May 2022

I’ve been a bit lazy and didn’t do an April review. With the markets as they were I just couldn’t be bothered. I did update my spreadsheets, but never quite found the motivation to put out a post. I’m just going to skip straight to May’s review and take it from there. The figures in brackets are from March.

As usual I’ve got last month’s figures in brackets for comparison. I’ve got my Defined Benefits Pension in there based on twenty years worth of money if I start drawing it at 60. I track how I’m doing with my mortgage balance compared to my AVC balance. The reason for this is that I made a decision to mostly stop overpaying my mortgage. Instead I use that extra money to put more into my AVC fund. So hopefully I’ll start to see my AVC fund increase in value and more slowly my mortgage balance come down until they meet at some point and I have enough in my AVC fund to clear my mortgage when I retire. That’s the plan anyway.

Debts

Mortgage £87,006.60 (£87,933.02)

Assets

Cash £24,780.48 (£27,468.16)

Defined Benefits £137,586 (£137,586)

AVC’s £19,912.26 (£19,416.17)

Shares £82,037.05 (£79,431.87)  

House £278,089 (£278,089) 

Total £542,404.79 (£541,991.20)

Net Worth including house equity

£542,404.79 – £87,006.60 = £455,398.19 (£454,058.18)

AVC Fund vs Mortgage Balance

£19,912.26 – £87,006.60 = -£67,094.34 (-£68,516.85)

It’s all a bit depressing really. I’m trying to tell myself the markets are just on sale, but I’m not sure I’m really managing to convince myself. My cash amount is down a bit as I got some dividends from my work shares. I took this as cash and added some money from my savings to put into my index trackers. I hit £50k in my Vanguard account at the end of May for the first time. Of course it’s since ducked under again, but it was still nice to hit that figure. Considering it doesn’t seem that long ago that I stuck £600 in of dividend money just to test the waters. My plan is still to get rid of more of my work shares, but I’ll do it gradually.

So my overall figures are up, but considering this covers a two month period and I’m putting in as much as I can it’s not the most heartening of reads. It’s not impacting my strategy though. And in fact I have just increased my AVC pension contributions again. I’ll keep plugging away and hope that by the time I come to retire I’ll have squirrelled enough away to have a fun retirement, and hopefully be able to go a bit earlier than I would have if I hadn’t discovered FIRE. I need to remember that I’m looking at a worse case scenario of retiring at 60 on more disposable income than I’m living on now. Before I’m not sure I could have ever really fully retired. So that has to be a win.

I’ve got my five year fixed rate mortgage up and running now. I was sad to say goodbye to my staff base rate tracker mortgage, but the time was right for some peace of mind with rates as they are at the moment. It was the right decision for me, no matter what happens to interest rates. You can’t put a price on a good night’s sleep.

I seem to have become a bit of a spendy pants recently. I seem to be saying yes to everything that’s suggested. I’ve barely got a weekend with nothing happening between now and the end of the summer. That’s unheard of for me, but I’m really enjoying making up for lost time. Saying that, I’m still trying to do things as cheaply as possible and I still haven’t ventured abroad. I’ve even slightly curtailed my parkrun tourism. It’s difficult to justify a 2 hour plus round trip for a 30 minute run when there’s one a mile from my house. I am however getting very good at combining trips to fit in multiple activities to make the most of the astronomical petrol costs.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

It seems like a long time ago, but here are the goals I was working for in March.

  • Finish Duolingo Unit 6 of the Spanish tree. PASS. Delighted to get this one done and I’m working my way through unit 7 now, which I should hopefully get done by the end of the year.
  • Read the Spanish Intermediate short stories book that I’ve bought FAIL I’ve not even picked this up. I think it’s a bit too difficult for me which is putting me off. Must do better.
  • Watch 16 episodes of Betty en NY PASS. I am about 75 episodes into this. It’s total trash, but it’s pretty much my go to if I have a spare 45 minutes and fancy watching a bit of telly.
  • Reach 100 parkruns. PASS. I’m so happy about this one. I’m wearing my 100 tshirt with pride
  • Book a trip to Alton Towers for the summer PASS. This is all booked and we’re off there next week.

