Creating the future: part II

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

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

Yeah baby. Photo by Randy Tarampi on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

The five year goal setting

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

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

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

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

Creating the future: part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep going: the sun will rise again

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

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

Courage!

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

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

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

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

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

Bonnie Ware on what holds us back from happiness

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

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

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

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

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

Indeed. Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Self-identity, decision making and FIRE

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gabor Maté

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Radical subversion: radical self care

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

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

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

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

Radical Subversion

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

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

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

Enjoy the small things….

Radical Self Care

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

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

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

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

Thank you fortune cookie!

Miracle on 42nd (birthday) street

Ah, here we are – that time of year again. I always have mixed feelings about birthdays – gratitude for the sheer privelige of each passing year, with the nostalgic sense of time moving ahead in a very finite way. And these days I get wrinkles, saggy bits, and bad hangovers. But as my mother would say, the alternative is death, so yom huledet sameach!

Woo! Photo by Miltiadis Fragkidis on Unsplash

But this year, something feels different – like everything has changed. I feel centred for maybe the first ever time and it’s causing tiny miracles.

For me the idea of being centred is that my whole self is in alignment. It’s about thinking and acting from a place which is calibrated with who I am. It sounds really obvious, but the magic is the extent to which this reduces tension and stress, because I’m not constantly pushing against myself.

Let’s be clear, I can still absolutlely be a twat, get things wrong, get antsy. But for whatever reason, at the moment that no longer equates to spiralling down a sink hole of guilt or shame. It’s like my mental company has shifted so that my inner voice is full of friendly compassion and not the negative drama queens who played a loop of what I was doing wrong and why it made me unloveable. And when I fail I try ad own it and learn from it, then move on, rather than seeing it as another foundation stone in an exhausting life of failure.

I’m also not totally sure where this has all come from. I’ve written a lot about micro-habits and small steps, and living mindfully, so maybe it’s a combination of all those things. Recently I’ve also been asking myself some tough questions, and trying to act on the answers. Why are you going out for a drink with those people when you always come away from their company feeling bad? Why are you second-guessing something you really liked after someone else was negative? What audience are you playing to here – and what validation are you seeking?

A lot of these are also essential FIRE questions – what decisions are you making, and based on whose opinion? By doing that, what are you denying your essential self either now or in the future? Breaking habits can be really hard, both for you and those around you when you start changing. And it’s a life time practice rather than a destination so it’s not like everything is solved forever.

Right now when the world is burning, it feels like a miracle to have come home to myself. Happy birthday indeed!

Anxiety

Trigger warning – this post talks about mental health issues including suicide. If you are having a hard time, please reach out to the Samaritans or someone else you can talk to.

I’m glad to be back after the holidays. Other than the great few days spent isolating at my brother’s I ended up mostly working, it was so important to reconnet with friends and family (and fish ‘n’ chips), and just be somewhere else.

I’ve also been focusing on supporting my son who had his first anxiety attack, on his twelfth birthday.

Not waving but drowning: Photo by Stormseeker on Unsplash

He has always felt things very deeply, and has thought a lot about what is going on in the world. Currently, the world can feel like a pretty scary place, so it’s not at all surprising that the British Psychological Society found recently that one-third of 11-18 year olds are struggling to cope with their mental wellbeing at this time, and would benefit from support.

But he had an anxiety attack so strong and terrifyint that he was rushed to hospital for tests, and spent his birthday evening in a children’s ward. I was very glad for the support and calm care of the Danish health system, and for my boy’s tenacity and confidence in dealing with the episode. It was scary, but there was no shame around it.

My fear now, for both of us, is where this is coming from and what it means for his life. And that made me think about the relationships between fear and action. I should say upfront that I am not a doctor, psychologist or expert in anything other than my family and my opinions – which is what this blog is about. So if anything here triggers issues for you then please do get in touch with the professionals.

