October Review

nature red forest leaves
Beautiful autumn colour we can all enjoy at this time of the year
A new strategy

As you may know, I started writing this review last weekend, but it turned into a post about my future self . Let’s see if I have more luck this week. October only finished two weeks ago, but it feels like another world as we have made the decision to stop overpaying the mortgage. As is the case with many of the choices I have been making recently it came about as part of the work I was doing for Natalie Bacon’s life coaching program – Grow You .

October was about succeeding with money. Whilst quite a few people in the program are looking to start their own online business and although that’s a great way to build wealth, at the moment it’s not my priority. I had some face to face coaching with Natalie. which is offered as part of the program. There are several calls each week, which you join by Zoom. Some of them are question and answer calls, where you submit your questions in writing and Natalie will answer them live. For other calls you can ‘raise your hand’ and come on live with Natalie and get coaching. It’s a bit scary at first, no in fact, I’ve done it three times now and I’ve been really nervous every time, but it’s so worth it.

In October I talked to her about the FIRE movement and how I felt I’d ‘missed the boat’. As a former certified financial planner, Natalie is very familiar with FIRE and used to have a blog called ‘The Finance Girl’. Whilst I got some inspiration for how to move forward, I’ve spent time procrastinating, as we all do, about starting a side hustle or earning money in another way.

home real estate
Do I want to tie up all of my money in our house?
Two Options

What I did do though, was to look at two future scenarios; one where we continued overpaying the mortgage and one where we didn’t. I’ve always liked the idea of being mortgage-free. Even before I discovered FIRE I used to make extra payments each month. That was also before I’d even thought about investing. At that time I believed that it was a very risky practice and just for those people who had money they were prepared to lose. How far I’ve come!

When you overpay your mortgage you know exactly where you’re going to be financially in the future, certainly at the moment when the Bank of England base rate is very low and has been under 1% for the last decade. There is something psychologically comforting about that. A feeling of security and predictability. Along with this I think that there’s also the idea that you can’t retire early if you still have a mortgage, or at least that’s what I thought. In fact there are a lot of people who are still paying a mortgage long after they’ve said goodbye to their 9-5. They’ve just made sure that their income, however it’s generated, covers those payments.

The trouble with paying off your mortgage is that all that money that you’re using to make those extra payments could be invested in index funds creating an income for you for the future. At fifty-one I haven’t got a lot of time for the magic of compound interest to work, so the more that I invest the better. My new plan is therefore to add an extra £600 per month to my ISA (tax-free savings account), along with the usual £500 that I am putting in. I will continue to do this for the next four years, until I am 55.

red hammock tied between two trees
I hope to be here by aged 60
The future?

What happens at that point may depend on how my investments have performed, but at the moment I hope to then reduce my working hours to three days a week, which would cover my monthly expenses, including the mortgage, but will mean an end to my savings contributions. I will just leave the money to hopefully grow until I am 60, by which time I should be able to retire completely. I will have two defined benefit pensions to draw on, as well as interest from my investments. The mortgage will have four more years to run, but I should easily be able to afford it.

person holding black ceramic teapot
Saved as usual into my ISA this month
The money

So there we go, the grand plan for the next nine years. Now, back to my spending and saving in October…

There were the usual mortgage payments: £497.11 plus an overpayment (the last one) of £625.00. The balance is now £61,408.10.

I put £650 into my ISA, which stood at £24,651.57 by the end of the month, having decreased by £434.38 due to another downturn in the market. My total savings stood at £38,328.00 as of 31st October, along with the additional £8,000 I have saved for a new car.

Food was overspent again at £156.85 (the budget is £140.00) and I spent £56.12 on toiletries, which will hopefully keep me going for a few months. There were a few miscellaneous items, some of which are just for my half, as the costs were shared with Mr Simple:

New door mat £4.49

Rose bushes £20.47

Notepads £6.87

Pens £7.61

Electric toothbrush £19.98

Toothbrush heads £5.09

light landscape sky sunset
The moon is often out by the time I go for my daily walk
My very simple life

As to activities, as the nights draw in and the weather becomes wetter and windier, I am spending more and more time in the house. My morning routine continues with time for journaling, exercise, meditation and breakfast. I don’t know how I’m going to cope if we ever return to having to leave the house before 9am on a regular basis.

Despite the bad weather I am still walking on an almost daily basis. Most of the time I go out about 5pm, on my own, listening to a podcast, for 30-60 minutes. About once a week I go out with a couple of neighbours, one of whom is the owner of the lovely black Labrador that Mr Simple and I sometimes take for a walk. An opportunity to catch up with friends whilst also doing some exercise.

