Wait, what? Handbags?

The idea of the Brilliant Ladies’ Handbag Club comes from an all-women group I used to attend. It was created to help women set and achieve their goals, from cleaning out the attic to getting their start-up on the road. That group was called something else, but my then 6-year-old son renamed it to the BLHC, because just attending made me brighter, happier, and more focused. Since then, I have focused on working out what I want to do with my one wild and precious life – and it turns out the answer isn’t ‘work for a salary’. It probably isn’t ‘do yoga on the beach’ either to be fair – but wouldn’t it be great to choose?

I love the image of the handbag: full of useful tools; creative things like books, postctards, dried out daisies, and colouring pens; somewhere to dive in and finding things I didn’t know were there but turn back up just at the right time. My handbag always has nourishing snacks (and plenty of sweets, because you never know – also spare underpants, because you never know) to keep you going on the way. And a phone and a list of contacts in case I get lonely on the journey.

I’ve spent a year diving into a brilliant community around FIRE (financial independence, retire early) and whilst it’s becoming more diverse, as s British single mother there is only a small amount of it which resonates – which feels like me. So the Brilliant Ladies’ Handbag Club is an online place for me to chronicle my journey, reflect and store all the nuggets of wisdom along the way and share them with like-minded people. If you’re interested in FIRE; taking control of your money, even when things get tough, and in doing so stick it to the consumerist man; dreaming and building a different life; or just looking for some company, then come on in. Amongst the sweeties and the underpants, might be your tribe.

Don’t curse the darkness: light a candle

Whilst I will come back to the ‘Creating the future’ thinking, this week it’s Hannukah, so I wanted to stop for a minute and think about miracles, and gratitude. It’s a recurring theme in this blog, but it’s something which is central to how I think about mindful living – and let’s face it, more gratitude in this sometimes cold and scary world can only be a good thing.

Hannukah celebrates the story of power over adversity, and of accepting grace. It’a basd on a historical story from Jerusalem in 168 BC when the Greeek king Antiochus IV Epiphanes banned Jewish practice and defiled the Jewish Temple in the city by installing an alter to Zeus and sacrificing pigs. The Maccabees, a small army of Jews (and not a football team) rebelled, regaining control of the temple where they removed the false alter and worked to reconsecrate the temple. But there was only enough oil to burn for one day which wasn’t enough for the necessary rituals. And then the miracle occurred, and the oil burned for eight days.

Yes it did! http://www.hannahkallio.org

There’s a lot of discussion about how Hannukah was a minor Jewish festival which has become increasingly visible because it’s fun (candles, doughnuts and games – what’s not to like?!), and it’s usually around Christmas. But I love it because it’s a time of year to celebrate the miracles which surround us, and sit and stare in wonder.

But why does that matter? To me it matters because within the noise of the daily struggle, the challenges of striving and growing, the sheer astonishing, fierce, splendid grind of being human, we need to make time to be quiet. Not just to go inside yourself and see what’s there, but to get to the horizon where your power ends and feel your way into what higer power is with you.

Be a candle, lighting up a dark world. Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

At Hannukah you usually say ‘a miracle happened here’ if you’re in Israel, but I like to say it because miracles are happening to and within us all, all the time. Rabbi Heschel, philosopher and civil rights activist who marched with Dr King, talks a lot about why taking time to recognise this matters, saying:

People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state: it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle…. Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one’s actions.

Source: The Wisdom of Heschel” ― Abraham Joshua Heschel

There’s a lot of evidence that gratitude makes you happier – that people who make time to be thankful have better health, stronger relationships, and are more robust. And it makes sense if you are focused on working toward your goals that not stopping to celebrate how far you’ve come will rob you of opportunities to be proud and joyful. And they are all feelings you need, to spur you on as you climb your next mountain.

From Epicurus, who was around at the same time as the sacking of the Temple

So this week,I suggest taking some time to pull over for a minute from the highway swerving of your day-to-day and taking a moment to celebrate what has happened in your life. A miracle happened here.

