July Review

Just a lovely summery picture as it’s July and the sun is shining

So here’s my review for July. I was thinking today about why I write reviews each month. I started doing it because it’s what FI/RE bloggers do. They review progress towards their financial goals each month, so that’s what I started doing when I launched this blog. I have to say that I really look forward to writing these posts. I find it useful looking back at the month, not only to see hopefully how little I have spent, but also to remember what we have done and how much we have achieved e.g. on the house. Do you review your progress? If you’re a blogger you probably do, but if not, do you measure your progress in any other way?

Anyway, let’s see how July went…

We had our second staycation at the beginning of the month. You may remember our first back in March. This time it didn’t quite work out as it did last time. Mr Simple’s parents planned to visit us some time over the summer and I suggested that they come during our week off, rather than come for a weekend when we’ve only got a couple of days off between busy work weeks. They said that they would come on the Thursday and so we had several days to ourselves to go out and have fun before they arrived.

A few days before the beginning of our week off we receive a call asking us to have a trainee guide dog from the Tuesday. I can’t remember whether I have mentioned this before, but we are boarders for Guide Dogs for the Blind. It’s a bit like being foster carers. We don’t do the training, but the dog lives with us and goes out Monday to Friday to do its training during the day and then is home all weekend. This time though the dog only went training one day whilst he was with us. Recently we have just had dogs for short periods of time when their usual boarders are away. We love having the dogs and so far have never refused when we have received a call asking us to have one, therefore despite our staycation we agreed. Now, I’d love to put a gorgeous picture of him up here, but unfortunately the rules are that we aren’t allowed to show the dogs on social media.

We didn’t start our staycation until the Monday, doing our usual chores on the weekend. I had arranged to have my car serviced on the Monday, having struggled to find a day when I didn’t need it during June. The weather was good and so after dropping off my car we went for a walk along the coast. Instead of taking sandwiches we stopped at a pub for lunch. Mr Simple’s mother had given us some money back in April after she received a dividend windfall and we still had £30 of this left. This just covered lunch so in terms of our budget for the week it cost us nothing. We did have an ice cream at the end of the walk, which came to £3.

On Tuesday we did a cycle ride around the local area. We discovered a café in a village where we had previously looked at a house before we decided on the one where we live now and treated ourselves to coffee and cake. Lunch was a sandwich in some woods where we have taken previous guide dogs. Our ultimate destination was a ‘castle’, though more of a mini stately home, where the gardens are open two afternoons a week and entry is free. We were the only visitors and had a wander round the somewhat weedy gardens before making our way home in order to be back for the dog arriving.

We live near the coast so can take the dogs to the beach

On Wednesday the dog stayed with us for the day and we took him for a walk on the beach in the morning and then pottered in the garden in the afternoon. Labradors and retrievers have a quite disgusting habit of eating manure and Mr Simple put down some manure pellets around some of the plants. Unfortunately, most of them were then eaten by the dog – he seemed to think that they were tasty treats put out especially for him.  

He was out on the Thursday training and we prepared for the arrival of Mr Simple’s parents. We did a bit of shopping and had lunch in a café. Mr Simple’s parents arrived late afternoon. His mother is somewhat nervous of dogs and so we hadn’t told her that one would be staying with us prior to their arrival. She had met one of our four-legged-friends one Christmas when they stayed with us and they got on well, as the dogs are usually very well-behaved. Fortunately, it was also the case this time and I think she enjoyed spending time with him.

Having researched places to go with the dog I had discovered that the botanic gardens about an hour’s drive away have doggy days twice a week. As he was a trainee guide dog we probably could have taken him in anyway as most places, although they are not obliged to do so, allow the dogs in. It was great as there was only one building that he couldn’t go in. They even had a room in the café where we could sit. On the financial side it was a cheap day as Mr Simple’s mother generously paid for petrol for the journey and entry to the garden and his father paid for tea and cake in the afternoon. For lunch I made sandwiches.

A BBQ with Mr Simple’s parents

Over the weekend we spent time walking the dog and sitting in the garden. On Sunday we had a cooked breakfast and then a late lunch, which was a BBQ, as the weather was great. Usually we would have gone out for a meal with Mr Simple’s parents, but with the dog this was more difficult and so we just ate at home. Therefore, it was a very frugal week foodwise.