I’ve managed to tick off a few things from my 60 for 60 list as well. (I did say I was saying yes to things!) I’ll do a post on that later in the summer as I’ve got a couple more things coming up soon that are on my list. The main one is the marathon I’ve just recently completed. I’m so chuffed with that, even though it was incredibly tough. And there’s not long till my ultra marathon, so I just need to get my legs sufficiently recovered to be able to manage those 34 miles.

Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU on Pexels.com

As I have so much going on running wise just now I’m not going to set myself any goals for June. I need to get myself to the start line of the ultra fully recovered from the marathon, injury free and believing that I can complete the route. I know what I need to do, I just need to put my big girls pants on and get it done.

March 2022. Warning, there was lots of running and not much else.

As usual I’ve got last month’s figures in brackets for comparison. I’ve got my Defined Benefits Pension in there based on twenty years worth of money if I start drawing it at 60. I track how I’m doing with my mortgage balance compared to my AVC balance. The reason for this is that I made a decision to mostly stop overpaying my mortgage. Instead I use that extra money to put more into my AVC fund. So hopefully I’ll start to see my AVC fund increase in value and more slowly my mortgage balance come down until they meet at some point and I have enough in my AVC fund to clear my mortgage when I retire. That’s the plan anyway.

Debts

Mortgage £87,933.02 (£88,443,23)

Assets

Cash £27,468.16 (£26,496.43)

Defined Benefits £137,586 (£137,586)

AVC’s £19,416.17 (£17,360.11)

Shares £79,431.87 (£75,798.37)  

House £278,089 (£278,089) 

Total £541,991.20 (£535,329.91)

Net Worth including house equity

£541,991.20 – £87,933.02 = £454,058.18 (£446,886.68)

AVC Fund vs Mortgage Balance

£19,416.17 – £87,933.02 = -£68,516.85 (-£-71,083.12)

The figures are pretty consistently better than last month. It’s nice to see a bit of a bounce back in the markets. I’ve got a bit more cash as a result of my annual bonus, although I’ve spent that already on car expenses this month. Not very exciting, but at least I didn’t have to dip into my savings to cover the cost. It’s great to see my AVC’s doing a bit better. I’m putting a decent chunk of my salary into those, so it’s good to start to see them grow a bit. It will be nice to get my net worth including the house to half a million. I imagine I’ve got a while to go with that depending on what happens to house prices. It’s a bit of an arbitrary one as I’ve no intention of selling my house any time soon.

I do worry a bit that I’m spending more than I should be. I’m putting a good amount in investments each month, but that doesn’t leave an awful lot over for fun stuff. Nevetheless I do seem to be having plenty of trips away. I’m working on the assumption that I should say yes to things as none of us know how long we’ve got on this planet. It’s all well and good saving for the future you, but you also have to take care of current you as well. I guess if that means I’m using up some of my savings then I can probably live with that. I still have far too much cash sitting there anyway, so using it for trips down to Cambridge to drop my son off and visiting far flung parkruns is probably a pretty good use for it.

Let’s have a look at the goals I set myself for March now.

  • Follow marathon training plan PASS This is most definitely my priority just now. The rest of my life is having to fit around my training plan.
  • Follow ultra training plan PASS I still can’t quite imagine how I’m going to make it around 55km, but I’m following the plan and there’s still plenty of time to go.
  • Complete half marathon race I did the Alloa half marathon which was a gorgeous one. The villages we ran through were a bit on the scruffy side, but the views of the hills more than made up for it. I was chuffed with my time too. 2.08 hours and I felt pretty strong. I didn’t even totally hate the killer hill at 11 miles.
  • Trip to Ipswich to do parkrun (sorry I mean to collect my son from university, even if Ipswich is 50 miles in the wrong direction. That is absolutely nothing to do with needing an I for the parkrun alphabet challenge!) PASS Dad and I had a lovely trip to Ipswich, bagged an I for our challenge and spent some quality dad and daughter time. We even remembered to go and collect my son. Result.
  • Watch 16 episodes of Betty en NY PASS I’m still enjoying this, understanding a fair amount and not finding it a chore to watch it. The only problem is making the time with all this running that I’m doing.
  • Set up retire at 55 spreadsheet FAIL As this was a goal for February too then I think it’s safe to say I’m not all that fussed about getting this done. And let’s be honest there’s no great rush. Chances of my retiring at 55 are slim to non existent. No doubt one rainy afternoon I’ll get around to setting this up, but for now I’m going to stop setting it as a goal.

