New Year 3: Paying yourself first

Firstly – huge thanks to everyone who has joined me on @brilliant_ladies_money over on Instagram. It has been eye opening for me to post every day over there, and really inspired me to connect with the FIRE community in another way.

Secondly – I know we are getting close to the point where you have to stop saying ‘happy new year!’ January has been smoke this year and it’s almost done. But I wanted to carry on with the series about planning for your money, and to talk about the step after you work out your basic outgoings.

Last week I shared how to audit your fixed costs: all the money that you know for sure has to be made and spent to keep the wheels on. This week I want to introduce the idea of paying yourself first. Basically, this means mentally going straight from fixed costs to your saving goals, instead of going to work on your discretionary spending budget.

It can be hard to start, but waiting for things to sort themselves out is harder. Photo by James Lee on Unsplash

There are a couple of caveats with this. If you are living on the breadline or only just making ends meet each month, then this method is not likely to suit you. I really want to recognise that so many people are struggling in these hard times: the impact of prices hike in the UK where the rising cost of living is now a crisis for people who are at the ‘normal’ end of the income spectrum is shocking. I will reflect on this – and how to cope – in future posts, but for now I just wanted to recognise what is going on in the world. Secondly, if you have struggled with controlling your spending in the past, you might be better off working to a zero-based budget to tighten the reins. Again I will talk to this in future posts, but for now I wanted to reflect on how I am planning my own money for 2022.

Working out how to ‘pay yourself first’

You know when you get paid, all those good intentions about saving or paying off extra debt seem to get pushed to one side? Bills get paid, the monthly take away gets bought, and then things just sort of slide. And this happens over and over again, even when people’s incomes increase.

This is often down to two things: hedonic adaptation, and Parkinson’s Law. Together these basically mean that as you make more money, your perceived needs and wants expand; and if you have money to spend, your needs will expand to spend it. The only way to overcome this is to be mindful with both your money, and your wants and needs and plan accordingly.

Get that pot ready! Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Set your self payment plan

Once you have worked out your fixed costs as a percentage of your take home pay, you then know what you have left to play with. In my case I spend 65% of my income on the fixed basics, leaving 35% for everything else – whether that’s groceries, holidays, or savings.

For the last few years, I have been trying to save 30% of my income. Since I pay a healthy amount into my pension pre-tax – the equivalent of 15% of my post-tax income – this has been easy to surpass. But in 2022 I want to consciously try and save 20% of my take home pay. Realistically this will mean cutting back in terms of spending. But for me the mental exercise of setting saving goals and sticking to them is more doable and inspiring than setting a tight budget and then saving what is left. They amount to the same thing, so it will depend on what turns you on as to which is useful.

Saving 20% as standard

I calculated that I have £7,500 as monthly take home with £2,538 left after fixed costs. This means I should be saving £1,500 per month. Currently I do the following:

SIPP personal pension £    300.00
ISA savings £    500.00
Children’s’ ISA £    200.00
Children’s’ Junior Pensions £      50.00
Emergency fund top up £    100.00
TOTAL £ 1,150.00

I also overpay my mortgage by £500.00 a month which goes mostly to capital so I count that in my mind when I think about savings.

Planning for the future. It looks beautiful. Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash

So with a total of £1,650 I am at my 20%. I am fine with keeping to that amount but I will review whether I should be paying off my mortgage or focusing my savings in a different way this year. I will talk more in future about options for savings and investing, and how to make those precious parts of your income work for you.

Next week I will talk about the spending part, and ways to look at how to best use the rest of my income. There are lots of ways to do this which facilitate planning for bigger or less regular costs like holidays or repairs. But once my savings goals are set, I feel much more in control.

Let me know how your financial planning is going! And good luck with this exercise, I hope you found it useful.

New Year 2: Auditing your fixed costs

First of all, in line with ‘new year, new challenges’ I am thrilled to let you know that I have set up an Instagram account, @brilliant_ladies_money linked to this blog. Do join me for daily tips, hacks and inspiration on mindful living and growing into your financial power – plus I’d love to see what you are working on!