And that’s it. How was your October? Did you make any major decisions about your finances? I’d love to know.

September Review

It was great to be out in the countryside again
Relaxation

For the second month in a row we got out hiking in our nearest national park. We’d booked a week off at the beginning of the month and although unfortunately the weather wasn’t brilliant, we did manage to make use of some dry days. As well as going hiking we also took our neighbour’s dog to a country park. There’s a little café at the park. It used to be bit naff, but the owner’s wife took over sometime last year and now it’s great. We treated ourselves to a breakfast baguette each and a coffee. It was the first time that we had eaten something that we didn’t cook ourselves at home since March. It felt very indulgent and slightly scary. Towards the end of the week, we took him out again, a bit further afield to another country park that we’d not visited before. This time it was cake and a cup of tea at the café there.

personal organizer and pink flowers on desk
I did a lot of work on planning this month
Personal Development

The topic in Grow You, my life coaching program, was procrastination and planning. I have written recently about ‘calendaring’ and I’ve implemented that in both my personal and working life. Now instead of to do lists all tasks have a slot in my calendar. It’s not just cleaning, cooking and other chores that go in the personal calendar, but exercise and relaxing as well. It’s quite amazing how much time appears when everything has its own slot. I know that you may be thinking that this is restrictive, but actually it makes life much more relaxing. For example, when I look at the carpet and think – that needs vacuuming, I don’t have to worry as I know that every Wednesday evening vacuuming is in my calendar and I’ll get around to it then.  I can’t recommend it enough.

person wearing white silicone strap black smart watch
Wearing a Fitbit does bring home to me how little I move if I don’t go out for a walk every day
Exercise

My average daily steps were 8,570, slightly more than August, which I think is partly due to us having better weather in September than in August, amazing as that sounds. It wasn’t brilliant every day though and my new waxed hat has come in handy on a couple of occasions.  I have continued with my Pilates program, trying to do something on a daily basis.

person holding black ceramic teapot
It was an unexpectedly expensive month
Numbers
The BasicsBudgetActual
Food£110.00£158.04
Toiletries£30.00£24.21
Miscellaneous£40.00£89.81
Petrol10.00£31.22

There were a few large expenses that I didn’t expect. We decided to buy a freezer to put in the garage. This is something that I have been talking about for a while, although Mr Simple has been slightly reluctant, wanting to sort out the garage before buying one. He finally decided we needed one, probably because the other two freezers in the house are chock-a-block with chopped apple from the garden. That’s now all moved to the garage freezer, along with runner beans, gooseberries and tomato sauce make with tomatoes from the greenhouse. It has freed up space in our home freezers for batch-cooked meals. We also decided to buy a new mattress. We are sleeping in the spare room as Mr Simple is decorating our bedroom. Although we will be buying a new bed for ourselves, the one on which we are sleeping will be for guests and the mattress is at least over a decade old. We’ve both been suffering with back ache recently, which we put down to the old mattress and now that we’ve got the new one, that seems to have been right. My half of the freezer was £250 and the mattress £132. I used the final part of holiday money that I hadn’t spent to cover these rather than putting it in my ISA.

We made our usual payment of £497.11 towards the mortgage and an overpayment of £650.00, leaving a balance of £62,430.87. I invested £600.00 into my ISA and by the end of the month the balance was £24,986.04. The returns were -£45.30 – not a good month. Adding other savings to that, which are in a fixed term savings account, my total was £38,284.02. That doesn’t include the £8,000 I have saved for a new car.

So that was it for September. Like most people life is very quiet and as we go into winter I am certain it will become even quieter. I expect there will be lots of cosy nights in front of the fire watching the telly. See you next month.

August Review

We are lucky to have stunning countryside almost on our doorstep
Relaxation

We actually got out walking in August and decided to go to our local national park. I was meant to be away with my mother, but chose to cancel for obvious reasons. Mr Simple then booked the time off so we could have some days out together. It felt strange to drive so far from home. I hadn’t driven outside of our county since March and I think that I had forgotten how to drive on the motorway. It felt great to be out hiking again.

Mr Simple and I used to spend time walking every weekend when we first met. Now we’re going through a period where we’re focusing on renovating the house, but it was fabulous to be out again. I had forgotten how beautiful it is in that area. The views are breath-taking.