Photo credit

Money and mental health have been closely linked for a long time. UK charity MIND found that there is a cyclical relationship – having issues with money can negatively impact your mental health, making you feel anxious, unable to sleep at night or concentrate, and uncertain about the future. On the other hand having pre-existing mental health issues can make you struggle with money, whether through also finding it difficult to find or hold down a job, or to engage with things like communicating or negotiating with companies if you get into debt.

Of course both issues impact people in different ways, but MIND found that people with debt and money issues are three times more likely to have mental health problems. A study from the US found that when these challenges impact people’s lives further into issues such as losing a job or a home, people become 20 times more likely to commit suicide.

The pandemic has massively exacerbated financial stress for so many people. A study in October 2020 found that 70% of UK respondents were stressed about being able to meet rent, bills and basic needs at the end of the month. Many of the temporary fixes of COVID, from furloughs to support grants for small businesses, is coming to an end and we are only just starting to see the new economic landscape and what is possible.

Photo Credit: anonymous at Post Secret

I don’t know what the answers are. From a FIRE perspective, the impact of the pandemic has made me beyond grateful that I have a steady job, no debt and an emergency fund. But with all the uncertainty it’s a terrifying time for people who are just getting started.

So the advice I leave you with is the same as the advice I am giving myself as a mum who is struggling, and that I have given to my son: be kind to yourself. Do the tiny steps which are open to you now, and don’t worry about those coming up in the future. You will deal with them when they come: you will have built the foundation you need through your small actions and you will be ready when they arrive. You don’t need to be ready now, you just need to be you. Breathe as deep as you can. Know that you are loved. You got this.

House buying – luck, privilege, and focus

I wrote last week about buying a $1 milion home: over the last few days we got the keys and have been cleaning, painting and generally getting ready for the furniture move on Monday. Oh, and sort of freaking out about the whole thing but that’s pretty normal.

Some of the discussions I’ve had since then got me thinking – given how hard it is to buy a house as a single parent, how did I get here?

I want to say upfront that I never had a divorce settlement. I didn’t “get half the house” or much less “take him to the cleaners”. For all sorts of reasons that probably require some kind of therapy to understand, my marriage didn’t involve the mingling of finances, or equal financial engagement, at all. The good thing is that we took that attitude to the divorce meaning that I took out what I put in. Given that it was my money anyway, and I also did all the childcare, I can live with that. Note: many other ways of being married, or divorced, or thinking about money and marriage are available, and I wish you joy of them.

My first home purchase was in a tower block (not this one) Photo by Ben Allan on Unsplash

So how DID I get here?

A combination of luck, privilege and focus. It’s important to recognise that the focus itself might not have been enough – luck (mostly around timing) and privilege definitely helped. That’s not to say that this is not an option for others, but I see a lot of people talking about how they bought a house all by themselves whilst the back story shows how much they relied on their parents. So let’s be honest. I found it hard – other people will find it much much harder. But it’s not impossible.

House 1: bought for £55,000 sold for £110,000

My partner and I decided to try and buy twenty years ago, when I was 22. We had been living together for five years and rents in our home town were rising all the time. Even at that point the average property price for a two-bedroom home (a flat in the fancy part of town, a house in the non-fancy) was £170,000, and amount that would have required me to be earning £45,000. I was fortunate to get a great job out of university on £18,000, but that was still a world awya, and my partner’s self-employed income was limited as he established his business.

So we found the only thing we could afford, in a tower block on a housing estate, and bought it. We were always really frugal, and had been saving since we got together, saving £10,000. The flat was on the eighth floor though, meaning it wasn’t possible to get a mortgage. Here’s the privilege: my partner’s parents lent us the rest of the money. We set up a repayment plan in line with current mortgage rates, and continued to be frugal, doing a lot of work ourselves and taking in a lodger in the second bedroom though we didn’t pay off much extra on the loan.

When we split up four years later, we had the flat valued at £110,000. Based on splitting the equity 50:50, I got £30,000. I put this in a savings account and went off to pursue my humanitarian career overseas.

