Goals Vs Habits

First up I need to declare a bit of a vested interest. I absolutely love goals. I love everything about them. The thinking about what you want to change, deciding to make a fresh start, working towards your goals and then that wonderful buzz that you get when you achieve them. Goals are kind of my thing. I’m not quite sure how people get out of bed in the morning without knowing that they have goals they’re working towards. One of my favourite books is “Goals! How To Get Everything You Want – Faster Than You Ever Though Possible” by Brian Tracy. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve read that book. It inspires me every time I even think about reading it again.

I used to work in sales and I loved having targets. If I didn’t know what I was supposed to achieve then I didn’t feel like I had a reason to go to work. Working in financial services things changed a bit and you were no longer allowed to have targets. Rightly so you should be providing what’s right for the customer. The thing is though that if sales is done right the customer gets what’s right for them and you hit your quota. If I wasn’t given a target then I would just set one for myself.

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As well as targets at work I’ve always set myself goals to work on in my private life. I’m constantly working on my weight, exercise, sleep, studying languages, you name it really. I’m good at achieving goals if I really set my mind to it. My problem has never really been around not being able to hit goals, but rather in deciding what I wanted to work towards. Once I had something in mind then I would do everything in my power to achieve that goal.

There’s been a number of times in my life where I’ve had some pretty audacious goals. When I was in my early twenties I decided that I wanted to go and live and work in Spain. I had just graduated, had a load of debt, no idea how to earn a living over there and I didn’t speak a word of Spanish. Within two years I’d paid all my debts off, had been to night classes to learn enough Spanish to get by and I had been on a two week course to learn how to teach English as a foreign language. Next thing I knew I was over in Spain living my dream.

Another goal that I set myself was around the house that I lived in. After getting divorced I found myself having to start again financially with a two and three year old in tow. The family home got sold and I had to downsize to what I could afford on part time wages with child care thrown into the mix. I made a lovely home for the three of us, and we lived in that house for eleven years. I always knew I wanted something better though. I overpaid my mortgage, scrimped and saved and invested money that was to be allocated for the next home. Four years ago I managed to move us to a much bigger house, with plenty of room for the kids to come back to stay after they’ve flown the nest. It also gives me the option to have my folks come to live with me if needs be in the future. This was a really important goal for me, but not one that could be achieved quickly or easily. I learnt the value of patience whilst working towards this goal.

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Whilst researching financial planning I discovered the FIRE movement which then gave me my biggest goal ever to shoot for. On the face of it I wasn’t the ideal candidate for FIRE. I was in my late forties by the time I discovered it. I was in a position where I honestly thought I could never retire. All my planning had been around surviving month to month and trying to improve our living situation. Every time I thought about retirement and pensions I would feel incredibly stressed and that there was nothing I could do about my situation. In just a few years I’ve gone from that point to knowing that I can definitely retire at sixty, probably on more disposable income than I’ve ever had before, and with it looking pretty likely that I’ll be able to afford to go part time in four years time when I hit 55. That’s quite a turnaround.

The way I’ve been able to work my way towards FIRE is with goal setting. I’ve looked at how much I need to have invested to be able to stop working. As time has gone on I’ve adjusted these goals, and decided that I wanted to have a bit more money in retirement to be able to travel when I want to. My goals have changed as a result and I’m definitely on track to achieve everything that I want to. No doubt there will be plenty more adjustments to make over the next nine years, but staying flexible in the face of new information is one of the things I love about goal setting.

As I’m such a big fan of goal setting I’m not sure why I’d need any other way to work towards change. Then I read James Clear’s book “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way To Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones”. That was a bit of a game changer for me. I am all about habits and routines, probably more than is good for me, but this showed me the benefits of the way that I have naturally organised my life. I already have so many habits that have developed naturally over time, lots of them good, but plenty of them not quite so beneficial.

