Running the Great North Run and September Net Worth

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

Debts

Mortgage £90,900.44 (£91,392.92)

Assets

Cash £28,202.74 (£29,026.93)

Defined Benefits £137,586 (£130,653.60)

AVC’s £15,346.81 (£15,431.04)

Shares £73,460.94 (£71,318.81)

House £269,000 (£269,000)

Total £523,596.49 (£515,430.38)

Net Worth including house equity

£523,596.49 – £90,900.44 = £432,696.05 (£424,037.46)

AVC Fund vs Mortgage Balance

£15,346.81 – £90,900.44 = -£75,553.63 (-£75,961.88)

There’s a few things to say about these figures. I received some dividends on my work shares which I reinvested in index trackers. I also finally bit the bullet and sold a chunk of my work shares and reinvested the money in my Vanguard account. Work does a share match scheme which I’ve been doing since it was introduced years ago. If you keep them for five years you get free shares and they are tax and NI free. I sold about £4k worth, which was all of them which I could get rid of without having any tax and NI implications. The cost to sell is on a percentage basis as you’d expect, with a minimum charge of £20, so selling this many made sense as it cost me the same to sell this many as it would have done to get rid of a smaller amount. Also the amount I then put into my Stocks and Shares ISA means that by the end of the tax year I will have filled my tax free allowance. Happy days.

I topped up both the dividend money and the share sale cash with some money from my current account so it was a nice round figure I was putting in. As a result my cash amount is down slightly, but with more than enough there for an emergency buffer. I’ve still got too many work shares, but it certainly feels good to have made a start on diversifying. I’ll not be doing any more this tax year, but the plan it to repeat this process in subsequent years. I have one load of the work shares in a S&S ISA, which I might keep just in case they go back to their old levels, but the plan is to keep moving more over to my Vanguard account. We’ll see what happens to the markets, but I’m reasonably happy with my timing of this shuffling around. The work share price was not too bad, and as we know the markets generally are pretty rubbish, so hopefully I’ve bought index trackers whilst they were on sale. Time will tell, but either way I’m happy with the strategy.

My annual statement is out for my Defined Benefits pension and so my annual amount that I’ve accrued has increased. This is now reflecting in my figures above. It’s nice to see it increasing, but frankly it’s slow progress. I’ve only got 9 years to go until my official retirement age, but they really seem to penalise you if you go early. I’m sure there’s some jiggery pokery I can do nearer the time with going part time if I can afford it to keep me hanging on right till the bitter end.

Not much else to say I don’t think. Things are just plodding on, mostly in the right direction. My AVC fund is slightly down, which is annoying, but in the grand scheme of things not the end of the world. Everything is taking a long time to get to where I want them to be, but I think I just need to get used to that fact.

I didn’t really set myself any goals for September. I wanted to complete the Great North Run and try and sort my mental health out, which has taken a bit of a battering. I did complete the Great North Run. I had a fantastic day and was really pleased with my time. I was aiming for around 2 and a half hours, and I managed to sneak under 2 hours 10 minutes. It wasn’t a PB, but I felt really strong and I absolutely loved it. It was strange not finishing in South Shields due to a Covid forced change of route, but it was brilliant getting to run over the Tyne Bridge twice and running through Newcastle city centre was really special. The consensus seemed to be that it was a harder course than normal due to the amount of hills at the end. It was very hilly, but I have to say I really enjoyed it. The support was brilliant as always and I managed to spot family and friends out on the course who had come out to support me. I’m already signed up for next year.

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As far as my mental health is concerned, that’s still a work in progress. We’re living in strange times, and I am finding that increasingly difficult to deal with. Things are not terrible, but they’re not great either. Hopefully I will start to feel better soon. In the meantime I’m incredibly grateful for the support of my family and friends. It’s really true that it’s when things are tough you find out who’s really there for you. Having never really had to deal with mental health issues before I’m gaining an appreciation of what so many people have to live with.

