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

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

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

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

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

  1. Vogrie parkrun DONE A lovely run in a gorgeous setting, and with the bonus of getting me a V for my parkrun alphabet challenge.
  2. South Shields parkrun
  3. Gibside parkrun Whinlatter parkrun. Sadly Gibside parkrun didn’t return after lockdown, but Whinlatter in the Lake District is supposed to be equally beautiful and just as brutal.
  4. Run a marathon (Again, but made a better job of it than I did last time) I have signed up for the Stirling marathon. It was supposed to be in October, but Covid has forced a delay until May next year. That gives my plenty of time for training. Yikes!
  5. Do an ultra
  6. Do a triathlon
  7. Become a parkrun tourist DONE
  8. Do parkrun A-Z I’m getting there. I still need an A, I, Q,R,U,Y and Z. I have a plan for all of those.
  9. Do the Granada half marathon
  10. Do 100 parkruns I’ve done 81 parkruns in total now, so I’m well on my way.
  11. Do 250 parkruns
  12. Volunteer 25 times at parkrun
  13. Run the Road to the Isles half marathon
  14. Do the Kielder Dark Skies run
  15. Do the Chariots of Fire race
  16. Do a parkrun abroad Probably combine this one with getting a Z for my alphabet challenge.
  17. Walk up Arthur’s Seat
  18. Walk the West Highland Way
  19. Cycle around Loch Leven
  20. Run the Loch Leven half marathon
  21. Learn a ballroom dance
  22. Finish the Duolingo Spanish tree I’m making very slow progress on this one.
  23. Write a book
  24. Do some volunteering
  25. Become mortgage neutral DONE. I don’t even think about this any more, but I was so happy to achieve this.
  26. Get my AVC fund to £50k
  27. Get my Equities fund to £125k
  28. Pay off my mortgage
  29. Go part time at work
  30. Retire
  31. Learn to do the 3×3 cube without notes (again, and don’t forget how to do it this time)
  32. Do the cube in under 1 minute 30 seconds
  33. Climb Ben Nevis The plan is to do this next summer with my brother and sister.
  34. Climb Scafell DONE. I did this over the summer with my brother and sister. Absolutely loved it.
  35. Climb Snowden Same as Ben Nevis, we’re planning to do this next summer
  36. Get the en suite done Dull, dull, dull. Don’t know what I was thinking with 36-39. Swim in a waterfall is the much more exciting replacement. I did a taster session on wild water swimming earlier in the year and I really loved it.
  37. Get the kitchen done Go wild camping. I’m starting to put together a lighweight camping kit as all my stuff is fine for camping with a car, but a bit heavy for hiking to beautiful spots. That’s my next few birthday and christmas presents sorted!
  38. Get the bathroom done Hike the Hadrians Wall walk. My sister and I are going to do this. We walked part of it in the summer, but it would be great to do the whole thing, and the plan is to wild camp to keep the costs down and kill two birds with one stone in terms of me ticking things off my list. We’re currently thinking the summer of 2023 for this one.
  39. Get new carpets Walk around Kielder reservoir. DONE. I did this over the summer with my brother and sister. I absolutely loved doing this. The 26 miles almost finished me off, but it was such a great walk.
  40. Go to Italy
  41. Visit Copenhagen
  42. Go to Russia This is in the planning stages just now. I’m hoping to go there next year with the kids. I originally was thinking that an organised tour would be a good idea as Russia just seems so unknown. Looking at the prices though I quickly decided against that. The current thinking is go for a week, splitting our time between Moscow and St Petersburg. We’re all trying to learn a bit of Russian just now. My older brain is taking a while to absorb the alphabet, but I love the sound of the language, so it would be great to be able to speak it a bit.
  43. Go back to Cuba
  44. Do a tour of the Scottish Islands
  45. Go camping in Europe
  46. Go to the Alhambra in Granada (again, but I love it there)
  47. Go to the German Christmas markets in Germany rather than Edinburgh
  48. Do a trip in a campervan
  49. Go to San Sebastián
  50. Go to Cyprus Swim in a tidal pool. We have a few in Fife and they look fantastic.
  51. Go to Canada
  52. See the Northern Lights
  53. Have a trip on the Jacobite Express DONE. The folks and I had a trip to Fort William earlier this year. The Harry Potter train most definitely did not disappoint. Fantastic scenery, and the whole day was just perfect.
  54. Stay in a wigwam
  55. Go white water rafting
  56. Watch the Graham Norton show being filmed
  57. Go out for a really good breakfast
  58. Go to a TEDx event
  59. Visit London
  60. Go to Gairloch and my favourite ever campsite DONE. I managed four days camping there during the summer. It was so great to be back and it’s just as beautiful as I remembered.
Photo by Gantas Vaiu010diulu0117nas on Pexels.com

