The Easier Way to Set Goals

A new decade of opportunities ahead

If you’re like me you’ve probably been reading lots of posts about setting goals. It’s that time of year when everyone in the personal development world seems to sit down and make long lists of all the great things they are going to do over the next year. So, have you made your list or are you finding it hard to decide what you need to work on? Too many ideas rattling around in your head? Join the club.

I am late to the goal-setting party with this post as I have spent quite some time mulling over my non-financial goals for the coming year. In order to help I re-visited a podcast by Natalie Bacon in which she suggests eight areas of your life to work on. They are:

  1. Heath
  2. Relationships
  3. Money
  4. Career/business
  5. Personal/spiritual
  6. Environment/space/home
  7. Recreation/fun
  8. Service/contribution

With such a vast array of areas it felt very overwhelming. It’s not that I don’t think that all of these are important, it’s just that trying to make and achieve goals in all these areas at once seems impossible.

Whilst doing my physio exercises the other morning I listened to one of Laura Vanderkam’s Before Breakfast podcasts. She shared an idea, which she admits she stole from someone else, about splitting your goals into quarters i.e. spreading them throughout the year. I realised that this was the answer. I don’t have to do everything at once. I’ve now finally managed to come up with a plan for the first three months of the year. So here goes…

Health

A battle for most people, but for us the 5:2 diet is working
Improve our diet and lose weight

We plan to continue the 5:2 diet. I don’t have an aim for me, but I would like Mr Simple to lose half a stone. Secondly, I am going to try to add some more variety into our meals. In my bid to reduce our spending on food the menu has become rather restricted, so I’m hoping to add in some new recipes. The good thing about Veganuary is that the library has been displaying lots of vegetarian and vegan books. Now I just need to go through the ones I’ve borrowed and pick some new recipes to try over the next couple of months.

Walk 5000 steps a day

Now, I know what you’re gonna say, it’s meant to be 10,000, but I really struggle to achieve that when work involves so much sitting. Therefore I’ve decided to aim for something that’s doable. As I sit here, on a Sunday afternoon, I’ve only done just over 3,000. Therefore, walking 5,000 is still an improvement on my usual day. I’ve reset my Fitbit to vibrate and congratulate me at the 5,000 mark instead of the usual 10,000.

I can’t keep paying for this instead of addressing the problem myself
Reduce tightness in neck and shoulders

This is an ongoing issue, which I’ve failed to address for a very long time, except by going to massage or physiotherapy sessions. As I’ve said before, I am trying to save money on physiotherapy sessions and the way to do this is to practise the exercises that the physio has given me. Sadly, my willpower in this area is lacking or at least it is by the end of the day. I’m fine first thing and usually spend about ten minutes going through the routine, but by the end of the day, the honest answer is, I can’t be bothered. I was trying to think of a reward to give myself if I do my exercises every day for a whole month, but I haven’t yet. Any ideas?

Jog three times per week

I currently jog on my treadmill about twice a week. It is a very short jog, but it gets my heart rate up and I feel better for it. The trouble is that even though it doesn’t take a lot of time, with the other activities that I like to do in the morning I can’t always fit it in if I have to leave home before 9am. I need to adapt my routine, maybe jogging at lunch time if I’ve been out first thing, but am home by then, or when I come back in the evening. I’ve got a plan for developing my jogging in the next quarter (which I’ll let you know in April)  so I need to keep my fitness level up.

The last of our upstairs room to be decorated – our bedroom

Environment

As I’ve talked about before, we are gradually renovating our home. Mr Simple has almost finished painting the dining room. Next on the list is the main bedroom. We are probably going to have fitted wardrobes, but we’ve got to work out how they are going to fit around the chimney that passes through the room. We can’t knock this out as it contains the flue for the wood burner in the lounge. We’ve then got to decide on a colour scheme.

Relationships

Although this can be real life relationships, I’ve decided to focus on virtual ones. I get so much out of interacting with like-minded individuals on line and want to do more of this. My hope for the first quarter of the year is to increase my Twitter activity and have more followers. Over the past month I’ve gained about one follower a day and the current grand total stands at 194, which isn’t many at all compared to most. I am therefore going to aim for a total of 300 by the end of March. That may be pushing it slightly, but we’ll see.