Creating the future: part II

In my last post I was talking about getting inspired to work on future planning. I always end up focusing at strange points when I get in to visioning and planning: either very granular and what-do-I-need-to-do-today or totally random fantasy visioning. I wanted to spend some focused time thinking about all the different aspects of my life and where I want to be in five years, to give me something to work backwards from.

I will be 47 in five years time. That feels horribly close to – well, just close to being dead. I don’t know why 47 sounds so freaking old compared to 45 and whilst I did think about doing a three year plan just so I could feel better about it, it was a good moment to face my fears and remember that aging is such a privilege. My kids will be 17 and 13: and parenting teenagers, preparing them for this world of ours, is a whole other thing. But it’s also a phase I want to be present for to support them – and enjoy their company – as they get ready to fly.

Yeah baby. Photo by Randy Tarampi on Unsplash

So I wanted to start with the vision. I organised my thinking into nine key areas: health, career, money, family, relationships, social, spiritual, home and service. I then spent my journalling time this week just thinking about these nine areas, and letting my imagination take me wherever. I found this quite challenging as I think I have a very clear vision, but I have clarity on a few random bits and lots of missing pieces.

For about 10 years I’ve had the same vision. It is literally a snapshot image of my future – I don’t know where it came from but it simply and neatly encapsulates all of the aspects. I am in my house in Nairobi, walking to the front door to welcome some friends coming for dinner. I’m so comfortable in my body – wearing a fairly simple grey dress but it really shows off my figure; my heels are comfortable (this is how we know it’s a fantasy) and my hair is up. I’m walking through to the hallway and noticing how much my home feels like me: the beautiful fabrics, the light, happy family photos and collected paintings on the wall. I’m looking forward to an evening with great company, there’s delicious food to enjoy together with my friend and my kids. There’s a palpable sense of peace. As I get to the hallway, my partner stops me briefly, kisses my neck and smiles.

And that’s it. But I find that vision of my future so completely compelling that I feel like I’ve been making moves towards it for more than a decade. Sometimes it feels too little to hope for, and sometimes it feels too much. But either way, it is more likely to come true if I have a more focused approach to getting there.

This is Arijiju aka the most fabulous place in Kenya, but since this is my fantasy let’s pretend this is my house

So – more specifically, where do I want to be? I worked through the nine areas and really thought about where I want to be in five years. And I came up with the following. Again – I don’t know if it’s to want too little or too much, but for now, this feels like me. The only hard one was relationships because there’s something about expressing a desire to have a partner which makes me really squeamish. Partly there’s something needy about it – we aren’t supposed to want these things, just to hang around looking pretty and disinterested until someone chooses us and we swoon. But also partly because I am really happy single, and wanting something else feels like a diminishment of this. Enough caveats though: let me just say it’s something I would like, and I am not embarrassed about that. Shame is for amateurs.

The five year goal setting

Health
Healthy and well, taking care of myself
Happy and comfortable in my body
Fit and confident in my movements and physique
Well dressed and put together but confident enough to not have to do this all the time
Starting midlife proud of how I look and feel, in a good mental health space
Money
Taking home $15,000 per month based on either employment, passive income, business or consultancies
UK mortgage paid off and generating passive income
Guaranteed £40,000 per annum pension income on retirement even if I don’t contribute more
Able to cashflow all needs or receive benefits to same amount
Career
Doing work which builds on my existing skills, gives me fresh challenges, and creates positive impact
If in an organization, senior enough to make a difference to the culture
If in business/self-employed, passionate and capable enough to be building toward scale and impact
Inspiring and motivating others in the sector
Environment/home
Be living in Kenya, preferably in a house I have bought somewhere near the city but that feels like the country
Be comfortable at home, have a calm environment where there are always people around the kitchen table
Spend time in nature
Relationships
Be with a partner with the same level of aspiration, ambition and care that I have for my life (including my sex life)
Feel secure and cherished, without fear
Family Connect fully with family including moving past previous issues where relevant
Be raising healthy, happy, conscious children who are a force for good in the world and growing towards independence but secure at home and in their sense of self
Social
Stay connected to my core friendship group, making an effort with those people who live far
Spend my social time mindfully in a way which nourishes me and lives my values
Spiritual/wellbeing
Living life from a place of gratitude including through prayer, meditation etc
Make spiritual connections / community, whatever that looks like
Service
Actively engage in service around community issues which are meaningful to me
Ensure strong family care
Care about and engage in politics, whilst not drowning in it
Where do I want to be in five years?