A pretty good month one way and another. I’m doing absolutely loads of running and walking. I’m managing to get the miles in one way or another. Really it’s finding the time that’s the most difficult thing. This working for a living really gets in the way of my training. I can just about manage it if there’s not too much else going on, but try and fit in a bit of a social life and it gets pretty difficult. So this weekend dad came to stay for a night for yet another parkrun related adventure. Not long after he arrived I finished work and then promptly had to go out for a 9 mile run. And next week I need to do a 14 mile run before driving to Newcastle for yet another parkrun/uni dropping off road trip. We’ll not even talk about the day after the Alloa half marathon where I’d booked a day off work to recover and realised that was the only day that week I would have time for my long run, so had to go out and run 18 miles.

The training period for the marathon has had to be extended as well. I was due to do the Stirling Marathon in May, but they’ve just cancelled it. They’re saying it’s because there weren’t sufficient numbers signed up, but that doesn’t seem all that likely. They postponed back in October too, so this is the second time I’ve been training for this marathon that’s not going ahead. There’s no way I wanted to have to start afresh for another race later in the year, so I’ve signed up for another marathon a month later than the original one. It’s in Perthshire and should be beautiful, if somewhat hilly with 1500 ft of ascent. I’d better get hill training!

Time to set some goals for April then. It goes without saying that I need to keep plugging away at my marathon and ultra training plans. Keeping that in mind I’m not going to set myself much else to do. I’ve got to be realistic about how much time I’ve got.

  • Finish Duolingo Unit 6 of the Spanish tree. As long as I’m consistent on this one then I should be fine. I’ve worked out what I need to do every day, so I just need to stick to that
  • Read the Spanish Intermediate short stories book that I’ve bought. I’ve already read the Beginners one, so hopefully I’ll cope with this one just as well
  • Watch 16 episodes of Betty en NY
  • Reach 100 parkruns. I’m very excited about this one. I’m almost there. Helped by the fact that I’ve gone on a secondment and so am not working Saturdays for the next few months.
  • Book a trip to Alton Towers for the summer. I really want to book some family time in whilst my offspring are still happy to spend time with me
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

That’s plenty to be getting on with along with all the running that I need to be doing. All in all it’s not been a bad March, and it’s great to be seeing the signs of the summer to come. We’ll just have to ignore the snow and hailstorms that randomly keep appearing between the sunny spells!

February Review

As usual I’ve got last month’s figures in brackets for comparison. I’ve got my Defined Benefits Pension in there based on twenty years worth of money if I start drawing it at 60. I track how I’m doing with my mortgage balance compared to my AVC balance. The reason for this is that I made a decision to mostly stop overpaying my mortgage. Instead I use that extra money to put more into my AVC fund. So hopefully I’ll start to see my AVC fund increase in value and more slowly my mortgage balance come down until they meet at some point and I have enough in my AVC fund to clear my mortgage when I retire. That’s the plan anyway.