And that’s it. They’re mainly health goals, which can’t be bad. Obviously I haven’t covered all of the areas that Natalie Bacon suggests, but that’s the idea. There’ll be nine more months when I can work on new goals in the career, personal, recreation and service categories. I’ve already made my financial goals for the year, which you can read here. I will let you know how I’m getting on at the end of March and then set some more goals for the next quarter.

So how’s your goal setting for 2020 goal? Feeling overwhelmed by all of the areas you need to work on? Why not just choose a couple and set goals for just the first quarter of the year? I’d love to hear how you get on.

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December Review

Well Christmas is finally over and life will soon be getting back to normal – hooray! I’m sorry to be a bit baa humbug, but I am not a lover of Christmas. I think that there are a lot of expectations placed on us about spending money, attending events and eating platefuls of stodge. Although in many ways I look forward to the opportunity to indulge, I must admit that after eating crap for a week, I usually end up feeling like crap.

I was lucky enough to win a Christmas hamper in a local raffle

As well as the usual increased consumption of food over the festive period I was lucky enough to win a hamper in a local raffle. I say lucky, but the nature of hampers are that they contain food that keeps i.e. lots of high sugar carbohydrates. The cupboard is still filled with cake, biscuits and mince pies. On top of this my mother gave us some cake and every year Mr Simple’s mother makes him a fruit cake for his birthday, which is in January. Included in the hamper was a voucher from a neighbour to make a cake for us. Fortunately it lasts for the year so I think that I’ll wait a few months until I ask for this.

There have been the usual Christmas meals through out the month, although I didn’t spend an awful lot of money as most of them had been paid for in advance. The location of my office meal moved to the nearest city and I can’t say that it’s something that I want to repeat. I enjoyed seeing everyone, but it was a bit of a trek and parking cost us £20 for four hours. Fortunately there were four passengers and so we split the cost between us.

I suggested that a lunch time meal might be an option for next year and as a result I have been given the task of organising it in 2020. It will probably be in a local pub, so that we don’t have to travel far. I am much more of a lunch person as going to bed on a full stomach often means a sleepless night. I love a leisurely lunch where the effects of too much food and wine will have worn off by the time I go to bed.  

Tablet and Alexa
Some technology appears to exist just to get us to spend money

The month started with catching up with one of Mr Simple’s ex-colleagues. She has moved out of the city and now lives closer to us. She invited us round for Sunday afternoon tea and cake, which was lovely.

It was an eye opener to see all of the various gadgets that she possesses. Mr Simple and I are not technophobes, but we don’t go out of our way to update our home with the latest devices. She has an Alexa, but what was more interesting was the individual radiator devices which connect to your WiFi. According to her you can turn each radiator down individually, which in our house is achieved through turning a valve on the radiator. Apparently you can also turn your heating on before you get home using your smartphone. Again, in our house, that’s called a timer.

I know I sound like a luddite, but I do wonder whether many of these ideas are just gimmicks to get you to spend your money and are just changing a system that already works perfectly well for the sake of change.

The two other small social events were drinks and nibbles at a neighbour’s house and a meal out with another of Mr Simple’s ex-colleagues who is moving to London. The meal cost me nothing as Mr Simple paid. This was a treat for helping him put up coving in the dining room. He had had two quotes for plastering that room. One was about £1000 and included the coving, the second was £300, but didn’t include coving. Mr Simple made an off-the-cuff remark about still saving money if he went with the cheaper quote, I then helped him with the coving and he took me out for a meal to our favourite restaurant. That was quite some time ago, but he stuck to his word and I got a free dinner.

We had our last Pilates class with our current teacher as due to changes in her job she is unable to get to us in time for a class. Through my physiotherapist I have managed to find another teacher and she will begin teaching us next week. One member of the class went to a taster session being run by the new teacher and said that it was different to our usual class and harder. Although change is difficult, I have been trying to look on the positive side. It’s amazing that we have found a new teacher who is willing to come to us and the price will remain the same. I will let you know how it goes.

