Blimey. This week has been far from relaxing if you are in any way interested in finance – or indeed interested in having any money!
The world shaking news about the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) was quickly followed by the potentially much more impactful possible collapse and subsequent bail out of Credit Suisse. Those of us who remember 2008 perhaps quaked a little in our boots, since fallout from failure in the banking sector has wide ranging consequences on ordinary people. Indeed, the failure of SVB is the biggest bank failure of a US Bank since that financial crisis.
Credit Suisse is one of the most important global wealth managers, and is in the top 30 financial institutions who are considered ‘systemically important’ and whose collapse would impact across the financial ecosystem world-wide. Unfortunately with that in mind, Credit Suisse shares have lost more than 75% of their value over the past twelve months and their bail out by the Swiss Central Bank might not even be enough to shore them up in the medium to long term.
The knock on effect has of course been a downturn in the stock market, with share prices reducing and the banking sector in particular – unsurprisingly – hard hit. As we get to the end of the financial year in the UK and I am preparing to max out my stocks and shares ISA I am trying to view this as buying shares on sale, rather than freaking out and hiding my money under the mattress.
The final thing was the UK budget, as announced by Jeremy Hunt. Aside from the cost of living crisis in the UK (and I could say more but I’m trying not to be overly political here…) he is focused on ‘prosperity with purpose’ without seeming to make any meaningful movements to support people’s ability to live whilst the supposed magic happens. Hunt committed to keep the energy cap as well as increasing support to get people into work. What jobs there might be is a different question.
On thinking and writing about this, I realised that making and keeping commitments to myself are an act of radical self care. Removing the anxiety around whether I will or won’t do something, and removing the restlessness that comes from leaving all possible options open: this is a pathway to peace.
What this also means is that when others don’t fulfill their commitments to me, I take it badly. In previous posts about this it was important to recognise that I am not always reliable – far from it – but if I have committed to do something, whether a basic act like call you, through to something more existential like ‘have your back’, I am all in.
I don’t even quite know what I want to say here. But there is something nagging in my mind about the kind of behaviours we accept, and what that does to our self esteem. If I expect high standards from myself and feel like making commitments and sticking to them show respect and value, then I try to live that in how I treat people. If I don’t get that back, does it mean that people are treating me poorly or does it mean that I am not open enough to have people show up authentically?
Likewise, if gift giving is part of my ‘love language’ (hate that phrase but not enough to not use it as shorthand) and someone isn’t willing to bend to those needs is this someone who will always disappoint me? Or a situation where I am pushing someone to be too different from who they are?
And if I am able and willing to create so much space for other people’s authenticity why wouldn’t I expect the same willingness, and a compromise and sense of joint value where we navigate this so it works for us all. So everyone is in the same boat instead of just one person being prepared to compromise their needs.
This isn’t about romantic relationships though Valentine’s Day would have us think that is all there is in this world, it’s about how I show up and what I need from others. And clearly I don’t entirely know. But I hope to work it out.
Welcome to this blog post – if you’re new, do have a poke about the other posts, and if you’re an old friend, thanks for sticking with me. Also do come join us over on Instagram for frugal food and adventure ideas, reflections from the Barbies (those girls don’t play), and some inspiration.
So, I was banging on mysteriously in my financial review of 2022 about some major changes in my portfolio, and the biggest one is that I have sold my rental property in the UK. This was something under consideration for a long time – indeed, it’s a year ago that I made the first call to an estate agent to get a valuation. During my portfolio valuation in March 2022, I realised that60% of my net worth is in property. Since around 30% was in pensions, it meant that there was very little liquidity.
Whilst I don’t need a ton of liquid cash, I am at a point where I need more flexibility. That might mean having more accessible money for investing in a side hustle, or a smaller property in Kenya as I plan my transition there. So it doesn’t mean putting it all under the bed in a cardboard box but it also doesn’t mean hosting so much of my net worth in one property.
All of which are critical conversations. But this post is just about the decision to sell my rental property, and how it is working out so far.
One of the main challenges with having such a heavy lean towards net worth invested in property, is the level of risk. Whilst owning a house to live comes with a certain amount of risk, it is very different to owning property as an investment. If my house that I live in goes down in value, all the other houses locally will likely go down in value too meaning that I haven’t lost out substantively: the market has changed for all. Plus if I want to live in that house, as long as I can pay the mortgage (hello rising inflation), it balances out.