It was a really interesting exercise. I don’t think any of the aspects were surprising, but I liked how congruent they felt – and how much they gave me a sense of calm focus.

Next week I plan to work on money and career, and start mapping out a bit more in terms of shorter goals and steps. Aluta continua!

What will you do with your one wild and precious life? Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

Creating the future: part I

I love setting goals. There is a real sense of purpose that comes with thinking about goals, and a feeling that you are creating a meaningful future.

I also love goal setting because it’s free (woohoo) and feels great. Whilst it’s crucial to have a vision and targets, for myself I know I can use thinking about goals as a way of staring off into the middle-distance whilst feeling like I am achieving something.

The last few weeks for me have been around looking at my life with a real focus on creating a plan. Abe Lincoln said “The best way to predict the future is to create it” and right now I’m so inspired by the future I’m predicting that actually starting to go deep into the detail feels like a joy.

Planning for the future with this stunning view in Kampala. Lucky girl!

One aspect of this shift in focus has been consciously trying to engage more with postive energy. Mr Giver-Of-Stars and I had a few days in Kampala and the amount of positive motivation and the influence that has had on my current thinking is immense. It’s obvious, but if you’re feeling stuck then having a fresh persepctive – especially from someone you admire – can get you back on track.

The first thing has been going back to get clarity on my goals. And yes this involved a bit more middle-distance-staring, but if you’re overlooking Lake Victoria then that’s no bad thing. One difference this time was considering HARD goals (as opposed to SMART goals which might be useful but just make me think of poorly-run office retreats). HARD goals focus on more existentialist concerns, and invite you to consider four facets of your goals, the extent to which they are Heartfelt, Animated, Required, Difficult.

There is a lot of evidence that people are more motivated by goals which are difficult: that the challenge is the thing that pushes us to move ahead. Conversely, the challenges have to be achievable otherwise the mountain is too steep. For me, aiming to become an Olympic gymnast for example, is probably a few steps (or a few twirly-ribboned dance moves) too far. But pushing yourself is exhilarating, so set your boundaries as wide as possible and go for it.

Keep going: the sun will rise again

The last two years though have shown how much things can change. As such, the idea of setting goals which are heartfelt and make you feel animated. A deep connection to your goal means that you are more likely not just to reach it but to be able to nimbly react to changing circumstances and continue to work towards it. This malleability also means you can flex your approach as needed: whilst the plan absolutely matters, the attachment is to achieving the results.

So this week I am planning to take all that motivation and energy and head back over to my five-year plan. See you on the flip side!

Courage!

Blimey, what a week. Not much to say other than O. M. G. It just keeps coming – too much work, issues going on with my parents’ health, ALL the world disasters. Things feel slippery and twisting and I can’t quite get a grip on any of them.

I’ve written before about overwhelm and whilst I still go there, mostly at the moment I’m just knackered. Trying to keep all the plates spinning seems increasingly unlikely. I am definitely making some crappy choices – staying up a bit too late, eating a bit too little, drinking a bit too much. None of this to the extent where it’s really damaging, but cumulatively it’s not really helping.