House 2: bought for £170,000, sold for £270,000

So by this point I am 30, and have a baby. I have a confused marriage where he is overseas (and not contributing anything financially or emotionally) and things are rocky. I am back in my hometown and the cost of living seems to be crazy. For the first time, I am fully responsible for another human being and realise I have no idea what I’m doing.

So I decide to buy a house and settle down. I still have an income that counts for a mortgage, even though it’s from a charity based overseas. And since I was living in South Sudan / Uganda / Rwanda for the past four years I have also added to my savings pot so with the equity from my first home I have a £70,000 deposit.

The glorious kitchen of my second home

The luck here is that it is 2009. House prices dropped by 16% in 2008 and I looked at a lot of repossessions which seemed heart-breaking. I wanted to stay on the same housing estate, but also realised pretty quickly that I couldn’t afford to live in another part of town. So I was looking at the lower end of the price range for a house. And my goodness I saw some unloved, filthy heaps.

Eventually I found a four bed house in a quiet cul-de-sac (important on a house estate with a reputation for joy riders) and put in an offer. Then I found that the flipside to 2008 was that banks were not keen to lend money to single people with precarious incomes. Around the same time my lovely granny passed away and left my family an inheritance (likely the only one we will ever get since we are not that kind of family). The bank will still not lend me the money. So again with the privilege – my mum and siblings club together their inheritances and lend me the other £100,000.

It’s hard to overestimate how much work needed doing: it had no heating at all, asbestos in the roof, single glazing, an extension which hadn’t been approved and had to be formalised by building standards, a kitchen where there were actual human turds in the cupboards. Safe to say I called in a lot of favours over the years, and did a lot on credit.

I had another two years overseas with my work, and rented the place out. Since I wasn’t entitled to a pension in that job (long story – I keep planning a series of posts entitled ‘mistakes I made with pensions, and why it’s a massive headache’ so do come back for more) I focused on the house as my main asset and worked on paying off my family. In 2014 I came back, thinking I would stay in the UK, and realised that now my son was older I didn’t want to stay on our housing estate. So I sold the house for £270,000, repayed my family loans, and had £140,000 to use as a deposit.

Phew. I think I would have made it without the family help as banks unclenched and my income settled, but it might have taken a lot longer. And living in a city where house prices have gone up 300% in 20 years, every year counts.

Sensible countryside! Photo by Lawrence Hookham on Unsplash

House 3: Bought for £352,000. Currently worth £400,000

This is my sensible house, and ironically we have only ever lived in it for six months. I bought really planning to stay in the UK, but then with work and other issues (not least pension obsession which kicked in at 35) I took another overseas job with the kids and we moved to west Africa. I rented the house out, and, given that accommodation was provided in my new job, I put a lot of extra money toward the mortgage. I took out a mortgage of £152,000 and currently owe just £50,000 – that means I have paid off £100,000 in five years. I aim to have it completely paid off by the time we leave Denmark.

So there we go. A rollercoaster ride which would not have been possible without the support of family, an early start, a high savings rate and a risk-taking approach. I wanted to just put some honesty out there about how this all happened for me – however hard I work and save (and I do work and save very hard) without that additional help, things would at the very least have taken a lot longer.

So – whats your housing story? And how can we think about collectively helping one another for those people in our situation who don’t have family support? I’d love to hear from you!

Hope!

Hope is the thing with feathers, as Emily Dickinson said. After a few weeks of ‘coping’, this week I am back to full on hope.

Hope is the foundation of all my decision making – and the thing which keeps me tenacious and working in spite of appearances when it feels like things aren’t moving. Believing that you can change things, whether it’s your bank balance or how the world views you, means believing in the possibilities enough to carry on.

Yes indeed. Photo by Ron Smith on Unsplash

There have been so many things which make me feel blessed and hopeful recently. The summer weather and breeze, spending hours at the beach getting some energy back (and some vitamin D). The end of another school year and brilliant school reports for both my kids talking about how they are doing well but how they are kind and thoughtful: reminding me that however I feel I am doing as a parent, it’s good enough. Small things, but small things is what we have.