With the uncertainties in the housing market in the UK, I felt that the risk was too great and that I would be stuck with the house forever. I had bought the house planning to live in it with my kids, but then I got a job overseas and now I really don’t see us moving back any time soon. Whilst it was a good house for us when my children were smaller, I had planned for it to be a ‘five year home’ and we are past that point – even if we wanted to move back, the size and layout of the house, and proximity to a decent secondary school, means it doesn’t work for this season in our lives.
Whilst the rental income was covering costs, it wasn’t enough to make the locking up of all other assets worth it. In fact, choosing to rent out a house that I had bought as a family home only made sense when I was thinking we might move back to it. Many FIRE podcasts talk about this – basically, what you look for in a rental property and a home for yourself are different. Which is not rocket science, but good to remember.
Paula Pant has some useful guides to working out whether a rental property is worth it. You can have a read for yourself to get into the complexities of it, but my property fails at the first hurdle. Paula’s ‘one percent rule’ recommends that you only consider a property where the rent equals one percent of the purchase price. So if you have a house like mine where the acquisition price was £360,000 it should rent for £3,600 per month. Whilst the rental markets in the UK and US are totally different, by the time of the sale (noting that the value had increased, and I had frozen rents at the same amount since 2016), rent for my property equaled less than 0.25% of the market value.
So I decided to sell. I wanted to treat my tenants well, and gave them six months notice that I would not be renewing their tenancy in September. I agreed a price and put the house on the market. Since things are so strange at the moment, I had no offers for some time, then an over asking price offer which I accepted immediately. There was a lot of negotiation trying to get things done as quickly as possible on their side so they could be in for Christmas, and my recognising that just after my dad passed away, I was really not capable of dealing with very much. So, with help from the estate agents, we muddled through and completed on the sale 10 days before Christmas.
And that’s it! It feels like a long post but it was a decision which took so much thought, and one where a lot of the thinking was basically crystal-balling in terms of what would happen with housing market, mortgage rates and so on. And in the end, I had to make a decision based on the information that I had at the time, and what season of life I am in right now. I am finalising the financial assessment of how it went and will share in a future post (including all the joy of Capital Gains Tax woohoo) but for now, I am excited about what’s next for that money, and hoping the new owners had a great Christmas in their new home.
I like to start the new year with a stocktake of how my finances are doing and whether my savings and investments went according to plan, then using this as a prelude to setting some plans and goals for the coming year. This isn’t the only focus for the year, so check out future posts to find out more about setting intentions, vision boards and the like. But it is a good way of gathering some baseline data to see where I am starting from.
To say 2022 was a tricky year financially is a massive understatement. Whilst the economy globally seemed to be strengthening post-COVID at the start of the year, the invasion of Ukraine in February turned a lot of the world’s certainties on their head. Prices started to go up for petrol, food, energy, leading to massive cost increases in the basics for most households.
Inflation also grew at a significant and rapid rate, hitting almost 11% in the UK by the end of December. For many people, including me, this had an immediate impact on mortgage interest rates, biting even deeper into the daily costs of getting by. Whilst the expectation is that inflation has now hit its highest point and will start to reduce in 2023, the impact (and uncertainty) of these shifts are real.
This has also been the worst year in terms of growth for my own portfolio. I made some major changes this year (more about this in future posts) to rebalance away from being over-invested in property, but continued to invest throughout the year in mutual funds and my pensions. I added in kids’ savings here which I don’t normally do, but as they are starting to get older I need to come back to my financial planning for them, and make sure I am adjusting as needed depending on their age and stage.
My investments this year came to almost£80,000, though some of this came from my property sale meaning that my investment from salary alone came to £50,000. I am extremely proud of this figure and what it represents in terms of prioritisation and tenacity. Since I have been working on myself over the last few years, I can feel that pride at the same time as recognising that my salary and privileges mean that I am in a very unusual and blessed position.