Although we continued with the 5:2 diet, we had a break over Christmas and both gained 3lbs. We were back to it at the beginning of this week and will be fasting again tomorrow. I don’t have a goal for myself, as fortunately I am already a healthy weight, but my aim for Mr Simple is that he loses half a stone.

Packing a suitcase
There was quite a bit of travelling over Christmas

Over Christmas I had the whole week off and Mr Simple and I went to visit our parents, all of whom live in the East Midlands area of England. They all live close together and so we were able to spend time with both sets of parents. The journey back home was a slow one as Mr Simple’s father has given him an old trailer. He plans to use it to collect compost for the garden. There is a local company which processes the food waste collected by the council and residents can collect trailer-loads of compost free of charge. This should help us to make more progress with the garden.

So, let’s look at the figures…

Another good month on progress with the mortgage. The standard monthly payment was £511.91 and then we made an overpayment on the mortgage of £580. This leaves the balance on the mortgage standing at £72,391.23.

Savings are a grand total of £38,245.30. My Vanguard stocks and shares ISA made £77.59. I made investments of £1,253.84. The account that I use to pay for personal bills such as holidays and my car had money left over so I managed to put extra in on top of my usual savings.

Interest on Marcus account which I am using for stoozing was a grand total of £10.52.  

General spending

Food £105.80 – this was under budget due to several meals out which I had paid for last month. We were also away at our parents’ for almost a week so they were paying for the meals.  

Petrol £113.46- under budget as we were away for a week and I didn’t drive then as we went in Mr Simple’s car.

Pilates £16.00 – for various reasons two sessions didn’t go ahead and then it was Christmas.  

Toiletries £1.50 – only a very small amount spent this month on some moisturiser from Tesco.  

Social £20.00 – I didn’t go to the film in the village hall as it was a musical and I’m not a fan. The twenty pounds was spent on a meal in the local pub with neighbours and at which I won the hamper.  

Miscellaneous £88.34 – a very expensive month – £48.34 over budget. This included a couple of unexpected gifts e.g. a leaving present for our Pilates teacher and flowers for a colleague who turned 50. Mr Simple also spent money on bird food and renewed our membership of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. I have allowed for the membership in my budget for 2020.

gifts wrapped in brown paper
I only have to buy presents for my two nephews

Expenses from bills account – expected annual/regular expenses

Physio session £32.00 – again only one session this month mainly due to ….you guessed it… Christmas.  

Gifts – £104.99 for Christmas presents for my nephews – the only ones that I have to buy so not a lot compared to other people’s spending.

So, there we have it, the last review of the year. How did your Christmas go? Hopefully you managed to have a break and feel rested. Thanks for reading and Happy New Year.

The Benefits of Discovering ‘Deep Work’

Woman doing yoga on the beach
Want to find time to do more of this?

Do you want more time with your family or to fit in that yoga class you keep promising yourself that you’ll join, but you’re always too tired by the end of the day?

How does your average day go? Maybe you’re looking at your emails on your phone as soon as you wake – reaching out to grab your phone whilst it’s still dark or you log on to your computer before the kids wake up just to get in an hour before the day gets hectic. Then there’s the long commute to work, a busy day answering emails and attending meetings, no break for lunch and then the drive back home. Maybe you work evenings and weekends just to keep afloat.  

A different job might be the answer, but finding a new one isn’t always that easy. You’ll probably have to work just as many hours as you do now, unless you’re prepared to do something less responsible and for a lower salary. If you’re trying to save as much as you can on your journey towards financial independence then that isn’t an option that you’ll want to consider.

clock
A way to help you manage your time

So what is an option?

My suggestion is to try to find a way of managing your workload better, so that work stays where it was originally meant to be and only happens between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday.

I expect at this point you’re say, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard all this before. I know, I just need to be more organised and learn how to plan’. You’re right, those things will help, but I’ve got another idea for you, courtesy of Cal Newport. In his book, ‘Deep Work’ he describes what is a valuable technique in how to really focus to get tasks done. In essence, how to do the same amount of work in a shorter period of time and do it better.  