I’m very happy with what I’ve managed to get done over the last year or so. I’ve ticked seven things off my list, so am right on track for getting everything done by the time I’m sixty. Of course all the expensive stuff is still to do, but I’ll worry about that a bit further down the line. Worse case scenario I might need to shift some things to my 70 for 70 list when that gets up and running.

June and July Review

I’m going to do a combined June and July review seeing as I hadn’t got around to doing my June post by the time July was ready to get published. What can I say. I’m a summer girl at heart and when the sun shines I’m outside making the most of it rather than being huddled over my laptop.

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 £92,377.27 June £91,885.11 July (£92,869.64)

Assets

Cash £34,541.56 June £34,725.71 July (£35,002.04)

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

AVC’s £14,026.62 June £14,534.87 July (£13,131.25)

Shares £65,289.39 June £66,050 July(£66,329.57)

House £250,000 (£250,000)

Total £494,511.17 June £495,964.18 July (£495,116.46)

Net Worth including house equity

£494,511.17 – £92,377.27 = £402,133.90 June £495,964.18 -£91,885.11 = £404,079.07 July (£402,246.82)

AVC Fund vs Mortgage Balance

£14,026.62- £92,377.27 = -£78,350.65 June £14,534.87 – £91,885.11 = -£77,350.24 (-£79,738.39)

I’m reasonably happy with those figures. The work share price is pretty rubbish at the minute, but even so things are all going in the right direction. I’ve still got too much cash sitting there as a bit of a security blanket, but I’m in the process of transferring £6k out of my savings account and putting that into my Vanguard ISA. That will show in my August figures. No doubt I should get rid of even more savings, but for now that’s enough for me. I like having enough easily accessible so that I feel I can deal with unforeseen circumstances. I might move a bit more money around at some point, but for now I’m happy with what I’ve done.

Not much else to say about those figures. As I mentioned in my last blog post I’m a bit bored with thinking about FIRE. I guess it’s probably natural. I’m doing what I need to do to get to where I want to be. I don’t need to think about things too much. I go through spells where I spend far too long looking at my spreadsheets. Once in a blue moon I’ll have a Eureka moment, where I think of a way to work smarter not harder with my finances. Putting extra money into my AVC fund instead of overpaying my mortgage was one such instance. Thinking about how much cash I have on hand is another example, even if my naturally cautious nature means I haven’t gone as full on as I could have done with depleting my savings account and putting more into index trackers.

As I mentioned at the beginning I’ve been making the most of the summer. I love it when the sun shines, so I’ve been dashing out to the garden on my breaks and straight away after work. Yet another benefit on working from home. Although I don’t feel like I’ve been particularly productive, I have managed to tick a few things off my 60 for 60 list. I’ve also amended it a bit; replacing a few slightly dull activities with more adventurous ones. I’ll write a post at some point with an updated list and a bit of chat about how I’ve found the things that I have got done.

I’m just coming to the end of my two week holiday. I’ve managed a slightly more normal holiday than last year, but still far from what I would have planned. I managed to get away camping in the north of Scotland, back to one of my favourite camp sites. I could only get three nights booked, but it was great to get away and enjoy the fantastic views. I also visited my folks and made the most of parkrun having restarted in England. I got myself to Hexham for a fabulous riverside parkrun which was lovely and flat. I also met up with my brother and sister and we walked a mammoth 26 miles around Kielder reservoir. That’s the furthest I’ve ever walked, and I was completely exhausted by the end. The sense of achievement was incredible though. It’s been a good summer of walking for me. I climbed The Cheviot, the highest peak in Northumberland and also walked a stretch of Hadrians Wall. Next weekend will see me back down south and climbing Scafell Pike. I’m definitely getting some good things ticked off my 60 for 60 list.

