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.

May Review

Our calendar looks very empty
life in lockdown

So my friends, how are you managing? Fed up of staying at home and looking forward to lockdown being relaxed or worried about having to go out and happy to make the most of your time at home? I think that I am in the latter camp.

The impact on life in the Simple household struck me on the morning of 1st June when I turned the calendar over. It was a stark reminder of everything that we should have been doing over the next few weeks, from our village cinema night and the annual barbecue to a fortnight’s holiday in France. We did miss a holiday in May, but that was only to Pembrokeshire.

cancelled holidays

Our holiday to France is something that we have been doing ever since I met Mr Simple, but my efforts to save some money have meant that last year we didn’t go and the year before we just had a week self-catering in Brittany. The usual format is a week staying in B&Bs and a week in a cottage, or a gite as the French call it. Several years ago we discovered a wonderful place to stay run by a lovely couple. He’s from the UK and she is American. A stay with them is like returning to old friends. They provide a meal most evenings, which you share with them and other guests. I love it. There’s usually a mix of nationalities sitting around the table. After not seeing them for a few years we booked several nights there during our first week away, but have sadly had to cancel. I just hope that they are still there when life gets back to normal and that we will have another chance to stay with them. France will always be there to visit, but it is the people that I am missing.

In the week that we were meant to be going to Pembrokeshire we spent our time in the garden every day except one, when we went walking. Mr Simple worked hard clearing an old flowerbed. As we live near the coast the ground is full of large rocks which it takes a pick axe to get out. I had the job of cutting back the plants before he then dug out the roots and the rocks. We were lucky that the weather was warm and dry, although I am grateful for the rain that we’ve had since, as the garden is desperate for it.

Every day starts like this
making the most of my time at home

I am one of the lucky ones who is still employed full time. Ordinarily I spend some of my days at home in front of the computer, but now that happens every day and all of my interaction with other people is via telephone and Skype instead of face to face. I must admit that I don’t miss the travelling, which many days used to take an hour each way, but do miss the human interaction. One of the advantages of working at home full time is that I have been able to consolidate my morning routine. Previously there was great variation in the time that I had to leave the house each morning, whereas now I just sit down at my computer at 9am every day. Since I get up at 6am that gives me three hours to fill.

Our days always start with a cup of tea in bed, although obviously I do have to get up to make it. Our arrangement is that I do this on weekdays and Mr Simple makes a cuppa at the weekend. Whilst I am enjoying that I spend ten minutes journaling and then twenty minutes either reading or taking notes from a book that I have read recently. At the moment it’s ‘Make Time’ by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky. It’s a really accessible book with lots of great tips and fun drawings. By 7am I am either on the treadmill doing a gentle jog and watching YouTube or doing some Pilates for half an hour. The exercise is followed by ten minutes of what I call ‘quiet time’. I’m not sure it’s meditation, but a chance to quieten my mind and heart rate after exercising. Finally it’s breakfast time, before showering to get ready for the day. Depending on whether I have to wash my hair or not I may have time to put some laundry on or to spend ten or fifteen minutes cleaning. At 8.55am I make myself and Mr Simple a coffee and then I am ready to start my working day. Having a morning routine gives me something to look forward to when I go to bed at night apart from another day of work.

Lots spent on feeding our feathered friends this month
spending

Like many people May was a quiet time spending wise. My budgets for petrol, social activities and physio sessions were unspent. Our food budget was slightly overspent for the second month running due to deciding to shop locally, totalling £124.98 for me. My miscellaneous budget was through the roof as Mr Simple bought bird food, I treated myself to some books from Amazon and we had a trip out to the garden centre during our week off. Having just added it up I can’t believe that it came to over £200.

In terms of savings, my year of stoozing has come to an end and I have paid off my credit card in full, as next month Tesco will start charging me interest. I’ve made well over £100 in interest in my Marcus account, by doing not a lot. Although they have recently reduced their interest rate it is more than most savings accounts are offering. I have left £8,000 in there because as I’ve said before I am likely to need a new car shortly. This may though be further off than I previously thought as currently I am only using it for the fortnightly shopping trip.

We’ve splashed out on a potting shed
saving

The cottage in Pembrokeshire was going to cost £500 for the week and the gite in France was over £600. We have received full refunds for both of these. Some of that went towards my miscellaneous overspend. During the outing to the garden centre we bought a potting shed, something that we have been planning for a while. This will give us more room in the two greenhouses so that we can grow even more veg. I was lucky enough to receive £200 from my mum for my birthday in April, which meant that I only had to find £202 myself for the shed. The rest of the holiday money has gone into my ISA, along with my usual contributions. I ended up investing £700 in May and with the bounce back in the interest rate my savings now total over £33,000. That doesn’t include the money that I have put aside for a new car.

Our mortgage contribution, including an extra large overpayment came to £1340.11 taking the balance down to £66,474.61, but with the interest added it’s back up to £66,531.70. At the moment I’m battling with the age-old problem of using that unspent money each month to make extra payments towards the mortgage or invest in my ISA. Last month was a bit of both, but in June I’ll probably just shove it all into my index funds.

I hope that you managed to enjoy some of the wonderful sunshine that we had during May. As I sit here writing this at the beginning of June it’s very grey and windy outside. It feels as though we’ve gone straight from spring into autumn and whilst, as I said, the garden is in need of some rain, I’m looking forward to some more sunshine over the coming months.