If you’re a nurse or serve burgers at McDonalds this isn’t going to be for you, as it’s a practice which helps the creative process in the world of what he calls ‘knowledge work’ i.e. for those of us who spend a lot of our workday sitting at a computer.

Neon sign saying do something great
Learn to push yourself and do your work better and quicker

So, what is ‘Deep Work’?

Cal Newport describes it as ‘professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit’. He claims that those individuals who have been influential in society often practise deep work.

In contrast to these people, most of us in the modern world have forgotten the value of deep work. Unfortunately, in our ultra-connected world, the focus has moved away from this valuable work to tasks such as responding to and sending emails, what he would define as shallow work. This is ‘non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted’. He believes that this work doesn’t create much new value in the world.

Cal states that there are two core abilities for thriving in the new economy:

  1. The ability to quickly master hard things
  2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.

These two core abilities depend on your ability to perform deep work, which involves :

  1. Focusing your attention tightly on a specific skill you’re trying to improve or an idea you’re trying to master. This requires uninterrupted concentration.
  2. Receiving feedback so you can correct your approach to keep your attention exactly where it’s most productive.
Be Happy sign
Focus on what you like doing, reduce stress and fall in love with your work

The benefits of deep work

As well as enabling you to increase the quantity and quality of your work, Cal believes that if you spend your day focusing deeply on a task you don’t have the capacity to think about irrelevant things or worry about problems.

In contrast, if you spend your day checking your inbox the problems the emails present will remain at the forefront of your mind. By concentrating fully on those things that are important you will experience your working life as more important and positive. In summary, ‘to build your working life around the experience of flow produced by deep work is a proven path to deep satisfaction’.

Next time I will look at Cal’s four rules of how to develop and build the skill of ‘deep work’. If you can’t wait until then listen to him being interviewed by Paula Pant on the Afford Anything podcast.

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Late Starter to FI

I am really excited to let you know that I have had the honour of writing a post for Latestarterfire in her series about people who find the FI/RE movement late in life. It tells you about how I discovered financial independence and started on this journey, along with the progress that I have made so far and what I hope to achieve. You can read it here. Don’t forget to check out the rest of her site as well.

Financial Goals for 2020

Flames

It’s been just over a year since I discovered the FIRE movement and fell down the rabbit-hole of endless blogs and podcasts all talking about financial independence. I watched the documentary ‘Playing with FIRE’ last night and found it so inspirational. It was thanks to an email from Monethalia, letting me know that it is free here (with the password FIRE) until 11th December. The documentary follows Scott Rieckens and his wife and daughter as they make enormous changes in order to pursue financial independence. On the way they talk to the great and the good of the FIRE world.

If like me you’re not quite brave enough to give up your job, sell your home and move half way across the country to live with your parents for four months, as the Rieckens family did, then a good place to start instead is with an annual review of your finances and a plan for what you want to do over the next 12 months.  

Reduce the mortgage by £12,000

My main aim for 2020 is to reduce our mortgage by a further £12,000. This year I have made payments totalling nearly £14,000 against our mortgage and by the end of the year we will owe about £72,000.

As we overpay by more than £500 per month the building society recalculates our monthly payment each time and decreases it. The plan is that each month Mr Simple increases the overpayment which he makes manually, therefore the total amount we pay each month remains the same. The thinking behind allowing the standard monthly payment to decrease each time is that at some point in the future, if we decide to stop overpaying and just let it run its course, the amount coming out of our account will be fairly small. At the moment the standard payment is decreasing by about £4.00 every month.

