The beginning of the end

IMG_5504 After 4 days of hosting, feasting and festivities we have just had 2 days of lazing about and self indulgence.  I can chill for days, I am very good at relaxing, but the self indulgence bit quickly wears thin. We’re bored of the festive food now, we’re finishing up everything food that is remotely festive and what we don’t fancy goes out for the birds. I can’t face the stilton so that may well end up in a soup with some broccoli as I can’t bear waste. Even these fab gingerbread guys which Teen made may end up outside… we’re just done with it all now – I’m currently feeling like the one at the bottom – slightly crushed with al the extra weight ! A simple chicken salad was had for dinner last night and it was lovely! Before I do my final post of the year and make declarations for next year, I just wanted to share a couple of other wonderful things which happened in December.  Firstly – and this was just amazing – we saw Kasabian at the Brixton Academy.  I’ve been a fan since first track I heard (LSF) about 10 years ago, so to see them at Hard Rock Calling back in the summer of 2013 was wonderful.  To get tickets to see just them at a much more intimate venue was fantastic.  Due to Teen’s phone contract, w e and several other people got inside early, meaning a fab place at the front – although we later moved back a bit as it was just a bit hectic for not very tall people!  The Maccabees were on first and they were great then the build up to Kasabian coming on really got the tension building.  A screen with the half hour counting down IMG_5409 It was a great gig, fab performance, brilliant atmosphere and where you start at the beginning of such an event is often a long way from where you end up – the tide of people swishes you about and everyone is so hyped up and yet friendly.  There’s no aggro or judgement at a gig. No one cares what you do or how you dress, you’re just all there for the same reason and I LOVE that. IMG_5411  The humour was in evidence too as always ! The things that stood out for me were that everyone in the audience ended up sitting at one point, the sheer joy and energy of dancing and jumping in unions  and as we all slowly flooded out on to the roads after, the singing continued all along Brixton High Street, down on to the tube and even little pockets could be heard back at mainline stations – FAB! Really looking forward to the 2 gigs I’ve already booked for next year 😀 The other great thing was that I received my poppy from the Bloodswept Lands installation at the Tower of London.  It arrived in a beautiful box, with a commemorative booklet and (which excited me the most) the actual stem it was on, complete with instructions as to how to fix it to stand up again.

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I feel very privileged to have this little piece of history to remember what happened, to keep for now and one day pass on, at some point we’ll choose a name and dedicate it to that fallen hero.

I’d love to have install it in the garden, or by the front door so we can see it each time we pass in or out, but I confess that I’m too scared that someone may damage or steal it so for now it lives safely in its box in the living room.  So safely in fact, that I completely forgot to show it when we had people over at Christmas!

A far less emotive and yet equally important event has been the discovery of a new way to live, financially speaking that is.  I know I’ve frittered so much over the years and whilst I have spent the last 2 or 3 years gathering essential goods and replacing those which are worn out, with a view to not having to spend for a while, I’ve not really kept track of all my spending. What I now realise is that for every time I’ve overspent from my normal income budget, I’ve simply transferred money from my savings to cover this.

The salient point in that paragraph is “…every time I’ve overspent…”  Yep, overspending. That thing which means spending more than is necessary, or  more worryingly, available.  Just because I can cover the credit card payments, and not pay any interest doesn’t make it ok that I do so.  Yes, I bought gig tickets on the card, and yes I do get rewards when I use it – £28 of vouchers to spend in the local co op which I plan to get us through the lean times of January – but sometimes, knowing that I have that credit facility means I’m not quite as thrifty ( still refuse to use the ugly ‘f’ word) as I could be.

Case in point being the £12 salad spinner I bought just before Christmas.  I had a £10 off voucher for when I spent £50 in my favourite supermarket. And not content with having bought yet more bottles of Bucks Fizz to make sure  I became very anxious about getting to the till and not having spent the requisite £50.  Of course I had. I didn’t need the salad spinner to either reach the target or …( here comes the shameful bit)… at home.  I already had a salad spinner!

Anyway, eldest was very pleased to get a free salad spinner and youngest got to waggle her eyebrows at me in that superior way and I was chastened. I dont intend to spend much at all next year. I begged for socks and gloves as christmas gifts and was blessed with them, I dont need any other clothing items.

And, for the last few weeks I’ve been logging every single penny I spend in my spending tracker.  This brilliant little app has revealed things that previously just floated right past my consciousness and there is nowhere to hide.

