Should I buy or keep on renting?

One of my goals from the list last week was to work through some options for housing since this is by far our biggest spend.

As so often happens, once the thought was there, things started to move around it. I had a call from our landlord saying they are moving back to Denmark from overseas, meaning that we definitely have to move by June 2021. We love our house but in some ways this is good news – since we have to move anyway, it’s forced me to look at options.

In this blog I use all my real figures, except… I have never shared the real cost of my rent. Because it’s HUGE and makes me feel ridiculous. It’s not super expensive within the Danish market, given the size of house etc, and we already chose to live out in the ‘burbs to save. But the real cost is (gulp) £3,350 per month. That’s the equivalent to more than £40,000 per year or one-third more than the total average salary in the UK. Copenhagen is 16th most expensive of 589 cities in the world, but I still do a little vomit of terror every time I pay rent.

To note – in my figures to date, I have removed a chunk of the cost of living benefit I received, and the same amount off the rent. So the figures balance, but it’s not exactly accurate.

Hygge – the ultimate Danish approach to staying home. Photo Credit. if this was us I assume my other kid would be off making us hot chocolate!

Before I get into the finance side of things, one of the things I have realised during this blog is that as a single mum, my approach to financial decisions has a big chunk of emotion in the mix. Whilst that’s probably true for a lot of people, being solely responsible for small people means that I focus a lot on home, safety, and planning for what would happen if I lost my income. We also moved around a lot when I was a kid, then as a serial-expat, moving has been something I do at least every few years, often living in company-managed accommodation where I know it’s only temporary. And whilst home is super important, my work (and personal and other financial issues) mean that my 11 year old son has lived in 11 homes to date. So – lots of emotion around decisions about where we live.

So I came from the position of wanting security, and wanting to see where we could make savings (and potentially make some money at the end, but it’s not guaranteed). I have four years on my contract here, and the kids are loving Copenhagen. So I decided to look into buying a home. Doing that whilst an expat is complicated – there is a fantastic and very detailed guide here. If you want to buy before you have lived here for five years, you need a special permission and you are also obliged to sell the property within six months if you leave the country. So there is a higher risk that you might have to sell at a bad time. For me this has meant thinking more about the home I would buy and discounting some which I like because there are things which might make it hard to sell – road noise in particular seems to be a no-go.

Not buying a house like this but isn’t Copenhagen pretty! Photo Credit.

With that in mind, I started to explore mortgages. And I have to say, coming from the super-cautious (at least after the 2008 crisis anyway) UK, this has been really easy. I need a 10% deposit, but the mortgage interest is only 1%, fixed, for 30 years. At that level, even living here for five years means I would pay off a decent chunk of capital in addition to having lower monthly costs. I will have to pay taxes which are included in my current rent but with this, the amount I will save on monthly outgoings (including paying off a small loan I need to take out to get to the 10%) and capital paid off is as below:

      Two years Three Years Four years
 Savings on monthly outgoings     £          31,617  £          47,425  £          63,234
 Capital paid off     £          30,713  £          46,511  £          62,610
 TOTAL saved + capital owned    £        62,330  £         93,936  £       125,844

For me, there is enough wiggle room in there to take the risk that the house will need major repairs (these should come out in the ‘condition report’ which is like a survey) or the value goes down, for it to be worth it. It’s not a totally fair comparison since the amount we can borrow means we will have to move a couple of train stops further out where rent would be slightly cheaper anyway, but it’s close.

All the reading and reflecting I have been doing the last few weeks has reminded me again that FIRE, and financial decision making in general, is based so much on what we want out of life, and what that translates into in terms of balancing risks and benefits. 

So this week I am going to start looking at houses!

Great things can happen!

So it’s not a political blog but it’s impossible to live in the world without being effected by what is going on. And if you really care – about other people, about those more vulnerable than yourself, about the planet – then it’s less about being effected and more about playing your role. So like millions of people all over the world today, I feel more hopeful that great things can happen, and full of respect for people who push every day to make the world better for everyone.

In some ways, the path to financial independence feels like a small and pathetic series of tiny actions, compared to the major global events which are shaping the world today. On the other, what is more radical than living consciously, choosing to accept or reject things like mindless consumerism and waste? Choosing instead to build community and support others? And how do the big things happen without the little decisions?