Last week I wrote about giving yourself a break: this week, it’s more about knuckling down and finding ways to do some of the foundational tasks on which you can build out your financial independence journey.

Whilst most people think about going straight to budgeting, my feeling is that can seem like a huge mountain of joylessness. and sometimes that is offset by knowing how great you will feel afterwards but – a mountain is a mountain, you know? So I recommend splitting this out and focusing first of all on an audit of your fixed costs.

Maybe boring but necessary – find that paperwork! Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Undertaking an audit of your finances literally just means going through the details of your spending and working out what your outgoings are, and how often they are paid. I am not talking about discretionary spending at this point – that will be what you have left over once you have done steps one and two. And you don’t need to include things which go out of your pre-tax salary like pension contributions or healthcare since all we are doing is balancing your take-homie budget. There are tons of different ways to do these things, and they key is trying something and sticking to it long enough to see if it works for you.

So, what are all the things that you have to pay regularly, whether monthly or annually? We’ll talk about ways to plan for the non-monthly outoings but for now, just make sure they are in here.

  1. Think about your fixed costs and what they might be – housing, transport and childcare are usually the three biggest. Think about your utilities, council taxes, car service or tax, income tax if you are self-employed or have side hustles and so on. It would also include debt repayments if you have them. How to fast track debt repayments is a different discussion: for now just list them out.  The list doesn’t include regular payments which you could choose to live without, like media subscriptions: only the essentials.
  2. Go through your direct debits and standing orders first, listing out the detailed amount, what it’s for, and when it goes out of your account into a spreadsheet or notebooks. You can write this down however you like but it’s easier to use a spreadsheet because then you can change figures and it makes it easier to track your overall spending over time.
  3. Go through your bank statements and identify other areas where you might have other regular costs. I pay our public transport passes via a recurring card payment so they only show up on my statements. Add these into the spreadsheet. You might need to scour a full year of statements, but if you have in mind when your fixed costs come out you can be a bit more focused.
It can even be beautiful before you start the climb, but the view is much better from the top. Photo by Kyle Johnson on Unsplash

This is what my real numbers look like. And I know the actual amounts are OUTRAGEOUS but I live in Denmark – which also explains the salary – so it’s also pretty standard. I will chat another time on the sky-rocketing utility bills happening all over Europe (when I can find the time in between putting extra jumpers on), but for now, this is what I expect to have as monthly fixed outgoings in 2022:

Personal insurance £               11.48
Home insurance £               38.33
Car insurance £               54.91
Buildings insurance £               88.29
Insurance Totals £         193.01
Electricity £             147.62
Internet £               35.70
Water  £             209.72
Gas & hot water £             494.13
Security (offset by cheaper insurance) £               32.94
Council tax £             302.59
Utilities Totals £      1,222.70
DK Loan £             788.22
Mortgage £         1,045.30
Deposit Loan (more on this later…) £             498.00
House Repayment £      2,331.52
Train passes £             100.00
Car service and tax £               25.00
Transport Totals £         125.00
 Childcare Totals£      1,089.45 
 MONTHLY FIXED TOTALS£      4,961.68 

Remember that this is your life, and your money. Some people see childcare as negotiable and might look at this and see how to rebalance their priorities with their spouse. That is not my life, so this stays as a fixed cost. Ditto transport – whilst people can change how they approach transport, I don’t plan to do so this year so it’s going to stay fixed.

And that’s it! Everything else you spend is discretionary. And yes there are other things you need to stay alive like food, but we’ll deal with the monster topic that is grocery shopping in part three.

Once you know what your fixed costs, are, take your income, and minus these costs. Then you have the money you have left over to save and to spend. For me that’s £7,500 as monthly take home meaning I have £2,538 left. That means my fixed costs are already 65% of my monthly income.

Next week we’re going to work on what this means for saving, spending, and making it all come together for the changes you want to see in your life.

It will make everything so much simpler for the next step. Photo by Pablo Arroyo on Unsplash

Let me know if you undertake this process and how it works for you. And here’s looking forward to a fabulous 2022!