The rest of the month has been fairly quiet. I had one of my get-togethers with former colleagues, which we do every other month. As always, the meal was cheap – only £10.50 and then I had a mint tea for £2.10.

So, let’s look at the figures…

Another good month on progress with the mortgage. The standard monthly payment was £532.28 and then we made an overpayment on the mortgage of £578.

This leaves the balance on the mortgage standing at £77,286.52.

Savings stand at £34,731.86. My Vanguard stocks and shares ISA has been up, up and up this month and by 31st July I had made a profit of £270.29.  As usual I saved £185.00 to Vanguard and £250.00 to Nationwide. Managed to get excel to draw me a nice little graph showing the progress on my savings so here it is – a good steady increase so far this year:

Interest on Marcus account which I am using for stoozing was a grand total of £6.14.

General spending

Food £139.93 – I ordered some dried fruit which lasts us a few months. Otherwise it was a fairly ordinary month.

Petrol £108.32 – Slightly lower than the budget.

Pilates £32.00 – Managed to get to four sessions which was great, as work doesn’t always allow me to do so. I feel so much better for going and really enjoy it. The lessons are also quite sociable as several people from the village go.

Toiletries £12.22 – Nothing exciting.

Miscellaneous £60.18 – We had to buy a new blade for the bread maker.  The non-stick was peeling off and lumps were coming out of the loaf when we took it out of the tin. I also bought a new airer to dry clothes. This was to replace a very old one belonging to Mr Simple which keeps collapsing and the plastic coating is peeling off. The new one looks much more robust and will hopefully last for years. We don’t have a tumble dryer and so our clothes are hung on an airer in a warm room over the winter months.

Expenses from bills account – expected annual expenses

Physio session £32.00 – I only managed to get to one session as I had to cancel the second due to work.

Car service £315.28 – nearly £100 more than budgeted, but unfortunately it is getting old and is likely to start costing me money over the next couple of years.

Gifts £19.98 – candles for two of my former colleagues who I met up with.

Eyebrow waxing £7.50

So that’s it folks any observations or suggestions? How was your July? I’d love you to let me know in the comments. Have a lovely August.

June Review and Spending

It hasn’t felt like June, mainly because the weather has been so disappointing. Even as I sit here writing this at the end of the month it may be sunny, but it is very windy, which means that t-shirt and shorts are out of the question. Every day that it’s like this a life in France seems more appealing.

This month started with a week in the Yorkshire Dales, which was a fairly frugal holiday in a small cottage, during which we mainly spent time walking.

£4 spent on ice cream

Socially, it was a quiet month – a few drinks with friends in the village one evening and my sister visited for a weekend. We ate at home and I only spent £4, which was on two ice creams for us after a walk along the coastal path. I did spend more than I usually would on desserts from the supermarket, but it wasn’t as much as if we had eaten out.

I had 66 more visitors to the blog, but 109 fewer page views. I don’t know an awful lot about blogging, but I think that means that people take a quick look and then disappear. Obviously not everyone likes what they see, but there we go. Although I read about people having thousands of page views after a few months, this is only a hobby so far and the fact that anyone actually bothers reading it at all seems amazing to me.

So, let’s look at the figures…

We paid £1111.21 off against the mortgage. The standard monthly payment was £536.21 and then we made an overpayment on the mortgage of £575.00. This leaves the balance on the mortgage standing at £78,263.13.

Savings are up thanks to the stock market

My savings are at £34,026.57.  It would have been more, but I realised that I made an error in my calculations earlier in the year and had to pay £160 into my stoozing account. My Vanguard stocks and shares ISA has been mostly up this month and by 30th June I had made a profit of £268.04. Woohoo!  I made my usual savings of £185.00 to Vanguard and £250.00 to the Nationwide.

Interest on my Marcus account which I am using for stoozing was £5.19. That makes a total of £17.18 since I opened the account at the end of January. It isn’t a great deal, but it’s free money as long as Tesco is giving me 0% on my credit card.

Food was £154.45 which included an indulgent Waitrose shop for our holiday in the Yorkshire Dales and a delivery from Tesco. I am reading ‘The Complete Tightwad Gazette’ by Amy Dacyczyn and she questions why we shop weekly and buy in small portions. I realised that I come home with a few bottles of beer, a couple of tins of mackerel and a few packets of crisps each week, when I could just buy a month’s supply. So that is what I did. I looked through the receipts from the past few months and made a list of what I usually bought, worked out how much we would need for a month and then Tesco delivered it. I also added in our normal weekly shop of groceries such as milk, vegetables, fruit, etc. The total came to £145.57 which was divided between me and Mr Simple. Therefore this month we went slightly over budget, but that should mean that we don’t spend nearly as much next month. The problem is going to be stopping Mr Simple eating all of the chocolate and crisps before the month is out – I have already had to hide the chocolate – at his request, as he tells me that he can’t resist.