Photo by JACK REDGATE on Pexels.com

It’s back to work on Monday and I’m already dreading getting back in the swing of things. As usual my time off has made me reflect on what my life will look like when I do finally achieve FIRE. I’m hopeful that there’ll be lots of running and walking in there and plenty of travel too. I’ve noticed that lots of the conversations I have with my friends eventually come round to retirement and what our plans are. I don’t think it’s usually me that brings it up, so I guess I must just be of that age where my friends are making plans hopefully to stop working in the next decade or so. It will be nice to have other people retired so that I have some people to hang out with during the week. Much as I enjoy my own company it’s good to have people to share the fun with.

Unusually I didn’t set myself any goals to achieve on my last post. Making the most of the summer seemed more important. I still feel like that, but I do have the Great North Run coming up in September, so I really need to focus on that. Let’s hope some goals around that will be useful. Here goes then.

  • Do at least one 13 mile training run. I’m already up to ten miles, so this should be an easy one. Training plans don’t usually recommend that you do the full distance in training, but I’m a rebel and always like to know I’ve done the full amount before the big day.
  • Get down to ten and a half stone. I was doing great with my eating and my weight was more or less where I wanted it to be. After two weeks off work that’s definitely no longer the case. I’ve not even got on the scales, and have no intention of doing that before Monday morning. Come Monday though I need to be on it healthy eating wise.
  • Get at least seven and a half hours sleep a night at least five nights a week. Sleep is always important, but never more so than when you’re in training. I’ve been a bit bad with this for a while now, so it’s time to sort that out.
  • Climb Scafell Pike.
Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

I think that is plenty to be getting on with. I’ll focus on my health for a bit and reintroduce some good habits. All in all things are ticking along quite nicely. I’m having a lovely holiday, even if I do seem to have spent a fair bit of it getting stuff done, like booking dentist appointments and cleaning the house. That’s always the danger with a staycation. It has given me the time to make some plans though and I can’t tell you how much I loved getting back to parkrun. Only a week to go until it restarts in Scotland and then I can get my Saturday morning fix on a regular basis.

Money, Goals and Running for April

April seemed to go by in a bit of blur. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. Let’s see how I did in terms of my Net Worth and working towards my goals.

As usual I’ve got last month’s figures in brackets for comparison. I’ve got my Defined Benefits Pension in there based on twenty years worth of money if I start drawing it at 60. I used to track how I was doing with my net worth minus the house equity. This was to see where I was in my quest to become mortgage neutral. Now that I’ve well and truly achieved that I don’t feel the need to track that any more. Instead what I’ve decided to do is see how I’m doing with my mortgage balance compared to my AVC balance. The reason for this is that I made a decision to mostly stop overpaying my mortgage. Instead I used that extra money to put more into my AVC fund. So hopefully I’ll start to see my AVC fund increase in value and more slowly my mortgage balance come down until they meet at some point and I have enough in my AVC fund to clear my mortgage when I retire. That’s the plan anyway.

Debts

Mortgage £93,361.71 (£93,853.99)

Assets

Cash £35,708.53 (£35,668.12)

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

AVC’s £12,464.24 (£11,634.04)

Shares £61,194.27(£57,266.53)

House £250,000 (£250,000)

Total £490,020.64 (£485,222.29)

Net Worth including house equity

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

AVC Fund vs Mortgage Balance

£12,464.24 – £93,853.99 = -£81,839.75

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

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

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

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

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

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

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

  • Finish couch to 5k. I’m on track for this. As long as I don’t get injured again I should be able to finish this no problem. The latter part of the programme is building up the length of time you run for, with no walking at all. I’m being careful to follow the schedule and not rush on ahead and get injured again.
  • Cross train twice a week. I’m trying a new strategy to stay injury free. Instead of running four times a week I’m going to stick to three times weekly and put in some walking or cycling on top of that. I’m hoping going out on the bike will strengthen my hip without putting any strain on it. That’s the plan anyway.
  • Start a new Spanish series. I have picked one and added it to my list on Netflix. I can’t for the life of my think what it’s called, but I know I’m good to go with it.
  • Weigh under ten and a half stone on 1st June. Going back to an old favourite of mine. I was ten stone 7.2lb on the 1st May, however I’ve had a week’s holiday since then. The fact that I haven’t been on the scales since the first of the month probably tells you all that you need to know. I’m a bit annoyed with myself with this one as I was doing so well. Time to get back on it.
Photo by Dylan Howell on Pexels.com