Slippery when wet/tired/gumpy. Photo by Itay Peer on Unsplash

In her amazing book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bonnie Ware, a palliative care nurse, reflects on the most common things that people realise toward the end of their lives. The one which struck me wasn’t ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so hard’ but ‘I wish I had let myself be happier‘. Ware says:

“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

Bonnie Ware on what holds us back from happiness

This week I also read Alexandra Fuller’s ‘Leaving Before the Rains Come‘ about the lengthy unravelling of her twenty year marriage which had some similar reflections. The comfort in habits and ruts, however destructive they are, can feel like the only thing holding us together. There are lots of other truths here – what it means to collapse a life that you have actively participated in creating and the impact that has on others – and realising that change means loss.

Without meaning to sound like a crappy instagram meme: change is terrifying. But refusing to grow, and regretting what you might have missed out on, is much, much scarier.

That light wants to shine on ME? Hell no! Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

Sometimes I recognise that I am afraid to want things – afraid that wanting ‘too much’ or getting out of my lane will just end in ignominy and heartbreak. I get in the way of my own happiness. Which is ridiculous (and frustrating) but also feels like just an ass-hat way of being ungrateful. As well as all the slippery uncertainties in my life at the moment there are some amazing things: things I have prayed for and worked for and believed in. It’s taking daily work just to try and live in those moments, to not hold on too tightly and not so loosely that I drop them. Phew. No wonder I’m knackered.

So, on we go. Back out into the world and the new week with courage and gratitude. It will all work out.

Indeed. Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Self-identity, decision making and FIRE

Apologies for seeming self-obsessed these days, lurching from talking about radical self-care to self-identity. I could argue that it’s because western society is relentlessly individualistic, or that as a single parent there’s a whole lot of me-myself-and-I about my decision making. There are arguments within the FIRE community that pursuing this goal gives a whole load of freedom to redefine yourself: that we are more than our jobs, and can therefore move out of the social expectations which bind us to a particular path.

The question I have been asking myself this week, then, is who is the ‘you’ which is in charge of that decision making?

Who are you at this particular moment? Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Partly this has come up because I realised that my decision making is not consisent but is always based (well, almost) on mindful decision making and therefore being satisfied with the verdict. It’s one of the reasons it’s useful to look back on budgets and approaches to spending with the mindset of who was I being at this moment – what was I prioritising? I can see days where I would buy take-out food, then months where I wouldn’t; months where my charitable giving changed; months where I just seem exhausted and anything went. I’ve been searching for ways to be consistent but I realised I was already being congruent. It’s just that my true north is more like a spin of the globe.

This week I read an article about how to reclaim your children which spoke to a common issue for parents as their kids get older and they start to feel disconnected. I think most parents – indeed most people – notice that sometimes time surges forward in huge chunks and either our kids or ourselves suddenly seem to be in a new and unexpected phase. But this piece articulated for me a more focused consideration about how to show up in each of those moments, and what the benefits or risks might be. The part that stuck with me said:

“This is what I wish I’d understood as a parent; consciously understood,” Maté, 75, says. “Take a 10-year-old child. How many years have you got left with them? When they are still under your roof, under your direction? Well, what is your goal for those years?” Looking back on his life “from above”, he says, he can see that his own goal “was to be a successful and busy and high-accomplishing physician. And that’s how I lived my life.”

Gabor Maté

This resonated with me so strongly. Finding ways to align my goals, or to navigate them in a way which leads to choices which work across the major priorities, is a constant battle. Add on to this public opinion (or just my mum’s opinion which can feel just as loud and is irritatingly better informed) and I’m sometimes amazed I don’t just lie in bed with the covers over my head.

This is where we are all heading, but you are so blessed to get there. Photo by Danie Franco on Unsplash

I have written before about recognising the short space of time we have as parents of young children – as well as the fact that those years, as full of love as they are, can feel absolutely interminable at the time. What the quote from Maté also reminded me is that during those years, the me who has been in charge has come from different places of identity. Some core basics have remained the same, though how I feel about them and the extent to which they drive my daily living changes: I am a daughter, a sister, friend, mother. I am also a single mother, a mother whose children have a father with a very different identity, a Jew from a complex and mixed family, a humanitarian, an activist, a senior woman working in a difficult and critical field. During the time my children have been in the picture I have also been a doctoral student (and then able to answer the infuriating question ‘is it Miss or Mrs’ with – ‘oh, it’s Dr’) – a woman struggling with depression, a writer, and an ambitious leader.

