Radical subversion: radical self care

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

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

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

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

Radical Subversion

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

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

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

Enjoy the small things….

Radical Self Care

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

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

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

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

Thank you fortune cookie!

No less than the stars

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

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

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

ALL the glitter: Photo by Luke Besley on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*All examples in this blog are completely random

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

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

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

L’Shana Tova!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frugal back-to-school planning

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

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

And off they go! Photo by Deleece Cook on Unsplash

1. Work out what you need

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

2. Shop at home first

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

3. Then shop second hand

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

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

4. Organise a swap

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

5. Use it as a teachable moment

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

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

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

Photo by Oliver Hale on Unsplash

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

Budget Check In: May

May has been AMAZING weather wise – sunny and warm, beautiful blue skies and suddenly every single plant in Copenhagen has sprung into stunning lush greenness. We’ve been swimming in the sea a few times (ok, it’s still freezing but it’s refreshing and the sand is warm and it’s totally worth it). Getting into the last months at this rented house and doing a lot of decluttering, and winding down to the end of the school year. So a busy month, and one which feels a bit more positive – change is a’coming.

Hurray for May! Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

Budget wise, it’s been better than last month but still not amazing. My daughter’s birthday is in May, and whilst I bought most of her gifts in April I paid for her party this month. Last year we did a COVID-friendly budget party at home but this year I am so crazy with work and getting ready to move that I figured I would just throw money at the problem. She had a wonderful party, and I didn’t have to clean up afterward, so it was worth it!

Item Monthly BudgetSpend May% of monthly budget
Childcare costs £           1,100.00 £       872.7175
Car (insurance, tax, petrol) £              125.00 £                –  0
Charity £                 66.67 £          14.8822
Eating out £              120.00 £       241.96202
Entertainment – subscription £                 50.00 £          79.37159
Entertainment £              100.00 £       156.19156
Kids – extra curricular £              250.00 £                –  0
Family £                 50.00 £          22.3745
Groceries £              400.00 £       855.33214
Holidays  £              300.00 £       489.59116
Insurance £              200.00 £                –  0
Personal care £                 30.00 £       185.30618
Shopping – general £                 25.00 £          45.58182
Shopping – gifts incl birthdays £                 58.33 £       951.721632
Shopping – clothes £                 29.17 £          72.15247
Rent and Bills £           1,500.00 £       1000 0
Transport £                 41.67 £       138.92333
Utilities £              200.00 £    1,559.59780
TOTALS £       4,645.83 £    5,886.65130

So, once again I overspent my budget BUT by much less than last month. I spent £5,886 against a budget of £4,645:

  • I realise that I have radically under-estimated gifts, parties and what not for my children’s birthdays. In my mind, I am a super frugal righteous parent, but that’s not who I am in real life. There are definitely elements of making up for the lack of family in there – they don’t get gifts from their dad or his family, and only from my mum and brother. So there’s a lot to make up for. I only get them things they will really love / use, so even though there is an element of guilt, it doesn’t feel wasteful.
  • Grocery spend continues to be way over. I need to properly focus on this, but will do so when we move to the new house and I get a bit of head-space. Currently we’re just getting by – I’ll get to it.
  • Utility bills were insane this month and will probably be terrible next month as I tie up everything we owe for this place. I had huge bills on water – where the company asked me to pay for the whole year up front even though I said I would be moving out in July, um no thanks – and also on heating. I hope the new house has cheaper bills than here, but if not, it will be worth putting some time into fixing whatever the issues are.
  • I spent again on personal care including visits to osteopath. This is something I should be able to claim back, but for now I will leave it here and balance it at the end of the quarter.
  • Finally I spent a bit more on transport due to bike issues, but I love my bike and get a huge amount of value out of it, so I will live with this.
Sea-swimming, Copenhagen style. Photo by Kevin Angelsø on Unsplash
 Monthly saving planMay% of plan
Mortgage (UK house)  £                500 £              500100
Mortgage Overpayment  £                500 £              500100
Emergency Fund  £                  100 £               100100
ISA £               1,250 £               50040
Kids savings £                   248 £               248100
SIPP £                   300 £               300100
  £   2,898.00 £ 2,348.0087

So what did I save? Again I focused on getting the last of the money together for our house move in July, so I have just been putting extra into my current account to make sure the money is there for whatever comes up. No great savings news then, but at least I carried on with the usual basics which is still savings (or paying toward capital) of £ 2,348.