Now is not the time for me to be setting goals for myself. I’m trying to eat healthy foods, I’m sleeping loads and I’m trying to get out running a couple of times a week. I’m learning a bit of Russian in a half hearted fashion and spending time with my youngest before he goes off to uni next year. That’s enough for now. I will get back to smashing my goals, but for the rest of 2021 health is the priority and not putting any unnecessary stress on myself.

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.
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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.

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.

Reflections On Lockdown

It feels like things are changing now, so it’s been making me reflect on how lockdown has been and lessons that I want to take from it. I feel almost embarrassed to be saying this, but I’ve actually enjoyed lockdown. I mean, clearly not the death, worry and not being able to see friends and family. That part has sucked, but there’s definitely been a lot of good things to come out of this awful situation.

Now that things are starting to open up and get back to some sort of normality, is it just me that has decidedly mixed feelings about this? Clearly there are some things that I am desperate to get back to. Seeing family, parkrun, races, not needing to be constantly looking when you’re about and about to make sure nobody is within 2 metres of you. There are also lots of things that I really want to keep. As we come out of this really weird situation I really hope that we take the opportunity for some self-reflection and work out what’s really important to us and what has just been a distraction all along.

For me I’ve realised that I have a lot of the basics covered already. I’m pretty clear on my values and know what adds value to my life and what is a waste of my time, effort and money. My family unit is pretty strong. Despite sharing lockdown with two teenage boys we are closer than ever. There’s been very little conflict and we still enjoy spending time together. We’ve given each other plenty of space. We’re really lucky in having a good sized house and a nice garden. I’ve got four bedrooms, so even with using one as an office there’s still lots of room for us all to spread out. I do appreciate how fortunate I am. My sister shares a two bedroom flat with her twelve year old son. They are very cramped in there and there has inevitably been a few fallings out between the two of them.

What I really hope is that as things start to ease up things don’t just go back to how they were. I really see this as a chance for the earth to heal itself from all the damage that we’ve inflicted on it. If you’d said to us last year that planes wouldn’t be flying, the roads would be empty, shops would be closed and we would mostly all be working from home then we’d have thought that you were crazy. There’s no way that would ever happen. But happen it has.

The Country’s Finances

I talk to lots of people every day with my job. It seems to me that the world has pretty much split into furloughed and still working people. I’ve had to come off Facebook as I think if I read one more post about how bored someone was then I was going to scream. I realise it must be incredibly difficult if you’ve got nothing to do and you’re worried about the money side of things. It is however incredibly frustrating to keep hearing about how bored people are when you’re rushed off your feet working harder than ever to try and keep up with customer demand.

The health aspect is obviously awful, but the economic fallout is almost as bad. This pandemic has starkly demonstrated the fragility of people’s finances. People were phoning us almost immediately the crisis hit to say that they were struggling to pay their bills. They literally were one pay away from financial disaster. These are not just people earning minimum wage. Some of these people earn really good money. It doesn’t matter how good your salary is though if you spend all of it and more. If you have a pile of credit card debts built up over the years on all the essential things that you absolutely had to have, then when you get furloughed you’re going to have a problem.

What’s Going To Change?

Working towards FIRE is a real benefit when something awful like this pandemic hits. We’re already used to living on less than we’re earning, so if needs be we can look for other ways to adapt our finances. Clearly the financial buffer is a real asset, but perhaps even more so is the adaptable attitude. I’m really not great with change, but striving to reach FIRE has made me examine my finances more closely and look at different ways of doing things. Although I haven’t made any big changes as a result of CV19, I do feel that my frame of mind is slightly different than it was. Something truly shocking has happened to our world, which has resulted in wholesale change in the way we live our lives. Hopefully lots of these things will only be temporary deprivations, and we’ll gradually get to reintroduce some of the fun things that we’ve all been missing.