My November total spends looked a bit like this :

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Now that is a very telling little picture.  It shows that I spent almost as much on my daughters riding lessons as I did on rent.  Of course, it doesn’t show that I’d actually been saving up towards these lessons and that for the next 2 months there will be no spend on the lessons at all. Nor do I usually spend more on gig tickets than I do on food, but the one category which really struck me ?  The one which shows that I spent more on clothes than I did on Council Tax !  Again, this isn’t normal as I’ve been gathering a wardrobe to last a year, but still. You can view it as a bar chart too, which means each category is clearly visible.  I’m as yet undecided as to whether this is a good thing or not!

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Every single imaginable category is there, I now know exactly how much money went on fuel, on sweets (£14.73 in November, £9.87 in December) and how much – to my great annoyance – was spent on parking in December – £11.40.  I know that I had a budget of £300 for Christmas gifts and that what I spent was £293.70. Which is good, right?  Although, I confess that I did decide that getting my car cleaned for £10 was actually a gift – both to the car and me ahem – and I also counted the £12.72 I spent on stamps and the £6.40 on postage, in the gift category so actual gift spending was probably closer to £250, still within budget and still ok !

I decided that first 2 months of using this app would be mainly for experimentation purposes, just to actually see where the money goes.  Now I know ( and no, you really don’t need to know what the figure in the takeaway column was …) I am going to be super thrifty in 2015.

I admit that my overspending means I’ve obliterated my ’emergency everyday living expenses fund’ from a comfortable £1,000 to a ridiculous – won’t even cover the rent- £300.

That’s my first target, right there. £700 back in the savings pot as quickly as possible.

The clock starts on January 2nd. Tick tock!

I’m away to do a bit more tidying – those gingerbread men won’t eat themselves you know.

x Lula x

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Treading water

IMG_5030 See that duck sitting on the bank looking in ?  Yeh, that’s me right now. That duck knows that it can jump in with the others and paddle about, but that body of water is still and it won’t lead anywhere different. It’s an inland waterway, it always joins with another waterway at the same place.  So for now that duck is just watching and waiting for the right incentive before it jumps in and gets its feet wet !

I’m reading this book : ‘Your Money or Your Life’ and I’m having quite some moments of clarity about how I’m living now and how I could live in the future.  I rent our home and I’ve realised that I’m not at all attached to the actual location – that’s just convenient – and I’m not attached to the actual place – it’s having that space to call ‘our home’ which is important to us.  It’s the space where we store our belongings, where we clean ourselves and our clothes, where we invite family to spend time with us, where we come back to rest and relax at the end of the day.  Except even that is difficult sometimes, we have very noisy neighbours and we do find it invasive at times.

What creates the cosy sense of ‘home’ is our possessions and how we have arranged them to suit us.  I had very little money when I first moved here, and even fewer possessions.  I made do with the kind gifts of furniture and cookware that other people passed on. I don’t remember feeling burdened by clutter, a lot of time then was spent with friends who didn’t care how little I had; they didn’t mind sitting out on the grass rather than on garden furniture. They didn’t turn their noses up when indoors we sat on beer crates and bean bags rather than a sofa and chairs.  Yes, we were all a lot younger then and  no, sadly I’m no longer in regular contact with those people and I wonder why and how, for so many years, I became a person who felt and believed that outward appearances was of such high value and an important  means of displaying who I am ?

I kind of lost myself there for a while, I became too intent on acquiring ‘things’ which would show that I was keeping up with general expectations and standards for my stage in life and all that energy spent on exterior display hollowed me out. I wasted so much money and life energy on ‘keeping up’. I got in debt with that constant upgrading; clothes, furniture, kitchenware.  But all of it new, shiny and cheap so not made to last nearly a lifetime as things used to be. When my Grandparents got married and set up home they saved up for the things they NEEDED. I don’t remember them changing their furniture or decor every couple of years, in fact, when they did upgrade something, it was a bit of an event. Because they had spent some time saving up for it and to finally have paid for it was a real sense of achievement.

So, how big a sense of achievement is it when a person refurnishes and decorates a room by means of a credit card ? Yes, there’s that initial pleasure, the joy and feeling of ‘ooh, new and shiny’ and then it’s continuous monthly repayments.  so a person feels a bit bogged down and glum at having their disposable income curtailed by these repayments. It’s easy to see how a person could feel the need to cheer themselves up by acquiring something else new and shiny. Also on credit, probably. And so it goes on.