When you’re in the middle of things, it can feel like things are not moving. Example – instead of embracing my lockdown weight, I’ve been working to lose it. Calorie counting now for the past nine weeks and it feels never ending. Shockingly, I still look pretty similar – but looking over the progress I have been losing 1lb per week. Now that’s real results! And it’s good results whilst also leaving space to have days where I Just Can’t Do It and need a beer and a pie. Finding a way that really works for you whilst still converting small progressive wins into long term achievements is crucial to having sticking power.

So my small actions for this week are:

  1. Finalising my September spends and being ready to write them up on the blog next week;
  2. Planning a budget for Christmas / Hannukah and being prepared to stick to it;
  3. Working through some options for housing since this is by far our biggest spend and I think there are other possibilities for 2021 onwards;
  4. Try and lose another 1lb!

What are your plans for this week? Remember – great things can happen!

Getting back in the budget saddle

I missed posting last week, mostly because I was nestled in a shame spiral about my spending – fun! Self reflection is always challenging, for me especially when it’s something I think I am doing well at. I started this blog from the perspective of ‘I am largely sticking to my budget’: ‘I am in a good place and want to get better’: ‘I’ve a five year plan and few doubts.’

O. M. G.

So it’s partly been the habit-trashing of COVID and the change to being without additional help from my family, contact with friends, or regular travel with work. But it’s also been just taking my eye off the ball. I realised last week that I don’t really track my budget any more as I am spending, something which happened when I started using my Danish account instead of my Monzo card which tracks all spend for you against a pre-set budget. Instead I review spending a few weeks after month end, and it becomes an inventory of my stupid.

After some initial reflection last week I concentrated on getting the two gnarly issues sorted from my budget. The first was getting a realistic view of the utilities budgets. In Denmark, there are no price comparison websites and few options when it comes to utilities providers. A proper review of these costs show I spend £405 per month on utilities – almost £5,000 per year, and significantly under what was in my original monthly budget. I also looked at kids clubs and holidays – action there is TBD since the options range from cutting it altogether to reducing it significantly, and this can only be done through more of a lifestyle prioritisation exercise. It will also depend if my parents can help out with holiday childcare again post-COVID – whatever post-COVID looks like…

It was also useful to give myself a break and think about self-talk on these issues. I love Brené Brown and she has some great advice on money and shame. It’s important to note that as a single mum, whilst I can have conversations with others, I am responsible for all the decision making – and praise or blame. And personally I find that the FIRE community can be quite light on failure, sending you back to Dave Ramsay if you get stuck in early stages. However, since shame spirals are characterized by feeling like everything compounds the original feeling, I can also believe this is my perception. With that said, I’m sharing the tips I found most relevant:

  1. Show yourself compassion. Interestingly Harvard Medical School’s paper on self compassion covers a lot of the micro-habits I have been trying to put in place recently – from journaling to meditation. The tips about ‘comforting your body’ also opened up other ideas. As Jen Sincero says, we can treat our bodies like a windsock flailing behind our brains, doing ourselves harm but also missing opportunities to improve and support ourselves in simple ways.
  2. Be courageous. For me undertaking the calculations and spending reviews – then sharing them on this blog, are courageous. To be even more so, I need to start tracking spend during the month to look it in the eye on a regular basis, and be brave enough to stop spending, say no, or course correct.
  3. Celebrate the small wins. This I really struggle with. Some of the small wins are really small, and when they turn into habit I don’t appreciate them anymore. Examples like packing lunches for work, cycling to the office, choosing free weekend activities and so on don’t get noticed. Here I need to create small goals such as no-spend days – or indeed just sticking to the damn budget for things like eating out – and celebrating those.

So – aluta continua! How do you keep going when things aren’t going well?

Image credit: https://alchetron.com/A-luta-continua

Budget Review: August 2020

I already wrote about spending during the summer holidays (June and July) so this post covers August. My plan is to look at September in the coming two weeks, then that ties up quarter three.

