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.
Photo by Gantas Vaiu010diulu0117nas on Pexels.com

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!

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

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.
Photo by Dylan Howell on Pexels.com

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.

Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

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

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

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

So here’s my list.

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

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

Photo by Daniel Reche on Pexels.com

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

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

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

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

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

November Has Been A Belter

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

As usual I’ve got last month’s figures in brackets for comparison. I’ve got my Defined Benefits Pension in there based on twenty years worth of money if I start drawing it at 60. I’ve also got my Net Worth not including the DB Pension or the house equity, which seems barmy, but is really just to represent how close I’m getting to mortgage neutrality.

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

Debts

Mortgage £95,822.50 (£96,314.61)

Assets

Cash £34,304.08 (£34,114.80)

Defined Benefits Pension £130,653.60 (£123.683)

AVC’s £9,139.84 (£7,176.61)

Shares £50,102.75 (£40,001.04)

House £250,000 (£250,000)

Total Assets £474,200.27(£454,975.45)

Net Worth including house equity

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

Net Worth excluding house equity and Defined Benefits Pension

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did We Really Invent FIRE?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review Of October 2020

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

So without further ado, here’s my figures for October. As usual I’ve got last month’s figures in brackets for comparison. I’ve got my Defined Benefits Pension in there based on twenty years worth of money if I start drawing it at 60. I’ve also got my Net Worth not including the DB Pension or the house equity, which seems barmy, but is really just to represent how close I’m getting to mortgage neutrality.

Debts

Mortgage £96,314.61 (£96,806.40)

Assets

Cash £34,114.80 (£34,128.46)

Defined Benefits Pension £123.683 (£123,683)

AVC’s £7,176.61 (£7,002.82 )

Shares £40,001.04 (£38,766.86)

House £250,000 (£250,000)

Total Assets £454,975.45(£453,581.14)

Net Worth including house equity

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

Net Worth excluding house equity and Defined Benefits Pension

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How To Earn More Money

I was chatting with one of the kids recently and he pointed out that it seemed that most people pursuing FIRE were on really good salaries. He said that for them it was really just a question of pointing it out to them that they should save a big chunk of their earnings and they’ll be there in a few years. It should be easy for them as they can cover their basic needs with a tiny percentage of their salary, still have some fun money left over and then save the rest without too many problems.

First of all it’s nice to know that he’s been paying attention over the years when I’ve been banging on about money and FIRE. Is he right though? Well, certainly up to a point yes. It’s not rocket science that if you’re earning good money you have a much bigger capacity to save. Of course lifestyle inflation can all too easily creep in, and you might find yourself earning good money but with even bigger commitments. You can always do something about that though.

Although it can be frustrating to read about the big hitters in the FIRE community on fantastic money and being able to save a huge proportion of their salaries, there are plenty of us out there on much more modest income still doing our FIRE thing. Within a FIRE context I’m definitely on a low salary, and yet is that really the case in a wider context? A very quick google shows that the average UK income last year was around £30k, and I would imagine that would be down this year. I’m on about £32,500, so actually a little bit above average. Add in the extra perks I get, such as a base rate mortgage then I’m probably quite a bit better off than the average UK worker. I’m guessing if we averaged out the salaries for people striving for FIRE then I’d be very much near the bottom.

I’m not moaning about my salary, quite the opposite. For me this is the most I’ve ever earned. I’ve always valued time over money and have never gone for the sort of jobs that would have required me being “on” all the time. Compared to what I was earning seven years ago, this is a great salary for me. I’ve gone from £17k to £32,500 in seven years, which has definitely taken a lot of pressure of me as the sole bread winner in the house. It’s allowed us to have some fun money, which is always much appreciated.

I guess the next logical step would be for me to start earning more money. There are a few ways I could go about this:

  • Move companies and get a new job
  • Stick with the same job and be so good at it I get a pay rise
  • Keep the same job but develop some sort of a side hustle
  • Get a new job within the same company

Of these options a couple of them have some drawbacks associated with them., so let’s have a look at them in a bit more detail.