I admit I did this for quite some time. Not all of my debt was self-inflicted, but a lot of it was incurred by that sense of needing to constantly update, upgrade and renew.  To keep up appearances and expectations. I have seen younger loved ones fall in the same trap; inevitably making their lives so much harder when burdened by their sense of others peoples expectations, and then  feel trapped by having to pay for their acquisitions.

What I’m learning from this book is that not everything in my life is set in stone and that while I’m living a certain way now and have certain expenses which may seem permanent… in fact they’re not.  Home is one of them.  I’ve realised that when/if my youngest daughter leaves home, I won’t need this amount of space. I’ll be able to live somewhere smaller, with less demands on my life energy in terms of maintaining, heating and furnishing. I certainly won’t need a large garden, or even one at all, or to live near a school and therefore I won’t need to rent a garage to store my car in as there’s nowhere to park on the road.

I may not even need to own a car full time.  Now that was a huge revelation in itself. I currently need a car to get to and from work within certain time frames in order to simultaneously fulfil my (current) main roles in life as both an employee and a parent.  Running, maintaining and – recent revelation – storing a car is currently eating approximately a seventh of my income. Each and every month. I spend more on saving for the maintenance and insurance of my car than I do on the fuel and abut the same amount on storage as i do on fuel. Admittedly, I can also store other things in the garage, but my insurance is less by it being garaged overnight … although it’s more for using it for commuting.

Yes, a smaller home where I could walk to a workplace would make a significant difference if I no longer needed those space and conveyance elements ! Obviously those elements won’t be changing much within the next 4-5 years, but this book is giving me much food for thought. I’ve not finished reading the book and once I have, I will need to do the actual exercises and work out how to make those changes.

So for now I’m sitting on the bank and watching what people around me are doing, but I’m aware that there are other waterways, which might suit me better so I’m not going to jump in and get my feet wet just following what everyone else is doing.

People may follow a broadly similar path through life and often in similar surroundings, but there are so many different ways of going about that journey.

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the ensuing debt.

March, mad and merry

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I like March. The mornings are lighter, the evenings are slowly stretching and it just feels Springish and cheerful. It seems absolutely right to be a bit mad and boingy after weeks of living mainly indoors.   Winter seems to involve so much more effort with everything; food, clothes, laundry, even getting about – more people on the roads, scurrying from car to shop, work, home in downpours, lugging heavy grocery items about, or just finding the motivation to actually DO anything !

I’m waffling again … back to the matter of March.

I have a couple of lovely meet-ups with cheery people organised this month and one will be around Ostara and I’m very excited at this.  We were hoping to spend the day in Glastonbury but fear it’s too far for a day trip so a less distant location will be sought to commune with nature. I was also invited to adventure abroad with another lovely friend and my heart yearned to book the ticket,  throw a few items in a bag and set off to play in, explore and rediscover city I’ve not been to for 20 years …  however, due to family commitments and existing plans I had to decline this time.  I will definitely do this another time though.

Other plans involve money; namely the saving of. The deadline for paying the balance of the holiday cottage rental is now 10 weeks away.  I have a brilliant little app to record my savings and as of today the Holiday Pot has £584.03 in it.

My spending was a bit like my food intake during February; excessive, thoughtless and unnecessary. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in ensuring the satisfactory outcome of a situation or project that I ignore and lose the enjoyment of the process.  I will be a lot more mindful throughout March.

March is the month when we celebrate Mothering Sunday.  I believe the origins of this tradition are rooted in religion – returning to your’ mother church’ – but in our family we tend to honour and celebrate our actual mothers.  It’s a bitter-sweet time for me. Whilst I take absolute joy in seeing my own children, and feel so proud of and full of love for them, I also remember and miss my own Mother and Grandmother.  I’ve not yet decided how to spend the day this year.

Mental stimulation will be important this month – no, not more netflix ! At some point during this year I have vowed to read the entire OU course I never got to finish some years ago. I need to allocate a determined day and time to do this each week.  I also need to sort out my pleasurable reading plan.  The drawback to working in a library is that each time I’m introduced to and seduced by yet more books.  As these have a time limit on them, I tend to put these to the top of my current pile of books to read.  This has become a major issue for me.

I forgot to return 2 books to the library yesterday and have another one due back next Saturday. I’ve also started and am in the process of reading rather more than just one other.

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Which brings me to the reason for this particular post.  I woke up at the usual time this morning and having stretched and luxuriated in knowing that I could lie in for a bit and indulge in some reading before having to get up, I was completely unable to decide which book to read.

