The Fear

Things seem pretty scary at the moment. Climate disasters, war in Ukraine, Ebola in Uganda, right wing shifts in Italy, significant remilitarisation in Europe, a soaring cost of living – I could go on. Having always been a political animal I now refuse to have the news on in the morning because it makes me want to go back to bed and just stay there.

Writing a blog about personal finance (and I mean that in the loosest sense) means that recognising the impact political and socio-economic changes have on people’s lives and opportunities is critical. There is a big difference between painting a falsely aspirational picture versus giving people hope and courage to try a different path and see how they can succeed in their context.

So I just wanted to take today to talk about The Fear and why it’s not unfounded.

100% faith over fear. But it takes a lot to say faithful in an unstable world when you keep getting kicked down. Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

Personal finance is largely built on evidence-based faith. We look at the options open to us; historical shifts, values and movements; and our own future plans and needs. Then use all that information to triangulate the best options. I mean – this is what happens ideally. Sometimes we get hopeful, or greedy, and it’s more like a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. Sometimes we freak out, and it’s more like flipping over a table full of delicious food in order to hide underneath it. But in essence, making decisions means assessing what we think will happen, in our lives and in the markets, and trying to match them up with available options.

Take deciding to invest in the stock market. This is traditionally somewhere where it’s easy to be fearful, and decide not to get involved (caveat – there are other excellent political reasons not to do so, but that’s for another time). It is also a place where people are likely not to realise that not investing creates other risks around having their savings eroded by inflation. But intentional action always feels more scary than unintentional inaction, even where the impact might be the same.

Over a long period of time, the stock market has consistently gone up. As the financial planners say, it is time in the market, not timing the market that delivers results. Taking the graph below which models the sorry history of a fictional investor who puts money in just at the worst possible time, we see that he still benefits from compound interest and ended up with a 7.98% annualised return.

In other words, however disastrous certain moments were, the net result of investing in the stock market has been positive.

Modelling of a single, ill-timed (and imaginary) investor. Credit

The massive caveat here is that if the market crashes at a point where you need your money, you are screwed. And that’s where The Fear comes in. In the example above, if that investor had lost their job and been forced to pull out their savings to live off, or reached pensionable age and had to cash out an invested pension, they would not have won.

This is all aside from people freaking out and pulling their own money at the wrong time, like I did in 2020. If you are in a position where you must – either for reasons of perception or fact – have to take money out of the market at a time when it is down, you will lose.

This week I have been reading Nomadland (also a film). This amazing book charts what has happened to the “invisible casualties of the Great Recession”, largely older people who unexpectedly found that, in spite of investing in it for years, the American Dream would be forever out of their reach. There is more I want to reflect on about the changing nature of work – most of the people featured in the book will never be able to retire but are forced to work seasonal, temporary jobs – but that’s for another time.

Having a global financial shitstorm happen at a time in your own life where for whatever reason – divorce, illness, getting to an age where you are considered disposable – on top of all the other institutionalised inequalities that impact on people’s ability to make ends meet, can push you permantly to the bottom of the heap. Whils the stock market recovered from the 2008 mega crash, and people who were able to stay in the market have done very well indeed, 10 million Americans lost their homes. For those who lost their homes but were upside down on the mortgage or on other debt, they could spend many years paying for something they no longer own. Having to make money to service a debt for a dream they suddenly couldn’t afford.

So The Fear is real. It’s not to stop any of us from dreaming, or investing, or anything else. I still wanted to recognise how quickly things can go left: there are long term impacts that we can still see, and blithely ignoring the possibilities is just foolishness. I want to leave with these two photos from Detroit of a residential street 9 years apart, in 2009 and 2018. Detroit was one of the hardest hit areas during the recession, meaning there are a lot of streets like this.

It’s ok to be afraid and still look for ways to keep moving in faith: in fact, that’s maybe all we have. But remember that there are people and places which have been erased by these historical financial moments. And they won’t be coming back.

From a community to an overgrown pathway in less than ten years. Read the full story and see other examples here.

Frugal School Holidays #2

Carrying on from last week’s posts about the cost of school holidays and what I ended up spending, I wanted to share a bit more on what we actually did. I also shared activities and ideas throughout the holidays on this blog’s Instagram account: come and join us!

There was a big shift in my thinking this year for a couple of reasons. One of these is just the age of kids – a lot of my suggestions don’t work if you have younger kids who need a lot more supervision. I would say though that ages about 4-8 are the best for frugal holidays as long as you can take time off work to hang out with them (and that’s a big, big if). Now mine are 9 and 13, they have different needs and opportunities.