Move Companies And Get A New Job

If I join a new company I’m going to be penalised on my defined benefits pension. Although it was capped when I was working part time on a much lower salary and so isn’t still a full final salary pension, it’s still pretty attractive and there are some reasonably severe penalties for leaving the company early. It’s not that I couldn’t go down this route, but it would have to be a pretty spectacular job with a really good salary/benefits to make up for what I already have. Lots of the benefits I have now are typically still available to long standing staff, but aren’t offered to new starts. So if I went to a new company in the same industry I’d likely be losing quite a few perks.

I think if I was going to move companies then it would be because I decided to do something completely different. If there was something I was definitely decided on (there isn’t!) then it would be worthwhile to jump ship and accept that I might be slightly worse off for a period of time, but hopefully better off long term. I could retrain, and I have looked at some courses, but it’s a question of the costs involved and whether I would be working long enough to recoup those costs and make it worthwhile. The jury is still out on that. If I had a burning passion to do something then it’s quite likely I would just go for it, but in the absence of that conviction there’s a lot to be said for sticking where I am and keeping the benefits that I already have.

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Be So Good At My Job They Give Me A Massive Pay Rise

In terms of keep doing the same job but managing to get good pay rises, it’s a good theory, the practicalities of that not so much so. First of all it’s very hard to control pay rises, and I certainly don’t work in an environment where you can negotiate your salary. A few years ago I set myself an objective of getting a particular rating which would impact my pay rise and bonus positively. I worked my butt off all year, creating roles that didn’t exist and shoehorning myself into them. It was a time in my career when anything seemed possible. I got the rating I wanted and the pay rise that came with it. The issue is that there’s a limit to what the pay rise can be, and I’m limited by the grade that I am.

Nowadays we don’t even get ratings. It’s all down to what your manager thinks of you and what proportion of the pay rise pot they think you deserve. Of course you can be the best at your job possible, but without a formal rating system, it’s very difficult to judge how you’re doing. I regularly volunteer for additional duties to try and raise my profile within the department, but it does sometimes feel that you’re banging your head against a brick wall. We are so busy this year that I am regularly working for free just to manage my cases, so the thought of doing additional work on top of this to help with my development is sometimes too much to contemplate.

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Side Hustles

I could keep doing what I’m doing on the grounds that it’s not a bad job. On a good day I like talking to customers about their money and I’m good at what I do. Extra money would bring me closer to FIRE though, and I could keep doing any side hustle after I stop work, which reduces the amount I would need to save to live on. That’s a win win in my book. I’ve tried a few different side hustles so far, with varying success.

I like to get ideas from customers I speak to about how they earn their money, and my ears always prick up when I hear about potential side hustles. It’s always good if you can hear about it from someone who’s actually doing it already and making it work. One day I talked to someone who was self-employed. I probed a bit about his business. He sold things and was an author. Sounded intriguing, so I asked him to tell me more. All strictly work related, not at all to see if it could help me with FIRE. Obviously. Turns out he was making a fortune selling stuff on eBay and had written a best-selling book about it. On my next break I was straight on Amazon ordering his book.

I think it’s fair to say that side hustle wasn’t exactly an unqualified success. I think I was maybe a wee bit half-hearted about it. Probably the key to building an eBay empire is to source your goods from somewhere other than just your bookshelves and DVD collections. I made a bit, and I quite enjoyed it, but it most definitely did not make my fortune.

I then moved on to matched betting. I did better with this. I made a few mistakes, which I think is normal, but I soon got myself organised. I made a reasonable amount with this, but nothing earth shattering. I found the amount of time I was spending on it was difficult to justify based around the amount of profit that I was making. I may well revisit this at some point in the future to see if I can make it work for me.

My thoughts just now are thinking about ways that I can make use of my house to make money. In two year’s time both my kids will be off at university. That is going to leave me an awful lot of room in the house. Renting a room out may be something I look into. I’m really not keen on that whilst the pandemic continues, but hopefully at some point in the mythical future the world will be virus free again. I probably wouldn’t want to have a lodger all the time, but maybe students from abroad staying for a period of time might be a possibility. It’s something to think about anyway.

