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.

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.

November Review

Two two pence coins

Welcome to the penultimate review of the year. Another chance to see my progress on paying off the mortgage and whether I’ve overspent or underspent on each of the budget categories.

I love to see real numbers rather than percentages on other blogs, as I believe that it gives a true picture of someone’s financial situation and you can then compare it to your own.  Each month I therefore bare all and go through the exact amounts that I have spent on household bills and any personal items. To give you an idea of how much I’ve got coming in my salary, after tax, provides me with just over £2,700 every month.

If you’re new to the blog, just to let you know that these are the amounts that I have spent out of my wages. My partner, Mr Simple, does not currently contribute to the mortgage or any of the household bills as he is paying for all of the work that we are doing to the house. He does pay for his half of the food though.

If you are trying to find ways of saving money and want to get a grip on your finances a budget is a must. Check out my post on drawing up a budget here

Let’s look at the figures then…

Woodland with a path running through it
Planting more trees is good for the planet so we support the Woodland Trust

Monthly bills

Firstly, the mortgage, which is our only debt and which I am on a mission to pay off as soon as possible.  The standard monthly payment was £516.09 and then we made an overpayment of £595. This leaves the balance on the mortgage standing at £73,357.72.

Woodland Trust donation £6.00

Gas and electricity £95.35. This is our usual direct debit. We have underspent over the past year so from next month our payments will reduce to £89.78. It’s not an enormous reduction, but it’s a reduction, which is great considering that most of the time bills tend to go up rather than down.

Council Tax £258.00. The downside of living in a large house is that we are in Band G for this. The only way to reduce it is to move house.

Water £40.50

TV Licence £12.83

Internet and phone £30.00. We are with John Lewis, who have just increased their prices. Yesterday I signed up with Plusnet who have a special deal for Black Friday – broadband and landline for £18.99 per month. This is under an 18-month contract. It doesn’t include any calls, but as we have unused minutes on our mobiles, we plan to use those instead of ringing from the landline. Hooray – another saving as from next month.

Income and savings

It was this time last year that I discovered the concept of financial independence and therefore some of my savings accounts which I opened at that time have borne fruit this month in the form of interest, namely…

  • Charter Savings interest £123.61
  • Ratesetter £47.67. I am due £100 bonus for signing up for a year, but won’t get that until January.
  • Savings I had with Nationwide at 5% matured and I received interest totalling £80.79. The rate has gone down so I’ve moved the total, £3080.79 to my ISA.

Savings are a grand total of £36,840.63.

Interest on Marcus account which I am using for stoozing was a grand total of £9.86.

shelves of vegetables
I spent more than usual on food this month

General spending

Food £150.62 – over budget by £10.62. This does include cleaning products and some toiletries as well. I felt as though it was a frugal month, but the figures tell me otherwise. I think it is more than the past few months as we were home for the whole month, whereas in October we had a few days away in Somerset and in September I was in Italy for a week.  I am due to do a monthly shop for December, but the cupboards are fairly full so I am hoping that the spending will come in under budget next month.

Petrol £94.57 – £25.43 under budget again. I currently have a quarter of a tank, which is when I fill up. As it’s the weekend I haven’t got around to putting anymore in the car, but if this month had had 31 days I may well have spent the full amount.

Pilates £24.00 – this covers three sessions. Unfortunately there was a problem with the hall floor this week, so the class didn’t go ahead. The bad news is that our teacher won’t be able to do the class after Christmas due to changes in her job. We are currently trying to find someone else to do it for us.

Toiletries £31.93 – some body lotion – I spend £9.95 on lotion which contains magnesium, which supposedly helps prevent heart arrythmias, like I have. I then called in at Boots for some hair dye and hair spray paint, both of which were on special offer. I therefore decided to buy two of each, hence I went over budget this month, but only by £1.93.

Social £50.50 – lunch out with a friend, dinner out with a friend and a drink for me and a neighbour at our monthly village get together. Parking whilst out for a Christmas do and an advance payment for another meal next month.

Miscellaneous £41.48 – paint tester pots, a plant, which was a gift and a plum tree for the garden which we are expecting to be delivered shortly.

Volkswagen beetle with bonnet up
As my car is getting older having breakdown is really important

Expenses from bills account – expected annual/regular expenses

There was very little from this account in November….

Physio sessions £64.00

Roadside assistance £61.00 – I get a discount as Mr Simple also has this with Toyota.

So there it is, everything that I’ve spent money on this month. If there is anything that you would like to know more about please let me know. I am in the process of drawing up my budget for 2020 and monitoring my expenses this closely has been invaluable in working out what I should allocate to each category. If you have never kept tracking of your spending maybe you could think about starting next year?

October Spending

A label saying October and some acorns
Did you make any progress on your money goals this month?

If you’ve landed here for the first time you may wonder why I am baring all about my finances. Since I discovered the FI/RE movement and started my journey towards being more financially secure, like others in this niche, I have jumped on the bandwagon of doing a monthly review.

Even if you don’t have a blog I can’t recommend it highly enough. It is such a good way of looking at what went well and examining areas in which you could have been more frugal. It’s not only a tool for looking back, but a monthly review helps you plan for the future. I have learnt where I need to increase my allowances for next year. For example, we seem to spend money each month on bird food, so it probably deserves its own category!

How did October go for you moneywise? For me it was a more expensive month than usual. Some of my regular spending was less, but there were some unexpected expenses. Let’s see how it went…

Income

My only source of income is my monthly salary. Last month I received a backdated pay rise, but in October it returned to the usual amount which is £2726.17.