The other thing that changed for me was taking an active decision to let my kids get bored.

I have always been clear with them that their boredom is not my responsibility. But there is also tremendous pressure to fill our kids’ time with endless opportunity and stimulation. So much of the insistence that we have our children do so much outside of school is a concern that they will get left behind: without all the extra tutoring, music, sports blahdy blah they will somehow be less rounded, less competitive and overall less successful. If you are in a country where yours it not the majority culture, there might also be language or religious classes or community events which are important in making sure your kids feel their roots. That’s a lot of expectations we’re putting on our kids, and they are exhausted. And so are we.

An article in Psychology Today is clear that parental expectations, and a zombie apocolypse view of the world where missing out on the right college means Your Life Is Over is pushing parents to put too much pressure on their kids. As the article notes, whilst extra-curricular pursuits were a hobby or a chance to try new things,“each activity is now one more area for social comparison and thus one more possible source of stress and anxiety“. Another article sounded the alarm for the impact of this on children in terms of squeezing out valuable family time. A survey in the UK found that 90% of children went to after school activities 4-5 times per week often getting home as late as 8 or 9pm, meaning chances of meaningful family conversation, or a relaxed dinner where you chat through the day, are slim.

Internet suggestion for a photo of borderom 😀 Photo by Tony Tran on Unsplash

Aside from the existentialist question as to the future of Higher Education (which is a whoooole other conversation), cramming in so much to our kids’ days is putting huge pressure on them, but also onto us as parents emotionally, financially and in terms logistics and organisational skills. Especially when there is only one parent and no family around. I don’t want to spend all my weekends watching football or basketball matches (as a side note – don’t attend U11 basketball matches with a hangover. The noise will make you wish you were dead) or schlepping children across town for various activities. Often both of my kids will need me to take them somewhere, attend or support them or whatever, at the same time. And I just can’t.

So with all this in mind, I decided that we all needed a break over the summer. And this meant cancelling a long held plan to go to Kenya for four weeks (there were other reasons for this but actually it was something of a relief in terms of money and having to organise All The Things) and then sitting down with the kids to talk about what a more relaxed and frugal summer meant. I also had to work all but two weeks of the holiday, and travelled for work for parts of three weeks.

So this is what we did:

Getting the most of what we already own

Use holiday clubs when you have to. In previous years I used clubs to keep the kids entertained and busy. This year I only used them for when I was travelling, since they will have a nanny around to keep them safe and fed, but they need more in terms of things to do. My daughter did three clubs which were actually great – explorers, where they went out every day on the train and poked about Copenhagen; analogue photography where they learned to use cameras and to take and develop their own pictures and had an exhibition; and, more randomly, badminton and origami. She loved them, made some friends who then came to play at the weekend, and got out of the house. But the three weeks were definitely enough.

Take a chance to use what you already have. I feel like in spite of general frugality, we have a LOT of stuff. We got out a bunch of things which have been sitting around since we moved, putting up gymnastics rings and a ladder into a convenient tree, and finding badminton and tennis racquets for games in the garden. I threw all our ‘sand toys’ into the back of the car so they would always be on hand. We also spent a few days of my holidays going through all the stuff in my daughter’s room to get rid of clothes, books and toys which she has grown out of. This all went on Freecycle so other families will get to enjoy them, whislt she has a clearer view of things she actually likes. I also encouraged her to get out things she hasn’t used for a while or made time to play with: sticker and activity books, craft kits and so on, many of which were good fun over the holidays.

And doing the garden means saving money buying flowers!

Help them think of projects. We also sat down and came up with ideas of things they can work on when I am not there, using what’s around. We thought about things they can do when bored (reading, drawing, small craft things), and projects where I did buy some additional bits and pieces. My son worked his way through some focused phsyics and maths work (yeah, no idea where he gets it from), worked out how to set up a telescope he had for Christmas and spent evenings star gazing and looking up astronomy facts, and practiced his clarinet. My daughter learnt how to use our sewing machine and made clothes for her Barbies, looked after the vegetable patch in the garden, and researched and made bee and insect houses.

Think of stuff to do as a family. We did a lot this summer, but most of it free and none of it ‘thrilling’. We went to the beach many many times. Whilst we used to go for an hour or so we got in the habit of packing a picnic, rugs and books and making a whole morning of it. We walked in forests, around lakes, and all through the centre of Copenhagen which is a great place to explore. I have a couple of memberships we buy annually (to the Danish Architecture Museum which is super cheap and gives you free coffee and to an amusement park which is super expensive but definitely exciting) and we made use of them. We researched and cooked recipes which we hadn’t made before – I recommend doing this with one kid at a time if they are like mine – played boardgames, watched all the Marvel films we hadn’t seen before, and got into a podcast about political systems. It’s all individual, but my point here is that fun doesn’t have to be novel, or fresh or expensive. Treats and time together can be pretty simple.