I tried to think about all of the habits that I have. I’m sure I have missed a lot, but some of them include

  • Weighing myself every day
  • Doing physio exercises for my neck in the shower daily
  • Making my bed every morning
  • Having the same porridge with raisins and chia seeds breakfast
  • Strength exercises to help with my running
  • Meditating
  • Having a fruit and yoghurt morning snack
  • Drying down the shower to stop mould developing
  • Studying Spanish on Duolingo (900 days and counting)
  • Running
  • Eating a bowl of branflakes after work
  • Taking part in parkrun every Saturday that I’m not working
  • Speaking to my folks every Sunday

Quite frankly the list could go on and on. I am clearly a creature of habit. If I’m brutally honest I’ve always thought that this is a bad thing about myself. I’m stuck in my ways, I’m not good with change and I don’t like to deviate from my norm. After reading James Clear though I’ve started to view things a little bit differently. I’ve realised that a lot of the habits I have in place are really good ones. As I do the same things at the same time every day I don’t have to think about them. I’ve been doing my physio exercises for my neck for about fifteen years since I had a trapped nerve. I don’t give it any thought. I’m in the shower and I do my exercises. I’m pretty sure if I had to make myself do those exercises it wouldn’t happen, but as it is no will power whatsoever is requited. Similarly if it’s 9.30 on a Saturday (9am in England) and I’m not at work I’ll be in a park somewhere lining up to run 5k. No needing to make myself go out for a run. It’s a non negotiable in my life. Saturdays are parkrun days.

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I’ve realised that a lot of the things I do in my life are because of how I view myself. I don’t run for exercise or because it’s good for me, I run because I’m a runner (and I like to eat). I realised recently that I’d stopped viewing myself as a healthy person, and as a result my eating habits had got pretty bad. I’d put on weight and I was generally eating a pretty poor diet. I had a word with myself, remembered that I’m health conscious and started to buy more healthy tasty food. As a result I’ve dropped half a stone without really trying. My new mantra is that I’m eating for health not for weight. It’s all about making consistently healthy lifestyle choices. And a lot of that is all about automating my choices. Not having chocolate in the house, but instead plenty of fruit and veg.

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I think for me probably a combination of goals and habits works quite well. I really enjoy the whole thing of setting goals and seeing myself making progress towards them. In all honesty though every time I achieve a goal it’s because I’ve implemented good habits. My most recent habit I’ve introduced is meditation. I’ve always thought it wasn’t really active enough for me and that it wouldn’t suit me. After my recent mental health struggles though I was willing to give anything a go. Of course I set myself a goal around this of completing all the Headspace beginner courses. I’m well on track to achieve that, but I think that’s probably because I’ve instigated a habit of meditating every morning after breakfast and before I start work. So for me I think I probably need the dopamine hit of ticking things off my To Do list whilst working towards my goals, but it’s the habits that I implement that are going to get me to where I want to be.

More Treat Than Trick For Me This 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 track how I’m doing with my mortgage balance compared to my AVC balance. The reason for this is that I made a decision to mostly stop overpaying my mortgage. Instead I use that extra money to put more into my AVC fund. So hopefully I’ll start to see my AVC fund increase in value and more slowly my mortgage balance come down until they meet at some point and I have enough in my AVC fund to clear my mortgage when I retire. That’s the plan anyway.

Debts

Mortgage £90,408.16 (£90,900.44)

Assets

Cash £28,252.00 (£28,202.74)

Defined Benefits £137,586 (£137,586)

AVC’s £16,754.95 (£15,346.81)

Shares £80,026.26 (£73,460.94)

House £269,000 (£269,000)

Total £531,619.21 (£523,596.49)

Net Worth including house equity

£531,619.21 – £90,408.16 = £441,211.05 (£432,696.05)

AVC Fund vs Mortgage Balance

£16,754.95 – £90,408.16 = -£73,653.21 (-£75,553.63)

That’s a very pleasing set of figures. The markets very kindly did a big jump up just as I was working my monthly figures out. I’m very happy with that increase in the value of my shares. Of course since then the work share price has dropped again a bit, so next month’s figures might not be quite so impressive. For now though I’m happy with the increase. Nice to see the chunk of money that I put in from dividends and the sale of some of the work shares doing so well.