Debts

Mortgage £88,443,23 (£88,933.02)

Assets

Cash £26,496.43 (£26,841.91)

Defined Benefits £137,586 (£137,586)

AVC’s £17,360.11 (£18,132.06)

Shares £75,798.37 (£82,111.70)  

House £278,089 (£269,000) 

Total £535,329.91 (£533,671.67)

Net Worth including house equity

£535,329.91 – £88,443.23 = £446,886.68 (£444,738.65)

AVC Fund vs Mortgage Balance

£17,360.11 – £88,443.23 = -£-71,083.12 (-£70,800.96)

We all know the markets are down. The world is going to hell in a handcart and there’s not much we can do about it. Apart from some minor adjustment to my strategy, which I’ll talk about in a moment, I’m just carrying on the same as always. Yes my shares are down, but then that’s the same for everybody. I’m still putting money in each month to investments, so no change there. The one good thing about the state of the markets is that it seems to have cured me of my daily habit of checking my Vanguard account. It used to be my treat to myself after work. It’s more trick than treat now, so funnily enough I’ve not checked it for weeks!

Based on recent Bank of England base rate increases, including yet another one yesterday, I was starting to get a bit jittering being on a tracker mortgage. Yes, it tracks the base rate exactly, so for a long time I was only paying 0.1% It’s hard to argue with that. We now have an alternative staff mortgage which is a discounted fixed rate. If you go over to that you can never revert back to the base rate tracker. I absolutely love my  tracker mortgage, but this month I bit the bullet and moved over to the discounted fixed rate. I’ve tied in to a 5 year fixed rate at 1.49% Considering the base rate is already up to 0.75% I’m more and more convinced I’ve done the right thing. There’s no way I’ll be in a position to pay my mortgage off before the five years is up (I wish!) so I reckon it’s a good call. I feel like I’ve future proofed my mortgage nicely there and it will help me sleep at night without worrying about future rate rises.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

As a result of that application I found out the index valuation for my property rather than relying on the Zoopla estimates that I’ve been using up till now. Not that an index val is necessarily all that accurate, but I’m happy to go with the higher figure. As my plan is to use the cash lump sum from my AVC fund to repay my mortgage when I retire I have slightly increased the amount of AVC’s I’m putting in each month. I can’t really afford an increase, but I’m sure I’ll manage somehow, I always do!

Not much else to say really. The figures are rubbish, but in the grand scheme of things there’s more important things happening in the world. At least I’m not getting bombed, so I’m counting my blessings. I’m readjusting my mindset to a potentially slighter later retirement age. I was thinking 58 was definitely possible, with 57 being potentially achievable with a following wind. I’m now thinking that maybe I should pace myself for retiring at 60, and if I can go earlier then fantastic. I think if I have the expectation of going at 57 and then I have to work an extra 3 years then that will feel awful. Much better to over achieve I think rather than grumping my way through an extra three years of work that I didn’t think I was going to have to do.

Without further ado let’s move on to how I did in February against the goals that I set myself.

  • Continue to follow my marathon training plan PASS I’m now half way through the plan and although I’m slow as anything I’ve done all the miles that I’m supposed to up to this point
  • Find an ultra training plan and figure out how to combine this with the marathon plan PASS I’ve found a plan with the best name in the history of the world. It’s the couch to 50k plan. My race is 55k, so I need to tweak it slightly, but I’ve started already and so far am managing to combine the marathon and ultra training
  • Walk at least once a week PASS I’m doing twice a week. Once for 90 minutes and one for just under an hour. This is not a chore, I absolutely love it. Particularly nice now the nights are getting a bit lighter
  • Do 2 lessons a day on Duolingo Spanish PASS I’m doing great with this. I’m really enjoying it and feel that I’m definitely making some progress
  • Watch at least 4 episodes a week of Betty en NY in Spanish PASS I actually watched more than this. This has become my go to boxset. Crucially I don’t have an English language boxset on the go, so if I fancy some down time watching telly I just stick this on.
  • Finish setting up spreadsheets with alternative retirement dates and how much I need to have in investments (Finally a FIRE goal, yay!) ALMOST! I’ve done up to retiring at 56. I’ve still got the retire at 55 spreadsheet to do, but quite honestly that is such a fantasy spreadsheet that it’s barely worth doing. I’ll get around to it at some point, but honestly there’s no rush
  • Go to the cinema and watch The Godfather (It’s always good to have a fun goal, and considering how much I love this film I have to take advantage of it being on the big screen for an anniversary showing) PASS And I even saw the second one at the cinema too. I didn’t manage to make it there for the third one, but it was fabulous to be back at the cinema

Reading that back I’m pretty chuffed with myself. I’ve worked hard this month. I do feel that I’ve pretty much just worked, run, done Spanish and slept. My house is chaotic, I’m constantly chasing my tail and despite getting to bed early I feel like I’m not getting enough sleep. I’m doing it though. I’m on track with my training plans and as long as I can stay injury free I should be good to go with both the marathon and ultra.