But sometimes spending on a treat is totally worth it

Spend on things that do make a difference. Brunch or dinner out; a book or a two-month subscription; decent coffee – whatever it is that you will appreciate, do it. The flipside of recognising that throwing money at problems doesn’t solve them is realising that when you do spend mindfully, on things that make a difference to you, it feels that much sweeter.

That was our summer! We had a lot of fun, and saw a lot more of our city. The kids got bored, and got creative. I think we read about 20 books each (either from the local library where we visited weekly, or things which had sat on shelves unread for a while. We cooked, baked, gardened, sewed and played games. And saved a ton of money.

Frugal school holidays #1

Kids have gone back to school this week! Woo and quite literally Hoo! They really needed these 8.5 weeks (8.5! Seriously??) off as last year was crazy, including some health issues, all of us getting COVID, I was doing two jobs and permanently either out or stressed… So we all needed a bit of down time.

In 2020 I wrote a series of posts about the crazy expense of school holidays as well as sharing a ton of frugal ideas to enjoy them without breaking the bank. 2020 was admittedly different since lockdown had meant that the kids and I had basically spent months together trapped at home trying to work and homeschool, and I was pretty much out of good ideas for nice things to do together. Denmark had also just opened up, and we were desperate to get out of the house and into the big wide world in case it shut down again.

Spending a LOT of time on Denmark’s fabulous beaches (though wishing they were a bit warmer…)

But it meant that I spent £4,065 in addition to our regular spending during the 2020 summer holidays which feels ridiculous. Managing long school holidays is a challenge for all working families, but for single parents where household income is lower, and there isn’t an option to tag team between parents using their annual leave it is a huge problem. My father has long term worsening health issues which meant he had to shelter in place and now needs 24 hour care, and whilst in previous years I would usually either take my kids to stay with their grandparents for 2-3 weeks, or have my mum come and stay with us, this hasn’t been an option since COVID.

In the UK this year, thanks to the number of companies which went out of business during the pandemic, summer childcare has risen by as much as 25% in some places and with fewer spots available options are likely to be further away and cost more in petrol or travel. Overall research suggests that parents will pay an average additional £900 per child for the summer holidays if they cannot take time off work. Given that single parents already earn significantly less than others, and that 75% report that childcare costs are greater than their basic living costs and one-third of working mothers say that their childcare costs are the same as or higher than their salary

Easier to find things to do when the weather is like this!

From a personal point of view – and recognising that being on a relatively high income and with basic childcare options that continue in the summer – I knew that this year I really had to do things differently. Last week I wrote about commitment to paying off a bridging loan, and since I was horribly aware of the financial vortex of the summer holidays, I made a clear decision and plan to have a frugal holiday and put that money against the loan. (If you havn’t read the post, I paid off £25,000 plus interest in 19 months, and the final £5,000 came from summer holiday choices).

I tracked additional spend during the 2022 holidays. I didn’t count our regular childcare budget of £800 monthly – since I employ a nanny due to my work hours and travel needs, I need her all year round. I also didn’t count usual supermarket or travel spend on our train cards though I did include two supermarket shops which were clearly for treats. So I included holidays clubs, days out, money spent on books, subscriptions etc specifically for the holidays, the cost of a ‘self care day’ which I had as a day’s leave, and eating out since it’s something we don’t usually do. In total I spent an additional £1,377 over the school holiday period – or one-third of the cost of the 2020 holidays.

Books, website subscriptions etc £    100.00
Holiday club x 3 weeks £    886.50
Day out expenses £    192.10
Eating out expenses £    113.00
Self care day £      85.32
TOTAL £ 1,376.92
Additional costs for the holiday period
SO MUCH BEACH!

Next week I will share more on what we actually did – and on how I learnt to embrace boredom and unmanaged time as something critical for my kids’ ability to navigate this world.

I also tracked some of the frugal ideas for the holidays over on this blog’s Instagram page, come join me if you want a sneak peek!

Walk with integrity: but where you going?

This week I have been thinking about a bunch of things: how we know who to trust, and what happens when we’re wrong; how much trust we put into people we follow online and the extent to which they are actually selling us something; and the impact all of this has on being able to follow our own journey with integrity.