I think that will do for the month. As usual no money goals in there, which seems ridiculous when this is supposed to be a FIRE blog. I never really see the point though. I’ve got things set up how they need to be. Unless I earn more then I’m not going to be able to save and invest more. I’m working on the earning more angle with my 9-5, but realistically that’s probably going to take a bit of time to come to fruition. I have everything automated in terms of my investments, so there’s no point setting myself goals around those. And randomly trying to achieve a certain level of net worth seems a bit pointless. The markets will do what they will do, and whilst I’m happy when I hit certain random figures, setting myself goals around that doesn’t seem like a good use of my time.

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

Sixty Things To Do By The Time I’m Sixty List

I turned fifty last year. It wasn’t nearly as traumatic as I thought it might be, despite having most of my celebrations cancelled due to lockdown. About six months before I turned the big 5-0 I started writing a list of fifty things to do before I was fifty. I think it’s safe to say that I’d probably left writing this list a little bit late. For me I think that long term goals are what I like to aim for when it comes to lists like this. I ended up putting things on there that I didn’t really care about, just so I had things that I felt I’d be able to do quickly and fairly easily. I think if I’d got to almost 50 without feeling the need to go and get my nails done, then it’s fair to say that it wasn’t something that I was all that bothered about. That turned out to be a pretty rubbish list and I barely got anything ticked off on it. At the same time though I started writing a 60 things to do by the time I was 60 list. I found I actually had more things on this list than the one for when I turned 50, although nowhere near 60 things.

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

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

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

So here’s my list.

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

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

Photo by Daniel Reche on Pexels.com

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

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

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

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

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

Did We Really Invent FIRE?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Lockdown Easing

It feels that we’re starting to shift towards a slightly different mentality when it comes to lockdown. Things are beginning to open up a little bit, but more than that, people’s thinking seems to be changing. It’s noticeable in the supermarket where you see people huddled together chatting rather than getting in and out as quickly as possible to avoid infection. Whether that’s right or not is a can of worms that I think I’ll leave well and truly alone. It seems a bit quick to me, but I can just follow my own rules and leave other people to behave as they see fit. I’ve absolutely no interest in becoming the lockdown police.

I’ve got the added complication that I live in Scotland but all my family are down in England. So I’ve had the joy of trying to decipher two lots of rules. For my day to day life it’s Nicola Sturgeon that I’ve been listening to. Whatever you think about her politics I think most people would agree that she’s handled this situation well. She’s been a voice of reason and not scared to say the unpopular things that keep us safe. She’s not been afraid to say that although Boris is saying it’s now about staying safe not staying home, I’m telling you to stay home. And if you haven’t yet seen the voice overs that Janey Godley does of her speeches then check them out, as they are brilliant.

I’ve been trying to keep up with things south of the border as well so that I can figure out what’s going on with my family, make sure they’re safe and crucially trying to figure out when I can get down to see them. I have to say I’ve found a lot of Boris’s advice pretty much incomprehensible. Safe to say I’m very glad I’m in Scotland and following Nicola. She’s come across as very statesman like through all this. Or should that be stateswoman like? Either way she’s been reassuring, confident and told it like it is.

We’re not out of lockdown yet, but we are starting to see some easing. We still can’t get haircuts yet, but that should be coming in soon. I’ve become a dab hand at cutting my fringe, but that’s about as much as I’ve dared. My kids are looking slightly like shaggy dogs, but they’re not bothered and I quite like their somewhat hippy looks. The most exciting thing for me is that we can now meet up with two other households outside. And of course we all know what that means. I get to run with friends again. I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed that. I totally lost any motivation to run at the start of all this, but I’ve gradually got back into it. I’m totally unfit still, but at least I’m consistently running again. I’ve had two runs now with other people and it was just the nicest thing ever.