So this month, a very unimpressive savings rate of 20% compared to spending 80%. July will also likely be odd due to the move but in August I am going to revise the budget and properly commit to it.

How was your May? Would love to hear from you!

Budget Check In: April

Ah April! Season of – well, we’re in Denmark, so season of sunshine plus snow showers plus beautiful blossoms whilst still having to wear a scarf and gloves. Personally it has been a mixed month as well. My step dad had an accident and fell down the stairs, and whilst he’s fine apart from a beard full of stitches, it has opened up the conversations about how we are going to collectively support my parents as they move into their next phase of life. On the other hand, easing of some lockdown restrictions and a change in weather means I feel a little bit less like a rat in a cage. So overall, onwards and upwards.

The start of a new financial year – summer is on the way (sort of)! Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

Budget wise, it’s been a mixed month. My daughter’s birthday is in May, and with the reopening of things – or at least the expectation of reopening – my thoughts have turned to booking in plans for the summer. So whilst I didn’t really overspend for April itself, I have spent a lot of money on May-July. We did have one day where the malls reopened, and we went shopping which is unusual. I felt so giddy: look at all the shops! Look at all the lovely things! What if we have to get stuck at home AGAIN and we haven’t bought knitting needles!? So we managed to spend about £60 with no plan. And then we went back to avoiding malls.

Item Monthly BudgetSpend April% of monthly budget
Childcare costs £           1,100.00 £       572.7152
Car (insurance, tax, petrol) £              125.00 
Charity £                 66.67 £          14.8822
Eating out £              120.00 £       167.57140
Entertainment – subscription £                 50.00 £          84.97170
Entertainment £              100.00 £          17.7318
Kids – extra curricular £              250.00
Family £                 50.00 £       183.85368
Groceries £              400.00 £       736.91184
Holidays  £              300.00 £    2,154.87718
Insurance £              200.00 £       127.0064
Personal care £                 30.00 £       231.84773
Shopping – general £                 25.00 £          60.12240
Shopping – gifts / birthdays £                 58.33 £       301.31517
Shopping – clothes £                 29.17 £          30.73105
Rent and Bills £           1,500.00 £    1,500.00100
Transport £                 41.67 £          87.80211
Utilities £              200.00 £       193.2297
TOTALS £        4,645.83 £    6,473.92 

So, once again I overspent my budget, spending £6,473 against a budget of £4,645:

  • The majority of the addition was holiday costs where I spent £2,154, making the non-holiday total £4,319 which I don’t feel too bad about. That is a LOT less than I spent last year because I wasn’t bounced into booking whatever holiday clubs were left. It covers six weeks of holiday clubs (three per child) doing a mix of swimming, football, trampoline camp and a STEM camp for my daughter which looks awesome. It also covers flights to the UK and a week’s Air BnB for me to go and spend some quality time with my friends which, let’s be honest after 14 months at home, I am desperate for. So I am pretty pleased. I will need to hire a car, and spend some other bits but that should be the bulk of the holiday spend. All in all though I definitely under budget for holidays and I will need to make a plan since I have spent the entire annual holiday budget.
  • I spent again on personal care including visits to the dentist for all of us. This is something I should be able to claim back, but for now I will leave it here and balance it at the end of the quarter. For now I have lovely clean teeth and a sticker which says ‘I was brave at the dentist’.
  • I spent about £300 on gifts which is mostly for my daughter’s birthday, but included a few things for friends and family who are far away and having a hard time. I try to concentrate on being lovingly in touch with people by phone and message, but sometimes a little something in the post can make a big difference, so I am ok with spending money here.
Getting that giddy spring feeling. Photo by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash
 Monthly saving planApril% of plan
Mortgage (UK house)  £                500 £              500100
Mortgage Overpayment  £                500 £              500100
Emergency Fund  £                  100 £               100100
ISA £               1,250 £               50040
Kids savings £                   248 £               248100
SIPP £                   300 £               300100
  £   2,898.00 £ 2,348.0087

So what did I save? Again I focused on getting the last of the money together for our house move in July, so I have saved the removal costs and some extra for getting things painted etc. So there is nothing amazing in terms of savings this month but I carried on with the usual basics which is still savings (or paying toward capital) of £ 2,348.