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Same Company, New Job

Probably a more realistic option to earn more is to move roles within the company. This is definitely something I need to work on. Up till now I’ve been somewhat restricted with what I can do hours wise because of the kids. I have a lovely fixed shift of 8am-4pm. I work every second Saturday which I could do without (although I guess as parkrun is not on just now it’s less of an issue!), but apart from that it’s a pretty sweet shift. This shift has been essential up till now because of the whole single parent thing, but now I definitely have more flexibility with them being older. Saying that, it’s not all about the kids. I have running clubs I want to go to on an evening, and you know, a life I’d like to live.

I used to worry that going for a different job would mean I’d need to add a commute into the mix. Just now I live a ten minute drive from the office. A lot of the other jobs are likely to be over in Edinburgh, which whilst not horrendous, would probably mean a 45 minute each way commute on the train. You’ve got the travel costs and the extra time out of your day to think about. In the current Coronavirus world though I’m guessing most of those jobs will be home working for the foreseeable future. That makes the thought of a new job a lot more attractive.

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My thought was always that when my youngest goes to university in two year’s time I’d be happy to go for a new job at that time. Which probably means that now is the right time for me to start to explore my options and work out what would be a good fit for me. I’ll start to build up some evidence of skills I have that I can use in interviews. I’ve just started a one year talent programme, which should give me lots of opportunities to get out of the comfort zone that I’m well and truly stuck in and build up some experience and new skills.

So really it looks as though I either look for a new job within the same company and/or develop a lucrative (ish) side hustle. Either way some extra money in the kitty is going to help with me reaching my FIRE targets. I know I’ll get there one way or another, as it’s something I’ve set my mind on, and once I’ve decided on something then it gets done one way or another.

The True Cost Of Having Children

The first thing to say is that I love my children with all my heart. Having them is without a doubt the best decision I have ever made. I was desperate to have children. I wanted a different sort of life from the one that I was living. I spent a few years surreptitiously going around the shops and looking at baby clothes. My husband at the time and I waited a few years before we started a family. Money was tight and he in particular was keen that we get ourselves in a better financial position before we added kids in to the equation. That was definitely a good plan, if somewhat frustrating at the time. So we cleared the credit cards and tried to get a little bit of money behind us to try and cover my maternity leave.

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Everybody tells you how expensive having children is. They’re not wrong of course, although I’m never quite sure where they get their figures from about how much it costs to raise a child. Based on the figures you see bandied about only millionaires would be able to afford one child, never mind multiple kids. I tend to think that children cost as much as you choose to make them cost. There are certain things that you can’t avoid, but plenty that you can minimise. I think I pretty much lived in Mothercare when I was pregnant with the first one. You’re growing this baby inside you and you just want all the nicest things that are completely unnecessary. Let’s be honest, baby stuff is cute and you want the best for your unborn child. The fact of the matter is that what’s important with children is the time you spend with them, not the stuff they have.

Set Up Costs

There are certain basics that you need – pram, car seat, something for it to sleep in etc. A lot of the extra stuff is not needed, and if you decide that it’s going to make your life easier then the chances are you’re going to be able to get it either for free or very cheap. By the time I had the second one I’d figured out that most of the baby stuff isn’t used for very long, so even if you get it pre-loved it’s probably not seen all that much usage. I was lucky that in our family there are four male cousins. What that meant was that the clothes would get handed down from my nephew to my two and then on to my younger nephew. Result! Even if you’re not in this lucky position, in my experience people are always trying to get rid of their kids stuff. There’s a lot of it and it clutters up your house. People would much rather give it to someone they know can make use of it.

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So as far as stuff goes, minimise what you buy, get stuff for free or second hand and remember that when your baby is first born you are inundated with presents for the wee one. People love it when a baby is born, and I found that neighbours I didn’t even know would leave gifts on the doorstep. A baby is a wonderful thing for bringing a neighbourhood together. Now although buying stuff for children can get out of hand, remember that you are in control of what comes into your house. I really don’t subscribe to the theory that you have to give your children what everybody else has. Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but my kids have never come home and asked for the latest designer label. That’s probably partly due to the way I’ve raised them and also the fact that they’re just not into that sort of thing.