I’ve really been missing parkrun. That’s usually such an important part of my weekend. I’d done lots of touristing to various parkruns, but when it was clear that we were about to have the final parkrun for the foreseeable future then I headed back to my local park for the final Saturday and volunteered as a marshal to cheer everybody on. This gave me a chance to catch up with everyone and get more or less caught up on my volunteering debt before everything stopped. That was a perfect morning, made all the more poignant for knowing that we wouldn’t be seeing each other for some time.

This morning I was out for a run with a friend. We were doing a 10km route that used to be a race a few years ago, and was being put on as a virtual lockdown challenge by our running club. You do it whenever you want during the allocated week and post your results. I’ve been studiously ignoring these challenges as I didn’t want to be reminded how unfit I was. This one looked fun though, so the two of us plodded around and put the world to rights. It’s amazing how much I’d lost the ability to talk and run at the same time. Not if I wanted to be able to breathe too anyway. I used to be quite good at that, so that’s definitely a skill I need to relearn.

The route was three laps starting and finishing in the park where parkrun is normally held. We met at 9 and were chatting before we got started. Then we saw a runner we knew so had a lovely talk with him. As we were running through the park on each lap we kept seeing people we knew from parkrun and more general running circles. Then it twigged that it was the anniversary of that particular parkrun, so lots of people were doing a pretend parkrun to celebrate. At the end we were talking to loads of runners we knew. It was at that point I realised just how much I’d missed the social aspect of running. Going out for a run is a lot of fun, but add friends into the mix and it becomes this amazing experience.

I really can’t wait for parkrun to get going again, but I fear that’s a long way off. Parkrun HQ have said the a whole country needs to be in a position to put on the event for any to be able to start. We’re classed as part of the UK, so although we might be able to cope locally with the numbers involved, some of the bigger ones down south would be swamped and unable to do any kind of social distancing. Bushy, where it all started routinely gets massive numbers, so there’s no way it would be feasible for them. I’m doubtful that we’ll be back this year, but I’d be delighted to be proved wrong.

At the start, like everyone,I was feeling pretty stressed about the pandemic. I was still going into the office, in a cubicle crammed in with people everywhere. I work in a call centre environment, which is hardly ideal for social distancing. They were paying lip service to keeping people apart. We had a one way system in place in the office, which was ridiculous and did absolutely no good. Teams were having meetings in the stairwells to say they were socially distancing, but all that meant was you had to walk past them to get to your part of the office.

Eventually they realised that there wasn’t enough space to have everyone in at the same time, so I came back after lunch one Monday to be told to go home for the rest of the week so that everyone could be spaced out in the office. That lasted until the Wednesday when they realised that they needed everyone working, so just come back the next day and it would be fine. Then we had a confirmed case in the building so were closed for two days for a deep clean. I had a few day’s holiday after that and I was dreading going back into the building.

There are fifty five of us working in my particular area. We are crammed into cubicles with a walkway between the middle of our part. There was no way to be two metres apart. They were claiming it was fine and that we could still use the walkway without there being any problems. How ridiculous this assertion was has now been demonstrated by the fact that they have now decided that out of the fifty five of us that work in that part, we can safely accommodate six of us in the office.

When I was due to go back on the Monday I decided that I wasn’t prepared to work there any more. They were trying to get laptops for everybody so that we could work from home, but it was taking some time to organise. I sat down with my good old spreadsheets and worked out how long I could live on my stash if I had to. I’d recently done some extra borrowing on my mortgage as I knew at some point I was going to need to replace my car and the boiler. I’ve also not been able to use my en suite since it leaked through the kitchen ceiling last year, so at some point I’ll want to get that sorted. I decided to borrow an extra £20k on my mortgage.

I’m very fortunate to have a base rate mortgage through work, so at 0.1% I’m not too worried about increasing my borrowing. I’ve just stuck it in a cash ISA for the meantime and it’s making me more than it’s costing me. As they’re due to withdraw the staff mortgage for any new borrowing at some point this year I figured it would be good to take advantage of that whilst it’s still available. I’m actually wondering if I shouldn’t maybe take some more and just tuck it away. It goes against the grain for me as I have spent a long time overpaying my mortgage and love to see it coming down, but the numbers don’t lie. Since I’ve done the extra borrowing I’ve reduced the amount that I’m overpaying and put that extra money into index trackers again. I would love to be mortgage free, but for now I think it’s probably more important to build my investments.