Monday, just.

Aha, you thought I wasn’t going to make it, was going to drop out on Day 1.  Oh no no no no no, I’m made of sterner stuff than that !  I’m sliding in a bit later than planned because I’ve been doing stuff.  Real stuff as opposed to slouching on the sofa in front of the tv.

I don’t even particularly like tv that much, when my Teen and I are both engrossed in good books we can go 2 or 3 days without turning it on.  It’s one of the reasons we now have a ‘free view’ only tv service.  One of the other reasons is that my previous tv, broadband and phone provider kept on putting the price up.  I complained. It took quite some effort to complain as they have the most awkward and customer unfriendly contact methods ever.  Just appalling.  I thought I’d give them the chance to make me a better offer to stay with them, but they failed at the first hurdle.  Whenever I tried to call their customer service department I first had to negotiate about 4 options at each stage and when I finally managed to get to the right level I was slapped round the face with an automated message ” thank you for your call, we are experiencing a very high volume of calls and you may have a wait of 20 minutes before we can connect you to a human of average intelligence able to convene without the aid of script”.  Ok, I made the last bit up but you get the gist.

I’m not a patient woman, as anyone who knows me will confirm.  Tolerant, yes. Sympathetic, yes. Compassionate, yes. Patient, no. Especially not when it concerns shoddy customer service.  I am  past 40 years of age and frankly my time left on this earth is far too short to be waiting around on hold for 20 minutes just so that I can explain to a company representative why  it is that I am not happy that they are increasing the price of their services whilst slyly and cunningly reducing said services with the sole intention of getting me to sign up to a more expensive ‘package’ with offers of bigger, better, faster, more…  and do they value my custom enough to do something about it ?

No, the very fact that they were ‘experiencing a high volume of calls’ was enough to confirm that I had made the right decision to take my custom elsewhere.  I may be tempting fate here, but not once since I switched providers has our broadband service dipped, flickered, faltered or failed.

Oops, got carried away there,  that rant has been simmering away in me for a few weeks now, best i comes out on a Moany Monday so we can move on !

Anyway, the point I’m making is that once I’d watched the news programme, rather than sit and gawp at dross for the next hour until another programmed I actually wanted to watch came on, I switched the tv off, I went to the kitchen to make  some rock cakes to take in to work tomorrow.  Whilst they were baking, I completed the washing up. As the came out of the oven, my Teen came out of the bathroom so I offered her one i return for drying up and putting away.  Skills eh !

I performed a taste test on one while watching the tv programme I wanted to see and then as the Teen went to bed I spent some quality time with some bubbles and a book in the bath.  I was very disciplined though, I love reading in the bath, and can happily spend an hour or two wallowing in warm water and words.  Not tonight though; I knew I had things to accomplish so I allowed myself 45 minutes only and then got out.

I checked my banking, shuffled some change across from my current account to my holiday savings account and am pleased to say that I have gone past the halfway mark – yay !  I booked a holiday cottage in November, paid the minimum deposit of just £25 and set myself the goal of paying for the balance using ‘spare change’ or money left over / gained as a by product of other financial transactions.

For example; each time I pay a bill, or a debit or standing order goes out of my current account, I round the untidy balance down to the nearest £5 and then ‘sweep’ this amount over to my linked savings account. I use a cash-back site for online purchases where I can, and when the transaction is paid I arrange to have this transferred to the savings account as well.  Thanks to the cash back earned for booking the holiday cottage in the first place and also my last car insurance premium, I ‘earned’ approximately £84 cash-back  which I requested to be paid to the savings account. As of tonight, I now have £435 saved towards the cottage.  The total balance of £809 has to be settled by 10th May so I have just 3 months to do some furious sweeping and locate the remaining £374.

The way I see it, if I manage to pay for the entire holiday by this method it’s like having a free holiday, and who wouldn’t want that ?

First day of my posting challenge completed.

I’ll be back tomorrow, goodnight

x Lula x

Friday, Frugality and Freebird

I do like a bit of alliteration !

I’ve been meaning to do a Frugal Friday post all month, since I joined in with  Robyn’s challenge to be very flippin’ frugal in February. I’m not always great at sticking to a plan though.  In fact, I crashed out of the self-imposed household shopping budget only yesterday. And still with a week to go until my next payday too. I will try again next month and do a bit more preparation this time. By that I mean actually write a list of what we need.