I always like to have arbitrary targets to aim for, just to break up the monotony of striving for FIRE. There’s a few coming up that I have in my sights. My mortgage will duck under £90k next month. Still far too high for me to feel complacent about, but I can see my plan working of paying into my AVC fund rather than overpaying my mortgage. Saying that, all this talk of increasing interest rates is making me somewhat jittery, but in the grand scheme of things rates are not likely to change enough for me to adjust my strategy. Investment wise I’ve got £45k in my Vanguard account, and it will be nice to see that hit £50k. And when I combine my shares and AVC fund I’m just shy of £97k. It will be lovely to hit £100k as psychologically that is such a big barrier. A few things there for me to reach in the hopefully not too distant future.

I didn’t set myself any goals for October and I’m going to continue in that vein for November too. I’ve got an ongoing battle with my mental health, which is taking all my focus for now. I made some really good progress this month, returning to work on a phased return. I’m back to full time hours from next week and and back on the phones then too speaking to customers again. It’s been a bit of a bumpy ride getting back to work, but it’s an important step in me learning to live with this anxiety for the time being until I hopefully get back on a bit more of an even keel.

The main thing want to focus on is my health again. The positive that I can take from the difficulties I’ve been having is that I am really drilling down on what is important for my health. I’ve talked a fair bit over the last few years about how important I feel sleep is for our health. That belief hasn’t always translated into me actually going to bed early, but I certainly have recognised how much better I feel when I get more sleep. Getting enough sleep is no longer an optional extra for me. A combination of my feelings and the medication I’m taking are making me absolutely exhausted. It gets to 8.00 and I’m thinking “how soon can I go to bed?” I’m sure I won’t always feel like this, but for now sleep is absolutely crucial for me. I use a sleep tracker and during October there were only four nights where I didn’t get at least eight hours sleep. I’m still exhausted all the time, but at least I’m giving my body the best possible chance to deal with everything that is going on.

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Similarly my eating is going really well. Again this is something I have repeatedly set myself goals around. My weight has fluctuated my entire life, and whilst most people would say I was slim and not notice when I put weight on, for me it’s been a big issue. For now I am not beating myself up about what I eat, but I am focussing on eating plenty of fruit and veg and avoiding sweet food. Without really trying I have lost a reasonable amount of weight. I’m only a couple of pounds away from the lowest my weight ever goes. I feel trim and most importantly it’s not feeling like a struggle. I didn’t consciously set out to lose weight. It sounds ridiculous, but I just started buying more nice healthy food and stopped buying myself sweet treats. We’ll see if I can keep this up once I’m back to dealing with customers all day long and working full time hours. I’m quietly confident. It feels like something has changed. I’m eating for my health rather than for my weight. Of course it could just be stress and the medications causing me to lose weight, but hopefully not.

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My running on the other hand is not going so great. I’m still going out, but only for 3 or 4 miles at a time. Since I went on Prozac I don’t seem to be able to run to save my life. My legs feel sluggish and the anxiety is causing me difficulties in regulating my breathing. It seems unbelievable that I managed to pull the Great North Run out of the bag just back in September. I’m not going to worry too much about this. I don’t have any races until May. I’m treating running as a form of therapy just now. My fabulous running friends (well, you know they are actual friends but we met through running and it’s our favourite thing to do together) are making sure that I get out so that I get some exercise and chat about how I’m feeling. They really are outstanding.

I’ve got a couple of trips out this month. I’m through to Edinburgh with one of the kids for a symphony concert and I also have some comedy to go to with a night out to see Chris Ramsey with one of my friends. It’s nice to have a couple of things to look forward to, and I might even get my favourite boots re-heeled, and possibly even my first haircut in over a year. I’m hoping that’s a sign that I’m starting to feel a bit better and ready to start participating in the world again. Here’s hoping!