Well, that’s enough about the mortgage, let’s have a look at the other bills I expect to be paying in 2020:

Item Monthly Annual
Water £40.50 £486.00
Gas and electricity £89.78 £1077.36
Phone and broadband £18.99 £277.88
Woodland Trust £6.00 £72.00
TV Licence £11.50 £138
Council Tax £258.00 £2580.00 (ten months)
watering can
Watering the garden costs money, but we enjoy growing our own vegetables

Reduce the water bill to £31.00 per month

Our water bill went up after we had a new lawn laid and spent the very hot summer of 2018 watering it using a sprinkler. Prior to that the bill was £31.00 per month. We have a large garden, two greenhouses and a vegetable patch, so our water consumption is going to be higher than someone who lives in a flat, but I am hoping that when it’s reviewed at the end of the financial year it will go back down to the previous rate. Mr Simple has installed two water butts and we have adopted the habit of not flushing the toilet every time we spend a penny. Sorry if this sounds a bit disgusting, but it’s only me and Mr Simple and it really doesn’t bother us. According to the Money Advice Service about 30% of water used at home is due to flushing the toilet.

Gas and electricity have recently gone down thanks to Octopus and we are moving our phone line and broadband to Plusnet, so I am happy with those totals. All of the other items are fixed so there’s absolutely nothing I can do about them.

Increase my holiday spending

This year has been a fairly frugal 12 months in terms of holidays. Mr Simple hasn’t been abroad at all, but I did go to Italy with my mum in celebration of my 50th birthday. Having only gone away in the UK with Mr Simple, which meant missing our usual two weeks in France, I realise that holidays are one thing that I am happy to spend money on. My mum wants to go to Croatia next year and whilst I could stick to my frugal guns and decline, she’ll be 75 in April and so I want to take the opportunity to enjoy time with her whilst I can. It’s not that I think she going to pop her clogs any time soon, but you never know what might be around the corner. I have therefore increased my holiday budget and am going to put my annual car user’s allowance from my employer towards my holidays.

Next there’s my own bills – for some reason the house insurance comes out of this instead of the joint account, but it makes no difference as I would be paying the total amount whatever.

orange beetle car
It has 105000 on the clock, but I need to keep it going

Keep the car going

As my car is getting older it is likely to cost me more and so I have calculated increased spending in that area. It’s only a matter of time before I have to buy a new one, but fingers crossed that won’t be in 2020.

Item Monthly Annually
Car service £42.00 £500.00
Car tax £2.50 £30.00
MOT £3.75 £45.00
Recovery £5.08 £61.00
Car insurance £20.00 £230.00
House insurance £24.00 £290.00
Travel insurance £7.50 £90.00
Hair cuts £8.00 £96.00
Opticians £13.50 £162.00
Dentist £28.00 £2.30
Holidays £166.00 £2000.00 (plus £800 from travel allowance)
Physio £38.00 £455.00
WI £3.50 £42.00
Presents £25.00 £300.00
WWT membership £3.45 £41.50
Total £364.21 £4370.50

I am due to have my eyesight checked in January 2020 and may have to buy a new pair of glasses. I therefore save every month towards this eventuality. If I don’t need a new pair then the money can go into savings.

Continue paying into my ISA, but at a reduced rate

With the increasing cost of my car and the holiday expenses I can only guarantee paying £363 per month into my ISA. What doesn’t factor in my spending is the payments that I get towards the miles I drive for work. This is on top of the annual travel allowance. Although I budget spending £120 on petrol, sometimes that is covered by my travel expenses. How much I receive varies each month, but whatever I get will go into my ISA. Some months it is over £100 so would take my savings up to nearly £500. We’ll just have to see how it goes.

After deducting the above payments I have will have £450.00 to spend as follows

Item Monthly Annual
Food £140.00 £1680.00
Petrol £120.00 £1440.00
Toiletries £30.00 £360.00
Professional membership £24.10 £289.20
Phone £9.99 £119.88
Pilates £34.00 £408.00
Social £50.00 £600.00
Miscellaneous £40.00 £480.00
Total £448.09 £5377.08

Reduce the food budget

I have worked hard in 2019 to reduce our food spending, but I hope to make further progress next year. £140 also covers cleaning items and some toiletries so I don’t think it’s that bad, but I feel that I could do better. So how does this compare to your budget? Finding it hard to make savings? Why not subscribe and get my ‘Frugal Tips’ sheet as a thank you.