It is completely obvious to me that I am behind in my budgeting – that’s one of the reasons why it’s taking me so long to prepare and post my monthly budgets. There is definitely something where the thinking about FIRE and feeling like I am On A Path means that I don’t actually need to do anything else. I wrote at the start of this blog about being Fake Frugal and I am sorry to say that I am definitely still in that place.

I *do* reuse teabags – but I also spend on my kids extra-curricular activities without thinking twice. Image credit: Ray Massey | Getty Images

Looking at my numbers for August, I was justifying all the overspends. Oh – it was my birthday! Oh – it was my best friend’s 40th and a rare peaceful moment during COVID so I flew to the UK. Oh – my daughter made the swimming team so I had to pay the fees. I spent HOW MUCH? Oh dear…

 Monthly Plan Actual
Charity £                   30.00 £                           83.15
Insurance & utilities £                277.00 £                         914.22
Childcare £             1,000.00 £                     1,000.00
Groceries £                300.00 £                         546.92
Holidays £                300.00 £                     1,960.52
Transport  £                300.00 £                         307.71
Entertainment £                200.00 £                           81.91
Eating out £                175.00 £                         328.98
Rent  £             1,500.00 £                  1,500.00
Family  £                         586.67
Personal care  £                         117.53
Shopping  £                           16.57
Clothes  £                           60.50
 TOTAL £                 4,082.00 £                     7,504.68
OH MY DAYS WHAT DID I DO? August spends.

What are the lessons here?

Stay courageous: I almost didn’t share this budget because I spent almost double my already healthy budget. But what’s the point in making it all look easy when it isn’t?

Stay grateful: I wrote last week about gratitude and first off, I am grateful that I have the income where I can do this and not be in debt. But I need to also stay grateful and focused about what else I have planned for my life – early retirement, more time with the kids, and not working a job to pay for things I am only barely aware of.

Work with what is real not what you wish is real: The old phrase ‘champagne tastes, beer budget applies to me, but Denmark costs, UK budget. An example is that I’ve worked really hard on grocery spends – shopping in budget supermarkets, meal planning, cooking from scratch, and going in with a list – but I can’t get it down to my original budget. Whilst I could probably tweak it some more, I don’t think it’s going to be at  £300. I make packed lunches for all of us five days per week, and this saves eating out money but eats into (see what I did there?!) grocery spends. Ditto on utilities – I thought this was based on the real costs but there have been a couple of things which were news to me during our first year. If I am not working to a realistic budget then there is no way I can even try to succeed. So it becomes an exercise in futility.     

Action has to follow intention – regular, conscious action: I have known for a while that I need to spend some time setting up all my spreadsheets so that they are meshed together. Where I have money budgeted monthly but to be spread out over the year (e.g. I pay my car insurance annually but budget monthly) including holidays, I can’t tell at this point if I have stuck to the budget (clue: probably not).

So – on we go. Better to be honest and look it in the eye than write nice posts about intentionality without tackling the basics! As we head into the last quarter of the year, I need to look at the budget again, particularly annual costs and things like putting ceilings on kids’ extracurricular activities. Aluta continua!

Getting intentional: maximise time, and other limited resources

So I feel like I haven’t posted much recently about actual finances, and I promise to come back to it – I’m finishing off a review of my September and Qtr 3 total spending, and will share more detail and reflections on that in coming posts.

I also firmly believe that the FIRE discussion is about so much more than finance: it’s about working out what matters in life, and how to live consciously. Paula Pant is a total star in helping think this through and her Afford Anything podcast is regular inspiration to me. As she says, “You can afford anything but not everything”. Anything which is a limited resource – so yes money for sure, but also time, focus, commitment – needs to be managed conciously in the way which gives you the best version of yourself.

Paula asks two questions and uses these as a way to dive deeply into a range of subjects. Recently I found myself going back to these:

  1. How can we make smarter decisions about our money, time and life?
  2. How can we align our daily behaviors and habits with the lifestyle we
    value most?

Whilst question 1 is something I spend a lot of time on, question 2 has been more lacking. There are moments, as in my exploration of my Beauty Habit where it has come more to the forefront. In addition to asking the question “Do I need to spend money on this? What does it add to my life?” I also asked “How does buying this align to my beliefs, about the planet, and about how I value myself?”. But building this question into a more regular habit is trickier.