I fear these internal conversations are also turning me into a bit of an asshole. I especially hate being sold to. One of my reasons for getting involved in the FIRE movement is because taking control of your money is an act of radical subversion and radical self care. Deciding what you want out of life; what you will spend and how that will impact your community / planet / sense of joy; what role you will play outside of being a Worker Bee: all these are closely linked to your finances, and are absolutely the liberation pathway to living your life on your own damn terms.

There seems to have been a lot of slippage in the FIRE movement toward focusing back on personal finance in a more standard way. This is necessary to a certain extent: getting all existential is not the only thing you need if you are waking up in a cold sweat about your inability to service your debts. But sharing tools isn’t the only thing we are here for. Realistically, and I can say this as someone who consumes a fair amount of media on personal finance, social or otherwise, the tools and tips on personal finance are not complicated. It is the job of assessing them, working out what is right for you, and putting them into play which is hard. And for me, I could only put them into play once the existentialist piece was clear in my heart.

Remeber than not choosing your own path means you are implicit in whatever is swirling around you. Photo by Corey Young on Unsplash

A net result of this move back into the more standard world of personal finance is that I feel increasingly like I am being sold to by my peers. This isn’t to say that FIRE should exclusively be filled with people who have the time and resources to give away their advice for free, especially as this would mean only people who reach financial independence and then have that time – and who are disproportionately white, male and married, at least those who talk about it online – would share their stories. But I personally am not interested in buying an online course about real estate in the USA, or downloading a workbook which turns out to be ‘the world’s most basic questions ever.pdf’, or buying a product based on your ability to get commission on it.

It is more than that though. We have always been sold dreams, but these are usually other people’s. Surrounding yourself with these dreams, whether they are in the name of financial independence or in the name of being the kind of rich, flashy person who can buy up the bar, risks that you will drown out what you really want. The advertising industry is based on creating desires that can never be fulfilled: this year’s new iPhone that you might be lusting after will be out of date in a few months. Lifestyle envy leads to excessive consumption and waste, which is also leading to envirionmental degredation. We are trashing the planet for shit that doesn’t matter at all: for shit we probably don’t even want or get satisfaction from.

I am seeing a lot more of this combination in recent times. There is a Kenyan lifestyle and personal finance blogger who I have always liked (and is a friend of a friend, this Nairobi of ours has no chill). But I just can’t follow her anymore. There is the dual approach of selling through her personal brand, which is basically ‘you should strive to be pretty, well-dressed, and well made up, as I am – or you will not be interesting or taken seriously‘. The second approach is basically product placement, including MCing courses for other people, or pushing financial products. But there is literally no content. We are just invited to be voyeurs, buy what she recommends, and strive to be more like her. To be clear this is totally standard for an influencer so I am not singling her out, but it’s surprising to me (in ways it probably shouldn’t be) that so much of what was a vibrant and radical personal finance space is now full of this kind of approach.

Realistically, I am 42. It might literally be that I am too old for this shit, and whatever I strive for I am not going to be a hot girl. Probably I don’t fully appreciate the IG generation and therefore have no business getting all up in my feelings. Either way, honestly I am not eye-rollingly negative about people forging their path and doing well through hard work and passion, especially when they are clearly meeting a need with their audience. But I am concerned that we will find all we have left is our ability to be sold to, whether by the big companies or by our friends. And what it means when all this white noise is so loud that it drowns out our own truths.

Own your truth and say it out loud – even if it’s not the same as everyone else’s. Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

What this means for me is being more thoughtful about who I surround myself with, in real life and in terms of what I consume media-wise. It’s ok to not want what you are told to want, and to give those things no time in your head. It’s ok to be aware of the impact your life and choices have on others and have that be part of how you live with integrity. It’s ok to want more: and for that wanting not to be about the kind of consumer crap that might impress the table at the bar but about forging a real life, for the long term.

And it’s ok to recognise where you are different to others, and to recognise that this doesn’t make you better or make them bad: it just makes you both individual, beautiful humans doing what you can to follow your own star.

What might you need to change to get a clearer vision? Photo by Matt Noble on Unsplash

A home of one’s own

With apologies in advance that this blog isn’t the jolliest place to be, I do want to tangle with some critical topics as well as being here for encouragement on these journeys. There is so much content out there about how easy financial independence is – just get out there and do it!! – but it doesn’t ring true for me. It is absolutely not impossible, but if the system is stacked against you, you will feel the burn a hell of a lot more. And for me, I am comfortable in both looking at my own journey and how it’s working, and what is going on out there which is impacting others – and what some of this means for equality.