Walking, Running and Steam Train Travelling My Way Through My 60 for 60 List

When I turned 50 last year I set myself up a list of things I wanted to achieve by the time I was 60. I tried to put a mixture of things on there. So there’s some FIRE goals, plenty of running related things and a good sprinkling of travel adventures in there. The challenge was always going to be balancing reaching FIRE with paying for these experiences. Luckily I have pretty frugal tastes, so a lot of the things on my list are either free or pretty cheap. Not so much the travel ones, but I’m hopeful I can get those done without breaking the bank.

It’s been a year since I first wrote my list, so it’s time to do an update on how I’m getting on with ticking things off. This was always going to be a fluid list. Ten years is quite a long time, and I’ve no interest in ticking something off a list that I’m no longer interested in doing. I imagine as time passes it will become obvious that I’m not going to get to some of the things on the list, either because of money or just running out of time. That’s where the 70 for 70 list that I’m already mentally planning comes in!

By my ready reckoning with 60 things to do in ten years I need to be something every two months to be on track. This really wasn’t possible during lockdown, so I had some catching up to do. Of course there are some things that I’m working on that will take years to complete, and it’s just a question of keep plugging away.

Here’s my updated list showing what I’ve done and replacing some original goals with new ones.

  1. Vogrie parkrun DONE A lovely run in a gorgeous setting, and with the bonus of getting me a V for my parkrun alphabet challenge.
  2. South Shields parkrun
  3. Gibside parkrun Whinlatter parkrun. Sadly Gibside parkrun didn’t return after lockdown, but Whinlatter in the Lake District is supposed to be equally beautiful and just as brutal.
  4. Run a marathon (Again, but made a better job of it than I did last time) I have signed up for the Stirling marathon. It was supposed to be in October, but Covid has forced a delay until May next year. That gives my plenty of time for training. Yikes!
  5. Do an ultra
  6. Do a triathlon
  7. Become a parkrun tourist DONE
  8. Do parkrun A-Z I’m getting there. I still need an A, I, Q,R,U,Y and Z. I have a plan for all of those.
  9. Do the Granada half marathon
  10. Do 100 parkruns I’ve done 81 parkruns in total now, so I’m well on my way.
  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 Probably combine this one with getting a Z for my alphabet challenge.
  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 I’m making very slow progress on this one.
  23. Write a book
  24. Do some volunteering
  25. Become mortgage neutral DONE. I don’t even think about this any more, but I was so happy to achieve this.
  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 The plan is to do this next summer with my brother and sister.
  34. Climb Scafell DONE. I did this over the summer with my brother and sister. Absolutely loved it.
  35. Climb Snowden Same as Ben Nevis, we’re planning to do this next summer
  36. Get the en suite done Dull, dull, dull. Don’t know what I was thinking with 36-39. Swim in a waterfall is the much more exciting replacement. I did a taster session on wild water swimming earlier in the year and I really loved it.
  37. Get the kitchen done Go wild camping. I’m starting to put together a lighweight camping kit as all my stuff is fine for camping with a car, but a bit heavy for hiking to beautiful spots. That’s my next few birthday and christmas presents sorted!
  38. Get the bathroom done Hike the Hadrians Wall walk. My sister and I are going to do this. We walked part of it in the summer, but it would be great to do the whole thing, and the plan is to wild camp to keep the costs down and kill two birds with one stone in terms of me ticking things off my list. We’re currently thinking the summer of 2023 for this one.
  39. Get new carpets Walk around Kielder reservoir. DONE. I did this over the summer with my brother and sister. I absolutely loved doing this. The 26 miles almost finished me off, but it was such a great walk.
  40. Go to Italy
  41. Visit Copenhagen
  42. Go to Russia This is in the planning stages just now. I’m hoping to go there next year with the kids. I originally was thinking that an organised tour would be a good idea as Russia just seems so unknown. Looking at the prices though I quickly decided against that. The current thinking is go for a week, splitting our time between Moscow and St Petersburg. We’re all trying to learn a bit of Russian just now. My older brain is taking a while to absorb the alphabet, but I love the sound of the language, so it would be great to be able to speak it a bit.
  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 Swim in a tidal pool. We have a few in Fife and they look fantastic.
  51. Go to Canada
  52. See the Northern Lights
  53. Have a trip on the Jacobite Express DONE. The folks and I had a trip to Fort William earlier this year. The Harry Potter train most definitely did not disappoint. Fantastic scenery, and the whole day was just perfect.
  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 DONE. I managed four days camping there during the summer. It was so great to be back and it’s just as beautiful as I remembered.
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I’m very happy with what I’ve managed to get done over the last year or so. I’ve ticked seven things off my list, so am right on track for getting everything done by the time I’m sixty. Of course all the expensive stuff is still to do, but I’ll worry about that a bit further down the line. Worse case scenario I might need to shift some things to my 70 for 70 list when that gets up and running.