We have a week off this month and promised ourselves we would spend at least one day walking again. We also went on a cycle ride locally, discovering lanes and villages that we’d never visited before. I think that I am at my happiest when I’m enjoying the outdoors. As they say, it’s the simple pleasures…

Instead of sugar I focused on reducing my bread consumption
Personal Development

The topic in my life coaching programme Grow You was managing input e.g. sugar, social media, alcohol. I chose to focus on bread, although I have decided not to cut it out completely and am just eating it on weekends. As you know if you’re a regular reader I have been a committed meal planner for a while now, but over the past month I have not only been planning my evening meals, but also breakfasts, lunches and snacks. When you’ve got a plan it makes it takes the decision-making out of eating. In that way it’s easier to make good choices. I just look at the plan and prepare what it says.

I have not yet mastered ‘Teaser’, but my Pilates is still progressing
Exercise

I have continued to follow my Pilates routine, which although it is only 20 minutes on some days is I feel making an observable positive difference. Mr Simple even commented that I was looking more muscular. I’m far from having the body I would like, but I’m certainly going in the right direction.

My average daily steps were 8,150, slightly lower than my target of 9,000. It is also lower than I have done in a month since March, reflecting perhaps some of the atrocious weather we had in August, which always makes me more reluctant to step outside. In planning for the rain that we always get over the winter I have bought a waxed hat. Mr Simple says that I look like Paddington Bear in it. I think it’s very practical. When you wear glasses, as I do, a hood simply isn’t enough.

Another good month for investing
Numbers
 BudgetActual
Food£100.00£136.51
Toiletries£30.00£33.43
Cleaning products£10.00£9.50
Miscellaneous£40.00£31.95

Like last month I spent nothing on social activities or petrol. Mr Simple and I are very cautious and unlike others have not been tempted to ‘Eat Out to Help Out’.

We made our usual payment of £497.11 towards the mortgage and an overpayment of £650.00, leaving a balance of £63,419.39. I invested £2,180.00 into my ISA, some of which was unspent holiday money and by the end of the month the balance was £23,881.35. Adding other savings to that which are in a fixed term savings account my total was £37,179.33. That doesn’t include the £8,000 I have saved for a new car.

Compared to other’s savings my totals always look very paltry, but what I don’t include is the money in my pensions, which are both defined benefit schemes. One is just growing with the cost of living rises as I no longer pay into it, but my current one increases each year. As they are both defined benefit schemes the total amount invested is not disclosed. This morning I was having a quick look at what I would receive if I worked to aged 67, which I don’t plan to do, but that’s when I will receive my state pension. The three funds combined would provide me with an annual pension of £43,000 i.e. I would achieve a FI number of £1,075,000. I suppose that’s one of the benefits of working in the public sector, although unfortunately it means working until traditional retirement age.

Well, that’s all folks. I hope that August was a good month for you. Perhaps you got out and about a bit more as lock down has eased. I’m just still trying to enjoy spending more time at home and looking forward to a healthier bank balance at the end of the year! Take care, Sam

July Review

So how are you doing? Happy that lock down is easing and you’re able to get out and about more or still spending all your time at home waiting for the second wave? Everybody’s different I know. I’m just trying to make the most of having a bit of extra money, saving some and spending a little on a few clothes, which I haven’t done for about eighteen months. It feels very indulgent.

I struggle with bad weather during the summer
Activities

The beginning of July didn’t feel like summer at all as the weather was lousy. At times like these my thoughts always wander to moving to sunnier climes. Fortunately, by the end of the month, when Mr Simple and I had some time off, the sun was shining again. I was meant to be going away with my mum, but decided to cancel. Mr Simple therefore booked some time off and we spent the days, walking, cycling and gardening.

As well as having some time off we met up with some friends for the first time in months, doing a socially-distanced walk along the coast. I also visited a colleague and we sat in her garden for coffee. I’ve got so used to being at home or out just with Mr Simple it was strange to spend time with other people.

As the lock down has eased Mr Simple and I decided that we wanted our bubble partner to be of the four-legged variety. Over the past few years we’ve been boarders for Guide Dogs for the Blind, looking after trainee guide dogs. Covid19 has put paid to that and we have been missing the company of dogs. Occasionally we have walked our neighbours’ black Labrador and so we asked if we could have a bubble with him. Our neighbours have provided a spare harness and lead for us to keep in order to reduce the risk of passing the virus between us. So far we have enjoyed a couple of Sunday mornings walking him on the beach.

Finally, I’ve been doing a few walks locally and have been exploring some areas of our nearby town that I have never been to. I have discovered some disused country lanes running through a nearby housing estate and an old footpath believed to have been used by the Romans.