So this month, a very unimpressive savings rate of 20% compared to spending 80%. In theory though I should be able to to save more over the coming months since those big holiday costs are paid out, so I will make a plan to do so. And head back toward more conscious spending once the thrilling spring feelings start to wear off.

How was your April? Would love to hear from you!

More Copenhagen spring beauty. Come on, you feel it too!

Budget Check-In: January

In the spirit of trying to be more self-accountable, here are the monthly figures. I have to say I feel quite proud of having actually engaged with the budget during the month – I do realise that’s the point, but as noted I have tended to treat my spending tallies more as a summary of mistakes rather than something I can use to tweak behaviours and get back on track.

About to end! Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

I have been tallying up my budgets weekly and found it really helpful. It also takes such a short time, and removes The Fear of having to suddenly spend four hours pulling it together at the end of the month.

So, how did I do? Not badly in some ways but not great in others:

  • I spent 95% of my monthly planned budget, or £4,414 out of a planned £4,645. In some ways this is great since it’s under budget – but looking across the lines it’s clear I should have spent even less. Some annual costs (such as kids’ extra curricular activities) are budgeted for monthly but I didn’t spend anything this month, meaning in theory that at some point I will overspend if I don’t pull it back from elsewhere. I spent quite a bit on gifts but January is birthday heavy for us so this one should work out.
  • I still spent 150% of my grocery budget. This is SO ANNOYING – I was at almost exactly £400 on 30th January but we had a birthday dinner to host today so I went crazy in (the most expensive) supermarket. I knew as I was doing it that I was already regretting it. Something to continue working on, clearly.
  • We hadn’t planned for the impact of Brexit. I feel like, in the words of Lily Tomlin, it’s going to get a whole lot worse before it gets worse, but the immediate impact was that we couldn’t watch the telly. I might appreciate that this is small beans compared to, well, so many other things, but – the telly! We normally watch Prime, through my UK account, and pay additionally for some channels. 1st January – nada. I spent a frustrating amount of time trying things out (turns out you can’t get Brit Box in Europe, since apparently it’s only available in Anglophone countries) and did the single mum thing I hate – asked One Of The Dads to help since technology is a Boy Thing. Shakes fist at self. So I ended up buying an Apple TV box, cancelling my Prime subscription and trying HBO Nordic. We don’t have terrestrial or cable TV so I don’t mind paying for *something* but this was not budgeted for. It turns out my mum also won’t be able to send over gifts for the kids (or me) in the same way, so watch this space for the reign of terror which begins when I run out of marmite.
  • The kids’ schools are closed since Christmas and after a few weeks my son started to get neck pains. So whilst we had laptops from last time, my shopping-general budget took a hit to buy mice/keyboards/ whatnot to set him up, and a webcam for us both so we can use a proper monitor. I managed to find an old monitor and some bits and pieces, and we asked first on the local freebie marketplace, but still had to fork out.
  • There are still some things I haven’t budgeted for. Almost the entire ‘family’ spend this month was on helping out a very old friend. I can afford to do it, and he has done the same for me in the past, but it wasn’t anywhere on the list.
Item Monthly BudgetSpent Jan% of monthly budget
Childcare costs £         1,100.00 £             790.5472
Car (insurance, tax, petrol) £             125.00 £                99.5080
Charity £                66.67 £                25.6338
Eating out £             120.00 £             104.2287
Entertainment – subscription £                50.00 £                72.77146
Entertainment £             100.00 £             340.09340
Kids – extra curricular £             250.00 £                        –  0
Family £                50.00 £             170.39341
Groceries £             400.00 £             597.15149
Holidays  £             300.00 £                        –   
Insurance £             200.00 £             127.8764
Personal care £                30.00 £                47.02157
Shopping – general £                25.00 £             165.37661
Shopping – gifts incl birthdays £                58.33 £             167.97288
Shopping – clothes £                29.17 £                        –  0
Rent and Bills £         1,700.00 £         1,638.5796
Transport £                41.67 £                67.46162
TOTALS £   4,645.83 £   4,414.5595%
Enjoy the little things – like British TV? Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