The monthly shop may have been a large expense, but I did have a week of eating out of the freezer, as Mr Simple was away working during the last week the month. My meals were either chilli and rice, veggie burger and salad or pesto and pasta. That was a very frugal week.

Petrol £35.57 – this was very under budget. It’s partly due to being away on holiday when Mr Simple drove. I gave him money towards the petrol, but that came out of the holiday budget. I obviously just haven’t been anywhere.  

Pilates – £24.00 – I missed one week as we were away in Yorkshire, so this was less than usual.

Toiletries –  £6.00 – again very under budget. It included moisturiser and half a bottle of suntan lotion (Mr Simple shared the cost). We had three very old bottles which Mr Simple said weren’t working. He seems to burn more easily than I do, so I splashed out and bought a new bottle. Let’s just hope we get enough sunshine to use it.

Miscellaneous – £55.84, which was more than budgeted as it included money for my nephew’s birthday.

Expenses from bills account – expected regular/annual expenses

Eyebrow wax – £7.50

Hair cut £16.00

Holiday spending £124.96 i.e. balance on the Yorkshire Dales break.

Physio £32.00 – only one session this month.

Italy holiday balance – £220.57. I am going to the Italian Lakes in September with my mother to mark my 50th year. I have paid for most of the holiday out of the allowance I get for using my car for work. I used to receive this on a monthly basis and so just spent it along with the rest of my wages. Now I receive it annually, a bit like a bonus I suppose. I haven’t missed it in my wages. It’s amazing that when amounts are automatically deducted before you see them you just get used to having less. I have decided to use it towards a holiday each year.

Oil – £14.33. My car is burning oil and so I had to buy some to get it topped up. I am having it serviced next month and I am hoping that they can find out what is wrong with it and hopefully it won’t be anything too expensive – fingers crossed.

So there it is. Any observations or suggestions? Tell me how your June was.

May Spending

Spring is definitely here and summer is on its way

It feels as though as summer approaches I am attending more social events. I don’t have a big group of friends and as you would expect from the title of this blog lead a fairly simple life. The village in which we live has an active social committee and so there are a programme of events throughout the year which I try to take part in.

I have also met up with ex-colleagues. We keep in touch every couple of months and as you can see from how much I spent, go to a fairly cheap eatery for some food and a chat. Friends came to visit and we cooked lunch instead of going out.

I also attended a local fund-raising event to raise money for twinning activities. The nearest town is twinned with a place in France and this has waned over the years as the members of the society have got older. Now they are trying to revive it and are looking for new blood. With my love of France it was an ideal activity for me to get involved in. At the moment it will just be attending events to publicise the revival of the twinning, but eventually there will be the opportunity to host visitors from France and join a trip to the French town to stay with a local family and see the sights.

So, let’s look at the figures…

Another good month on progress with the mortgage. The standard monthly payment was £571.00 and then we made an overpayment on the mortgage of £540.06. The standard amounts came out of our joint account for bills, one of which was our gas and electric bill with Octopus who we switched to last year. They were recommended by Money Saving Expert and Which and I have found them really good. All of their electricity is 100% green and you can carbon offset your gas. If you were thinking of changing then click here to check them out and if you sign up both of us get £50.

This leaves the balance on the mortgage standing at £79,207.36

House value is £476,283 (according to the Nationwide House Price Calculator) which is an increase of 9.49% since we bought it.

Savings stand at £33,514.34. My Vanguard stocks and shares ISA has been up and down this month and by 31st May I had made a loss of £54.85.  Saved £185.00 to Vanguard and £250.00 to Nationwide.

Interest on Marcus account which I am using for stoozing a grand total of £4.35.

Try to use up ingredients that have been hanging around for a while.