I’ve talked about two books recently but they have really shifted things for me in the past few months: Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky is first. There’s a lot of information in this excellent book (and blog) and to be honest I have acted on maybe 10% of it. Key things have been under their pillar of ‘laser’ intensity – getting rid of white noise. So I have trimmed through email subscriptions, apps, meetings (blimey I wish I could do this with more meetings, but working out what would be career limiting, and seeing how to model and incentivise keeping meetings to an essential minimum with my team). Basically decluttering the things which take up my time when I don’t see the value. Make Time also talks a lot about highlights which speaks directly to where I struggle in reaching my goals: finding the activities which fall between long term goals and short term tasks. Spending a few minutes in the morning planning a highlight around these activities, even if it’s focused time with my kids, means that I start the day with something in mind that really matters.

The other book is Personality Isn’t Permanent by Benjamin Hardy. The style doesn’t always gel with me, but the overarching message does – that we are not locked into being “who we are” and that the actions we take today, however small, really do build the futures we want. If we are unintentional, then we can also create futures that we DON’T want.

Today really does create tomorrow – Image from Benjamin Hardy’s Blog.

As with many others, Hardy talks about journaling and setting goals daily. I’ve always totally believed in this idea but never found the time or motivation to do it myself. I read lots of brilliant things about Morning Pages, but the caveat that these should be THREE pages of longhand thoughts ensure that I never felt I could fit it in. Taking the ideas from these two books I started a practice last month:

  1. Get up 15 minutes earlier. For me this is 05:30, which is early but the fact that I only had to add 15 minutes makes it less painful.
  2. Take a shower, and get dressed.
  3. Go downstairs and before doing anything else (even turning on the coffee pot) sit down at the table.
  4. Meditate for 5 minutes. It’s not a lot, just a little deep breathing, a little silent prayer.
  5. Write however much I want in my journal. It’s been about 1 page per day so far. Start with gratitude – what am I thankful for?
  6. Then write a highlight and some goals for the day.
  7. And when it’s done, turn the coffee on and go about my day.

It’s a small practice but I feel the benefits. Best of all I don’t even think about doing it now – days I have slept a little late (or had one glass of wine too many the night before) or woken up with a ton of urgent work to get on with, I still do it. And I definitely feel the benefits.

What are your small tweaks which are making you edge closer to your goals?

Beauty and cosmetics spending, the personal assessment

Last week I wrote a post which has been on my mind for a while about spending on cosmetics and the beauty industry, and how this relates to my financial independence journey.

There are some great bloggers working on the intersection of FIRE and working toward zero waste: I particularly love Tread Lightly, Retire Early. For me, so much of FIRE is about living consciously and thinking always about what matters: and there are a lot of intersections there with low waste or environmental living, where ‘what matters’ includes a bright future for everyone on the planet.

So: having thought about this in general, I completed an inventory nothing that this is the slimmed down version – when we moved to Copenhagen last year I probably got rid of half the total stash. Then I thought about how it applies to me and came to the following conclusions:

  1. Beauty and cosmetics can constitute clutter – just because it’s potentially useful, doesn’t mean it needs to be taking up space. I did an inventory of everything we have in the house, and it’s A LOT. I’ve been on the MumsNet ‘beauty hoarders’ threads and whilst people encourage each other to use up products, there is a definite sense of ‘so we can go and buy more’ (and this isn’t me knocking the lovely people on it, it’s just I find the threads give me more ideas about things I could buy rather than really knuckling down to buy less). As an expat I got into a habit of buying things I might not be able to find, and schlepping them about with me. That’s a lot of extra effort, packing boxes, money spent on shipping and all the rest of it.
  2. I have a lot more than I think. After realising that it can be clutter, the inventory showed me that we have A LOT of stuff. Looking at blogs etc on this issue I realise it’s a lot less than other people might have, but that’s not the point – for my needs and wants, it’s too much (see the EIGHT pictures above – do I seem to have a worry that Dove deodorant will never be available again??)
  3. Telling yourself ‘ah I’ll use it all, no bother’ might be right – but only if you then stop buying stuff. I will use all those 11 deodorants, but in the meantime I surely don’t need any more. My weak spot is travelling and forgetting something, then buying it again (hello both the deodorants which were bought to come in under the 75ml limit for hand luggage). Which reminds me of:
  4. Stupid spending rules are stupid. In the same way that food eaten off someone else’s plate still has calories (sigh), cosmetics bought a) in the airport b) in a country where they are cheaper than where you live, or c) on a three-for-two offer , is STILL spending. And if you don’t need it, you don’t need it. When we lived in DR Congo where paracetamol were $20 a pack it made sense to buy a lot of packs for 40p when I was in the UK. But that approach has become a habit which needs breaking.
  5. There are other ways to treat yourself. I definitely link buying luxury cosmetics to treating myself in such a small way that the spend doesn’t matter. This is obviously nonsense – I would never apply the same logic to a diet and a doughnut. I love this post about the treat yourself culture, and am actively looking for alternatives that really do make me feel better.