Prioritise Experiences Over Stuff

I’ve always made sure that my kids could do what interested them in terms of activities. I’d much rather that I was spending my money on experiences for them – whether that’s them going to things like drama club, judo, swimming lessons or trips away with the school. I’ve also been comfortable saying no to things too. They didn’t even bother asking, but I saw there was a school trip to New York that cost thousands of pounds. Er no. If I don’t spend that sort of money on a family holiday then I’m not going to pay that out for just one of them to go. That’s the thing, as a parent you’re in control. You get to say no. As a parent there are plenty of things you’re going to be saying no to over the years, so you might as well get used to it. Is it any worse to say “no you can’t watch telly, go and find something else to do” or “no you can’t juggle with knives, it’s dangerous” or “no I’m not buying that for you, it’s a waste of money. If you still want it when it’s your birthday/Christmas then add it to your list”?

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Clearly everybody brings their children up differently, and I’m not trying to tell anybody what to do here, just saying what I did and how it worked. For me it was partly that I couldn’t afford to spend much on stuff, but mainly that I just didn’t think it was worthwhile. The house filled up with a tsunami of plastic crap no matter what I did, so there was certainly no need for me to add to what they had.

And don’t get me started on those Facebook posts at Christmas with the mountain of presents for the kids. Don’t, just don’t. There’s no need for it. The more you give the less impact each individual present has. You know what gift is going to bring joy to your child, not just on Christmas morning, but throughout the year. Some of the best gifts I got my kids over the years were a puppet theatre along with dressing up clothes for them to put shows on, bikes, an Xbox shared between the two of them and a shared laptop. I’ve been lucky in that my kids are only 18 months apart in age and have similar interests. This has meant that a present for one is effectively useful for both of them.

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The Extortionate Cost Of Childcare

That’s us dealt with some of the costs you can control with kids. Clearly there are some extra costs that you can’t do anything about. Childcare is an absolute killer. Unless you can manage your work around your kids then you’re going to need some sort of childcare or loss of income. Maybe some people manage to run a business from the house with the kids running around their feet. Hats off to them if so, because I cannot for the life of me see how that would be feasible.

Initially I went back to work full time working a late shift starting at lunchtime. This meant that I “only” needed childcare in the afternoon. With one child this was tough financially, but just about doable. Eighteen months later I added a second child into the mix. This time I had learned my lesson from the first time around where I’d gone back to work with a three month old baby at home. No sleep, a full on job and a touch of post-natal depression made that tough.

Second time around I took a full year off and went back to work part time, working in the evenings when my now ex came home from work. I couldn’t organise part time hours in the job I’d been doing, so I had to switch departments, drop a grade and obviously deal with less money coming in because of the fewer hours I was working. My eldest didn’t sleep through the night until he was four, my youngest used to get up at 6 am and I was working till 10.00 at night. So basically I was constantly exhausted, working a soul sucking job and never seeing my husband. We used to take it in turns to sleep at the weekends. Funnily enough we ended up getting divorced!

For me then I didn’t have any childcare costs second time around, but of course I was earning a lot less as a result. My pension got capped during this time as well, so what I’ll get in retirement is based on what I was earning during that time. A nice financial hangover of the child rearing years. Once the kids were at school I switched my hours to the daytime, but still worked part time so I could collect them from school. They went to the breakfast club in the morning as that was much better value than the after school club.

Luckily my parents have always had the kids to stay in the school holidays. That has been an absolute lifesaver. It’s meant the kids have a brilliant relationship with their grandparents, my folks have loved it and it has saved me a massive amount in childcare over the years. I honestly don’t know how I would have managed without them. Even now my dad’s been on hand to take them off to university interview days etc when I’ve been working.