On some days though I look at my identity-list and think that actually I’m just an asshole. Those are the days where the other things recede into the middle distance and it takes effort to bring myself back.

As Castenada reminded us, ‘choose the path with heart’: Photo by Noorulabdeen Ahmad on Unsplash

These days I wonder what it would mean to add lover, girlfriend, partner to this list. Could all the other things survive? How, in a world of having to constantly reshuffle priorities and feeling like I am always at least 25% failing, could I head out on these new adventures whilst keeping the responsibilities, joy and care I get from the other aspects? And the reason this matters is not whether this particular fabulous but nascent thing works out but whether I can see another shift in my identity which doesn’t shift the foundation of integrity.

And when I look at my decision making whilst it’s good to be conscious of those issues, that’s not how I should – or do – make choices. I make them with heart, and hope that the congruence across my ‘whole being’ will point me in the right direction.

Radical subversion: radical self care

This week I was very much enjoying Tanja Hester from Our Next Life’s piece about whether it’s ‘Time to Retire FIRE’. Whilst she has been one of the founding parents of FIRE and feels much more of the social movement than someone like me who is on the periphery, she made a lot of interesting points.

Firstly, she examines how FIRE has been taken over by some loud voices who are really about making a lot of money as quickly as possible, and points to the proliferation of expensive courses, often run by people whose sole credential is that they say they don’t need to make money. Secondly, she gives a timely reminder about why so many of us got into FIRE in the first place: not to make as much money as possible, but as a way out of a capitalist system which isn’t working for most people.

For me, FIRE is both an act of radical suberversion and of radical self care.

I have a long term vision, but it’s the journey that matters...

Radical Subversion

So – the evidence suggests that the system we have currently is unfair. The poor are getting poorer whilst a tiny number of rich people get richer. The UK seems to be a post-apocolyptic hole in the ground where we can no longer even talk about whether children should not be hungry without it being seen as a political hand grenade rather than a discussion about basic humanity. The pandemic has knocked a lot of things over the edge, and there seems to be a lot less compassion about as well as a lot less money.

I’m not an anarchist, and I’m not anti-wealth – one of my favourite people is a ‘wealth manager’ and I don’t like him any less for it. But I need to find a way not to just criticise a system which is devestating to so many, but also to live on the outskirts of it. For me this means: mindful spending and engagement with how I use my money; making that money as ethically as possible; opting out of capitalist competitive fuckry; and using my finances and my other resources to make the world better for other people. I am hardly living in a commune and weaving lentils, but there is an extent to which I am able to opt out, and ironically part of that opting out means having enough money to make different choices.

If you’ll excuse another music moment, Sauti Sol start off by singing about wanting to be rich then move into wanting to be free, to be remembered, to be in place. If you remove the money from that equation, the dream remains.

Enjoy the small things….

Radical Self Care

If you grew up broke like I did, then you know the impact of financial stresses. I’ve written before about the relationship between money and mental health but there is a bone-cracking exhaustion about constantly having to think about money, how the bills are going to get paid, and what’s in the fridge. I suspect that benefits levels in the UK are set at a level where people can just scrape by but to do so takes up so much energy that we don’t all rise up and burn. it. down.

I get fed up with the idea that self care, especially for women, is about going for a massage. Surely the idea is that you really, really take care of yourself? And this means creating a solid foundation on which to do all of the other things that are important to you. If you are financially secure – not rich, but secure and confident in your own knowledge – you are free to make choices. You can choose when and how to work; the kind of relationships you want to have, with who and when; how your children are brought up; and how you bring your light to the world.

