to see a lot more of me when I stop working!
My finances have almost certainly restricted my life choices somewhat, but I’m not sure my life’s been any the worse because of it. You cut your cloth accordingly and make the most of what you do have. Luckily I like the free things in life. As long as I can get outside – whether that’s running, walking, cycling or camping then I’m going to be happy. Sometimes I have to remind myself of this fact. Lock down has really not been a problem for me; more an opportunity to be allowed to stay home. It’s become perfectly clear to me though that I need to make myself go out. Much as I like staying in my own little safe bubble of my house, I need to go out into the world and have new experiences. It’s not good to stagnate, no matter how comfortable it might feel.
Bargain Basement Hobbies (Mostly!)
It is good though that for a lot of the time I am very happy pottering about on my laptop. I restrict my social media usage somewhat, as that’s most definitely a time suck that I could do without. I love to learn things online. I’m currently up to a 489 day streak on Duolingo learning Spanish. That’s such a fun thing to do, although I do need to step out of my cosy little Duolingo world and get back to watching some Spanish TV and find some new podcasts. I like to watch online lectures from universities too. I’m part way through an intro to Psychology course from Yale. I’m hoping it might help me figure out myself and the people around me, but if not it’s a really interesting way to spend a few hours.
My hobbies then are pretty much free or low cost. Most of the online stuff is free. OK, with my running I get through a couple of pairs of trainers a year, and we won’t talk about race fees! It’s well worth it though, and the local races are really good value. There’s no feeling quite like lining up with 50,000 other people to do the Great North Run. When you run over the Tyne Bridge it’s worth every penny of the extortionate entry fee. And the good news is most of this year’s race entries have rolled over to next year, so I shouldn’t have much to pay out for in 2021.
Now that I think about it, my life is pretty sweet. OK, so I don’t totally love my job, but a lot of the time I don’t hate it either. I’m not sure that’s quite as positive as I’d hope for, but I can work on that. Although I’m not going to leave the company I work for as it makes no sense with my pension and staff mortgage, there’s no reason why I have to do the same job for ever either. Especially taking into consideration the fact that in two year’s time both my boys will be off at uni, and so I will have a lot more time to myself.
I’ve already talked to my boss about the fact that in the next few year’s I’m going to be looking for my next opportunity. A couple of years before my youngest started high school I started to prepare for that time when I knew I’d be able to go full time and would have slightly more flexibility. I started volunteering for extra things within my role so that I would have evidence to show what I was capable of. It worked and I managed to get my current job, which was a big step up from what I was doing before. That’s my plan again. I’ve already been accepted on a one year talent programme, which I’m hoping could be a stepping stone to other things. We’ll see.
Be A Bit More Of A Sociable Sassenach
I think the one area of my life that I maybe need to work on is the social side of things. I have some good friends, but a fair few of them live a long way from me. I only seem to make friends with people who move around. I worked it out one time that I don’t have a single friend who still lives in the place they were originally from. Some of them have moved back, but they have all gone out into the world rather than sticking with their original birth place. This makes them interesting people, but also means that just because they are geographically close to me when we become friends, doesn’t necessarily mean that will always be the case! It does mean I have plenty of people to go and visit though.
What I really need to work on is seeing people face to face and actually going out and doing things with them. I have a great group of running friends, so training with them is always a lot of fun. Unless you get injured of course and then you drop out of the group for a period of time and it’s easy to start to feel isolated. We do occasionally do non-running related things (or we did pre-covid), but mostly it’s training and going to races. Considering the amount of time I seem to spend injured and how these women are most of my local friends I really need to see them outside of the running sphere too.
I do have hermit tendencies, which if left unchecked can get a bit out of control. Although I love being in the house it’s not all that good for me. I tend to think of myself as very shy and incredibly anti-social, but actually that was much more true of my younger self than me now. I definitely need time to myself and quiet time to think, but I also need company much more than I have ever really acknowledged to myself. When I do go out I love it and really feel that I get a positive uplift and am ready to tackle the world afresh. I also find it totally exhausting and then need some time to myself to recover! Balance is the key to this one I think.