Finally, I kept track of everything we used as a family for three months. All the plastic waste is below and it’s so much less than I thought. 1 each of shampoo, conditioner (and a 2in1 which has been on the go for about a year), shower gel plus my son’s shower gel, deodorant, face wash, moisturiser, toothpaste and (plastic free) cotton buds. There are also a couple of minis which have been lying around and got used up because I had in mind to finish them. My conclusion – this represents the stuff that I use. The other millions of things, aren’t really essentials, and are therefore things I could live without.

Not that much? This is about £20 worth of stuff. But the plastic will still live on for decades…

A final word here on beauty advent calendars. A huge box of my stuff is from these advent calendars, where you open a door onto a mini product for every day of advent. I loved the idea of them – a chance to try out new things, and see what else I might enjoy, plus that feeling of ‘treating myself’ every day for what can be a difficult month. But the number of things I have left is a testimony to how little I need this and the most basic analysis tells us that both financially and environmentally these can’t be a good idea. This year my kids are making me a picture advent calendar instead – and if I really miss it, I can just choose something from the existing box of unloved miniatures.

Cosmetics: spending, waste and the ‘lipstick effect’

I’ve always loved cosmetics. Growing up with an older sister, having small budgets so rarely getting new clothes, and always being self-conscious about my weight means that I focused on the tiny things which made me feel better rather than ever really getting into clothes. When I started working at 16 and had enough money coming in to build up a wardrobe, I carried on with cosmetics – make up, perfume, bath stuff, the whole lot.

In my second job, a friend – who often lent me her clothes – pointed out that if I stopped my weekly beauty shop, I could buy a decent outfit every month. Whilst that stayed with me, it converted more into looking at cheaper brands rather than anything meaningful. I must have spend thousands on beauty products over the years, many of which have never worked (or not performed miracles – who knew?!) or were barely used. And this was before Instagram and beauty vloggers – think how much worse it could have been.

Does your bathroom cupboard look like this? You might be a beauty hoarder

When I buy a £5 nail varnish (or, more often, a £2 bubble bath) I barely even think about it. It’s not an essential but it’s not a lot. And it’s a world away from paying for a manicure, or spa day. But a study in 2017 showed that the average British woman will spend £70,000 in her lifetime on her appearance. The study feels a little broad, since it includes gym membership but another study conducted by the industry showed that the value of beauty consumption in the UK in 2018 was £27.2 bn (or £409 per person). Either way – it’s a lot.

And there’s evidence, known as the Lipstick Effect, that small spending on luxury beauty actually rises during a recession. Partly because there isn’t enough money for funding major things like a fancy new coat – but also because when things are bad, we still like to feel special, or the idea of ‘affordable luxury’. There is some argument that the Lipstick Effect won’t survive this recession, not least because the impact of working at home means that people care a bit less about how they look. But it will surely be something else – the tightness of my trousers suggests I have turned to little delicious treats, which in hindsight might have been a mistake…

Aside from the money, cosmetics raise a lot of issues for me in terms of waste and plastics. Farrah Penn’s article in 2019 on trying zero waste beauty sets out some scary statistics:

There are five trillion tons of plastics in the ocean. How can I reduce my spending and reduce turtle misery at the same time?

I’m going to start with a review of my cosmetics stash, and see what I have on hand, how to use it up and learn from what I don’t use and don’t need to replace. Then I’ve started keeping track of how much we use, how much it costs – to me and the planet. More on my findings in the next article.