FIRE is all about hope to me. Hoping that I can give my kids a better future – including being there for them in person at different times in their lives, really loving them, and giving them the conditions to thrive. Hoping that I can live my values. Hoping that I can support my family by myself but doing so in a way which aligns to my values and my contribution to the world.

But hope isn’t enough by itself.

Feathers of hope: Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash

Showing up day after day, doing the work, making the tweaks. One thing I’ve learnt is the need to be patient with myself. Keeping the faith is half the battle – the other half is doing the next right thing, however tiny it feels.

What is making you hopeful this week? I’d love to hear from you!

1% Better: micro-improvements

A lot of FIRE approaches are about life changing decisions and sometimes they can just seem HUGE. Getting rid of debt, saving millions of pounds, and establishing major shifts in lifestyle can all seem like mountains which are just too big to climb.

This week I’ve been thinking about the small changes and how they really do add up to change, even though it can feel like daily habits which don’t add up to much. When I feel like that, I go back to the great book Atomic Habits which firstly sets out easier ways to get to something to be a habit, and not something you have to talk yourself into doing. It is also a great reminder that all the little steps do add up to the big achievements – and they really are the journey.

This week I also listened to a great Choose FI podcast episode this week with James Clear who wrote Atomic Habits, focusing on the idea that improving by 1% per day makes you 37 times better over the course of a year. So I was inspired to share some of the things I have (or intend to…) worked on to try and make my life 1% better, over and over again.

Here are ten tips of small things you can do, this week, to get that 1%.

Better days without the headaches. Photo by Hoang Le on Unsplash

Make one health change

I have struggled with my weight since I was a teenager, and it’s something I find both time-consuming and crushingly boring to think about all the time. The 1% approach has been really helpful for me in finding little things I can do rather than ‘going on a diet’. To be totally honest, COVID has shafted my diet in a lot of ways (the kitchen is just so CLOSE BY that I can’t ignore it) so I am back on calorie counting, but it’s temporary to get back in the zone. This week I only lost 1lb which feels like small recompense for all the meal-organising and biscuit-refusing that went on, but of course the only way to lose weight is a little at a time.

But the following are permanent changes which make a difference:

  1. Make four touch points to drink large glasses of water: first thing in the morning as I am turning the coffee on: once in the afternoon when I sit back down to work after lunch (or after lunchtime meetings): once when I get home: and just after I put the kids to bed. These are all ‘moments’ which happen every day, and it means that I manage to drink about 3 liters of water, which is the recommended amount for women. I end up drinking more either during the day or in herbal tea or whatever, but it means I get hydrated without thinking about it.
  2. Don’t eat after dinner. Ok, since it’s just me and the kids we eat quite early and we’re normally done by 18.30 – I know for lots of people with longer commutes, or different shifts this might not work. But I eat dinner and then nothing else. When I take the kids up to bed, I brush my teeth as well which also puts me off eating more. This single change has made a huge difference, as all the late night picking, chocolate in front of the telly or just miscellaneous grazing is then off the menu (see what I did there?!). It also means that I accidentally do 12:12 intermittent fasting since I don’t eat between 1900 and 0700, a full twelve hours. By itself it’s not enough to lose weight – the same link suggests that 12 hour fasting is the minimum we should do to give our bodies a break from digestion and boost metabolism – but it short-circuited the late evening mindless eating for me.
  3. Have vegetables with every meal. Maybe you good people do this anyway, but if I was left to my own devices I would live off coffee and Cheetos. I got in the habit of having salad with lunch and dinner, making a pot of coleslaw (no dressing but prepared salad basically) twice a week and just having a serving with each meal. Apparently it’s even better to have a salad before you eat, since you are less likely to leave it on your plate, and the fibre will make you feel fuller and consequently eat less. Sometimes for us it’s a few spoons of green beans out of the freezer. Either way, it has massively increased my vegetable intake.
  4. Reduce your caffeine intake. Having already mentioned coffee twice I should say that last year I switched to only drinking half-caffeine coffee. I used to be able to neck as much coffee as I wanted at any time of day but as I get older (ahem) I have been noticing that it affects me more. Rather than change my habit, I changed my coffee. Easy!
  5. There are some things I find harder. Exercise for me (again, maybe you wonderful healthy people don’t struggle with this) but I have never found anything that has turned into an easy habit. I wrote before about cycling home from work which I do at least twice a week, but I talk to myself about whether I am going to cycle or take the train every. single. time. Still I make myself do it and appreciate the benefits, but it’s through intention rather than a new habit. However, every week that I cycle I get 1% better and fitter, making me more and more likely to keep going. So find something you can stomach, and just do it once a week.
Climbing a mountain one step at a time (in Kenya of course). Photo by Sergey Pesterev on Unsplash