April Review

Butterfiles on lavender
We’ve had lots of peaceful days in the garden in April – the weather has been amazing

I’m sitting here wondering if I have enough to tell you about, as life has become fairly quiet in the Simple household. To a certain extent it’s always been peaceful and calm, but the days have occasionally been dotted with some social activities. Now the evenings and weekends are blank canvases which I can fill with whatever I want – well obviously as long as it’s mostly within the limits of our four walls and garden.

scissors on green background
We all now have to learn to be our family’s hairdresser
spending

It has on the whole it has been a frugal month. I spent the princely sum of £2.20 on cleaning products and £27.98 on toiletries, which included two packs of hair dye. I am so glad that I started to colour my hair myself before the hairdressing salons had to close. The next task is learning to cut it or at least Mr Simple learning to do so. l am going to use Mrs Frugalswoods’ guidance on this as I have long straight hair like her, which hopefully shouldn’t be too difficult to cut.

My usual monthly Tesco delivery didn’t happen as securing a slot seems to involve getting up in the middle of the night to book and I’m therefore shopping at a small local super market. I have realised how cheap some of Tesco’s prices are and have gone without rather than pay over the odds. My food budget is £100 per month and yet in April I spent £170.00. Fortunately my miscellaneous budget of £40 wasn’t spent and along with the £50 I have for social activities, which again remained unspent, they more than covered this.

The food budget included a local veg box delivery. I used to subscribe to Riverford and then Able and Cole, but gave them up as an indulgence when we started on our frugal journey. At the beginning of the lockdown l searched online, but everyone was oversubscribed. A local service said that they could put me on their waiting list and then in April they had a space and have started delivering every week. Whilst most of what they deliver isn’t currently their own produce, as we are in ‘the hunger gap’, as the weeks go on it should all be from their fields which are with a couple of miles away. For the moment I am happy to pay for someone to deliver instead of making an extra trip to the supermarket.

The annual house insurance payment was due in April, but like all once a year bills l save towards it every month and so the money was there when I needed it.

blue petrol pump
Zero spent on fuel this month
saving

My petrol spending has been zero. I’ve also saved on my monthly physio appointment as they are currently on hold. The money I’ve saved went towards the mortgage. That took the overpayment for the month up to £650.00 and our balance now stands at £67, 774.76. It’s great to see it going down at such a pace.

With the interest rate on my index funds with Vanguard having plummeted in March, it’s recovered quite amazingly in April and the balance stands at £18,405.16. My total savings are £31,474.43, which doesn’t include money put by for a new car. I’m just paying in my regular amounts to my ISA and plugging away at the mortgage instead.

Mr Simple and I have spent a lot of time in the garden and it’s looking good. April has been such a hot month and we could have done with more rain. Our water rates are down to £28.50 per month, after being at £40.00 for a while due to having a new lawn laid a couple of years ago. Currently, the water butts are nearly empty. If we don’t have a lot of rain we’ll end up having to use the hosepipe to water the garden. l know some of you may be cursing me if I get my wish, but I would love a week of steady rain. Otherwise our bill may be on the rise again.

Woman in pink doing pilates
One day I might be able to do this – but not for now!
keeping fit and well

Due the lockdown my Pilates classes, like much of life, have become virtual. Since our teacher changed at the beginning of the year I have not been entirely happy with the pace and format of the class, but have tried to stick with it as I do love the exercises and feel the benefit of them. Having participated in a few virtual classes with her I decided to explore other online possibilities. I was so glad that l did as it led me to Jessica Valant Pilates and I have become obsessed. You can check out her free YouTube videos here, but after doing a couple of those I took the plunge and signed up for her ‘Unlimited’ programme. It costs just £107 for the year and you have access to all her videos, most of which are much longer than those on her YouTube channel.

Every month there is a suggested programme which includes two new videos. I was also able to attend a live class the other night which was free to Unlimited members. I love her teaching style which is very clear and she doesn’t go too fast. If you haven’t done Pilates before there is a ‘Jumpstart’ monthly programme to get you started. My previous classes have been £8 per lesson, which works out at about £400 if you did it every week of the year. With this new regime I can do Pilates every day of the year for a quarter of the price. What’s not to like?

In ‘Grow You‘, Natalie Bacon’s fantastic coaching programme, the topic was simplifying and organising your life and mind, which covered decluttering one’s environment and thoughts. I cleared out one of the pantry cupboards, threw a few things out and re-organised the rest. I also sorted out some of my study, where I now spend all of my work time. I have linked to Natalie’s podcasts on several occasions and the content that she produces is like nothing else I have come across. It is all about working on your mind and your thoughts to help you achieve your goals. If you haven’t listened to one of her podcasts I would really recommend that you give them a go.

a bee on a dandelion
Lots of weeds in the shady part of the garden
plans for May

It was my birthday in April and Mum sent me £200 which I am going to use to buy plants for the garden. Since we moved to this house five years ago we have not done any work on the right hand hide of the garden. That is the shady side and so more challenging horticulturally. l have made a list of plants that should be happy to grow there. At the moment it is a bit of on overgrown mess, but in May that will all change. We have a week off and originally we were meant to be going to Pembrokeshire, but instead we will have an unexpected staycation. Our plan is to work on the right hand side of the garden. Once it has been cleared I can spend my birthday money on some new plants. I will let you know how we get on in next month’s review.

For now, I hope that you had a peaceful April and are keeping yourself safe and well. Until next time, best wishes, Sam.