I honestly believe that things can’t just go back to how they were. I hope not anyway. For me there’s been a fundamental change in how I think about the world. It’s almost as though one of the worst things I could possibly have imagined has happened, and yet the world continues. Coming out of the other side how could we possibly go back to the hum drum worrying about trivial things. We will, of course we will. It’s only natural. I really want to try not to though. I’m not sure if it’s as a result of working from home, but I’m finding it much easier to focus on what’s really important to me. I’m not saying I’m not getting caught up in the day to day stresses of work, because there have certainly been plenty of those. I am however finding it slightly easier to remind myself that as long as my boys and I are healthy, happy and flourishing then there’s not really too much else to worry about.

Paying For Petrol For The First Time In Forever

I had to fill the car up the other day for the first time since lockdown. I’ve realised during this time how well set up I am to barely need a car at all. I’m definitely driving less than I was before. I’ve introduced a new personal rule that on any under 3 mile journeys I won’t use the car unless there’s some sort of a constraint such as taking the kids, heavy shopping or not having the time to go under my own steam. I walked to B&Q yesterday to pick up an order. It’s only a mile and a half from my house, and I definitely would have taken the car in the past. Instead I walked down, picked up my 5 litres of decking stain and set off with a fairly heavy rucksack for the walk home. Yes it was a bit uncomfortable walking home with that on my back, but I backpacked around Spain carrying all my camping equipment many years ago and survived that, so some decking stain definitely wasn’t going to break me. I still haven’t got into using the bike for errands, but I have bought a bike lock and started scoping out quiet routes into town. It might well be baby steps, but if it stops me having to replace my car for a while then that’ll all be to the good.

Holiday Time

I’m just coming towards the end of a week’s holiday. My teenagers are spending two weeks with their dad so I get to be just Sassenach Saving, and not Ms Mum as they call me. I had planned to spend this week studying Spanish, watching some more of the free Yale online lectures, running, walking, cycling, writing, reading etc etc. I would needed to have been off for about a month to get through everything I had planned. Instead things panned out quite differently. I was video chatting with my folks last Sunday and mentioned that I was off work for a week. They turned to each other and suggested that I create a bubble with them so I could come down to visit. They’d been reluctant to do this before as they were shielding due to their age. They were feeling a bit more confident as time passed and were now happy for me to visit.

I threw some things in the car, actually paid out for some petrol and had a beautiful sunny drive down the A68 to start my trip away. It was so lovely to catch up with them. I also managed to do some socially distanced socialising with my sister and nephew. I was only down there for a few days, but we managed to pack quite a few things in. Video chatting is great, but it’s no substitute for actually being able to see someone in person and make sure that they actually are doing ok. I felt much reassured after having spent some time with them.

My sister loves to walk so she found a lovely route for us to do on the beautifully named Red Kite Trail. Named as they released 94 red kites in the area. We didn’t manage to see any that day, but my sis repeating the route a few days later and was lucky enough to see one soaring above her. We did manage to see rabbits, deer and a particularly acrobatic squirrel leaping from a post to the branches of a tree, along with the usual farm animals. The whole thing was twelve and a half miles, including taking the scenic route along the river (it’s not getting lost if you get to enjoy beautiful scenery whilst enjoying a slight diversion).

Another day myself and the folks had a trip to the seaside. We drove the route of the Great North Run, as clearly that’s not going ahead this year and I’ve had to defer my place till next year. Right from the start on the central motorway, all the way along to the front at South Shields. I have to say it was much easier in the car, but even then it did seem quite a long way. I don’t very often get to drive the route of one of the half marathons that I’ve run, so it really brought home how it is a pretty big achievement to run one. I tend to think that a half is not that big a deal. You know what, it kind of is.

We spent a few hours in South Shields where the sun was very conveniently shining for us. Even so the place was reasonably quiet and it was easy enough to keep our distance from other people. We had fish and chips and I kept up my usual tradition of paddling in the sea, getting soaking and realising that I probably should have brought a towel with me. I really should learn the lesson that if I’m at the coast I’ll be going in the sea come what may. It was even pretty warm, which is not something you can usually say about the sea on that particular stretch of coastline.