With that done, what did I save?

 Monthly PlanJanuary% of plan
Mortgage Capital  £                    865 £                    865100
Mortgage Overpayment  £                1,250 0
 Emergency Fund  £                    10015001500
ISA £                1,25050040
Kids savings £                    248248100
SIPP £                    300300100
  £   3,148.00 £   3,413.00108%

This went pretty much to plan. In January I had to move my house deposit over to Denmark and I lost some money in transaction and exchange rate costs. I also need to now boost my emergency fund as I’ve taken it down to £4,000 (or one month’s expenses). It’s definitely not enough in these uncertain times, so rather than focusing on my usual goals I need to spend a few months getting that back up to at least three months’ worth.

Overall I saved 44% of my income, and spent 56% which is a little better than planned.

Given the overspend in some areas, February should be a month of clawing back – though it does include half term holidays… Watch this space!

How did your January budget go? Feeling in good shape for the start of 2021? I’d love to hear from you!

PS – if you like British TV and don’t feel like your life has enough dystopian fear in then I highly recommend Years and Years (I am not paid for this – it’s just the best thing I’ve seen in a while. Terrifying).

Keeping the wheels on

So after all manner of craziness in 2020, this year seems to have started off the same. From high hopes during the lockdown over the Christmas holidays, we have continued in, um, lockdown. Last week it was announced that the school closures and strict measures here in Denmark will last basically until February half term. Since I am not a politician I am happy to do what I’m told but … jeez, I wish we didn’t have to.

So far we have done two weeks of homeschool/work from home. As a single parent it really isn’t easy, but I have a job that I can move around more or less so I can start early and finish late, and – by far the most important thing at the moment – a boss who understands my needs and helps facilitate some flexibility. It’s still tricky: whilst bookending extra hours when the kids are in bed works for the family, it’s tough for me; and whilst I give as much attention to the children as I can, it still isn’t enough. And we are so priveliged with a garden, enough money to buy and store food, and a house full of books/craft supplies/gin – my heart goes out to other single mums doing this without those things.

The cosy fire I wish we were hanging out in front of, instead of in front of our screens all day. Photo by Lucian Alexe on Unsplash

I wanted to briefly reflect in this post about how to keep the wheels on – how to keep things on track when things are tough. It’s a phrase I used a lot last year, and sometime it’s all I can managed. However, as long as those wheels are on and and turning, there are small opportunities to thrive.

Some simple tips – some of which are easier than others:

Be kind to yourself: so obvious but so important. You are doing your best in really hard times. Talk to yourself as you would a cherished friend – you got this.

Nourish yourself. The more time I spend at home, the more slovenly I become. Whilst this lockdown might not be the barbecue and soda bread glory of the first one, making sure that I eat well (with vegetables / fruit / grains / enough water / blahdy adult things), don’t have too much alcohol or caffeine (or, let’s be honest about individual vices, Cheetos) and generally treat my body like it matters, really helps. Plus I love time in the kitchen, and sticking to having all meal times around the table eating together with no screens means that there is something of a routine and care.

Work out what self care means to you – then practice it. I have a whole post written in my head about how self care for women ≠ bubble baths, but for now I just want to say – it’s ok to work out what it means for you. Do you need time to read in silence? To have fresh air? To recognise what issues are nagging in your mind, and resolve them? I do believe that personal finance is a true area of self care: the most basic meaning of taking care of yourself is making sure you are ok, and finance is surely part of that. I have a list of nagging items – decalcify the taps (thanks to Denmark’s hard water, all our taps are only ever days away from total lime-scale-seizure), sort out a drawer full of random things, fix my son’s bike – and I try and do one a week. The list never gets any shorter, but my sense that I am managing stays strong.