So my cash figure is almost certainly higher than it should be at the moment. As I’m barely using my car just now it will hopefully not need replacing quite so quickly. I’m going to wait till the boiler completely gives up the ghost. The last time it got serviced the said that they can’t get parts for it any more, and a couple of times a year it stops working for a couple of days and we have no heating or hot water. Cold showers are far from ideal, but most of the time it works, so I’ll just hang fire until there’s no option but to replace it. The en suite I’m hoping I can mostly pay for out of the cash that’s built up in my current account, but I’m in no rush to get that done either.

So the bottom line is that I have a good amount of cash if I needed it to live off. When I worked my figures out on the Sunday night when I was due to go back in to the office the next day I reckoned that on a bare bones survival budget I could probably last for about three years. Clearly that’s a sign that I have too much cash, but it definitely worked in my favour. I wasn’t going to quit the next day, but having that money gave me the confidence to say I’m happy to work from home if you have a laptop for me, but otherwise I’m away home and let me know when my laptop’s here. I’m not sure how comfortable I would have felt saying that if I didn’t have a back up plan of cash in the bank. So even without being financially independent working towards FIRE gave me options that I might not otherwise have had.

When I went in on the Monday though there was a laptop for me, so I was able to head straight home and get set up in the spare room. It took a while to get all the technology working, but it’s gone pretty well. I was initially a little sceptical about how I would find working from home. We already had some people home working before all this kicked off. They had to come in to the office one day a week at least, but the rest of the time they worked at home. I had thought about it when it was offered and I was very tempted. I thought it would be a really good opportunity to see how I found being at home and not having the interaction at the office. This is something I worry about a little bit for that mythical point in the future when I reach FIRE and can quit the rat race. As I don’t have a partner and just have two teenage boys for company in the house I worried that I might find it quite isolating.

Turns out I didn’t need to worry. I love working from home. Admittedly it’s only been a few months, but I’m pretty sure I’d be fine doing this long term. I’m just doing my normal job, taking calls through the laptop, speaking to customers and keying applications for them. I was concerned that I’d find it hard to switch off without having the separation of home and office. Of course I sometimes think about work when I’m off, but then that was the same when I was working from the office too. I love being able to pop down on my break and put the washing out or just sit in the garden. We’ve been very lucky with the weather, but it hasn’t been sunny the whole time and I’ve still loved being at home.

I thought I would miss my colleagues, but no, not so much. I’d like to say there’s no office politics now, but that would be pushing it a bit. We’re operating business as usual. We’re incredibly busy, so there’s a lot of pressure to get on and take calls. Balancing that with dealing with cases for customers you’ve already dealt with is always tricky. So that’s no different. My boss is still on my back about my stats, but it’s a lot easier to deal with that when I’m in my lovely spare room rather than in a soulless cubicle. I’m enjoying the video meetings with my team, but I’m finding that twenty minutes a day is enough contact with my colleagues.

I’m definitely more focussed on my customers. I feel like I’m having better conversations with them because I’m not in such a distracting environment. It feels like I’m doing a better job and my confidence in my abilities has definitely grown. The job I do has a lot of grey areas. We’ve policies we have to follow, but because I’m advising people on their finances there aren’t always definite answers. I used to rely a lot more on discussing cases with colleagues. Now I tend to just read the policy, follow my gut and stick to my guns. So homeworking is a big tick in the box. I enjoy it, I’m managing without the office gossip and I feel like I’m developing new skills.

Like everyone else I’m now finding that I’m getting about three weeks to the gallon with my car. I’ve actually not had to fill up once since lockdown, which is amazing. I didn’t feel like I did an awful lot of driving before, and only used to have to fill up about once a month. These last few months have really made me start to think about my car usage. I had already been trying not to use the car so much for short journeys. As I only work about three miles from home I really shouldn’t be using by car for commuting, but I was. My current thinking is that even once everything starts to ease I’ll just keep home working. Even if I have to go to the office once a week eventually, then that will still cut down my car use considerably. I have even been thinking about cycling to work. It’s definitely doable.