Household Bills

We are plodding on with our quest to reduce the mortgage. The standard monthly payment was £520.18 and then we made an overpayment of £591. This leaves the balance on the mortgage standing at £74,354.86. As we overpay every month by over £500 our monthly payment decreases the next month and Mr Simple then usually increases the overpayment amount. Instead of decreasing the term of our mortgage Mr Simple suggests that we should aim to get the monthly payments down to a very low amount where we hardly notice that we’re paying it and then just let the mortgage run to term. What’s your view on this?

Gas and electricity was £95.35. This is our usual direct debit. We are £191.44 in credit and I am hoping that will be enough to carry us over the winter so that our monthly payments don’t increase next year.

We paid the standard amounts on these bills which we can’t change:

  • Council Tax £258.00
  • Water £40.50
  • TV Licence £12.83

Okay, actually we could reduce the water bill, which is metered, and it is lower than last year when we spent a lot of the hot summer watering the new lawn that we had had laid.

This is going to cost us nearly £30 a month from November

Our internet and phone bill was £27.85. We are currently with John Lewis who are putting up our bill by £2 per month. As usual they are offering a £20 a month deal for new customers, but loyal ones like us will be paying almost £10 more than that. At the moment we are paying for free evening and weekend calls, when in fact we rarely use the landline. Mr Simple is going to see if we can drop that and hopefully get the price down. John Lewis’s service is provided by Plusnet so we may change our package to them if we can’t reduce the monthly payments.

Any suggestions for broadband and phone providers? We were with TalkTalk at our previous home and they were completely useless so we certainly won’t be returning to them even if they are cheap.

Savings and interest

My savings are a grand total of £36,227.74. My Vanguard stocks and shares ISA made a loss and stands at £9,072.69.  As usual I saved £185.00 to Vanguard and £250.00 to Nationwide. My savings account with the Nationwide matures in November and so I will get some interest, but the rate will decrease. I plan to close the account and move the money to my ISA.

Interest on my Marcus account, which I am using for stoozing, was a grand total of £8.43. Part of me wonders whether this stoozing is worth the bother as I am not making a fortune, but I suppose it is free money and I’ll keep going for the time being. I am getting to the limit on my Tesco credit card so I may not be able to use it much longer without either getting the limit increased or paying off each month what I spend. Even with the latter arrangement I would be able to keep £10,000 in my savings account, which is giving me 1.75% and over the next 8 months (until my 0% interest rate runs out) I would make about £100 to add to the interest I have already made.

General spending

Food £114.39 – under budget by £25.61. We ate a lot of food out of the freezer; mainly meals that I cooked over the past few months and froze. I also bought some dried fruit and nuts which I purchase online.

Petrol £109.57 – under budget this month. Yet again I had a week off so did fewer miles.

Pilates £24.00 – managed to get to three sessions this month. It’s good to get back to a regular class.  

Toiletries £13.90 – this was two extra large bottles of lysine tablets which I am using to try to prevent the cold sore virus in my ear erupting. It was on special offer at the health food shop and so I splashed out. Otherwise it was a very cheap month.

Watching a film in the village hall cost me £9.50

Social £55.40 – this included a ticket for the village cinema, plus a very frugal £2 spent on the raffle and snacks. The price of the ticket, which was £7.50, included a very large glass of red wine, which I would happily forego if I could pay less for the ticket, but it doesn’t appear to be an option. I paid the balance on two Christmas meals, which put my spending over the budgeted amount of £50, but fortunately not by much.  

Miscellaneous £181.97– I massively overspent in this category. It was mainly due to purchasing a blind and lampshade for the spare bedroom (although we did get them at 40% off in the sale) and buying a new handbag. I have a very old canvas bag that I bought from Next donkeys years ago and have been looking for something similar for a long time. Mr Simple calls it ‘the grand sac’ – a reference to the fact that I use it a lot when we are on holiday in France each year. Unfortunately it is very torn at the front and so I decided that I needed a new one. Canvas bags don’t seem that popular, but when we were away in Somerset I found a great shop in Dunster selling lots of canvas bags and they had one in just the size that I wanted. It was £32.99, which in the world of handbags, isn’t a lot.  

Expenses from bills account – expected annual/regular expenses

Physio session £64.00

Staycation and weekend away £217.46. Most of this was for the hotel and the evening meals.

Car battery – £80.87 – you may remember that my car broke down and it was the battery that was the problem.

Invested £125 on blogging – lots of studying to do over the winter

The blog – £124.63 – I have never spent money on blogging courses before, but I was persuaded to buy the Genius Blogger’s Toolkit. This is a package of about 100 courses. It must be worth thousands of pounds. I have downloaded a couple of the courses and started working my way through it. Mr Simple (who doesn’t know about the blog) is disparaging about blogging as a career, but there is so much more to it than there seems at first glance.

The first course that I started suggested moving from WordPress.com to WordPress.org, which means managing the site yourself. The good thing about this is that you can start adding plugins, a lot of which are free. With WordPress.com you have to be on their business package which is about £200 a year to get plugins. The downside of the move was that I needed to move my hosting to another providers. I chose Siteground as it is adequate for what I need and was a reasonable price.

So there you have it. Any observations? Where could I have saved more money? What do you think about our mortgage tactics? Should we reduce the term instead of the monthly payments?