A semi-ironic bubble bath. Photo by Photoholgic on Unsplash

Do something offline. Not everyone might need this, but I just cannot spend all my time with a screen. Whilst we usually have an hour of TV in the evening after dinner, I try not to watch TV or go back on my computer unless I am working. Instead I am reading all the books that I insist I cannot get rid of, and also doing glamorous pursuits like jigsaws, and knitting – though I am totally crap at knitting, and just basically fiddle around with wool and sigh whilst listening to podcasts. My kids also desperately need this as they are not used to being on the computer as much as homeschool demands, and so we are also doing other things in the evening – playing board games, and doing a Su Doku or crossword together which I print off during the day, or my son has been teaching me chess and then beating me witless.

Go outside. Probably the most overused advice, but it makes such a difference. Even with the lockdown (and the weather) it’s possible to get out. Fresh air, daylight (if we’re lucky) and just Not Being In The House somehow restocks all my reserves of patience. Even Harvard research says it’s right.

Stay connected. As an expat I have always known that I don’t live surrounded by friends and family. The upside is that we make new communities every time we move. Having moved just before the pandemic hit though, we hadn’t quite got settled here before we had to lock down, and I don’t mind admitting that I have felt incredibly isolated over the last year. Some online communities, including FIRE, definitely help – others, such as Twitter, send me further into a dystopian panic. Knowing how you like to connect to others, and making the effort to do so even if you really don’t feel like it, can make such a difference. Kind of like going outdoors, but outdoors from your own mind.

Don’t lose sight of your goals. Sometimes recently my goals feel laughably pointless, in the face of so much uncertainty. But then I realised that the uncertainty makes having goals even more important, giving a sense of control when everything else has gone off piste. Having in mind a positive future makes me calmer about what’s going on now, and also more positive. I am also aware from previous sod-it episodes that it’s the small steps that really drive progress toward goals, and keeping myself accountable for achieving those small wins keeps me on track. Or at least it will do once I have finished off all the Christmas chocolates!

Photo by Javardh on Unsplash

So – what is keeping you going right now? What are your ideas for thriving in spite of the challenges? Look forward to hearing from you!

Happy New Year #2. Budgets

In preparing for 2021 I spent some more time on my budgets. I’ve written about where I underestimated my 2020 budget before, and I have added in those changes – both the unknowns (utility bills) and the real underestimation (groceries). I also spent some time thinking about what matters to us as a family and where else we could make compromises.

This led me to some interesting conclusions. One of the things I love about the FIRE movement is that you tailor it exactly to you: your own wants and needs; what you find important now and in the future; and the options you see for your coming years. For me personally, I am always juggling compromises. If I want to work, I need to have childcare and the most likely thing is that I am going to pay for it. If I want to work in my chosen field then I have to travel, and have childcare which is available overnight and for days at a time. And so on and so forth. Setting budgets though helps me to think about those compromises and priorities, and how to get a balance that works for myself and my kids. I find it really empowering because it’s taking an intentional approach to money, and matching my actions to my aspirations.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

So for 2021 these are the things I am not prepared to compropmise on:

  • Childcare. We have a nanny who has been with us since my youngest was 3. With the pandemic and lockdown, I haven’t been travelling and haven’t needed overnight care etc in the way I usually do. But I still need childcare and value the care and engagement we get from our nanny, so this won’t change even though with all the additional costs (health care, insurance, travel) it’s not cheap.
  • Kids’ clubs. I was quite shocked about how much these are in Copenhagen, and I’ve gone back and forth about the right balance. Since my kids are only young once and working means I don’t have time to e.g. take them swimming every week, I have decided to keep this in but limit it two two per child. This means they get to see friends, do sports (and lots and lots of dance…) and keep broad interests whilst ensuring I am not going crazy on this budget line.
  • Holidays: I’ve kept in a decent line for this in 2021, though I hope it will be less since we have some vouchers from holidays we couldn’t take due to COVID which have rolled over to this year (well, fingers crossed that this happens and we don’t roll them over whilst staying at home FOREVER).