There’s not much time in my life for much except work and running just now. My goals for March are going to reflect that, so they’ll be very similar to last month’s

  • Follow marathon training plan
  • Follow ultra training plan
  • Complete half marathon race
  • Trip to Ipswich to do parkrun (sorry I mean to collect my son from university, even if Ipswich is 50 miles in the wrong direction. That is absolutely nothing to do with needing an I for the parkrun alphabet challenge!)
  • Watch 16 episodes of Betty en NY
  • Set up retire at 55 spreadsheet
Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU on Pexels.com

That’s more than enough to be getting on with. There are only so many hours in the day after all. 2022 seems to be turning into the year for running. I’ll focus on that, get some of my 60 for 60 goals ticked off and then turn my attention to other things next year. I probably need to stop entering so many races though. It’s starting to get beyond ridiculous. I’m sure there’s worse hobbies to have though.

January 2022. Running, Eating, Spanish and some FIRE Stuff

As usual I’ve got last month’s figures in brackets for comparison. I’ve got my Defined Benefits Pension in there based on twenty years worth of money if I start drawing it at 60. I track how I’m doing with my mortgage balance compared to my AVC balance. The reason for this is that I made a decision to mostly stop overpaying my mortgage. Instead I use that extra money to put more into my AVC fund. So hopefully I’ll start to see my AVC fund increase in value and more slowly my mortgage balance come down until they meet at some point and I have enough in my AVC fund to clear my mortgage when I retire. That’s the plan anyway.

Debts

Mortgage £88,933.02 (£89,423.23)

Assets

Cash £26,841.91 (£27,620.56)

Defined Benefits £137,586 (£137,586)

AVC’s  £18,132.06 (£18,246.40)

Shares £82,111.70 (£82,183.43)  

House £269,000 (£269,000) 

Total £533,671.67 (£534,636.39)

Net Worth including house equity

£533,671.67 – £88.933.02 = £444,738.65 (£445,213.16)

AVC Fund vs Mortgage Balance

£18,132.06 – £88,933.02 = -£70,800.96 (-£71,176.83)

Cash is down a bit yet again. Life seems to be very expensive at the minute. Car repairs, insurances, trips away, lots of petrol for yet another big long trip to Cambridge to drop off uni boy. You know what though? Life is for living. The car repairs I could do without, but the trip to Cambridge was brilliant and the more things like that I can do the better. I’m not frittering money away on nonsense. I’m spending money on things that I need or experiences that I want. I’m not breaking the bank and I still have plenty in savings, so I’m not going to worry too much. Not very FIRE of me, but what the hell!

Photo by Aleksandr Neplokhov on Pexels.com

Considering the state of the markets just now I’m fairly happy with my investment figures. Down very slightly despite me having paid another month’s worth of money in, but it could be a lot worse. Given the recent Bank of England base rate announcements I’m slightly jittery about the amount of mortgage debt I have. I’m sticking with my decision to barely overpay my mortgage and stick the money into my AVC fund instead. Unless interest rates get ridiculous I’m happy this is the right route for me. Time will tell I guess.

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January has gone fairly well. Mum and dad came up to stay for a week which was lovely but quite full on. I was working, but we managed to get plenty of walks and talks in. I’ve lived on my own (well with the kids) for so long I find it quite exhausting having other people in the house. It’s made me realise how much I value my own company and time to myself. Saying that we did have a great time and it was lovely to spend time with them.