We’re on our fourth pile of rocks
money in

As we live near the coast and no one has properly dug our garden since the house was built, over the past year Mr Simple has dug tonnes of rock out of the ground. The question has been how to get rid of it without spending a fortune on skips. The answer was to advertise it on Facebook Market Place. We’ve had loads of people coming to collect it to use for rockeries, ponds and dry-stone walls. They’re getting a bargain as I am giving it away and we have saved hundreds of pounds on skips.

We finally received a refund from Brittany Ferries after what seemed like ages and several emails. I ended up putting a poor review on Trust Pilot and that did the trick. They responded within a couple of days and paid the total amount back into my account. I have splashed out and spent my half on clothes. For a while my walking trousers have been too big for me as I am now a size ten, having lost weight a few years ago. There’s nothing actually wrong with the trousers, but I just decided that it would be nice to have some that fit rather than ones that hang off me. Rohan had a sale and so I’ve bought two pairs. I also bought a couple of t-shirts from Seasalt as some of my old ones have developed holes in the elbows.

Although I didn’t welcome having to spend money on ear pods at least I didn’t have to buy a new phone
Money out

In order to listen to podcasts when I am out in the garden I carry my phone around in the pocket of my gardening apron. Unfortunately I think some spilt seed or soil must have got stuck in the earphone jack. Despite attempts to remove it with superglue on cocktail sticks I didn’t have any success. I ended up buying a pair of wireless headphones – a suggestion made by Mr Simple. I must admit that hadn’t even crossed my mind and I was having visions of having to invest in a new phone.

If I could, I think I would never do the shopping myself again
the usual spending

It’s been back to having a regular delivery from Tesco, which has made me realise how expensive the local supermarkets are. Before coronavirus hit you will know that I was having a monthly delivery and topping up with fruit and veg on a weekly basis, which I would buy on way home from work. Now that I am working at home all of the time and the nearest large supermarket is 30 minutes’ drive away, I am having a fortnightly delivery. It costs me an extra delivery charge of £3, but is probably cheaper than paying the petrol to go myself and the produce is much cheaper than buying locally. It also helps that at this time of year we have lots of veggies in the garden.

The total for my half of the food was £140.91 this month. I spent £9.73 on toiletries. My ear pods cost just £24.55. I then indulged and spent £24.98 on books and some hand weights. The book was ‘Indistractable’ by Nir Eyal. I heard him being interviewed by Dr Chatterjee on his podcast ‘Feel Better Live More’. Haven’t yet got around to reading it as still catching up on other books I’ve bought this year. The upside of not having a social life is that I can spend the extra money on personal development books. The hand weights were for physiotherapy exercises for my stiff shoulders.

My ISA didn’t look healthy. I invested £563.65, but my return was only £8.54. My savings totalled £33,623.00 by the end of the month, plus the £8,000 for a new car.  Bills were pretty much what they always are. We overpaid the mortgage by £625.00 and along with the usual monthly payment the balance stands at £64,474.56.

So that’s it. Another quiet month, which as we all know is ‘the new normal‘. How has life been for you? I know many people are struggling with finances at the moment, having been furloughed or even having lost their job. Although I am missing family, friends and holidays we are fortunate that we are both still gainfully employed and as always trying to make the best of things.

June Review

Pain in my shoulders has forced me to have a rest from ‘A Simple Life’
Little to report

To say that it has been a quiet month here on ‘A Simple Life’ is an understatement, as I haven’t written anything since my last monthly review. Unfortunately I have been having some problems with my shoulders caused by too much sitting at my desk and so after a day’s work I have been reluctant to then spend more time typing. I have found some videos on the Pilates website where I subscribe and have been adding them to my daily morning and evening routines. Fortunately that has been helping, but I think it’s going to take a lot more work to completely resolve the problem.

Like most people life has been fairly uneventful and I am still working at home. I must admit I have settled into the routine and I think that I am going to struggle when we get back to normal, which I think won’t be for a while yet. Obviously I miss the social side of life, especially a nice meal out, but I don’t miss all that driving for work. Whereas I used to listen to podcasts when driving for work, I now enjoy them on my daily walk. As a result my step count has increased. My daily target is 9000 steps and whilst there are some days when I don’t hit that, a lot of the time I do. Prior to lock down I was struggling to do 2000 steps some days.