What could be more radical than prioritising yourself and owning your decisions so that you can shape your own life and the world around you?

I don’t have any great insight into what’s happening to the FIRE movement, I think because I found the part of the community that really speaks to me, and it’s like having an extra group of mates who understand you and cheer you on. But if you’re new to these ideas, I strongly recommend thinking about what brought you here – and where you want to go.

Thank you fortune cookie!

No less than the stars

So I haven’t written for the last two weeks, which is bad because part of my commitment to this blog was about learning to – well, learning to commit I guess, which might not be my natural talent – but also about engaging with the practice of writing rather than focusing on outputs.

I have been super busy with work and was assuming that was why I hadn’t written, but being super busy with work is a) normal and b) an unacceptable excuse. I loathe competitive busy-ness and everything that comes with it – the toxic showboating; the tedium of having someone spend time that could have been better spent doing the damn thing telling me why they can’t; the letting people down and excusing it away.

Anyway: safe to say that it wasn’t work. I’m not sure at this point what kind of internal transformation is going on but I feel like a snow globe that has been shaken up, and I’ve been busy in anstonishment that my soul is dancing in the glittering starlight.

ALL the glitter: Photo by Luke Besley on Unsplash

I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about how to get through challenging times: the small habits, the next right step, the power of faith and of looking back at where you have come from to really understand how high the mountain was that you just climbed. I know – from my trust in God but also from the data – that brighter days are coming. But I cannot tell you how astonishing it is to find that brighter days are actually here, and I am not sure quite how to react.

Everything I profess to believe, though, tells me to be grateful for it but maybe not be surprised. And not to freak out when something feels too big or good to be true any more than I should freak out when the bad stuff feels overwhelming.

In the words of the DesiderataYou are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here’. I fully believe this but I would take it another step – you are no less because you are the stars. Science (actual science, not The Lizard Times) agrees, saying that ‘almost all the elements in the human body were made in a star and may have been through several supernovas‘.

Reach for the stars because you are the stars: Photo by Phil Botha on Unsplash

What does it mean (and indeed you might ask, why is this relevant to a blog on FIRE? Though if you are asking that I cannot imagine it’s for the first time…)?

You don’t know what is coming to transform you, nor what you will look like after you’ve been through the fire. And transformation comes in all kinds of guises: from lightening bolts to erosion: from a life-changing medical diagnosis to unexpectedly and outrageously falling for someone.* You can plan for things but you can’t control it all. Yes there is data, both yours and that which comes from research or the world, your friends, the internet or whatever, but it won’t all be applicable. And even if you can know how things will work out, you can’t know what your own metamorphasis will look like. You just have to trust in the process.

So what it means is: I am not afraid. I’m not afraid or ashamed of the bad days, and I’m not afraid of being transfigured by the bright lights either. I can know that God created me and I will go back to Him: the circle never deviates from being a circle, things just look different depending on where you are. All you have to do is turn your face to the stars and marvel. That’s where you came from. Imagine who you might become.

*All examples in this blog are completely random

Health, happiness, peace and prosperity – L’shanah Tovah!

This week we celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. It celebrates the day the world was created, but also the time of year when G-d writes our fate for next year in the Book of Life.

It’s basically a period of reflection – what did you do in the last year? How did you act and was it in alignment with your values and what you want to see in the world? What do you want for the new year, and how to you acknowledge and make amends for – or repent for – times you weren’t so great in the past?

L’Shana Tova!

The thing I love is that after this process, we all get given another chance. In the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (or the Day of Atonment) there is a time for reflection. Whilst the idea of repentence in a spiritual sense isn’t for everyone, the concept of recognising what we have done wrong, and trying to make amends, is very much part of human transformation. From religious practice to the 12-step programme, asking for forgiveness and making changes are a valuable process.

It got me reflecting on how transformational it can be to forgive yourself. In the FIRE space, as in life, so much of the focus is necessarily on changing behaviours. Whether it’s looking at what matters in your life and trying to live from that place, or finding small habits that you can integrate in to your life, it requires change that starts with you.