Catching up – and taking a pause

So, I’ve unintentionally (or without planning to) been away for a month. What with getting the kids back to school and a million things going on at work, I haven’t found much time.

What I have been looking for in all the hectic is ways to catch a pause – moments of self care and taking time which don’t take me off the FIRE path. Often when I think about FIRE, read blogs or listen to podcasts, it can feel like the calm comes after the FIREstorm. Or there are mid-point goals, like going part time at work, or sabbaticals. There is lots of interesting information about mini-retirements: planning and negotiating time out of normal work. With my work and family responsibilities I can’t see this happening for at least a few years. Whilst that might be my own limited thinking, I wanted to try and at least build some pause into smaller blocks of time.

Both a relevant image and a fantastic tune!

First things – clearing out space in my day. I read the fantastic book Make Time which has a huge range of suggestions for ways to clear out time in your day (or week) and also space in your mind. I would really recommend reading the book, but there’s also a great podcast by Choose FI where they interview the author. I started implementing some of the ideas immediately, and the one which has made the most difference was clearing out my phone’s home screen. This along with turning off almost all notifications means I’m no longer wasting time in what they call ‘infinity pools‘ – apps which endlessly refresh and encourage endless scrolling.

Second – making things feel special makes it feel like a break. There are a few areas where five extra minutes (or less) can make something feel like a treat, and break up the day. Setting out my lunch on a proper plate, with a glass of iced water means even if I am eating at my desk I feel the change in rhythm of the day. Setting the table nicely when I am home and getting dinner out for the kids ditto. Mixing a cocktail for whilst I am making dinner (with alcohol or no) also marks the break between work and family time – even if I know full well the laptop is going on again after the children are asleep – and feels like a decadent luxury. None of these things cost more money or include any fuss: a few minutes really makes a difference.

Plus you can use up those bits left in the bottom of the bottles

Third – take a pause on the inside. I have been meaning to take up meditation for such a long time it’s become something of a running joke. There’s a lot of evidence of the benefits of meditation : helping with anxiety and stress, creating space in a mind which is ‘on’ all the time. I also recently read Glennon Doyle’s book Untamed in which she talks about how meditation helps her manage and juggle things even in the hardest times. I had a conversation with a friend in which I committed to meditate once, the next day, for five minutes. I did it, then … nothing for the next few days. Then, in one of those moments of serendipity my daughter had a school assignment to meditate twice that week. Since then we have meditated together every evening before bed – a much needed pause each evening in a stressful world.

Whether you have five minutes or five hours, find a way to take a break. I love this infographic with 50 ideas from Karen Horneffer-Ginter – it’s available to print out for free and full of inspiration.

From Full Cup, Thirsty Spirit

I highly recommend finding ways to pause in your day – or your week, or month. Creating spaces lets the light in, to think about the future and fine-tune plans, but also enjoy the now. Enjoy your moments of calm!

Ethical living and FIRE

I had a question from a reader about my ethical stance to investing and thought it was such a great question I would focus on it for this post. This will focus on my personal experience, with the next one focusing on the background to ethical investing and some things to think about.

What does it mean to be ethical and to be striving for financial independence? How can I get the best returns for my money whilst not investing in things that I don’t believe in? How can I be working toward a better life for my children if on the other hand my money is supporting companies who are destroying the planet our kids will inherit?

Money or green things??

In terms of my own experience, when I was growing up my mum always invested ethically as a family. Well, my family had such huge issues with supporting companies that didn’t align with our values that we didn’t invest at all. Instead our money went into Credit Unions, until Triodos Bank opened in the UK in 1995. With changes to a) my ability to make my own adult decisions and b) the massive increase in ethical investment options, I’ve certainly moved on from that approach.

The ethics of investing – and daily life – are very much part of the road to FIRE for me. Being intentional with money is the first step on the path. What do I want? How does that translate into the decision I am going to make about spending money on this?