No Motivation May

It’s almost time to do my June figures, so I really better get my May ones out there. Better late than never as they say. Money first of all and then we’ll have a look at how I did with my 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. I used to track how I was doing with my net worth minus the house equity. This was to see where I was in my quest to become mortgage neutral. Now that I’ve well and truly achieved that I don’t feel the need to track that any more. Instead what I’ve decided to do is see how I’m doing with my mortgage balance compared to my AVC balance. The reason for this is that I made a decision to mostly stop overpaying my mortgage. Instead I used that extra money to put more into my AVC fund. So hopefully I’ll start to see my AVC fund increase in value and more slowly my mortgage balance come down until they meet at some point and I have enough in my AVC fund to clear my mortgage when I retire. That’s the plan anyway.

Debts

Mortgage £92,869.64 (£93,361.71)

Assets

Cash £35,002.04 (£35,708.53)

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

AVC’s £13,131.25 (£12,464.24)

Shares £66,329.57 (£61,194.27)

House £250,000 (£250,000)

Total £495,116.46 (£490,020.64)

Net Worth including house equity

£495,116.46 – £92,869.64 = £402,246.82 (£396,658.93)

AVC Fund vs Mortgage Balance

£13,131.25 – £92,869.64 = -£79,738.39 (-£81,839.75)

A nice bump in the work share price has made my figures look really nice. Of course it’s subsequently dropped again, so June is not going to look quite so good, but that’s just the way it goes. I probably should have sold some of those when the price was up and stuck the money into my Vanguard account, but I get excited with the price going up and think this is the beginning of the great recovery. It never is! I did use some dividends that got paid to invest more in my Vanguard ISA, and I topped it up with some of my cash too to meet the minimum pay in amounts on two of the funds I invest in. I’ll just keep doing things like that to try and increase the amount in my index trackers. I definitely still need to diversify more, but I am at least going in the right direction. I’m still holding a stupid amount in cash, but it helps me sleep at night, so I’m not too worried about making any massive changes to that.

It’s nice to get my net worth over the £400k mark, but really it’s a bit of an arbitrary figure. I’m not selling my house any time soon and I’m not drawing my pension for quite some time yet. Still nice to hit it though. Hopefully it won’t be a million years until I get to the half million point. That really will be something to celebrate.

There’s still miles to go with my mortgage, but I’m glad I’ve stuck with my plan of putting the amount I was overpaying into my AVC fund instead. With a base rate mortgage there’s no point paying it off too quickly, and hopefully this way I can make the most of saving more with the tax advantages that come from paying into AVC’s. It also means that I duck under a salary cut off point for my son applying for student loans and bursaries.

There’s not much else to say about the figures really. The plan is working, albeit very slowly. If I’m perfectly honest I’m getting a bit bored of thinking about FIRE just now. I’ve got everything set up doing what it needs to do. I just need time to pass now so I can get my finances to where I want them to be. Of course I don’t want that time to pass too fast as then I’ll be wishing my life away.