So what is the budget? It’s very similar to 2020’s actuals – a budget of £ 4,645 per month or  £ 65,618 over the year. The breakdown is planned as below – this is an average over the year where some costs are annual, and some come out in specific months etc:

 Annual PlanMonthly Budget
Childcare costs £              13,200 £            1,100.00
Car (insurance, tax, petrol) £                1,500 £               125.00
Charity £                   800 £                 66.67
Eating out £                1,440 £               120.00
Entertainment – media £                   600 £                 50.00
Entertainment – going out £                1,200 £               100.00
Kids – extra curricular £                3,000 £               250.00
Family £                   600 £                 50.00
Groceries £                4,800 £               400.00
Holidays  £                3,600 £               300.00
Insurance £                2,400 £               200.00
Personal care £                   360 £                 30.00
Shopping – general £                   300 £                 25.00
Shopping – gifts incl birthdays £                   700 £                 58.33
Shopping – clothes £                   350 £                 29.17
Rent and Bills £              20,400 £            1,700.00
Transport £                   500 £                 41.67
TOTAL SPEND £         65,618 £       4,645.83

To be honest it still feels like a lot.

However, the planned savings (shown below) mean that it would be another year where I spend 60% and save 40%. Again, this doesn’t include anything pre-tax, so money paid for health insurance, or my employer pension to which I pay around £17,000 per year:

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash
 Annual PlanMonthly Budget
Mortgage £            10,310 £                    865
Mortgage Overpayment  £            15,200 £                1,250
 Emergency Fund  £               1,200 £                    100
ISA £            20,000 £                1,250
Kids’ savings £               2,976 £                    248
SIPP (private pension)  £               2,400 £                    300
 TOTAL SAVINGS £ 41,776 £    3,148

This would put me on track to finish paying off the mortgage on my UK home by the end of 2022, earlier than I had planned, and to max out my ISA as well as paying into kids’ savings and a personal pension. So even though the spending is quite high, I am definitely working toward my financial goals.

The one unknown is housing. We’ve been looking to buy a home here in Copenhagen which would suck in savings (though this would become equity) and reduce monthly outgoings. So far, we have put in an offer and lost out on one home and we have an offer under consideration this week (please cross your fingers for me!). If we can’t find something by about March I will look to rent, since we have to be out of this rented house by July.

Once the housing is exactly known I will tweak the budget. I do feel like we could save more, and will keep coming back to the budget throughout the year to see what else we can trim away. Either way, we’ll keep on enjoying the free pleasures in this life, and the knowledge that we are trying to live mindfully. What’s your plan for 2021 and how are you going to stick to it? Let me know!

A beautiful (free) day out walking in the snowy woods in what we hope will become our new neighbourhood ❤

The Red Briefcase: 2020 spending review

‘It’s the most… wonderful tiiiime… of the yeeeeaaaar’ <sings>. Hannukah is just finished and we are heading into Christmas, both of which we love. And we’re up to the end of year spending review, which we are *hoping* to love.

2020 has been quite the year, hasn’t it? I am writing this whilst we are in self-isolation (again) and trying to enjoy ourselves without all the usual festive celebrations of friends, family, and going out. It is particularly hard this year since we can’t travel and it’s just the kids and I far from home. In spite of that I know we are in a much, much luckier place than others with a stable income; living in a fantastic country; and in a house big enough to play, work and study in for weeks at a time. At this time of gratitude and miracles, I am definitely counting our blessings. But this post is also about counting our income, outgoings and savings.

It hurts me to share any space with Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak but that red briefcase is the traditional home for the spending review going into the UK parliament. No comments here on that budget. (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

So what was the plan?

I set my plan for spending and saving back on January 21st, the first blog post here. Below is the actuals and percentages. Overall I spent around £65,000 this year, £15,000, or about one-third more than planned.