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So from a cost point of view we’ve got the set up costs of having a baby, which as we’ve seen can most definitely be minimised. You’ve got childcare, which is hard to avoid. You either have to pay out for childcare or you have to organise your work life in such a way that you can look after your kids yourself. I went down the route of wanting to be there for them myself and earning less. In all honesty it probably would have suited me better to have worked during the day when they were younger. Being with them all day and then going out to work all evening was just too much. I think I might have appreciated them a bit more too if I’d had a bit more time away from them. A bit of time for myself. Linked to the childcare is the loss of income. You might choose to work less and not earn as much, change the type of work you do to fit in with your kid’s needs and earn less and you might be less invested in your career because of prioritising your children and so miss out on opportunities and so earn less. There seems to be a bit of a common theme going on here!

Maybe that’s not always the way it goes. It could be that having children motivates people to do well in their career and so be able to provide for their children. That’s not the way it worked for me, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t. There are plenty of people in higher grades than me at work that are parents, so maybe I’m just using that as a bit of an excuse. Certainly for me the kids were my priority, and anything else came secondary to that.

I’m definitely more risk averse since I became a mum. I very much feel that I have to be in a position to provide for the kids and make sure that we’re all OK. I used to be much more inclined to move from job to job and feel that if it didn’t work out then it wasn’t the end of the world. Now one of my first concerns is that my working arrangements fit around family life. They’re old enough now that this isn’t really something I need to worry about, and yet still I do. In order to move on within the area that I work in just now it’s likely that I would have to work much more often in the evenings. This has always stopped me going for other roles, as I feel I want to be there for my boys when they need me.

It doesn’t seem very positive so far does it? Kids are expensive in terms of getting set up for them. You have loss of income from maternity/paternity leave. You either need childcare or a change in working hours to look after them, which in all likelihood will mean you have less money coming in. You’re likely to be less flexible in taking advantage of advancement opportunities at work. And of course you can’t work away from home, which many roles might require. So you have less money, a less good career potentially and you’re constantly juggling schedules to make sure that your kids are looked after and are healthy and happy.

Babies Are Torture Machines

Oh, and did I mention that the first five years are brutal. Total and utter torture. Yes, babies are cute and your heart fills with joy when you see them. Yes, you know that you would die to protect them and would do anything within your power to keep them safe. That doesn’t take away from the fact that they don’t sleep, they cry a lot and they completely and utterly take over your life. I could not go back to the baby stage no matter what you paid me. I know this is not everybody’s experience. People love babies, they want to be needed and they just love how dependent their kids are on them. Not me. I was always trying to get my children to the next stage, to get them to need me less.

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I am willing to admit that I might not have been doing my parenting in quite ideal circumstances. A child that doesn’t sleep until he’s 4 is not necessarily the norm. My working arrangements, whist ideal from a financial point of view where not great from a life stand point. And when you throw a divorce into the mix when the kids are just 2 and 3 then it’s never going to be easy. I felt like I lost myself for quite a long time. I don’t feel like that any more, but I think it’s important to acknowledge how I felt at the time. Too often we see the idealised parts of family life on social media. I can’t be the only one who felt like this when my children were young.

Prepare To Be Exhausted

The children took absolutely everything that I had in terms of my energy levels. I was exhausted for such a long time. It’s hard being a parent, especially if you want to do it well. Maybe I could have given them more screen time to give myself a break, but that wasn’t how I wanted to play it. I have been far from a perfect parent. I have made lots of mistakes. I’ve been grumpy with my children, when I wanted to exude patience. I’ve craved time to myself rather than wanting to spend every waking minute with them. I am confident though that I have done the very best I could have done. Parenting is something I’ve taken incredibly seriously. I wanted to do my absolute best. I’ve fallen short on many, many occasions, but I know that I’ve given it my all.

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Reading this it sounds as though I regret having my children. This could not be further from the truth. Being a mum is the most important thing in my life. My kids are my top priority. I get the greatest joy from time with my family. Even when they were younger and it was much harder I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. It was hard though, really hard, and I think we need to talk about that more. I desperately wanted children, I waited a number of years before I started my family to make sure we were ready, and yet still it was incredibly difficult. The hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life by far. The most rewarding too mind you. If it’s something you really want to do, then go for it. Be aware though that it’s going to be tough. It’s also going to be the ride of your life.

Musings on Turning Fifty

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.

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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

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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?!

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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.

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Wanderlust

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!

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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.

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Cupid’s Arrow

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.