My old bike has been on it’s last legs for a long time now. The tyres and brakes were completely shot and it was a heavy old beast at the best of times. I’d got rid of it just before lockdown hit and the plan was always to get a new one. The start of lockdown seemed as good a time as any to do this, so I got myself a new bike delivered. Just under £200 got me a decent hybrid bike, suitable for road and a bit of off roading too. I was very excited about this and the first day it arrived I got myself out after work to the cycle path that’s only half a mile from my house. It was a lot of fun and over the next few weeks I managed to build up to about an hour’s riding without feeling like I was going to die.

I’m ashamed to admit though that I’ve only been out on it a grand total of five times. I’ve enjoyed it every time I’ve gone out, but I just don’t seem to have got in the habit of getting myself out there. It’s partly because I’m really enjoying my running again, and I never feel the need to exercise more than once a day. I’ve realised that rather than going out on the bike for exercise, I would rather that it was a means of transport to avoid me going in the car. I haven’t actually done anything about this, but I have started thinking about ways to get places I would want to go on the bike without needing to be on main roads. Where I live I’m really central for getting to the local town, so there’s no excuse for me using my car all that much. Definitely something for me to ponder a bit more and think about implementing some changes to the way I get about.

It will be interesting to see what changes come about once we do come out of lockdown fully. No doubt some things will go back to normal, but hopefully some of the more beneficial changes will be here to stay. I need to gather my thoughts on that and see what changes I want to bring about in my life from what I’ve learned from lockdown. Once I’ve come to some conclusions I’ll no doubt share my thoughts.

September And October Didn’t Quite Go According To Plan

Time’s marching on again, so time to see how I did on my combined September and October goals. This should be a quick update. I’ll just put a big fat fail next to all of them and we’ll say no more about the matter. I think the fact that I couldn’t actually remember what my goals were tells you all you need to know. Still, for the sake of being thorough, here goes.

  • Lose another 4 pounds. PASS. I’m going to give myself this one. I did definitely get down to 10 and a half stone. I think I even maintained it for a good few weeks. I am no longer using My Fitness Pal or weighing myself, which is a very bad sign. Oh well. I’m still a lot thinner than I was and as it feels like we’re hurtling towards Christmas at a fair rate of knots I’m not sure this is going to get much better for the time being.
  • Get 8 hours of sleep 2 nights a week and 7 hours a night 3 nights a week FAIL. Actually this is not nearly as bad as I thought it was. I just had a look at my sleep tracker and I’m getting more than seven hours pretty much every night. The nights when it’s closer to six and a half I feel dreadful the next day, so I tend not to repeat it. Considering six to six and a half hours was pretty much standard for me, this is definitely an improvement. I don’t see any eight hours in there, and considering how fantastic I feel the next day when I’ve slept that long that’s something I really should rectify.
  • Do yoga once a week. FAIL. I’ve maybe done this once or twice. I know how good it is for me, but I just find it a bit tedious. I know it will do wonders for my running, but I just don’t find it all that interesting.
  • Swim once a week. FAIL. I still haven’t slotted this in to my schedule. I love it when I go, so it’s ridiculous that I’m not doing it, but such is life.
  • Make a start on that book that I always meant to write. FAIL. I’ve done nothing on this. Well, that’s not quite true. I’ve written profiles for the main characters, but I’ve not got any further than that.

I think it’s fair to say that working on my goals the last month or so hasn’t been an unqualified success. I don’t know if they were goals that I wasn’t all that interested in, if I was just having a lazy spell, if life got in the way or more likely a combination of all those factors.

When I look back over the last couple of months I do feel that I achieved some things. Maybe not as much as I would have hoped, and definitely not in the areas that I thought I’d be working on, but we’ll take our victories where we can. Although I do seem to be somewhat self-sabotaging my weight loss at the moment, the fact remains that I lost a stone and I’m a lot trimmer than I was. The key now is going to be to find a balance that I can live with where I don’t feel like I’m deprived, but I’m also not scarfing chocolate down like it’s going out of fashion. I’m not really very good at moderation, so this is always a tough one for me to get right.