Forgiving yourself for whatever has gone on previously can also be a way of taking back your agency and a sense that you are actively participating in everything going on around you. I don’t mean a sense that you control everything, but being able to make changes requires a belief that you are not just being buffeted by the waves.

But forgiveness is more than that. Forgiveness for me means really accepting where I am, and working from that foundation. Or in the words of Lily Tomlin, it means ‘giving up all hope for a better past’.

We have all reached our financial, social and emotional state based on previous circumstances, and our own decisions. I have written a lot about structural inequalities so it’s not like indivduals are equally able to create their circumstances, but we are all players in this game.

For me, I have to keep working on a couple of areas. And it’s something that does require work, rather than being something which is a one off. As with everything there are complex emotions involved so sometimes a trigger sets me off. But the main things are:

  • Forgive myself for the choices which led to being a single parent. I know society blames single parents for pretty much all social evils, but I mean here being ok with the fact that this is where I am. Whilst some people, for whom I have huge respect, become single parents by choice, that wasn’t my hope. And a lot of our struggles are based on being a one-parent, one-income family. But forgiving myself means not hanging on to what might have been, and moving on in a way where I can appreciate the blessings of our set up intead.
  • Forgive my dad for the financial situation I grew up in. So this might be over personal but my parents divorced when I was young, and my father, who was financially abusive, managed it so we ended up with very little. We were made homeless after he sold the house out from under us, for example. Sometimes when I see well off friends being supported by their parents I get jealous: this might be equally true if we just grew up broke since generational wealth is such a key sructural factor, but the decisions my dad made definitely add a layer of bitterness. Forgiving him allows me to just move on from it all, and deal with the hand I was dealt – which is one with so many other privileges that are much easier to appreciate once I moved on from focusing on the past.
  • Forgive myself for other poor choices. Like, I wish I had started a pension as soon as it was an option. I could definitely have started saving earlier and more; I could have worked out how much work my first house needed doing and been better prepared. I could have consistently made healthier choices. But I didn’t, and so I have to work from here rather than ‘what could have been’.
In the words of Frozen, Let It Go. Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

So – what is holding you back, and can you get past it with a bit of reflection and forgiveness? Maybe not, but starting from where you are rather than where you wish you could be might be a much more comfortable journey and one where you can also celebrate what you do have, and all you have achieved. I bet you are amazing. How can you love that about yourself?

Frugal back-to-school planning

Ah September. Even though here in Denmark the kids went back to school in August, this still feels like the real back to school month to me. I always love this time of year anyway, the slight chill in the air but the chance of gorgeous late summer weather, and that brand-new-start feeling.

But it’s also a point where it’s easy to rack up costs, so I wanted to share a few ideas about how to save money.

And off they go! Photo by Deleece Cook on Unsplash

1. Work out what you need

Sounds obvious, but check what you need before setting out to organise it. Look up your school lists of needs and supplies, and check if they are all needed at the start of the year. My kids’ school asks for some strange things like boxes of tissues (and I always think … really?) but they don’t need text books etc thankfully.

2. Shop at home first

A lot of the things you need you might already have, especially if you have more than one child. Especially stationery where I feel like I have drawers full of pens, crayons, rulers and whatnot. You probably don’t need to buy new lunchboxes or backpacks, especially if you had good quality to start with. I saw a post on a FIRE site about a woman whose 25 year old daughter still uses the backpack she bought her in eighth grade – now that’s getting your money’s worth.

3. Then shop second hand

I put posts up specifically on the school Classlist when I need items for the kids, on the grounds that if mine need it, probably someone else’s will have too. My big things in September are rain and winter gear, given that we are in Denmark, and I bought from Classlist last year and from eBay marketplace this year.