Make one financial change

I feel like a lot of this blog is about the small tweaks which help on the journey toward financial independence, but in terms of real 1% actions, things which have helped me are:

  1. Automate something. There are a million tricks around automation in your finances, with the basic premise being that you are likely to get in your own way at some point. I set up a monthly direct debit to both my ISA (savings) and SIPP (pension) but then also automated the investing against a pre-determined portfolio. So now I don’t need to do anything and it still happens. The approach of ‘set it and forget it’ really does work since it basically takes me and all my worries and twitches out of the investing. And it meant that I continued to invest even when the market was tanking and I panicked: that continued investing meant that things evened out, in the end.
  2. De-automate something. The flip side of taking yourself out of the equation is places where you really do need to get involved. One example is de-automating your insurances so that you get a chance to find the best deals every year. You need to keep an eye on this – though your insurance company is likely to send you a reminder anyway – so that you don’t find yourself without insurance. But you can save around £300 a year by negotiating your insurance, and even more than that if you go through a cashback site. Which take me neatly to:
  3. Set up accounts on cashback sites. Spending money is still spending money, but the biggest returns I’ve had from cash back sites have been on things like insurance or home broadband which I was going to pay for anyway. These sites don’t exist in Denmark, and I always feel like I am missing something. In the UK I use TopCashBack but there is a great article on the different sites and things to think about when using this approach.
  4. Find a way to save that don’t involve, without thinking about it. There are a bunch of ways to do this, a lot of them attached to your debit card. I have a Monzo card and I set up the ‘coin jar’ feature, which rounds up the payment to the nearest £1 and puts it into a savings account. I don’t notice it going out, and it nets about £25 a month in savings – currently, since I never think about it, I have £600 in savings this way, which I plan to use for spends when we go on holiday. It feels like free money, which is the best kind. But there are lots of other apps and approaches available for painless saving. I heard a lot about Plum, though I’ve never used it – but it links to your banks, works out how much you can save, and uses AI to set it up and encourage you to do more.
  5. Sort out your paperwork. Ok, so not everyone has physical paperwork any more, but we all have documents and for most people, there is something they could do to make it better. This is a great area for 1% improvements because it’s so easy to start wherever you are. If you are early on in your journey you might need to just open the bills piling up on the table. Or you might usefully ring up to reduce your credit card limit; go through one month of bank statements and look for any direct debits you might not have remembered; or update your budget spreadsheets. My big job, which I am doing in little 1% chunks, is putting together a Legacy Folder for if the worst happens to me – but more on what that entails in a future post. For now, just pick a small job you’ve been putting off, and get to it.
Finding wholeness in the pieces. Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

So there’s ten things, either on health or finances. There are loads more ideas on just making life that little bit better – if you want more inspiration, try the new Podcast Just One Thing, which has 15 minute episodes about small changes which can make a big difference.

And let me know what changes you will make this month – I’d love to hear from you!