I ran the Great North Run again and was happy with my time. Due to injury it hadn’t looked likely that I would be able to start, but my knees held up and yet again I loved the race. I’m loving my running at the moment. I’m getting much more consistent with going to my running club, and I’m really working hard when I’m there. I’m hoping I’ll start to reap the rewards from this with improved times.

Work has been very full on. I got trained up on a new skill and I’ve now been signed off to take these different types of applications. It’s always a bit daunting going out of your comfort zone and feeling like a newbie again, but I’m definitely making good progress and getting the hang of the new type of work. When you’re so focussed at work on getting things right, it’s sometimes difficult to come home and work on things there too. Maybe that’s why I’ve been cutting myself some slack on my goals.

I’m still working away at my Spanish on Duolingo. I had a bit of a rough patch where I felt that I wasn’t making much progress. With hindsight that probably coincided with that very intense period at work where my brain was pretty much fried and probably couldn’t cope with learning a new language as well as work stuff. I’m really enjoying Spanish again and it feels that I’ve made a bit of a jump forward. I’m loving listening to the Duolingo Spanish podcasts and am currently looking for other intermediate level audio to listen to once I’ve finished all the Duolingo podcasts. I tried to watch The Big Bang in Spanish, but that was a step too far for me, and made me realise I still can only cope with listening to relatively slow Spanish!

So running and Spanish went pretty well. I did fantastic on my weight loss but I’m eating a fair amount of rubbish again. My sleeping isn’t as good as it could be, but it’s better than it was. I’ve been working hard at work and learning new skills. My friend came over from Germany to stay for a few days which was a lot of fun. I’ve watched quite a few films with one of the kids, including a cinema trip to watch The Shining (the original) which scared the hell out of me just like I knew it would. So some great times with friends and family, which is always important, even if it doesn’t appear in any of my goals. So although I failed in almost all of my goals, I’m going to take the positives from the last few months and run with that.

As far as goals for the rest of the year go, I think I’m going to be quite kind to myself. This is not the time of year to be locking yourself away working on solo projects. I think I’d rather set myself some realistic goals and meet them rather than be constantly feeling that I should be working at something that’s not going to happen just now. So here goes for what I’d like to achieve by the end of the year.

  • Go to running club twice a week. Continue to work hard and challenge myself so that I start to see improvements. It’s difficult to quantify what “work hard” means, but I’ll know if I’ve been taking it easy or not.
  • Watch at least one film every week with at least one of the kids. I have one kid who’s a film buff, and the other who’s not really all that fussed. We seem to be on a bit of a Kubrick watching kick just now, and are managing to get quite a few of his ticked off the list that has been drawn up for me by the teenage film expert in the house. I’m hoping to sneak a few Christmas films in there too.
  • Meet up with my parents in Edinburgh for the Christmas markets and generally a bit of a catch up. We’ve done this a few times now, but didn’t manage it last year. This is always a fun day out and a good opportunity to see each other over the festive period as I will be home in Scotland as always for Christmas and won’t make it down to England to visit till after the new year.
  • Keep my Duolingo streak going and get section 3 of the Spanish tree finished.
  • Get caught up on my volunteering debt with parkrun. You’re supposed to volunteer once for every 10 parkruns you do. I’d been very lax on this, but I’ve been trying to get caught up on that this year. I’ve done 66 parkruns now but only volunteered 5 times. I’ll try and get one more lot of volunteering done before the end of the year. I usually marshall, and it’s great fun cheering everybody on.
  • Do one new parkrun. This will give me 16 different parkruns that I’ve done. I’m aiming for 20 which will earn me the status of parkrun tourist. I’m also working my way through the alphabet, and am very excited that University of Stirling parkrun recently started up, giving me the opportunity to get a very elusive “U”. Finishing the alphabet is a bit more of a long term project for me though.

Actually, considering I wasn’t really going to bother with setting any goals I’ve got a fair few there. They’re all ones that I’m excited about achieving, which hopefully bodes well for a slightly more successful update than this one! I was going to put a parkrun PB in as one of my goals, but decided to avoid the pressure of that. Also it means I can just enjoy gadding about beautiful Scotland to notch up a different parkrun without worrying about how fast I’m running. I think I’ve got enough there to keep me out of mischief, but at the same time have a really lovely end to the year. Here’s hoping anyway.