Personal pension (SIPP)
Savings (stocks and shares ISA, emergency savings)
Work Pension (pre-tax)
Mortgage capital overpaid
Kids’ savings (JISA, J-SIPP)
Next steps for me are to do a review of my net worth (and realistically to not compare it to a US$ amount as I traditionally have – with the recent forex issues, this is a pathway to sadness) and set out some plans and goals for 2023. Whilst I do that, I will just continue to save and invest as usual, and get ready for what is hopefully an easier year for us all.
Look forward to hearing about your 2022 and how able you were to follow your financial plans given that major challenges during the year.
Firstly thank you for being here with me in 2022, and for joining me over on Instagram. In spite of a very challenging year, it’s been a privilege and a blast!
I’m so happy to be back with you after a much needed break, and writing this gentle post with some recommendations has been a nice way to return. But I am looking forward to much more on family, mindfulnesss, FIRE and much more in 2023.
I’ve been consuming a lot of content recently, and since it’s such a hit and miss process, thought it was time to share some links and ideas as to where to find more FIRE and mindful money advice. And with the end of 2022 just round the corner, it might also be the time when people look for something to get them in the zone for making New Year’s Resolutions.
FIRE is about so many things to so many people that it can take a while to find something that speaks to you – prioritising what matters in your life, living mindfully, rejecting bullshit corporate culture, or just being really, really rich – that you might need to dig to find what you need.
FIRE has definitely become part of more regular conversation over the past few years, but 2022 didn’t feel like there were many new contenders in terms of content creation.
I will focus on podcasts here, all of which work for people who are FIRE-curious, newly on this path, or much further along. Most of the books I read this year have been about mindset (and start ups – more of which soon) so I won’t include them in this post. I have stayed true to my three favourite podcasts which I listen to regularly, and whilst I have tried a range of new things, none have really compared.
She talks to her own experience of working toward FIRE goals as a mum, bringing on guests to talk about money, making consicous choices, building generational wealth especially in Black communities, and a whole lot more.
Journey to Launch is also active on Instagram (and she even replied to me once #fangirlscream) with real advice as well as motivational thinking.
Paula Pant is such an OG in the FIRE space that she was one of the advisors on this year’s Netflix hit Get Smart With Money.
I love her mantra ‘you can afford anything, but not everything‘. Coming from a determined and mindful standpoint with your money and your life is more importnat to me in FIRE thinking than the end goals. Paula and her guests talk about this a lot, providing guidance and inspiration on mindset, decision making and prioritisation, and optimising what you have.
She is a property guru and whilst a lot of the advice there is for listeners in the US, the overall thought process is still inspiring. You can also find her over on Instagram.
The third go-to is Choose FI. This year, one of the two hosts left to focus on other priorities so it’s now fronted by Brad Barrett (who is always doing ‘quite well’ – an in joke you will need to listen out for from earlier episodes) along with guests.
Choose FI started as a community, aiming to provide crowd-sourced advice, and the community feeling is evident. I love the personal journey stories, especially when people come back on after months or years to update the audience on how things are going. The bumpy ride and unexpected turns that people go through are inspiring and comforting when your own journey takes some new twists. Find them on Instagram as well.
I hope you enoy them! What have you enjoyed or been inspired by this year? What am I missing? I love sharing ideas and content recommendations with the community so do flag whatever has been part of your 2022 journey.
Enjoy your New Year’s Day and I hope you are feeling inspired for the new year!
So I think a lot about pensions. Pensions are by far the biggest topic when I talk to women in the same sector as I am. Or single parents. Or anyone who has moved between jobs, or between traditional jobs and entrepreneurship. So, everyone really.
There are a few different schools of thought. Many younger people I speak to have such little faith in the pensions industry that they are not convinced of the need to invest in retirement vehicles. In fact one-third of savers don’t have faith in the industry – and this survey was done with savers, so imagine the additional people who don’t have faith to the point where they just don’t save. Almost 60% of people believe they will not have enough to retire on, with women being significantly less confident about their ability to retire at all, or comfortably.
One tricky area to work through is the difference between defined benefit and defined contribution pensions. Sometimes I imagine myself on the Dave Ramsey show explaining at length why I don’t have $1million in retirement, and why that doesn’t matter because I am largely in defined benefit pensions. I realise that we have now plumbed the depths of my boring internal monologue, but putting that aside, let’s continue.