Food £133.29 which included a quarterly order of dried fruit and nuts. I felt as though I had some expensive weeks this month in terms of food, but the cupboards are looking a bit bare as we had let them run down so I had to stock up. I was trying to make an effort to use up those strange ingredients that you’ve had for years and that are lurking in the back of the cupboard. This month it was a packet of sundried tomatoes which I think we bought in Italy over six years ago. I soaked them in some boiling water and used them in a lasagne recipe.

Petrol £115.35– slightly under budget as I took the train a few times. That gets refunded so I don’t count it in my expenses.

Pilates – £32.00 – this is quite a lot, but I really find it beneficial and don’t want to skimp on something which is good for my health.

Toiletries £25.36.

Presents are something that I haven’t budgeted for, but need to do so.

Miscellaneous £68.54 which included £30.00 in presents, spending on the garden of £9.45 and seeing gardens £10.00. Meal out with friends £9.40 – a bargain. Just ordered a wrap and fries and drank tap water.

Expenses from bills account – expected annual expenses

Holiday balance £94.75. We are about to go to the Yorkshire dales for the week. Unfortunately the weather forecast isn’t good, but we are renting a lovely cottage so will have plenty of room to hang up our waterproofs after a day on the hills.

Travel insurance £23.06 for a holiday to Italy. I usually get annual insurance as we have a couple of holidays abroad, but this year I didn’t bother as Mr Simple and I are staying in the UK this year. My mother and I are celebrating my 50th year by going to the Italian lakes in September. My insurance is unusually high due to my heart condition which I have to declare. Mr Simple, who is fortunately fit and well, can get annual insurance through his bank for £30 per year.

One year of physio sessions equals a holiday in France.

Physio sessions – £64.00. These are to help with problems in my neck and shoulders, mainly caused by poor posture and too much time on my computer. When I have a week’s leave my shoulders feel fine, but as soon as I go back to work they feel tight again. The physio has given me exercises to do to strengthen the muscles in my shoulders, but I am not always a good student and forget to do them. I recently realised that my annual budget for physiotherapy of £1152.00, is the equivalent of our yearly holiday in France. This year we aren’t going there, but I worked out that if I make more of an effort to do my exercises and don’t have to go to physio anymore, then we can go to France without any increase in the budget. This is a good example of how daily habits can help you to achieve your goals and dreams i.e. daily habit = physio exercises; goal = save £1152.00; dream = holiday in France in 2020.

Received some interest of £28.70 from a savings account which I emptied some time ago.

Had £65.55 left over and paid this into my Vanguard ISA.

So any observations or suggestions? How was your May?

Treat Yourself

Photo by Viktoria Alipatova on Pexels.com

We had some friends for lunch yesterday. They were passing through on their way to a week’s holiday with family and stopped by to say hello. Their suggestion was to go out for lunch, but I kept to our current frugal principles and offered to make lunch at home. We have a lovely house and a fairly nice, albeit very much ‘in progress’, garden. A much better place to eat than a dark pub on a bright spring day, and much cheaper.

During lunch Mr Simple surprised me. When I talk about FI/RE (Financial Independence/Retire Early) I don’t always think that he is listening, but yesterday he mentioned it to our friends and asked me to explain it to them. We talked about our staycation in March and how we had found pleasure in being at home. We also talked about changes that we have made to save money. One of them being that since we have become more frugal we are cooking much less fish (I am pescatarian and Mr Simple is a meat eater), so our meals are mainly vegetarian.

Our friends, who live in London, invited us down to stay and we talked about the great variety of restaurants there are in the capital, as compared to where we live. As well as economising on our home cooked food, we don’t go out to eat very often and that is when Mr Simple gets to eat meat. One would expect that he has been missing it, as now he only gets ham or chicken sandwiches, but never meat for a main meal. Some months, we don’t go out to eat at all, therefore his meat consumption at dinner is zero.  Surprisingly, Mr Simple shared than going out less often means that he enjoys it more when we do. He said that it feels like a treat.

So how do you define a treat? According to my little Oxford dictionary it is something that gives great pleasure. So, what makes it a ‘great’ pleasure? Back to the dictionary and one possible definition of ‘great’ is ‘more than ordinary’.

And that’s it isn’t it? It’s not something that you have every day. It is something that is out of the ordinary or extraordinary – unusual or remarkable; out of the usual course of everyday life. When you have your treat every day, or at least several times a week, that event doesn’t stand out anymore and therefore it’s not something to look forward to with anticipation.

Pleasures have become the mundane, the every day.