Item Monthly Annual Actual % spent
Charity  £              30  £              360  £          830.00 230%
Insurance  £            277  £           3,324  £       3,324.00 100%
Rent and utilities  £         1,500  £         18,000  £     20,098.77 112%
Childcare  £         1,000  £        12,000  £     21,939.86 183%
Groceries  £            300  £           3,600  £       6,160.68 171%
Holidays  £            300  £           3,600  £       1,910.71 53%
Transport   £            300  £           3,600  £       2,723.52 76%
Entertainment  £            200  £           2,400  £          917.20 38%
Eating out  £            175  £           2,100  £       2,006.95 96%
Family       £       2,986.73  
Shopping      £       2,090.63  
TOTAL  £         4,082  £         48,984  £     64,989.04 133%

What the reckoning showed me, once I got over feeling queasy, was as follows:

  • I radically underestimated some areas – I had no budget for shopping (clothes, gifts, personal care), for example. I also hadn’t understood some of the bills needed to be paid in Denmark (hello surprise £ 1,000 utility charge that I thought was part of the water bill!). I also spend 180% of the grocery bill, and whilst some of this is just poor planning and shopping, it is also clear that costs here are much much more than the UK given that I still shop at LIDL.
  • Whilst COVID didn’t impact my income, it meant that there were significant spends on unplanned areas such as holiday childcare when plans to have my parents come and stay (or the kids go to them in the UK) had to be put on ice – I spent 170% of childcare and holiday budgets due to these changes. Some of the grocery spend was also COVID related: at least now I have long-life milk and a lot of pasta and rice in the hold!
  • The uncomfortable truth is that I budgeted without working on a frugal plan meaning that I consistently didn’t hit targets because I have been using the budget as a guide and not as a plan. I added a budget line of ‘family’ then just added in everything which might upset the budget lines elsewhere, but of course the overall overspend is the same.

This budget also doesn’t include – money to savings, pre-tax contributions to health insurance and pensions, or the income and expenditure on my UK property. So what did I save?

Mortgage overpayments £         11,576
 Triodos  £         11,000
Stocks and Shares ISA  £         11,673
Kids savings £           2,976
Pension (SIPP) £           2,900
 TOTAL SAVED / INVESTED £    40,126
Feel better about this bit!

So I spent 61% of my income, and saved 39%. Given the unexpected (or poorly planned) expenditures, I am really happy with that.

Celebrating with our amazing Christmas tree 🙂

Net Worth Snapshot

Confession time – previously I was calculating my net worth at the end of March, since the UK tax year ends April 5th. This means that I have the 6 month change, and the 18 month changes, which is useful but not quite the ‘end of year review’ I had in mind. In any case, here they are. The big additions from the budgets above is the employer contribution to pension.

 Value Dec 2020Value April 2020Value April 2019
 Pensions  £         163,540 £         134,240 £       105,675
 Savings  £           83,287 £           68,500 £         26,000
 House Equity £         343,000 £         323,223 £       304,000
 Emergency Fund  £           10,000 £           15,000 £           3,500
  £         599,827 £         540,963 £        439,175
Changes in net worth

Three of my four pensions are ‘defined benefit’ meaning that increases here come from money paid in to my current work pension (also defined benefit); and money paid in plus changes to investments on my SIPP. Over this time, my house hasn’t increased in value, so any change is mortgage capital paid off. There were a ton of challenges or mistakes this year which I tried hard to put right – I pulled money out of the S&S ISA when I panicked back in March, and put £5,000 back in which has grown again with the shift in the stock market at the end of the year.

Either way this shows an increase in net worth of £68,000 over six months – an average of £10,600 per month, or £154,000 over 18 months, a monthly average increase of £8,500. That is incredible – and I know based partly on having a great salary and a lot of other privileges and benefits like having bought a home at a good time etc. But it’s something to be proud of, and to spur me on to a much tighter-budget in 2021!

How was your 2020?? And how is it making you feel as we head into planning and dreaming for the year ahead? I would love to hear from you!

Photo Credit/ Matthew Hoffman