The first point is that defined benefit pensions are largely in the public sector, and they are increasingly rare. The second is that you will very rarely be able to choose which one you get. You may, if you are joining public service, be offered this option. And – whislt I don’t normally give unequivocal advice – you should always choose defined benefits for the reasons outlined below:
Defined benefit pensions are usually linked to the length of service in the company, so it can feel pretty small or silly, but it all adds up. The greatest benefit to defined contribution is that a) you can choose where to invest the funds yourself and b) you can usually roll pension contributions into a single fund as you move jobs.
I have three defined benefit pensions, and one SIPP which I invest into regardless of how good my company pension looks. The figures below assume I stay in my current job for another two years: many defined benefit pensions require a minimum stay with the organisation. So how do my pensions look?
Annual guaranteed income retirement
Defined benefit pension 1
Defined benefit pension 2
Defined benefit pension 3
Self Invested Personal Pension (SIPP)
TOTAL ACROSS ALL
Even a quick glance suggests that the benefit from the defined pension is better than the defined contribution on the SIPP. However – and it’s a significant caveat – the SIPP will grow with the market. Or hopefully grow, in these days, who knows.
This is where it gets interesting. Using the more traditional FIRE rule of 4% withdrawal, to achieve the £30,000 per year in retirement I would need to save £750,000 overall. Side bar – Mustachian Calcs are great calculators for working this sort of thing out. As you can see, I am not far off from that £30,000, and indeed would reach it if I could add in the UK State Pension (caveats galore!) but my portfolio ‘value’ is only around one-third of that net worth calculation.
Definitely more on this in blogs to come. It’s both a tangled old web, and a cornerstone of what we’re trying to do here. So do come back and join me on Instagram for more.
Things seem pretty scary at the moment. Climate disasters, war in Ukraine, Ebola in Uganda, right wing shifts in Italy, significant remilitarisation in Europe, a soaring cost of living – I could go on. Having always been a political animal I now refuse to have the news on in the morning because it makes me want to go back to bed and just stay there.
Writing a blog about personal finance (and I mean that in the loosest sense) means that recognising the impact political and socio-economic changes have on people’s lives and opportunities is critical. There is a big difference between painting a falsely aspirational picture versus giving people hope and courage to try a different path and see how they can succeed in their context.
So I just wanted to take today to talk about The Fear and why it’s not unfounded.
Personal finance is largely built on evidence-based faith. We look at the options open to us; historical shifts, values and movements; and our own future plans and needs. Then use all that information to triangulate the best options. I mean – this is what happens ideally. Sometimes we get hopeful, or greedy, and it’s more like a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. Sometimes we freak out, and it’s more like flipping over a table full of delicious food in order to hide underneath it. But in essence, making decisions means assessing what we think will happen, in our lives and in the markets, and trying to match them up with available options.
Take deciding to invest in the stock market. This is traditionally somewhere where it’s easy to be fearful, and decide not to get involved (caveat – there are other excellent political reasons not to do so, but that’s for another time). It is also a place where people are likely not to realise that not investing creates other risks around having their savings eroded by inflation. But intentional action always feels more scary than unintentional inaction, even where the impact might be the same.
Over a long period of time, the stock market has consistently gone up. As the financial planners say, it is time in the market, not timing the market that delivers results. Taking the graph below which models the sorry history of a fictional investor who puts money in just at the worst possible time, we see that he still benefits from compound interest and ended up with a 7.98% annualised return.
In other words, however disastrous certain moments were, the net result of investing in the stock market has been positive.
The massive caveat here is that if the market crashes at a point where you need your money, you are screwed. And that’s where The Fear comes in. In the example above, if that investor had lost their job and been forced to pull out their savings to live off, or reached pensionable age and had to cash out an invested pension, they would not have won.
This is all aside from people freaking out and pulling their own money at the wrong time, like I did in 2020. If you are in a position where you must – either for reasons of perception or fact – have to take money out of the market at a time when it is down, you will lose.
This week I have been reading Nomadland (also a film). This amazing book charts what has happened to the “invisible casualties of the Great Recession”, largely older people who unexpectedly found that, in spite of investing in it for years, the American Dream would be forever out of their reach. There is more I want to reflect on about the changing nature of work – most of the people featured in the book will never be able to retire but are forced to work seasonal, temporary jobs – but that’s for another time.