My love life I suppose is another area where I haven’t exactly excelled. Two divorces and one five year living together relationship that also failed. Funnily enough though I don’t really see this as a bad part of my life. I am forever the optimist and always look for the good in situations. OK, so I’ve not had a happily ever after, but it’s not all been doom and gloom. I’m a big believer in divorce rather than than living unhappily ever after. I’ve not completely given up on finding love. And I am very good friends with my most recent ex husband. Fourteen years after we got divorced we’ll happily hang out together with the kids and I think he probably talks to me almost more than he does to the kids. Although he is house hunting just now and he mentioned the house opposite mine that has just gone on the market. I’ve told him to forget that immediately as that is far too close for comfort!
My wonderful boys
I’ve saved the best for last. My fabulous, fabulous children. All parents are biased, that’s how it’s supposed to me. I’m not immune to their faults; they have many. That’s as it should be. Who wants to know somebody without any flaws; how boring would that be? They are incredible though. I can’t take any credit for this. They are very much their own people, and I’m sure at one point I was able to have some sort of influence on them, but this is very much a thing of the past now. As it should be. They are 16 and 17, so are exploring the men that they are going to be. Of course I still tell them what I think, but they need to make their own decisions. I was very strict when they were younger, and this has allowed me to be much more relaxed about things now.
They’re very intelligent, which is not really important in the grand scheme of things and is just a luck of the genes for them. Obviously all parents think their offspring are bright, so it’s not really surprising that I’m saying this. They are though. The eldest is about to head off to Trinity College, Cambridge to study maths. I know. The younger one is just as clever. Quite frankly I have no idea what they’re talking about most of the time. I just smile and nod. As I say, this is just luck on their part. Well, luck and the fact that I like clever men! What can I say, there’s nothing sexier than a man who can punctuate and speak eloquently. But seriously, if one more person asks me if their dad is clever I’m going to scream!I’m definitely not on their level, but I’m not some sort of a simpleton either.
More importantly though they work hard, they pursue their goals and they are constantly learning. One of them taught himself Esperanto just for fun. They’ve both self-studied subjects that they were interested in but which the school didn’t offer (Maths of Mechanics and Statistics, “just because they’re really fun subjects mum”). We had a spell where one of them was obsessed with various Rubik cubes (there’s a surprising amount of different shapes and sizes) and he went along to compete in a cubing competition. One of them is in the Labour party and the other one is an ardent communist. It’s a really fun house I live in! I’m not sure you should see your children as role models, but I really do. I value their advice and really listen to what they say to me.
Of course they’re still teenagers, so they’re also infuriating, messy, grumpy and sleep at ridiculous times of the day. Generally speaking though I feel like being a mum is the one thing that I’ve definitely got right. I’m not saying I’ve not made mistakes, because I definitely have. All you can do is your best, but I know that I have tried my absolute hardest as a parent. Whatever has been going on in my life my boys have been my priority. I’ve based decisions around what is best for them. That includes giving up drinking fourteen years ago. I used to love drinking, but I realised that I wasn’t going to be able to be the sort of mum I wanted my boys to have if I kept up with my hobby of downing glasses of wine. So I stopped. Best decision I have ever made.
I’m pretty sure I’d have been a more relaxed parent if I’d kept drinking (there’s no equivalent of the relaxation you feel when you have a drink after work; running comes close, but it’s not quite the same). I’m pretty sure my boys wouldn’t describe me as a relaxed parent, but I think that’s OK. They know I expect them to try their hardest, but they expect the same of me too. And they’ve been free to pursue whatever interests they were passionate about. What wasn’t encouraged was sitting about passively watching mindless TV. I’ve expected them to find things to do to entertain themselves, and they’ve managed that without any difficulty. Let’s be honest, there’s loads of really interesting stuff to find out about in this world.
So all in all, maybe my first 50 years have been pretty good. My finances could be better, but I’m working on that. I don’t have a kick ass career, but that’s allowed me to spend time with my boys whilst they’ve been growing up. I have some great friends, even if I don’t see them quite as much as I should. What I do have is two amazing boys who are getting ready to launch themselves on the world. Look out world is what I say! Maybe now it’s going to be my time to work on myself and make sure that the next fifty years are totally amazing. I’d better get working on that ASAP.