I’m well in the swing of half and full marathon training now. In terms of the number of weeks I need to complete on my marathon training plan I am now a quarter of the way through. Of course the miles really ramp up the further you get through the plan. In a moment of rash confidence I have signed up for an ultra marathon in the summer. An ultra is anything longer than a marathon, in this case 55km or 34 miles. Having said last year that I thought I should stop doing the longer races as I kept getting injured, I now have 2 halves, 1 full and 1 ultra marathon race this year.

Doing a full marathon and an ultra is on my 60 for 60 list, so it’s not completely come from nowhere. My thinking was if I was training for a marathon then I might as well combine that with training for an ultra. Having signed up I’m not quite sure how compatible the training is going to be. In an ultra the idea is that you cover the miles as efficiently as possible. So you walk the hills and run the flats and downhills. You also eat as you go, so I need to practice fuelling on the go. How bad can it be??? I go from complete and utter exhilaration at the thought to total terror at getting lost in the woods and never being seen again.

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I didn’t set specific goals for January, but this is what I wanted to work on.

‘A trip to Cambridge, start my marathon training plan and get my eating sorted and my weight back to  where it usually is. I also want to finish unit 6 of the Spanish Duolingo course.’

I had a great trip to Cambridge and I am well in the swing of my marathon training. The eating is a little bit all over the place. I’m doing a bit better now, but it’s not been great. My weight has fluctuated quite a bit. I started HRT this month, so I’m going to go with that’s the reason. I’m not quite sure it is, but it’s possible I guess. Either way we’re mid February now and I’m less than half a stone from my ideal weight. I’m trying not to focus on that too much. I want to eat for my health and not for my weight. Saying that I really don’t want to be dragging excess weight around with me when I’m running long distances. I’m working hard on my Duolingo Spanish. I don’t know what I was thinking saying I could finish unit 6. Getting unit 6 and 7 is realistic by the end of the year, so unit 6 is going to take me a while. I’m enjoying it though and still feel that I’m making some steady progress.

For February I don’t think it’s going to be a massive surprise that running features quite a lot. Here’s what I want to work on

  • Continue to follow my marathon training plan
  • Find an ultra training plan and figure out how to combine this with the marathon plan
  • Walk at least once a week
  • Do 2 lessons a day on Duolingo Spanish
  • Watch at least 4 episodes a week of Betty en NY in Spanish.
  • Finish setting up spreadsheets with alternative retirement dates and how much I need to have in investments (Finally a FIRE goal, yay!)
  • Go to the cinema and watch The Godfather (It’s always good to have a fun goal, and considering how much I love this film I have to take advantage of it being on the big screen for an anniversary showing)

That’s plenty for me to get cracking with in February. Work is busy with lots of new things for me to learn there. Managing work, getting my runs in, not eating too much rubbish and getting plenty of sleep . If I manage all of that then I’ll be happy.

Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich on Pexels.com

Goals Vs Habits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU on Pexels.com

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

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

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

August Review

It’s time to see how I got on in August, both in terms of my money and working on 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 track how I’m doing with my mortgage balance compared to my AVC balance. The reason for this is that I made a decision to mostly stop overpaying my mortgage. Instead I 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 £91,392.92 (£91,885.11)

Assets

Cash £29,026.93 (£34,725.71)

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

AVC’s £15,431.04 (£14,534.87)

Shares £71,318.81 (£66,050)

House £269,000 (£250,000)

Total £515,430.38 (£495,964.18)

Net Worth including house equity

£515,430.38 – £91,392.92 = £424,037.46 (£404,079.07)

AVC Fund vs Mortgage Balance

£15,431.04 – £91,392.92 = -£75,961.88 (-£77,350.24)

A couple of things to talk about in those figures. I took £6k out of my savings and put them in my Vanguard Stocks and Shares ISA. As a single parent I really like having a good chunk of money in the bank “just in case”. I figured £29k in savings is probably still enough to let me sleep at night, but has a bit more of my money working harder for me. Definitely a good decision, but I think that’s probably as far as I’m prepared to go for now.