Having a global financial shitstorm happen at a time in your own life where for whatever reason – divorce, illness, getting to an age where you are considered disposable – on top of all the other institutionalised inequalities that impact on people’s ability to make ends meet, can push you permantly to the bottom of the heap. Whils the stock market recovered from the 2008 mega crash, and people who were able to stay in the market have done very well indeed,10 million Americans lost their homes. For those who lost their homes but were upside down on the mortgage or on other debt, they could spend many years paying for something they no longer own. Having to make money to service a debt for a dream they suddenly couldn’t afford.
So The Fear is real. It’s not to stop any of us from dreaming, or investing, or anything else. I still wanted to recognise how quickly things can go left: there are long term impacts that we can still see, and blithely ignoring the possibilities is just foolishness. I want to leave with these two photos from Detroit of a residential street 9 years apart, in 2009 and 2018. Detroit was one of the hardest hit areas during the recession, meaning there are a lot of streets like this.
It’s ok to be afraid and still look for ways to keep moving in faith: in fact, that’s maybe all we have. But remember that there are people and places which have been erased by these historical financial moments. And they won’t be coming back.
From a community to an overgrown pathway in less than ten years. Read the full story and see other examples here.
Carrying on from last week’s posts about the cost of school holidays and what I ended up spending, I wanted to share a bit more on what we actually did. I also shared activities and ideas throughout the holidays on this blog’s Instagram account: come and join us!
There was a big shift in my thinking this year for a couple of reasons. One of these is just the age of kids – a lot of my suggestions don’t work if you have younger kids who need a lot more supervision. I would say though that ages about 4-8 are the best for frugal holidays as long as you can take time off work to hang out with them (and that’s a big, big if). Now mine are 9 and 13, they have different needs and opportunities.
The other thing that changed for me was taking an active decision to let my kids get bored.
I have always been clear with them that their boredom is not my responsibility. But there is also tremendous pressure to fill our kids’ time with endless opportunity and stimulation. So much of the insistence that we have our children do so much outside of school is a concern that they will get left behind: without all the extra tutoring, music, sports blahdy blah they will somehow be less rounded, less competitive and overall less successful. If you are in a country where yours it not the majority culture, there might also be language or religious classes or community events which are important in making sure your kids feel their roots. That’s a lot of expectations we’re putting on our kids, and they are exhausted. And so are we.
An article in Psychology Today is clear that parental expectations, and a zombie apocolypse view of the world where missing out on the right college means Your Life Is Over is pushing parents to put too much pressure on their kids. As the article notes, whilst extra-curricular pursuits were a hobby or a chance to try new things,“each activity is now one more area for social comparison and thus one more possible source of stress and anxiety“. Another article sounded the alarm for the impact of this on children in terms of squeezing out valuable family time. A survey in the UK found that 90% of children went to after school activities 4-5 times per week often getting home as late as 8 or 9pm, meaning chances of meaningful family conversation, or a relaxed dinner where you chat through the day, are slim.
Aside from the existentialist question as to the future of Higher Education (which is a whoooole other conversation), cramming in so much to our kids’ days is putting huge pressure on them, but also onto us as parents emotionally, financially and in terms logistics and organisational skills. Especially when there is only one parent and no family around. I don’t want to spend all my weekends watching football or basketball matches (as a side note – don’t attend U11 basketball matches with a hangover. The noise will make you wish you were dead) or schlepping children across town for various activities. Often both of my kids will need me to take them somewhere, attend or support them or whatever, at the same time. And I just can’t.
So with all this in mind, I decided that we all needed a break over the summer. And this meant cancelling a long held plan to go to Kenya for four weeks (there were other reasons for this but actually it was something of a relief in terms of money and having to organise All The Things) and then sitting down with the kids to talk about what a more relaxed and frugal summer meant. I also had to work all but two weeks of the holiday, and travelled for work for parts of three weeks.
So this is what we did:
Use holiday clubs when you have to. In previous years I used clubs to keep the kids entertained and busy. This year I only used them for when I was travelling, since they will have a nanny around to keep them safe and fed, but they need more in terms of things to do. My daughter did three clubs which were actually great – explorers, where they went out every day on the train and poked about Copenhagen; analogue photography where they learned to use cameras and to take and develop their own pictures and had an exhibition; and, more randomly, badminton and origami. She loved them, made some friends who then came to play at the weekend, and got out of the house. But the three weeks were definitely enough.