I’m trying to make things happen at work by making the most of opportunities that come up, putting myself forward for things and started the long process of getting enough experience for the next job that I want to go for. That’s likely to take a while, but I’ve definitely made a good start. I think that’s probably the biggest thing I can do to help me reach FIRE, is get a better paid job. The next step up probably won’t come with much of a bump in pay, and in fact initially it might come with no increase at all, but in the long run it’s definitely going to be a good move.

So enough about my money, let’s look at my goals. I’m going to preface this by saying I have absolutely no motivation whatsoever at the moment. I feel like I’m wading through treacle somewhat. I’m eating rubbish, running as slow as a slow thing and generally not wanting to do more than is absolutely necessary. I think that’s ok though. Well, maybe it’s not, but it is what it is. We can’t be 100% going for it all the time. I’m enjoying being able to see people a bit more, and have had a trip south of the border to see family and gets some lovely long walks in. Goals are on the back burner, but no doubt I’ll get back on it at some point.

So here’s a reminder of my goals for May.

• Finish couch to 5k. PASS All done and I’m now running normally. Well you know, slowly and not as far as I’d like, but without needing to stop and walk, and crucially still injury free.

  • Cross train twice a week. PASS A mixture of walking and cycling twice a week. Mainly walking with friends, which has been really nice.
  • Start a new Spanish series. PASS Technically a pass. I have started a new series, but I’ve only watched one episode. Zero motivation for Spanish just now.

Weigh under ten and a half stone on 1st June. FAIL On 1st June I weighed 10 stone 10.2 lb. To be honest I’m amazed it wasn’t more. I’m still a stone lighter than I was at the height of lockdown, but also ten pounds heavier than I was at Christmas.

As I’m doing this review so late in the month I don’t really see the point in setting myself any goals. It’s summer, the sun has been shining a bit and quite frankly I’ve not felt like working at much. No doubt I’ll get my motivation back at some point, but for now there’s not much point flogging a dead horse. I’ll just chill out, survive work and enjoy having my son home for the university holidays.

Money, Goals and Running for April

April seemed to go by in a bit of blur. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. Let’s see how I did in terms of my Net Worth and working towards my 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. I used to track how I was doing with my net worth minus the house equity. This was to see where I was in my quest to become mortgage neutral. Now that I’ve well and truly achieved that I don’t feel the need to track that any more. Instead what I’ve decided to do is see how I’m doing with my mortgage balance compared to my AVC balance. The reason for this is that I made a decision to mostly stop overpaying my mortgage. Instead I used that extra money to put more into my AVC fund. So hopefully I’ll start to see my AVC fund increase in value and more slowly my mortgage balance come down until they meet at some point and I have enough in my AVC fund to clear my mortgage when I retire. That’s the plan anyway.

Debts

Mortgage £93,361.71 (£93,853.99)

Assets

Cash £35,708.53 (£35,668.12)

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

AVC’s £12,464.24 (£11,634.04)

Shares £61,194.27(£57,266.53)

House £250,000 (£250,000)

Total £490,020.64 (£485,222.29)

Net Worth including house equity

£490,020.64 – £93,361.71 = £396,658.93 (£391,368.30)

AVC Fund vs Mortgage Balance

£12,464.24 – £93,853.99 = -£81,839.75

I’m pretty happy with those figures. It doesn’t seem five minutes since I was delighted to get my shares above the £50k mark, and now I’m above £60k. My net worth including the house equity is edging ever closer to £400k, which will be a nice figure to get to. It doesn’t really mean anything, as it includes twenty year’s worth of my defined benefits pension and the house that I live in. Neither of these things can I use at this stage to skip away from work without looking back. FIRE is a big thing to aim for though, so you have to play tricks with yourself and celebrate random figures that you achieve.

There’s obviously a long way to go until my AVC fund value gets anywhere near what I owe on my mortgage. As long as I get there by the time I’m 60 then I’ll be happy with that. I took the mortgage out until I was 70 but with the plan to over pay it and get it cleared by the time I was 60. I’m hoping I’ll achieve the same outcome doing it this way, but that compounding can do a lot of the heavy lifting for me. With a base rate mortgage it makes no sense to clear the mortgage quickly, but I don’t think I’d be comfortable with still having a mortgage when I’d stopped working.