Not my kid, but this is what back to school might look like. Photo by Deleece Cook on Unsplash

4. Organise a swap

My son finally has feet bigger than mine, but he seems to go up a size every few months. Since he plays a lot of sport this means new shoes, PE shoes, football boots and rain boots every. single. time. I refuse to buy any of these new but was struggling to find them second hand, so I worked with the school sports co-ordinator to organise a swap. It was really fun – we had all the boys (and it was mostly boys) bring in their old sports shoes and take pairs in their new sizes. It wasn’t great for the eldest boys with the biggest feet, but it was great for everyone else!

5. Use it as a teachable moment

The first part of this is for you to not get caught up in the hype yourself – it really doesn’t matter what ‘all the other kids’ are getting or doing. But then make sure your kids understand this as well: not just that spending wisely is a good idea, but that spending wisely also means caring less what other people think. My son came home last year and told me he was the only kid with a second-hand laptop, and it was a good time to talk through our values on things like consumerism, brands, tech waste, and how we treat our peers, as well as money issues.

6. Plan a budget for after school or clubs and stick to it

Extra curricular activities work differently in every school but dear lord they can add up to a huge expense. If you have to pay for extra-curricular activities, work out what you can afford and then be prepared to stick to it. I have various rules about clubs which the kids also clearly understand: if they sign up to something, you must do it for the period for which I have paid for it; they have to do at least one local club as well as those at school so they make local friends; and they have to do one thing which isn’t sports. But this is definitely the biggest expense for us in terms of new school year.

Photo by Oliver Hale on Unsplash

How has your back to school planning been going? I’d love to hear from you!

The tail end

I’ve glibly borrowed the title for this post from the brilliant Wait But Why since I’ve been thinking a lot about how time passes. I spend a lot of energy thinking about what to fill that time with – how to make each moment a meaningful contribution of myself to the world.

In reality, I spend a lot more time making a meaningful contribution to emptying a packet of biscuits, or being Just A Little Bit Annoyed.

But this week a few things have aligned to make me remember that our time really is short. Not just short, but not guaranteed. I’ve lost a number of friends in my life and I am reminded that their time was cut short whilst I am frittering mine away.

Time to do…. what?. Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Paula Pant had a great episode recently with Oliver Burkeman who has written a book called Four Thousand Weeks. Burkeman, who is ostensibly writing abour time management, has recognised that a lot of works about optimising our time – whether that means living mindfully, or getting through your to-do list – don’t recognise the basic fact that time is limited.

My mum always says – you can have everything, but not at the same time. It’s similar to Paula Pant’s ‘you can have anything, but not everything’ mantra. Some things are a finite resource, and time is one of those. Energy is another one: so it’s the number of shits I have to give (as it were).

Burkeman’s point is exactly that. Our average life span is 4,000 weeks which suddenly seems like it just won’t be enough. And he has some great advice about how to live with that in mind, knowing that we will have to miss out on some things, and how not to get crushed by FOMO.

Even if you are immortalised on a building wall, your time is finite. Photo by Mark Neal on Unsplash

There is something about having children which also makes you notice the passing of time, sometimes wishing for certain phases to be over, sometimes desperately clutching on to others which seem to have passed all too soon. It reminds me of Jonathan Fanning‘s poem about parenting: about all the last times we have of doing things, and how oftern we don’t even know it’s signalling the end of something:

The thing is, you won’t even know it’s the last time
Until there are no more times. And even then, it will take you a while to realize.

So while you are living in these times, remember there are only so many of them and when they are gone, you will yearn for just one more day of them.
For one last time.

So – this week I have been trying to live from that place. I stopped work at lunch time and made a bowl of steaming, spicy noodles, sparkling with chillis. I texted a boy I like who made me laugh. I quit the French classes I have taken for five years with the aim of getting a quaification I don’t need for a job I don’t want. I swam in the sea and felt the air turning to autumn. I lay in bed with my kids and listened to the rain. I lived. And I loved it.

You really are. Live from there. Photo by Bethany Stephens on Unsplash