Having things less often means that you take more pleasure in them. In this day and age, we have forgotten what a treat is, as we treat ourselves every day.

In some ways I feel sorry for those who treat themselves every day. Their pleasures have lost their sparkle, their thrill. Maybe they have to spend more and more money to get that same feeling that I get when I buy a latte from a coffee shop once a month.

So, what treats do you have in your life? Or are there things that used to be treats, but aren’t anymore? How about giving them up for a bit and then just letting yourself have them occasionally? Try it for a little while and see how you feel when you do finally get that treat. You might just enjoy it all the more.

April Spending

April felt like an expensive month, but actually when I sat down and looked at the figures, it wasn’t too bad at all.

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Food spending for me totalled £109.83. We were away for a few days and although we did take quite a lot with us the extra we bought whilst we were away came out of the holiday budget. Mr Simple did the shopping this week, on the last day of the month and won’t charge me until next month. Therefore the total it was unusually low.

Petrol was only £97.05. Usually I buy a tankful every week at about £35, but I didn’t need any in the fourth week of the month, when we were away for part of the week.  We went in Mr Simple’s car to Dorset and although I paid towards petrol it came out of the holiday budget.

Photo by theformfitness on Pexels.com

Personal care totalled £68.15, which included toiletries and three pilates classes.

I upgraded my blog and finally parted with some money for a proper domain name so that cost me £48.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I spent £95.63 on the garden, although Mr Simple paid more, as the plants we bought were a present for my birthday – it’s amazing what makes you happy as you get older. We have bought two wisteria plants. One to grow against the garage wall at the front of the house and one to train up the pergola in the back garden. (If you don’t know what a wisteria looks like check out my post about our Dorset walk).

An unexpected expense was a new sat nav. I seem to go through these very quickly. As I visit different addresses every week for my job it makes like so much easier than when I have to rely on maps. I had forgotten how expensive these great gadgets are. In the end I opted for a second hand one on Amazon for £34.96. It is very basic, but it gets me from A to B. Let’s just hope it lasts.

Payments from my ‘bills’ account i.e. expected expenses which I plan for throughout the year, were:

£85 for the short break in Dorset – I had already paid for the accommodation last month. This included two meals out, tea and cake and petrol. The most expensive thing, the cottage, was already paid for. Although it was an AirBnB rental, it was quite expensive for three nights. I am not convinced that AirBnB is actually always cheaper than a standard holiday rental.  

Travel hacking is something I am yet to try. I have looked at house-sitting sites. Mr Simple and I love dogs and the thought of caring for someone else’s four-legged friend for a week sounds ideal for us. The practicalities though might not be so fun, as we wouldn’t be able to go out for a whole day and leave the dog. If we did take him/her walking with us this may present problems. We have seen lots of ramblers with dogs have difficulties when walking through cow fields e.g. instead of running off the cows have surrounded them. In fact, we have had problems with curious cows following us and we don’t have a dog. I have thought of cat-sitting, but we are not cat lovers. I just wondered if anyone has tried house/pet sitting and how it worked out. I have considered trying it for a weekend just to see how we get on, although many of the sites charge a sign-up fee.

I also paid for two sessions of physio at a total of £64.00.

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My stocks and shares ISA leapt up from £6788.51 to £7033.10, an increase of £155.97. I also received £250 for my birthday so like the good little saver I am, I added that and the total now sits at £7283.48. I made my usual automatic deposits into two savings accounts of £435.00. One account now has over £10,000, which is enough to buy a car should my current one decide to pack up on me. Fingers crossed it lasts for a few years yet. I will therefore not be paying anymore money into that account and the £185.00 will go into my ISA from May. My savings now total £32,995.95.

When I look at others’ posts they calculate their net worth which includes the equity in their house and their pension pot. Although we have over £350,000 equity in our house, as we are not planning to sell I don’t count this as available money. Secondly, being fortunate enough to have a defined benefit pension I only know what I am going to receive when I get to retirement age, but not how much I have in the pot. My issue is not whether I will have enough money to live on when I get to my sixties, but whether I can finish work earlier and if so what savings I will have to live on. At the moment I have a long way to go. In five years’ time, at my current savings rate I will have about £64,000 saved – taking account of the fact that I may need to buy a new car in that time.

As you know, the only debt that we have is our mortgage and I paid £1108.89 towards that in April, taking it down to a total of £80,217.97.

So that’s all folks. How was your April?