My January review with some ideas to cut your budget

white piggy bank
Get ideas for how to cut your budget so you can save more of your pennies
Introduction

If you’re new here, this is my monthly spending review. I share my actual figures so you can compare it to your financial circumstances. Although I earn a fairly good wage I am saving about 20% of my income and putting another 20% towards overpaying our mortgage. I hope that by allowing you to see how little I am spending in some areas it will encourage you to try to cut your budget. As well as letting you know how much we are spending I also try to give you some tips as to how we do this and give you links to other posts where I explore my saving strategies in more depth.

Just to let you know this post contains affiliate links. That means that if you click on one of the links and purchase the item I will get some money. Please see here for more information about my use of affiliate links.

Our situation

Currently I am in full-time employment and have a regular income, whereas my partner, Mr Simple works for himself and only does part time hours most weeks. We have therefore decided that I will pay the mortgage and all of the monthly bills, except for food, from my account and he is responsible for the house renovations.

The payments that I show below are therefore for the full amount of the bills save for food, which is my half. We don’t split the food bill down the middle as he eats meat, which is more expensive and he drinks more alcohol.

glass of water
We are trying to reduce our water consumption
Regular bills

Every month £1550.00 goes out of my current account just after pay day into our joint account. In January that paid for the mortgage, including the overpayment, as detailed below, as well as the following:

Gas and electricity £89.78 -we are with Octopus who are a Which? recommended provider. Our payment went down last month as Octopus reduced their prices.  If you think moving to another provider would cut your budget and you may be interested in signing up with Octopus, use this link and both of us will receive £50.  

Water £40.50 – apparently one-third of household water bills are as a result of flushing the toilet. In a bid to get this bill down we are now flushing the toilet less than half the time that we used to. I am hoping that when this is reviewed in March it will go down. If you want to cut your budget in this area and don’t mind looking at each other’s wee then maybe you could try this. Here are some more ideas for how to reduce your water bill.

Council Tax £258.00 – unfortunately this is unchangeable, well, I suppose that we could move house, but we don’t want to.

Television licence £13.20 – another fixed cost unless we get rid of the TV. We don’t have Sky or use Netflix, so compared to most people this is probably a minimal cost for entertainment.

white house between trees
I am working hard so we can one day be mortgage-free
Mortgage

The balance now stands at £71,405.68 after making the standard monthly payment of £507.85 and an overpayment of £585. We have 13½ years to go on the mortgage, but if we continue to overpay at the current rate we will pay it off in just over six years, saving us £5,800 in interest. If you think that you would like to overpay your mortgage have a look at the calculator here on Money Saving Expert to see the effect of even just a small overpayment every month.  

Savings

My savings are currently £30,623.00. If you are a regular reader you will see that this has gone down by £8,000. I still have that money, but I’m no longer counting in it my savings as I am expecting to have to spend it on a new car in the not too distant future.  My Vanguard stocks and shares ISA made a grand total of £2.92. I invested £485.20.  I am aiming to save £500 per month. As you may have seen in my annual budget I have decided to spend extra money on holidays than I did last year, so my regular transfer to Vanguard is just £363.65 and then I top it up when I have a bit of spare cash if I underspend in other areas. .

The interest on my Marcus instant access account, which I am using for stoozing, was a grand total of £11.48. If you haven’t heard of stoozing, basically this is running up a debt on an interest-free credit card and putting the money you would have spent in a savings account. Unfortunately this is not as lucrative as it once was as interest rates for easy access savings accounts are low, but over £10 a month for doing nothing isn’t bad. Many websites about getting on top of your finances advise cutting up your credits cards, but if you are an organised person who doesn’t have a problem using credit cards in a controlled way this is a great option to get free money.

Half a dozen eggs in an egg box
We choose to buy eggs from a local farm, which costs more than the supermarket
General spending

Food £137.72 – very slightly under my budget of £140.00. This includes cleaning products which were £6.28. I had lunch in a café once at a cost of £7.90 and splashed out on a cheese sandwich from Sainsbury’s which came to £1.20. Every week I buy fresh fruit and veg and eggs from a local farm. Therefore about half the budget covers the monthly Tesco shop and the rest is spread throughout the month.   

I have written a couple of articles about how to cut your budget in this area. You can check them out here and here. I could get this down even further, probably by shopping at Lidl or Aldi and not buying eggs from the farm which are £1.30 for half a dozen, but I have made some choices as a result of convenience – a monthly delivery – and others on quality of the product and animal welfare.

Petrol £117.27- just coming in under the budget of £120.00. I also included a train ticket to work one day which was £9.10.  

Pilates £22.50 – we have a new teacher with a different booking system. I have in fact paid for twelve classes at a total of £90.00, which works out at £7.50 per class. With a bit of shuffling of money I have just calculated a payment for the three classes that I attended this month.

Toiletries £38.63 – £8.63 over budget. This included foot cream, body lotion, zovirax to treat the cold sore infection I get in my ear and lysine tablets to try to prevent it coming up in the first place. Next month should be a lot cheaper.  

Social £63.10 – This was £13.10 over budget, mainly due to it being Mr Simple’s birthday and I paid for a meal out. It could have been much more expensive, but I sold an old double bed for £50 and used that towards the meal, just paying the £30.00 to make it up to the eyewatering amount of £80. We went to our favourite special Indian restaurant, which we love so I don’t begrudge one single penny.

There was the usual £9 for the village cinema night which includes my ticket, a raffle ticket and some popcorn. Also, another regular social event, the monthly meet up in the village pub with neighbours, at which I bought a pint of shandy at £3.70 and a bimonthly meet up with colleagues. This has moved to a Monday night as I can no longer attend on a Tuesday due to my pilates class changing. The good thing is that the café where we go does free puddings on Monday nights. I therefore had a halloumi burger with fries and then sticky toffee pudding all for £8.00. My accompanying drink was a free glass of water. Finally, as I had some cash left over I tried myself to brunch in my favourite café when I was in the city for work and that was £11.40.

Miscellaneous £80.07 – another expensive month – £40.07 over budget. This included the Living Well Planner, which I have decided to try out and three books, including ‘Quit Like a Millionaire’ and ‘The Minimalist Home’.

scissors with orange handles
The hairdresser just cuts my hair – I dye it myself with some help from Mr Simple
Expenses from bills account – expected annual/regular expenses

Instead of having some expensive months I divide all of my one-off expenses into twelve and save towards them each month. I also save for more regular expenses such as holidays and haircuts.

Physio sessions £96.00– I only attended two sessions, but last year one of my cheques wasn’t cashed. My physio had received the money, but it wasn’t withdrawn from my account. After six months I had re-credited this amount to my calculations and then last month it was then cashed. Not sure where it’s been for all those months!

Hair cut – £16.00. I went in with it wet and just paid for a cut. The hairdresser roughly dried it off so I didn’t catch pneumonia on the way home. I used to pay over £60 every six weeks to have it cut and coloured. Now I just go six times a year for a cut and then colour it myself, with some help from Mr Simple.

Holiday deposit £75.00. We have booked a cottage for the week in Pembrokeshire in May.

Headlamp bulb £4.50  

So that’s it for January. How did your spending go last month? Would you like help to cut your budget? I’d love to hear any comments you have or if you’re looking for some ideas then please let me know.

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.

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The Benefits of Discovering ‘Deep Work’

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

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

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

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

clock
A way to help you manage your time

So what is an option?

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

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

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

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

So, what is ‘Deep Work’?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The benefits of deep work

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

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

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

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Late Starter to FI

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