I’ve written a lot about specific elements of the system and how it works either for or against particular minorities (check out posts on how racialised the financial systems are plus the financial constraints and stacked barriers for single mothers. I also want to say up front that I recognise the privileges that I come with so I am not saying this to ‘own’ or appropriate these issues, but to talk openly about areas where and how I am tangling with them personally. In my view, refusing to acknowledge how systemic power structures work is part of institutionalising privilege in order to extend it’s power, so calling it out has to be part of how we can meaningfully respond. I also find it both essential to understand in terms of why things feel like they move so slowly for me.

A room of one’s own? Not for you, soz. Photo by Devon Janse van Rensburg on Unsplash

This week’s post was kicked off for me by reading an article about why single women in the UK cannot afford to buy a home based on an excellent 2019 report with the same title as this blog post. House prices in the UK are unaffordable for so many that those on median wages – which includes nurses and frontline health care workers – will not be able to access a mortgage in more than three-quarters of the country. This has greater implications for women, because women are more likely to be in low paid jobs and are also more likely to work part time due to caring responsibilities.

The impact on being able to buy is significant. Women need over 12 times their annual salaries to buy a home in England: a whacking 50% more than men, who need eight times. In London and the South East, which are both the most expensive areas of the UK and the two where the gender pay gap is largest, women need 18 times their annual earnings. Given that the very most British mortgage companies are likely to lend a maximum of five times annual earnings – an amount which is anticipated to reduce as inflation bites – it means that these women will never be able to buy a home without external support.

Or maybe this is more like it? Photo by Reba Spike on Unsplash

There were two other statistics which felt like a slap in the face. Firstly, there is no region in England where private rented housing is affordable on a woman’s median earnings. This is not true for men, where this is only the case in London. Secondly, single mothers are two-thirds of all statutory homeless families with children (i.e. the groups of people for whom the State has to take some responsibility), a figure which is striking when they are only one-quarter of all families with dependent children.

Basically there is zero chance to single women on median incomes and don’t have any additional financial support to either buy or rent in the majority of the UK. That feels pretty terrifying to me. I earn a (significantly) above average salary and managed to get on the housing ladder early. But under these socio-economic shifts my mum as a frontline worker and single parent would not have been able to buy a house, something which would have seriously impacted on our security growing up; how well she will manage in her old age; and what generational wealth looks like. And what does it mean for my daughter and how I should help her plan for her future?

I’m obsessed by this house I can’t afford so sharing it just because why not

So what is the point of this post? I am not on a median income, and I own both a home we live in and a rental. I haven’t been able to get to the point where I can leverage them into any kind of real estate empire though which seems to be some magic formula for at least those in the US working on FIRE but I am unbelievably blessed to even just have a foot on the ladder. Some days I need to both recognise the luck that I have had in the draw, and how things are looking for others. And why this should matter for all of us: we never journey alone.

Quick reminder to come and join me (and the FIRE community) on Instagram @brilliantladiesmoney I am probably more fun there 😀

Don’t Panic!

TL:DR – don’t panic! Whilst I’m not the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, those two little words do have to give particular comfort. Especially without the exclamation mark, which suggests that panic of some kind is right around the corner. But it’s Sunday morning, and I am three coffees in and heading to a kids’ birthday party once I’ve written this, so perhaps I need the drama. But whatever you do, don’t let your panic define your actions.

This week I have been thinking a lot about doom and gloom. More than usual, in any case. I wouldn’t say that I have Eeyore tendancies but the world is a busy, scary and sometime relentless old place these days, so a bit of doom is on the agenda. From the endless heartbreaking news from Ukraine, to the real debates about what the exceptionalism shown in that situation means for the reckoning coming for the colonialist staus quo, to the ridiculous news that the UK has a monkeypox outbreak (I mean – really?): it can feel like the only time I hear the word ‘positive’ is when a friend does a COVID test.

Really don’t, even if you can’t hitchhike your way off the planet

But what is going on in the world of FIRE, of savings and investments? There have been a few things that struck me recently and I try to keep coming back to these:

This is even more true in the world of finances i.e. literally everybody’s day to day world. The soaring cost of living, shortages of fuel, eggs, potatoes or whatever is real. Every time I go to the supermarket there are empty shelves, and shelves full of things at a price that I am not willing to pay. In the UK, the price of cheese (CHEESE!) has gone up by almost one-quarter. Once the costs of Marmite and tea start to spiral out of control we will all be shafted, frankly. (Denmark is powered by licorice and pork products, neither of which we eat so I focus all my crazy-hoarder-lady issues elsewhere).