Regular daily practice of FIRE, and of ethical living, is about buying less – not about ‘doing without’ but recognising how little most of us really need to add to the things we have to live comfortable, fulfilling lives. There is a link to the zero waste movement (which was again something we did as kids, but was more due to a ‘being broke’ movement). Buying things to use briefly then throw away should be inconceivable, but it’s shockingly common place. Planning meals means we create less waste, as does actively packing leftovers for lunches at work, keeping small vegetable leftovers in the freezer to make soup, and (trying at least) to grow our own. Hand-me-downs, buying second hand, and borrowing things like tools or occasional sports gear from mates or co-ops, all mean fewer things to buy.

Ethical decisions are in all aspects of our lives [Photo Credit]

In the ever-inspiring Your Money Or Your Life, the authors encourage you to question yourself before every purchase not just whether you need something but whether you can take care of it, get value from it, and lovingly pass it on once you have finished with it. These remain great questions, and are easy to ask. If I do need to buy something, how do I plan to dispose of it? What will the impact of that be on the environment, and on me and my time?

In terms of investing, I do invest in ETFs but the solutions here feel imperfect. I have the majority of the UK funds in my ISA in this fund which is available on Fidelity in the UK and is listed as an ethical fund though a quick glance at the top holdings reveals some of the challenges in ethical investing (come back for the next blog post for more on this). I hold my emergency fund in Triodos Bank, which doesn’t have a significant range of products but is best for me for savings (rather than investment).

As ever, I should think it’s abundantly clear but the caveat here is that I am not a financial advisor and share this personal information as food for thought only.

There are so many other aspects to living well whilst living ethically that it’s a topic I hope to come back to. How do you manage these concerns in your FIRE journey? Would love to hear from you!

Frugal (um…) summer holidays. Part 2: the actual frugal bit

So, most of our holiday periods are usually taken up with free stuff. But this COVID period had two issues: one, the places and things which haven’t yet reopened, or which are at least working to a smaller capacity; two, the fact that I have already run through every single idea (and website) known to mankind about free stuff to do at home. We have been really lucky with the lockdown lifting here, so whilst things aren’t back to normal, they are much, much easier.

Biggest success: playdates

This wasn’t allowed during lockdown of course, meaning it was even more exciting to have friends over. We have done this, a LOT.

Baking, cooking, and unusual eating

Since the lockdown started in March to date, we have watched the entirety of season 1-5 of the Great British Bake Off as a family. It feels like the first time the kids have been old enough to watch something that isn’t cartoons, and it’s been an eye opener for post-dinner down time. We’ve been inspired to make tartes au citron, ‘self-saucing puddings’ (didn’t even know what they were but they’re a fantastic store-cupboard treat, do try our favourite recipe), brownies, bread rolls, bao buns, and so much more. Nothing has included fancy ingredients, and none of them (yet) has been a disaster.

To liven things up we also ate ‘unusually’. Picnics in the garden or on the beach; dinners barbecued outside; meals with a menu, place settings and wine glasses. Again, nothing fancy or that really cost money (other than a gas canister for the barbecue that we would have bought anyway) but something which created a bit of change and fun. We also had a birthday tea party for my daughter’s toy cat, which took up whole days in making paper bunting and streamers, party invitations (for all the other stuffed animals) little cat-size cakes and more. We got the Good Tea Set out (a gift a long time ago from a boss who was clearing her mum’s house out) and had a blast.

Caveat: I *may* have put some weight on this year.

Make the most of free attractions

Some trusty favourite free days out (Småland play area in IKEA, anyone?!) are still closed, but we’re lucky that most of the museums, parks and so on have reopened.

Denmark in particular is fantastic for sea swimming and beaches. There are lots close to us, and others which are a short drive or train ride away. I tend to drive, because it means we can take a huge packed lunch and enough towels and toys to keep us going all day. The water is cold, but we are definitely getting braver. And I have a selection of Lidl ice lollies in the freezer at home so that I don’t have to fork out for one on the beach.

Sorting stuff out

Well maybe not fun, but totally worth it. And I’ve been using the other fun stuff to bribe the kids into doing this. We’ve been decluttering, sorting through all their clothes and giving them to charity shops; fixing up toys (or chucking out things which really are beyond repair); working on the garden (tip – I have no skills whatsoever at this) but we grew at least six tomatoes, woop! And the garden looks nice when we’re having out stuffed toy themes picnics.

So – what are your favourite frugal holiday activities?