New Year reflections: Loneliness

I wanted to start off this year recognising that there seems to be an epidemic of loneliness. This has real implications for us as a society, and I believe means specific things for those of us who were already on solo journeys before all the craziness of COVID cut off our social networks.

Almost half of all people in the UK report feeling lonely sometimes, and 18% of Americans note that they have only one person – or nobody – that they can rely on. Young people and those over 65 are particularly at risk of feeling lonely, and this has increased with the lockdown restrictions.

And loneliness really matters, not just for mental wellbeing but also for our physical health. Feeling isolated is linked to early mortality, poor cardivascular health, depression and suicide. In fact it is so serious that the negative health impact of loneliness is akin to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Sometimes when I feel lonely I also feel a bit ashamed about it, like I’m the unpopular kid at school standing in a corner whilst the fun and noise goes on around me. But reminders about the impact of feeling like this means it’s important to sometimes look it in the eye.

Wandering lonely as a cloud. Photo by Ihor Malytskyi on Unsplash

In my own social circles I see real evidence of people struggling to feel connected and secure, and it’s something that I have noticed in myself as well.

Being a single parent is a pretty lonely place. Being responsible for all the decisions and actions, being good and bad cop, and being where the buck stops on All. The. Things. can get exhausting. Add into the mix the other things that I’m trying to do, whether in terms of work, family, friendship or interests, and the spinning plates sometimes drop. Then add in trying to follow the road less travelled into FIRE, female senior leadership and mindful living and sometimes I feel like a leaf being blown about in a gale.

I also recognise that not all cultures operate in the same way, so the kinds of family or community that might lean in to support me don’t really exist in Europe. The rise of one-person households; the culture of ‘busyness’; urban planning and how we interact with our neighbours; work culture: all of these things create friction in human interactions which in turn increases the sense of isolation.

Sometimes you’re a leaf in a gale, sometimes you’re pure gold. Photo by GraceHues Photography on Unsplash

In spite of this, recognising that loneliness comes with going down the road less travelled, loosens its negative grip on me. So ok, single parenting is lonley precisely because we are doing it alone. And having a vision outside of the norm – following FIRE, being an entrepreneur or a leader – necessarily means carving your own path. Sometimes that path feels lonely and sometimes it feels liberating.

Amen! Photo by Ian Taylor on Unsplash

So what are the opportunities to mitigate loneliness whilst still creating your own life? The first strategy has to be around building a stronger community. Maybe it’s taking time to speak with your friends – and really speak with them, not just having a laugh down the pub (though that has its mental health benefits too…). Maybe it’s engaging family, or working on some of the more challenging relationships which support your healing. Maybe it’s joining up with, or building a new community, whether in your neighbourhood or online.

My second strategy is around focusing on the calendar. Whilst Judaism has traditions which mark the weeks and phases of the year, the main thing for me is to recognise the seasons and celebrate or act in accordance. This is even more important to me since living in Denmark where the winter can feel depressing and lonely, and taking it gently matters more. Having rituals or activities which mark the passing of the seasons – from new year’s resolutions, to the new school year – makes me feel more like an active participant in something positive.

Finally perhaps it’s about learning to listen, and to be heard. Being prepared to open up, to share what isn’t working and ask when you need something, matters. Listening and being open to hearing difficult things from others, also matters. Building meaningful connections can take time and can be challenging – especially if you are feeling low – but it’s really worth it.

So – what are your ideas for combatting loneliness? Wishing you a happy and nourishing 2022!

2021 Inspiration List: books, podcasts and more

As this is the last Sunday of 2021 I thought I’d focus this blog on the things which inspired and kept me going during this year. As I said in 2020, I read a lot – and with the never-ending loop of lockdowns we probably all read a lot more – and whilst I carried on with real commitment to my regular schedule of 1930s murder mysteries and books about politics, I got through a lot of new things as well.