Take a chance to use what you already have. I feel like in spite of general frugality, we have a LOT of stuff. We got out a bunch of things which have been sitting around since we moved, putting up gymnastics rings and a ladder into a convenient tree, and finding badminton and tennis racquets for games in the garden. I threw all our ‘sand toys’ into the back of the car so they would always be on hand. We also spent a few days of my holidays going through all the stuff in my daughter’s room to get rid of clothes, books and toys which she has grown out of. This all went on Freecycle so other families will get to enjoy them, whislt she has a clearer view of things she actually likes. I also encouraged her to get out things she hasn’t used for a while or made time to play with: sticker and activity books, craft kits and so on, many of which were good fun over the holidays.
Help them think of projects. We also sat down and came up with ideas of things they can work on when I am not there, using what’s around. We thought about things they can do when bored (reading, drawing, small craft things), and projects where I did buy some additional bits and pieces. My son worked his way through some focused phsyics and maths work (yeah, no idea where he gets it from), worked out how to set up a telescope he had for Christmas and spent evenings star gazing and looking up astronomy facts, and practiced his clarinet. My daughter learnt how to use our sewing machine and made clothes for her Barbies, looked after the vegetable patch in the garden, and researched and made bee and insect houses.
Think of stuff to do as a family. We did a lot this summer, but most of it free and none of it ‘thrilling’. We went to the beach many many times. Whilst we used to go for an hour or so we got in the habit of packing a picnic, rugs and books and making a whole morning of it. We walked in forests, around lakes, and all through the centre of Copenhagen which is a great place to explore. I have a couple of memberships we buy annually (to the Danish Architecture Museum which is super cheap and gives you free coffee and to an amusement park which is super expensive but definitely exciting) and we made use of them. We researched and cooked recipes which we hadn’t made before – I recommend doing this with one kid at a time if they are like mine – played boardgames, watched all the Marvel films we hadn’t seen before, and got into a podcast about political systems. It’s all individual, but my point here is that fun doesn’t have to be novel, or fresh or expensive. Treats and time together can be pretty simple.
Spend on things that do make a difference. Brunch or dinner out; a book or a two-month subscription; decent coffee – whatever it is that you will appreciate, do it. The flipside of recognising that throwing money at problems doesn’t solve them is realising that when you do spend mindfully, on things that make a difference to you, it feels that much sweeter.
That was our summer! We had a lot of fun, and saw a lot more of our city. The kids got bored, and got creative. I think we read about 20 books each (either from the local library where we visited weekly, or things which had sat on shelves unread for a while. We cooked, baked, gardened, sewed and played games. And saved a ton of money.
Kids have gone back to school this week! Woo and quite literally Hoo! They really needed these 8.5 weeks (8.5! Seriously??) off as last year was crazy, including some health issues, all of us getting COVID, I was doing two jobs and permanently either out or stressed… So we all needed a bit of down time.
In 2020 I wrote a series of posts about the crazy expense of school holidays as well as sharing a ton of frugal ideas to enjoy them without breaking the bank. 2020 was admittedly different since lockdown had meant that the kids and I had basically spent months together trapped at home trying to work and homeschool, and I was pretty much out of good ideas for nice things to do together. Denmark had also just opened up, and we were desperate to get out of the house and into the big wide world in case it shut down again.
But it meant that I spent £4,065 in addition to our regular spending during the 2020 summer holidays which feels ridiculous. Managing long school holidays is a challenge for all working families, but for single parents where household income is lower, and there isn’t an option to tag team between parents using their annual leave it is a huge problem. My father has long term worsening health issues which meant he had to shelter in place and now needs 24 hour care, and whilst in previous years I would usually either take my kids to stay with their grandparents for 2-3 weeks, or have my mum come and stay with us, this hasn’t been an option since COVID.
From a personal point of view – and recognising that being on a relatively high income and with basic childcare options that continue in the summer – I knew that this year I really had to do things differently. Last week I wrote about commitment to paying off a bridging loan, and since I was horribly aware of the financial vortex of the summer holidays, I made a clear decision and plan to have a frugal holiday and put that money against the loan. (If you havn’t read the post, I paid off £25,000 plus interest in 19 months, and the final £5,000 came from summer holiday choices).