We had a week off in June, which was meant to be a fortnight spent in France, but instead we stayed home and worked in the garden. I cancelled the second week of leave and plan to take it later on in the year. On one day we went fora walk, starting by going through a field with lots of orchids. It was a very hot day, but fortunately quite a bit of the walk passed through woodland. All that hot weather seems a long time ago now, as I sit here looking out at the rain on this mid-July day.

I’d love to be able to work just 6 hours a day
work

It has always been my wish to work part time, but the more I look at our finances the less likely I think it is to be possible, especially if I want to reintroduce some of the things that I have given up in order to try to pay off the mortgage and build up some savings. Recently I have been taking a different approach to work. When lock down started our work dried up for a couple of weeks and I was looking around for things to do. It was agreed that even if we didn’t work a full week we would still be able to claim full time hours on our flexi sheets. After that initial two-week slow patch the work has picked up again, but I have been working really hard on improving my productivity. You may remember I read Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work, earlier in the year and I started to implement some of his strategies.

I have also discovered the beauty of ‘calendaring’. I no longer have a to do list. Every task has a spot on my calendar. There are daily repeated tasks such as ’emails and phone calls’. On the notes for that slot I list the calls and emails I need to make on that day. I can’t over-emphasize how liberating this feels. With a to do list you are never finished, as there’s always something left on your list. By calendaring everything at the end of the day you can see whether you have achieved everything that you planned to do. In fact, sometimes I finish my work day early, as I have achieved all of the tasks that I planned to do on that day.

What all of this means is that although the workload has increased I am still managing to work fewer hours every week that the 37 hours that I get paid for. It’s not that I am doing less than anyone else, it’s just that I am doing it more efficiently. I have started to wonder why we pay people for the hours that they put in rather than the amount of work that they achieve. I have been reading more books and listening to some podcasts on the topic of productivity and plan to continue to try to improve my skills.

My aim is to be able to achieve all of my work within 30 hours each week. If I can do this, by the time that life returns to normal, which may not be until well into 2021, I am hoping that I will be a pro at this. The question then is going to be whether I can persuade my employer, which is a public sector organisation, to continue paying me on a full time basis for only working part time. I would argue that if I can show that I am working just as hard, if not harder, than those people doing longer hours, why shouldn’t I be entitled to the same wage.

Close friendships is still a work in progress for me
personal development

The topic in my life coaching program last month was ‘Wanting from Abundance’. In essence, appreciating what you have now, but also wanting to change that, but without feeling unhappy about your current circumstances. One of the areas that I chose to look at was friendships. I think that I have probably written about this before, but I do struggle to find like-minded people. People who I can share my true feelings with. That’s probably why I enjoy reading and writing blogs as I can connect with people on the same wavelength.

The life coach said that I need to be honest with myself first and then open up to other people and they will respond and open up to me. It’s basically putting yourself out there and sharing your feelings and seeing the response in order to make connections with people. I must admit that this is an area that I am still working on. I think that at heart I am a ‘people pleaser’ and am worried about upsetting others. In my job as a social worker I am paid to be diplomatic and so it has become second nature to me. Maybe at home I need to relearn being true to myself, saying what I think and to heck with the consequences. People will like me or they won’t.

A colleague, who lives fairly close, invited me round for a socially distanced coffee recently. It was an open-ended invitation – if you’re at a lose end pop round. In the past I would never have taken her up on this offer and on reflection I think that this may be the problem. Other people are reaching out to me and I am ignoring them. Whilst I haven’t yet been round for that coffee I am off from work at the end of July, so plan to take up her offer then. I suppose the truth is that often we like to blame our circumstances for our situation, as opposed to looking at our own behaviour as the creator of our results.

spending

Life under lock down involves no spending on petrol or social activities, but the amount spent on food has been astronomical. The budget is £140, which is just for my half of the groceries and cleaning items. In June I spent £224.62. It has made me realise how expensive shopping in the small local stores is. Fortunately Tesco’s now have some delivery slots and so my spending in July is likely to be much smaller. Toiletries came to £18.44. I splashed out on some Pilates equipment, as it doesn’t look as though classes will be starting back anytime soon. Fortunately I am enjoying the online program and it makes it easier if I have the right equipment. I also bought four books – ones about improving my focus at work and finding my passion in life . Therefore miscellaneous spending came to £86.15. On the savings front they total £33,000 plus £8,000 put aside for a new car. We paid £1122.11 towards the mortgage, which now stands at £65,492.51.

So there we are. I hope that you are well and using this time wisely. Hopefully coming to terms with the new normal rather than fighting against the reality of a situation which none of us can change. Hopefully my Pilates will help with my shoulder problems and I will get a few more posts up this month.