And it’s almost done. Photo by Nadin Mario on Unsplash

This was also the year I pretty much quit watching things. There are a couple of notable exceptions (and the family 30 minutes down time after dinner would not be the same without The Simpsons) but it just stopped being something I do on my own. I listened to a *lot* more music, and unlike 2020 spent more time hanging out with people: dating, going to a twice-weekly exercise class, watching the Euros and the World Cup Qualifiers in the pub with friends, at workshops, and back out on a travel schedule.

So it feels like its been a nice mix, and I hope some of these ideas spark some new thoughts with you too. Do let me know what has been inspiring you this year, I’d love to know!

Books

Mostly I read on my Kindle or get things out from the English section of the fabulous library here in Copenhagen, but I do love a Proper Book. Even though this was also the year that I aged disgracefully enough to need reading glasses, I still read every night before I go to sleep. Just these days I have to stay awake long enough to take my glasses off and not crush them.

All the links below are to independent bookshops, but these are available in most formats and places.

Atomic Habits: James Clear

This came out two years ago and I listened to a lot of podcasts and discussions about its content, but reading it genuinely changed my life. There is something simple but compelling about his messages: sort out the things that matter to you, whatever they are; be aware of the time-sinks, infinity pools and dross that this corporate world is sending you and block them out where you can; and find the minimum viable action then just do it. It’s a great antidote to overwhelm.

Four Thousand Weeks: Oliver Burkeman

I wrote about this recently but this was also a game changer for me. Burkeman posits that since the average life expectancy is four thousand weeks, we should find ways to focus on what we really care about. He presents a history of time management and also why it doesn’t really work. Linking this to our collective FOMO, Burkeman talks through why reclaiming your time can’t be done by reorganising your diary but needs to be done by rethinking priorities.

Untamed: Glennon Doyle

Ah the great feminist call to action. I loved this book so much that I read it three times this year. Doyle focuses on naming the ties that bind us as women moving in this world, and talks through how, in her own life, she has untethered herself. It is very clear as to why this makes the world a freer, fairer and better place for all of us – so if you are even vaguely interested in the concept of allyship, read this one.

Podcasts

I remained very much a creature of habit this year and will include those here for anyone new to this journey, but there were one or two notable exceptions:

Rice At Home: This is one of the new additions to my listening and I cannot recommend it highly enough – especially if ‘there’s rice at home’ is something you heard regularly as a child! The team had a few months off in early 2021 and came back strong, looking at black-owned business, entrepreneurship and financial independence from the perspective of peer learning and support.

Afford Anything: the inimitable Paula Pant continued to bring weekly wisdom this year, talking through the choices that we have to make with our money, focus and energy in order to make a life which suits us and where we really move.

Journey to Launch: I listened to this more in 2021 as she is some steps ahead of me. Getting into thinking about side hustles, passive income streams and the ‘what next’ of a financial independence journey is where I’m at, and her passion, personal story and diverse range of speakers is really inspiring.

Choose FI: this was another staple during 2021, though a lot of it starts to feel like conversations we’ve had before. It remains a really good basic resource (though I didn’t think much of their book…) and a great community for when you need dusting off and putting back on the path.

Blogs

I read many fewer blogs this year. I don’t know if people stopped writing after being so productive in 2020 or if I just ran out of bandwith. Lots of old blog friends also moved well past where I’m at and whilst I am super proud of them, I don’t find reading about post-FI useful. The one I did keep going back to was Our Next Life. I love their thoughtful reflections on life then and now, and also on the FIRE community and where we might collectively be going.

Music

Not strictly relevant, but this is where I got a lot of joy and energy from in 2022. So sharing just one, in case it’s something you need to hear.

Gangsta: Kojey Radical : perhaps not what you expect from the title but it’s a track about being raised by a single mum and growing into an amazing adult. Love everything about this especially the lyric: I wonder what the answer is / my mama said forgiveness is/ go handle your businesses. Big up all the single mums out there. We got this.

For some beautiful photos of Kojey and his mum you can read this full article.

Hope the last mile of 2021 is treating you well – I can’t tell you what a pleasure it has been sharing this year with you. See you on the flip side!

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!