I tracked additional spend during the 2022 holidays. I didn’t count our regular childcare budget of £800 monthly – since I employ a nanny due to my work hours and travel needs, I need her all year round. I also didn’t count usual supermarket or travel spend on our train cards though I did include two supermarket shops which were clearly for treats. So I included holidays clubs, days out, money spent on books, subscriptions etc specifically for the holidays, the cost of a ‘self care day’ which I had as a day’s leave, and eating out since it’s something we don’t usually do. In total I spent an additional £1,377 over the school holiday period – or one-third of the cost of the 2020 holidays.
Books, website subscriptions etc
Holiday club x 3 weeks
Day out expenses
Eating out expenses
Self care day
Additional costs for the holiday period
Next week I will share more on what we actually did – and on how I learnt to embrace boredom and unmanaged time as something critical for my kids’ ability to navigate this world.
I also tracked some of the frugal ideas for the holidays over on this blog’s Instagram page, come join me if you want a sneak peek!
Last week I posted on my Insta about paying off £27,000 in 19 months and I wanted to talk about it in a bit more detail here and how it relates to my thinking on commitment.
Generally I don’t carry debt. I appreciate there are a number of schools of thought on this one, especially about ‘good debt‘, credit card benefits and so on but for me it always comes back to the kinds of risk I am willing to take (TL:DR – not many, usually based on complex zombie apolocalypse scenarios where I can’t look after my kids).
But when I was buying a house last year it turned out that I couldn’t bridge the gap between my deposit and the mortgage. I had 10% as a down payment but needed more to be able to access the financing. I had already scrimped hard to get the downpayment together and, with fees and costs associated with moving, just couldn’t make the rest in the right time frame without leaving myself with no emergency fund at all. So I took a bridging loan, just as a personal loan from my regular bank.
But in taking out that loan I made a commitment to pay it off as quickly as possible. The total to repay including interest over the original 60 months was £29,349 for a £25,000 loan. This felt like more interest than I was willing to pay, and was definitely a spur to get it out of the way. My original monthly payments were £500 per month, and with this rate I paid back £1,400 on average every month.
And now, aside from mortgages, I am debt free again. And it feels like a huge weight off my shoulders.
This is the big one – no holidays. I value travel and connection with my kids and our worldwide family but I cut it out for this period other than going to visit my sick father. Everything else felt like it could wait. So one month in Kenya long planned for this summer got cancelled and that money paid off the last £5,000. Interestingly planning this trip also raised issues of commitment about how others were showing up (or not) for me, which made the decision to cancel a lot easier.
A ‘squeeze tax’ on most of my other spending. Basically this meant reducing groceries and other discretionary spend by about 10%. It also showed me what the space is in my budget, though I am aware I don’t live that close to the knife edge anyway. I added in two additional meals a week to be prepared on a Sunday meaning I could use up odds and ends, use the slow cooker, and generally remove the temptation to nip out and spend more money on food as the week headed to Friday. Ditto with packing lunches for the office. And clothes – I spent around £120 on clothes in this total period for all three of us.
Cancelled all subscriptions. All but one. I used to regularly check I wasn’t being charged for things I didn’t want, but here I cut out everything I didn’t actively value.
Got energy from freaking out. I have been writing about the cost of living crisis which we are all freaking out about, whether a little or a lot. I made the decision to take the loan when I could easily manage the monthly payment, and looking down the barrel of rising prices everywhere, made me really conscious that I needed to tighten down my commitments.
The take away for me was that through commitment all things are possible. This isn’t going to be true if you are already living close to the breadline, but for many of us on the FIRE journey, our ability to squeeze more out of our budgets depends on where we are trying to go. I have never quite managed to find the same drive for investing and saving as I found for paying off this debt which is showing me some interesting tactics and opportunities to get better (or clearer) at getting inspired in those other areas.
So I feel pretty proud of this. Being able to commit to something, and see it through with very minimal support, really keeps me confident of my ability to chart this path, however much it changes along the way. So stay committed. Stay focused. Sometimes restricting freedom of action can feel limiting, but remember that you have a bigger goal in mind.