Beautiful! But can you afford any of it?? Photo by ja ma on Unsplash
  1. Plan for the worst, then remember this is what you did. My Crypto portfolio has totally crashed. In the last two weeks, more than $300 billion has been wiped off the value of Crypto overall, so this is not really a surprise. There was real panic that Coinbase was going to go bust – and take people’s money with it. Whilst that didn’t happen, Luna, a popular Crypto token, did, taking $40bn with it. My reaction has been to do absolutely nothing. I refuse to look at my portfolio other than on the twice-monthly date I always look at it. And then I refuse to act or worry about it. This is based on the fact that when I invested in Crypto, recognising that it is high risk, I did so only with what I consider to be beach money. This is money where if I lose it, it means not taking the kids to the beach in the summer, rather than meaning I can’t pay the rent. So when I freak out about losing it all in Crypto, I try and thank my previous financial planning self, and then just not worry about it.
  2. Remeber you are not a mystic. Don’t make decisions based on crystal ball gazing. The thing weighing much more on my mind is house prices and whether they will crash. And this is also one where my attachment to my net worth is at odds with a moral sense that rapid house price increases really are shafting those less well off in a way which will impact on generational wealth for a long time to come. The reason I put this one under the heading of trying to predict the future, is because a) we really don’t know and b) none of the ‘experts’ can agree. Whilst there is a general sense that the market cannot keep rising, particularly in light of inflation and changes to mortgage interest rates, there is no evidence at this point that the housing market is actually slowing down. I’ve been thinking about selling my house in the UK to diversify my assets but I need to make this decision on a range of factors – none of which is whether I can guess the future.
  3. Use this time to deep dive into your risk tolerance and decision making, rather than wanting to act. In March 2020, I panicked, and sold out a significant chunk of my investments. This was based literally on being inexperienced, and freaking out. I wrote a lot about it at the time, both the why and the results. This has definitely impacted on my holdings now but I have to chalk it up to an experience that I needed to get better at investing. It also gave me space to think about what my risk tolerance really really looks like, and how I can build that in to my investing (and my life).
Beautiful! But can you afford any of it? 😉 Photo by Travel-Cents on Unsplash

More next week on overall approaches to investing, but I wanted to start with some thinking – and reassurance – that however doom laden the picture is, panicking is definitely not the answer. Trust yourself, your knowledge, and your planning. You’ll survive the storm.

Don’t forget if you want more cakes/sunrises/Barbies and less doom, come and join me on Insta.

Baggage ≠ Peace

So I have been out for a while, trying to deal with being very close to burnout. Feeling better now, but taking that space was critical. I tend to keep pushing myself well beyond what is a good idea, then getting surprised when things start to fall apart. The last few weeks I have been thinking about this and about the sense of going through life with baggage – as a single parent but also in general, as we all do – with the results and scars of our past mistakes and misfortunes, fears and triggers.

This is showing up in my life in a few ways at the moment. From the FIRE perspective, for many people the concept of baggage means coming into this journey deep in debt. And not just in debt, but with the habits, choice and often value systems which led to that debt in the first place. For me as with others, it’s more coming in and realising what I have wasted in getting here and what kind of different position I could be in. But the worst waste of time would be to get stuck in those feelings instead of getting up and at it. Your time is always now.

I was talking to a friend last night who has recently become an expat, a move which has given him a bird’s eye view of his home town. Realising that the years of making just enough money to go out and kick it with friends meant living life, which was all about ‘having fun’ actually kept him in stasis for decades. Now this could be a cause for regret. But equally, our journeys are what made us: looking backward and sneering at our younger selves is not going to change the past, though it might diminish the value that we did find. Being able to make peace with whatever our baggage is – the poor decisions, the risks that we miscalculated, that person we continued to trust in spite of there being more red flags than the bunting at the Communist Party conference – is to make it manageable and be able to take that past along on a brand new journey.

I wrote a while ago about loving what is‘ – that sense of accepting and loving the present just as it is, something which is a critical step on the pathway to peace. The ability to reflect on my own triggers and limiting beliefs means that I can at least recognise them when they come up. Something like shaking hands across the divide. This is what making baggage manageable means to me: it’s not denying it but recognising my part in it, and the positives that either came through the results or through the journey. Kind of like taking a luggage trolley full of giant suitcases, feeding them into a magic vortex machine, and coming out with a little badge that you wear to remember without being tripped over by it. Or, as per my experience last week, you can just give your bags to Kenya Airways and never see them again. Either way, it works.