So all in all it was a fantastic break away. I caught up with family, did some great walking and managed to get out and about whilst remaining safe. It did make me realise that although I’ve enjoyed staying home during lockdown I really need to make myself go out. I have hermit tendencies that can get out of hand if left unchecked. Sometimes you need to get out in the world and experience new things and places.

For me the biggest things to come out of lockdown are I want to keep working from home, driving less and focussing on reaching FIRE. I need to make sure that I also remember to make time for fun activities and catching up with family and friends. I love to learn and get exercise, but I also need to make sure that I actually see people. It’s absolutely fantastic that I can now run with my friends again. That is such a big part of my life, and things seemed slightly out of balance when I was having to run on my own. I think moving forward getting enough social interaction is going to be crucial to ensure that homeworking is sustainable for me, particularly as my boys grow up and fly the nest.

August Goals Update

So here’s our Graham with a quick reminder of my goals for August and how I did against them

  • Lose half a stone. PASS To say I’m delighted with this one would be the understatement of the century. I’ve lost ten pounds. Now admittedly a lot of that was weight that I’d put on over the summer, so I’m still heavier than I would like to be, but still, ten pounds is not to be sniffed at. The key to this has been putting My Fitness Pal on my phone. I’m tracking everything that I’m eating, and my god the change in my portion sizes as a result has been incredible. Even just things like my bowl of bran flakes that I have when I get in from work. 30 grams is the recommended amount. I dread to think how much I was having before, at least 3 times that amount I would think. I pretty much weigh everything now. It’s getting a lot easier now that I have some regular meals saved in the app, so one click adds them for me. I love as well that it links up to Map My Run and gives me extra calories for the day based on the walking and running that I’ve done. The day I did the Great North Run it gave me an extra 1500 calories to use. Let me tell you that after running a half marathon I used every single one of those extra calories. Ravenous doesn’t even come close to it.  

So I reckon that I’m probably at the stage now where I’ve lost the easy initial weight. The greedy fat that shouldn’t really have been there. Looking at my eating during the day I’ve realised how much of a snacker I am. That’s ok though, as I’ve just replaced my old massive snacks with smaller more healthy ones. I also love as well that you start afresh each day. So in the past I would eat rubbish, think that I’d blown it so I might as well give up. Now I get my allocation of calories for the day each morning, so no matter what I did yesterday, I can stick to the right amount of food today.  The key now is going to be to sustain this when it gets harder to lose weight. I’ve also downloaded an NHS app with 12 weekly charts which you fill in each day with the number of calories you’ve eaten and put your weight at the start and the end of the week. I’m three weeks into that now, so if I can sustain that through the whole 12 weeks I should be fairly close to where I want to be.