It’s felt like I’ve been spending a bit more recently. April is an expensive month anyway in terms of my car. The insurance, tax, MOT and service are all this month. With a bit of jiggery pokery I’ve managed to get the car tax into May’s figures by paying it right at the end of the month on my credit card. There’s still a lot to pay out in one month though. Luckily the car got through the MOT without anything too horrendous. £250 for a ten year old car to pass the MOT I didn’t think was too bad. I can’t really think what else I’ve spent. A takeaway I think and a few treats to celebrate the slight easing of lockdown. May is already proving much more expensive, but as that includes a week’s holiday from work I’m not going to worry too much about that. And anyway that’s a confession for next month’s review!

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I think that will do for the money side of things now. Let’s move on to see how I did with the goals that I set myself. Here’s what I said I would be working on in April

  • Finish Cien días series 2. PASS This is all done. I really enjoyed it and this wasn’t a chore to do. I’m sure my Spanish must be improving, but I have to be honest I can’t really see it myself.
  • Complete up to week 5 of Couch 2 5k PASS I’m still really unfit, but crucially my hip is holding up. If I walk for too long my hip hurts, but with the amount of running I’m doing just now I don’t feel it at all on my runs. Long may this continue.
  • Read the Moscow Rough Guide. FAIL You would think with only setting myself three goals this month I would definitely get them all done. Apparently not. I think maybe it just seems too far off for me to be interested in reading the guide book. Or maybe I’d be better just dipping in to various sections as and when I want to research particular things. We have made a bit more progress on planning, I just haven’t read the book.

So let’s set myself some things to work on for May.

  • Finish couch to 5k. I’m on track for this. As long as I don’t get injured again I should be able to finish this no problem. The latter part of the programme is building up the length of time you run for, with no walking at all. I’m being careful to follow the schedule and not rush on ahead and get injured again.
  • Cross train twice a week. I’m trying a new strategy to stay injury free. Instead of running four times a week I’m going to stick to three times weekly and put in some walking or cycling on top of that. I’m hoping going out on the bike will strengthen my hip without putting any strain on it. That’s the plan anyway.
  • Start a new Spanish series. I have picked one and added it to my list on Netflix. I can’t for the life of my think what it’s called, but I know I’m good to go with it.
  • Weigh under ten and a half stone on 1st June. Going back to an old favourite of mine. I was ten stone 7.2lb on the 1st May, however I’ve had a week’s holiday since then. The fact that I haven’t been on the scales since the first of the month probably tells you all that you need to know. I’m a bit annoyed with myself with this one as I was doing so well. Time to get back on it.
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I think that will do for the month. As usual no money goals in there, which seems ridiculous when this is supposed to be a FIRE blog. I never really see the point though. I’ve got things set up how they need to be. Unless I earn more then I’m not going to be able to save and invest more. I’m working on the earning more angle with my 9-5, but realistically that’s probably going to take a bit of time to come to fruition. I have everything automated in terms of my investments, so there’s no point setting myself goals around those. And randomly trying to achieve a certain level of net worth seems a bit pointless. The markets will do what they will do, and whilst I’m happy when I hit certain random figures, setting myself goals around that doesn’t seem like a good use of my time.

I’m happy with how I’m progressing in my journey towards FIRE. I’m working on the things that are important to me, albeit with certain recurring themes around my weight, which to be honest have been a work in progress for most of my life. Unless something miraculous happens I imagine I’ll be thinking about my weight until the day I die. Sad but true. I’m happy to be back running and the key is going to be staying injury free. With parkrun due to restart in England next month I have already planned some trips across the border to ahem “visit my parents”. The fact that these visits will allow me to be in a park in England at 9am surrounded by fellow runners is purely coincidental! Have a great May everyone.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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.

Photo by Roman Pohorecki on Pexels.com

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.