Putting that extra money into my Vanguard account has the added advantage that I now have more money in index trackers than I do in work shares. I still have far too many of those shares, but at least I’m going in the right direction. My plan is to sell about £4k worth of the works shares before the end of the tax year to max out my ISA for the year. I’m going to try and wait for the share price to hopefully go up a bit, but no matter what I think I’ll stick to that plan. Considering only 18 months ago I only had £650 in my Vanguard account and everything else was in my work shares, I’m pretty pleased with my progress. Of course I’ve not actually bitten the bullet yet and sold any shares, but I will.

I’ve put a higher house value in there this month. It’s just based on a Zoopla figure, so I’m not sure quite how accurate it would be. It doesn’t really matter anyway as I’m not planning on selling any time soon, and although I include my figures with the house equity in there, it’s not really something I’m particularly focussed on.

Let’s move on now and see how I got on with working on the goals I set myself. Here’s a quick reminder of what I was working on.

  • Do at least one 13 mile training run. DONE. I managed a 14 mile run last weekend. It was only supposed to be 13, but I got lost in the woods and ended up running a different route to what I expected. I managed to keep going till I found my way home and was happy to get 14 miles in the bag.
  • Get down to ten and a half stone. FAIL. I’m actually back up at 11 stone again. This is a bit of a recurring pattern for me. It is what it is.
  • Get at least seven and a half hours sleep a night at least five nights a week. PASS. I’ve really made sure that I focussed on this. I just need to keep this going now.
  • Climb Scafell Pike. PASS. I loved, loved, loved this. It felt relatively easy, which was great, but still felt like a great achievement.
Photo by Eric Sanman on Pexels.com

I’ve done well with my goals this month. I’m not setting any goals for September. My mental health has taken a bit of a battering recently. It’s certainly strange times that we’re living in, and work is also proving incredibly stressful. I’m normally pretty resilient, but I think it’s fair to say things have been getting too much for me for a while now. There’s only so long you can just plough on pretending everything is ok. I’ve finally been to the doctors and have got some help in the form of a prescription and a bit of time off work. I’m hoping I’ll start feeling a bit more like my usual self quite soon, but in the meantime I’m going to hunker down, get myself in a better place and be a bit nice to myself. The only thing I want to achieve this month is getting the Great North Run done and getting myself in a better head space. If I can manage that then I’ll be happy.

Freezing February Review

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

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

Debts

Mortgage £94,345.97 (£94,838.70)

Assets

Cash £35,523.72 (£34,965.12)

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

AVC’s £10,814.45 (£10,307.70)

Shares £52,479.19 (£49,209.19)

House £250,000 (£250,000)

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

Net Worth including house equity

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

Net Worth excluding house equity and Defined Benefits Pension

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

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

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

Mortgage Neutral, whoop whoop!!

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

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

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

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

Let’s get some goals set for March then

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

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

January 2021 Review

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

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

Debts

Mortgage £94,838.70 (£95,330.62)

Assets

Cash £34,965.12 (£34,503.66)

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

AVC’s £10,307.70 (£9,826.32)

Shares £49,209.19 (£49,278.21)

House £250,000 (£250,000)

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

Net Worth including house equity

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

Net Worth excluding house equity and Defined Benefits Pension

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

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

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

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

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 2020 Review

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

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

Debts

Mortgage £95,330.62 (£95,822.50)

Assets

Cash £34,503.66 (£34,304.08)

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

AVC’s £9,826.32 (£9,139.84)

Shares £49,278.21 (£50,102.75)

House £250,000 (£250,000)

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

Net Worth including house equity

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

Net Worth excluding house equity and Defined Benefits Pension

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Gabriela Palai on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November Has Been A Belter

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

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

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

Debts

Mortgage £95,822.50 (£96,314.61)

Assets

Cash £34,304.08 (£34,114.80)

Defined Benefits Pension £130,653.60 (£123.683)

AVC’s £9,139.84 (£7,176.61)

Shares £50,102.75 (£40,001.04)

House £250,000 (£250,000)

Total Assets £474,200.27(£454,975.45)

Net Worth including house equity

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

Net Worth excluding house equity and Defined Benefits Pension

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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