Along with many others and inspired by eatmypig I’m going to avoid supermarkets, as far as I can, for fresh produce. I won’t pretend that I’m going to spend hours of my week cruising around looking to buy all my grocery requirements from independent retailers. I have neither the time, the patience or the fuel budget to do that. But I will be using my nearest farm shop to buy fruit and veg, the local butchers for  meat and if I had my own real mooish cow, I’d milk it.  Not sure I’d get much from this one though.

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I had already planned for this to be a year where I try not to spend too much money. I’ve bought a lot of stuff over the last couple of years; most of  it intentionally;  updating furniture that was worn out, replacing appliances that were on the brink of death, and making sure our technology was up to date. A laptop and phone for the FruitBat, and a new phone and two new laptops for me.

No, I’m not greedy, and I did say that most of the purchases were intentional. I certainly wouldn’t,  however, say that I had planned to drown my beloved shiny 6 month old mac with a large Gin and Tonic … but that’s what happened. Having then spent £150 to have it looked at, only to be told, “yeh, it’s screwed” I decided to just suck it up, mark it off as a life lesson ( ie – don’t drink and type at the same time and do add accidental cover to the contents insurance policy. Trust me – an extra £17 is all it cost for the insurance, it was over £20 to replace the Gin, Tonic, Ice and Lemon ) and use the 0% CC to buy another one.

I’ve learned my money lessons late in life; I spent my way through my 20’s and it was only in my late 30’s that I finally woke up to the fact that had amassed over £8,000 worth of credit card debt.  I was managing it fine, I was never late with payment, my credit was good, but I was only making minimum payments. The lenders loved me, I was paying them a fortune in interest. I don’t remember how, but I came across the Money Saving Expert site and it was a revelation. I set about paying my debts off, and in spite of some set backs like losing one job, having my hours reduced with another and only earning minimum wage I started making progress.  I learned about budgeting for ‘future expenses’. Those things like car insurance, tax, mot’s, servicing etc.

Thanks to my good credit I managed to shift my debts to card with lower interest rates and juggle the payments so that I was paying off the card with the highest interest first. Having done that, my credit rating improved further and I managed to get a 0% interest card to transfer the balances to.  I did this over and over, each time the 0% rate was up, I switched to another deal. At one point I had over £20,000 of credit available to me, which was more than three times my income at that point. Ridiculously, every few months the credit card companies would increase my limit. I admit it was intoxicating and had I not been so determined to free myself from being in debt, during the bleak times, when life itself was a struggle, it was tempting.

During those years I also quit smoking, poisonous friendships and destructive relationships.

I miss none of them. I’ve been debt free for a couple of years now, and I confess it was a bit of roller coaster at first. It took a while to get used to not having to pay money towards a credit card each month. I admit the compulsion to buy stuff was still present. Last year I started up what I call the Escape Reality Fund. This is my very own pot of money to use for adventures and fun for me once the FruitBat has grown into her adult life and can take of herself.  I originally planned to buy a camper van, then I thought a boat would be more fun and more of an escape. I like the idea of exploring, wandering, being free to ramble on in my own time, at my own pace and with no responsibility for anyone other than myself.

It also scares me a bit.

So, last year I started ‘stocking up’ on stuff so that I wouldn’t have to spend much money this year. I bought loads of clothes, mainly from ebay (those money saving habits die hard) I bought a few pairs of shoes and boots – more ebay, and I now have a complete collection of bags for every purpose. I also took full advantage of all those extra points and 2 for 3 offers to stock up on all my favourite skincare and cosmetics.  I earned so many more points doing all this shopping, that I had over £90 to spend on my Boots advantage card. I went shopping today with FruitBat and got a couple of bits, turned out they were on a 2 for 3 offer too and even after paying for those I still have £70 on the card.  I hope not to have to spend any cash on beauty stuff at all this year.

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I may encounter difficulties when it comes to replacing my favourite perfume, it will wipe out most of the points on the card, but I’m a resourceful sort, so I’m sure I’ll come up with something ;o)

We do need to talk about my other  spending weaknesses at some point,  but they need a whole post to themselves.

Freebird ?

I only have it on vinyl and it’s just not practical to carry a turntable around the house or on the passenger seat of the car. I have to negotiate 9 roundabouts to get to work, it’s bad enough ducking the cd confetti each time I corner. Imagine trying to avoid razor sharp 12inch flying discs in an enclosed space.

So I just bought and downloaded it,  have been listening while I type.

Excuse me, need to dust off my air guitar now.