Making peace can be hard. It can also feel counter-intuitive in a world where – especially with FIRE, and at my stage of life – it’s all about striving. How is it possible to come from a place of tranquility and still have enough drive to get out there? The quote above from Eckhart Tolle speaks to this I think. So much of what we do is about rearranging circumstances, or the small things (or indeed the deckchairs on the Titanic) instead of rearranging how we look on the inside.

Don’t get me wrong, this internal rearranging can be just as tough as making peace. Encouraging the tectonic plates to shift inside you requires tenacity and strength. Especially when it raises questions about whether you will continue to accept the systems you have been brought up with, to live inside the structures you have internalised and all the comfortable spots you’re used to seeking solace in, however damaging.

As I start the long process of moving back to Nairobi, being able to focus on the inner work instead of the busy-work of administration, is critical. The organising bit is easy (actually it’s a massive pain in the ass, but meh) but the work on finding my peace is much harder. Who am I now, as opposed to when I last lived there? Who are my people, how do I feel about how I have moved compared to them and the spaces we find ourselves in? What are the values I have instilled in my myself and my own children and how will these blend or clash? How can I stay open to the great things coming whilst not being so attached to certain things working out that for them to go wrong would destroy me?

All those questions are critical but they aren’t things I need answers to right now. Coming to them with an internal stillness and certainty gives a certain protection both from the intensity of negative results and from freaking the F out. That has to be worth it.

Take a break – and breathe

No blog post this week, apologies. If you have been over on my Insta then you will have seen that I’ve been busy both dealing with, and coming to terms with, some family stuff.

This week is also Pesach (and Easter and Ramadan) and the school holidays, plus I have a ton of work on so overall, it’s a lot. But it has been an important week for me thinking about all the things that really matter to me, to us as a family. Not just in terms of what the future holds, but what holds us.

Wishing you all a great and peaceful week. See you on the flipside.

Happy New (tax) year!

Ah here we are again. In the inexplicable British system (is it to do with an old byelaw about swords? No?) the tax year runs from 6th April, so this time of year always feels like a time for a fresh start. It might feel more like this if it would stop snowing and really get on with the business of Turning On Spring but let’s see. Oh, and it also means a bunch of work, but we’re here for that too.

So what are the things you need to be thinking about?

As with all new year’s exercises it boils down to wrapping up last year and preparing for the next one. There will be some major changes to be aware of for the 2022-23 year, thanks to Rishi Sunak’s budget but if you want fuller details of what those are I suggest you have a look at this fuller list of upcoming tax changes and what they might mean for you. Basically – he has likely done you no favours. In a post in 2020 I actually used a picture of Rishi but this year I can’t do it, even ironically. It feels like we are all being pushed too close to the financial brink to find any of this funny any more.

My main focus today is on the wrapping up at the end of the tax year. This means two things: preparing for my tax return and looking back on how I spent, saved or invested my money. This week I will focus on prepaing tax returns, in order to get the boring stuff out of the way first.

Prepare for your tax return

Caveat: Firstly, I am not a financial advisor (pretty obviously, I mean my personal finance Instagram is mostly pictures of Barbies or food). There are lots of people out there who can help you with all the details of your taxes, and I am not one of them. But I am sharing my own approach here because why not.

Secondly, not everyone needs to do a tax return. However if you are the following then you do:

  • You are working for yourself – either as someone who is self-employed or someone who makes income from additional sources to their regular job which is not taxed elsewhere, e.g. from rental income;
  • You are a partner in a partnership business;
  • You are a minister of religion – any faith or denomination;
  • You are a trustee or the executor of an estate.

If you are unclear, the best thing is to consult an Independent Financial Advisor since getting it wrong in either direction could cost you a lot of time and stress.

Spring is in the air, though taking its own sweet time to arrive…. Photo by Arno Smit on Unsplash

As with so many things in life, the best time to start preparing for your tax return is this time last year. No really. The easiest way to do your taxes is little by little, so if you can get cracking with a simple spreadsheet and way of monitoring income and expenses, your life will be so much easier next year.

Of course the complexity of your tax directly relates to the complexity of your income. I have income from employment, from a rental property, from savings interest (but not dividends which have separate rules), and some overseas stuff plus I also pay into a personal pension which has its own tax benefits. So I need to complete four forms. HMRC really are the best place to start since their factsheets and whatnot are actually quite helpful. Another great thing about getting started early is you can call HMRC and ask them questions before they get closer to the 31st October deadline for filing paper forms and start to have a collective breakdown.

HMRC – surprisingly helpful if you get in early. Photo credit.