  • Get 8 hours of sleep 2 nights a week and 7 hours a night 3 nights a week. The other 2 nights I’m not too worried about. FAIL I can’t in all good conscience put this as a pass when I look back over my sleep tracker. I’m not doing too badly, but I could be doing better. Most weeks I’m probably averaging about 7.5 hours sleep a night. I’m definitely not being consistent at getting 8 hours, which is ridiculous as I know how much better I feel when I get more sleep. I seem to have stopped doing that stupid thing of staying up really late at the weekend, despite the fact that I’m getting up early the next morning to run. So that’s definitely a positive. I also no longer make it a habit to only get 6 hours sleep a night. I’m not saying it never happens, but it’s the exception rather than the rule. So I’ve made some improvement on this one, but there’s still a ways to go. What has changed is that I’m not napping nearly so much now. I’m still walking every lunchtime at work rather than sleeping. And if I am tired when I come in from work I’ll often just lay down on the couch for 5 minutes and recharge my batteries but don’t actually fall asleep. I’m taking this as a good sign that my body is less exhausted than it was.
  • Do my physio exercises 5 days a week. PASS This is just what I do now.  Every day without fail. It’s the first thing I do when I get up in the morning. I’m now down to only having to run with a support on one knee rather than both of them. I managed the Great North Run without any twinges and successfully made it up a Munro without my knees giving out. I think I’m always going to have to be careful, but hopefully incorporating my exercises into my morning routine will keep injuries at bay.
  • Do cross training once a week – swimming, yoga or walking. PASS I feel I could do better with this one, but as I’m walking every week day lunchtime this is most definitely a pass. I’ve done yoga a few times in the house, but I haven’t got a set time when I do it, which means it’s a bit hit or miss. I need to build that into my routine, maybe a certain day when I get back from my run. I really need to put swimming back in my life too. I’m annoying myself with this one as I love swimming when I’m doing it, but I can never be bothered going. When I was seeing that guy earlier in the year I would meet him without fail at the baths 4.30 on a Sunday and we would swim. There’s absolutely no reason why I can’t start doing that again.  
  • Decide on where I’m going to put my dividend money when it gets paid next month. PASS The dividend has been paid, I’ve opened up a Vanguard ISA, decided on some index trackers that I’m happy with and transferred my first lot of money over. At some point I’m going to sell some shares and put more into this ISA, but I’m just waiting for an improvement in the share price. I’m not sure with all the Brexit uncertainty that now is the time for me to be offloading finance related shares. I’ve got a share save scheme maturing in January and I’ll be taking the profit from that and popping that into these index trackers too.

So overall I’m happy with how I’ve done. The weight loss is great, I just need to sustain that now. Sleeping is still a bit of a mixed bag, but I’m definitely still moving in the right direction. My physio exercises are just part and parcel of my morning routine now, as automatic as cleaning my teeth. I’m walking regularly, and really enjoying it, although I’m sure I’d benefit from yoga and swimming in the mix too. I’ve finally got around to sorting myself out with some index trackers. Very little in there at the moment, but it’s all ready to go as and when I get more money for investing.

So What’s Next?

So time to set some more goals for myself. As I’m so far through September already I think I’ll set combined goals for September and October. That way I’ll hopefully be able to make a bit more progress.

  • Lose another 4 pounds. Based on how I’ve been doing so far this should be an easy one. Saying that, I’m sure the weight loss will be slowing down. I’ve lost the easy weight so far, so four pounds is a manageable amount. This will bring me down to ten and a half stone, which is a reasonable weight for my height. When I get to that point I can reassess and see if I want to go any lower.
  • Get 8 hours of sleep 2 nights a week and 7 hours a night 3 nights a week. Exactly the same as my last attempt to get more sleep. Let’s see how I get on this time
  • Do yoga once a week. I think if I just schedule this in then I should be fine to achieve this. I’ll do it after my Sunday morning run. That will help me to cool down and remind me that I need to do it. I just need to persuade myself that when I get home I want to stretch rather than put my feet up.
  • Swim once a week. Again, this is one that I need to build into my schedule. Sunday night always used to work well for me, so I think I’ll go back to that again.
  • Make a start on that book that I always meant to write. I’ve come up with a bit of an idea. I don’t know if it will be any good or not, but I suppose there’s only one way to find out. It’s fiction, but there’s some research I need to do to help with the setting of the story. I want to have this background research finished by the end of October, have a slightly more detailed idea of the plot and to have written profiles for the four main characters. Just typing that out is scary. I’ve thought for so long that I would like to write a book, well let’s be honest, doesn’t everyone think that?  I’ve had a couple of false starts in the past, but I think now might be the time to actually go for it. To commit to at least seeing what I can do.

That’s enough for me to be working on for now. I’ll build on my successes over the summer, keep my good habits going and try and bring some new things in to my routines. I’m still working away at my Spanish on Duolingo, with a 119 day streak now. I can’t help but think that if I can work on my book every day for the next 119 days I would have a fair amount of work done on it. Again it’s going to be building time into my already quite full schedule to allow me to achieve my goals. This working for a living certainly gets in the way of spending time on your goals. I’ll get there though, it’s only a matter of time.