So the first things to do are to make sure you know if you need to file a self assessment; and if so, what forms do you need to complete. Once you have that, you can pull together all of your paperwork and start ploughing through it. You will need to know what expenses you can claim, and make sure you keep copies of all relevant documents.

In terms of when and how you get organised, you can do what I do and have a personal date night once a month with all my financial paperwork and a beer and just get it done. I do feel a little bit squirmy and sad saying that, but I find it so much easier than getting in a panic once a year. I also have a friend who has a week long retreat with her tax return and uses it as a way of engaging with gratitude for the year that has past. Whilst I absolutely love that as an approach, it’s not for me. So – as with every element of personal finance – go ahead and find whatever works to make the process as simple and painless for you as possible.

Even in your tax return.

See – I managed to talk about tax returns without making a joke about Rishi Sunak’s family circumstances. So anything is possible!

What are you going to do today to further your personal or financial journey? Whatever it is, I hope it will be full of joy.

Mothering Sunday: the financial impact version

Aw, happy Mothering Sunday! This week I am full of exhausted rage, and wanted just to focus a little on what it feels like to be a single mum, and why generalised negativity from society, the media and government policy is harming this generation of children.

First though I want to recognise that Mothering Sunday is a day which can set off lots of different emotions depending on your own particular track and relationships, but either way, it’s getting warmer and hopefully you’ll have something nice on this weekend.

Being a mother is a privilege and a joy, let me say that first off.

But it is also bloody hard. It’s hard for everyone, even those who have a partner. As we have moved away from traditional societies (and in fairness all the rubbish things that they required), the safety nets of support have been removed.

The invisible workload of mothering (yes, mothering rather than parenting, unless you are a single dad – recognising it and owning it as gendered is a feminist position) is exhausting. There is a great post from 2018 called ‘the invisible workload of motherhood is killing me‘ which, of course, I only just found time to read because I am too damn busy. Its is an accurate and helpful portrayal of what parenting looks like – and it’s just the day to day of parenting, not what it looks like to be trying to reach FIRE, or date, or anything else at the same time.

Motherhood is in any case fraught with issues. There have been a host of articles about how fatherhood has changed during the pandemic and how dads are starting to appreciate the ‘whole’ of parenting. But this is against a background in which women are expected to take the domestic burden (unless someone chooses to step in), and in which those dads have been able to refuse to engage until they were locke at home as well. Women are expected to work as well, though by the time a woman’s oldest child is 12 she is likely to be paid one-third less than male counterparts. These days, with the cost of living crisis and lack of affordable childcare, so many low income families are struggling.

Triple chocolate brownies, the Mothering Sunday gift my 12 year old son made me ❤

The cost of living crisis disproportionately impacts women. Women consistently earn less than men across their career, which also impacts their pension and retirement years.

On my FIRE journey, earning less, and being responsible for each and every cost in the home, has a significant impact on the timeline, and likelihood of becoming financially independent. It’s not like there aren’t exceptions of course. But the system is stacked against single mothers, and in my experience, also has no sympathy for us. The impact of these collective issues on generational wealth cannot be ignored and it’s likely that our children will also struggle, however hard we try.

I was particularly triggered this month by an article about the failings of the Child Maintenance System which is a UK body aiming to ensure that children’s costs are fairly shared after divorce or seperation, and that any alimony is paid in a timely way. To quote the article – 90% of single parents are women… Half of single parents and their children are consigned to life below the poverty line, a penury that 60% of them would escape if fathers paid the maintenance due. The comments on the article went in to the predictable bun fight about access and custody arrangements, as well as not really understanding that maintenance is for the children, not the ex-spouse.

So in addition to the structural arrangements in which I earn less and have more responsibility, I am also supposed to do it alone since the legal system really doesn’t give a shit about holding both parents to account for the financial side.

I would be furious, if I wasn’t so tired.

I have been hyper-aware this week of why I am overwhelmed. And it’s two things – first, the sheer magnitude of All The Things. Work (so, so much work), kids, feeding everyone, administration of the home, family and friends, and anything I need. Secondly, it’s the constant mental engagement – the ‘invisible workload’. Planning, organizing, working around, being in communication, trying to soothe, calm, engage, nourish and play. I have been dating someone who does not have children, and whilst he very loving and caring, he cannot even begin to fathom what responsibility and busyness looks like in my world. That makes me just try to hide it all so he isn’t bored or put off: and that becomes something else I have to be responsible for.

But you know what – parenting absolutely remains a joy and a privelige. I would just enjoy it more if I wasn’t expected to run on empty all the time. Big up all my single mamas this Mothering Sunday. I see you.