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Month: June 2017

The key to contentment

The key to contentment

You don’t need me to tell you that money doesn’t buy happiness. Granted, money can take away the source of some unhappiness, but that doesn’t automatically equal happiness.

Recently I have found the elusive key to the secret door of contentment. OK, so I already knew travelling is one legitimate key to contentment, but it has the unfortunate need for large(ish) stashes of cash to pull it off. But this key is free! (Woop!)

They say comparison is the thief of joy (and if google search results can be trusted, these were the wise words of Theodore Roosevelt). I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly guilty of looking at other people’s lives and wishing it was the life I lived. Or at least, wishing aspects of their lives were part of my own. For me, I have little desire for fame or for untold luxuries, but for the idyllic. I didn’t realise I was such a romantic, but apparently so. I’m especially susceptible to gazing wistfully at snippets of other peoples’ lives when I’m somewhere different, and my thoughts are a world away from reality.

Romantic snippets from other peoples’ lives

I love the island of Cyprus. It has beautiful weather, a slow pace of Mediterranean life, delicious food shared with family. Fruit grows in abundance, children help their parent’s with the animals, grandmothers pick (or supervise picking of) olives from the trees, and houses have beautiful verandas on which their owners can watch the sun rise in the morning and set in the evening. In Cyprus’ capital Nicosia, groups of men, young and old get together to drink frappes and play cards around a rickety old table in the beaming sun.

I struggle to pick a favourite place, from the understated city of Larnaca, with it’s gentle hum of life, incredible food and lively celebrations, to the richly historic capital city of Nicosia, to the verdant towns and villages perched in the Troodos mountains. It is fair to say I am smitten and cannot help but look longingly at the lives of the people who live there and wish that, part at least, were my life.

I, on the other hand, live in England. Where it mostly rains. And slugs eat anything I try to grow.

Images of beautiful Cyprus.

 

Mexico is another place and way of life that I fell in love with. We ate in a tiny family run restaurant, situated in a secluded village that sat alongside forest preserved by the Mayan people. By tiny family restaurant, I mean they had 1 table with 4 chairs on their porch. It was a perfect slice of the real Mexico. The food was simple, fresh and bursting with flavour. Nearby a group of kids played football and imagined how blissful it must be to live in this close knit community so close to nature. In a surprise rain shower, a group of children sheltered under a large table cloth as they walked home from school, talking and laughing as they went.

This is what I mean. I see snippets of people’s lives and they seem so perfectly romantic. But just before I lose you to gently sighing and gazing off into the distance, lets look at this another way.

The grass isn’t always greener

Can you imagine living in a city divided by war, where rusty barbed wire tops the dividing line, which is monitored by armed guards? Or feeling stuck in a country where youth unemployment is at nearly 30% (compared to 12 to 13% in the UK) and any job is hard to come by. You can do nothing about the war or the economy. This is the reality of Cyprus. Whilst Nicosia’s history and visible signs of division are interesting for visitors. they are not a source of happiness for the people of Cyprus. This is the reality I don’t consider, when I look through rose tinted glasses at Cypriot life.

 

Nicosia- The last divided capital

 

Imagine 3 generations living in a two bed house, a kitchen where the cupboards hang of the walls and the shower is little more than a hose with a shower head on it. A place where passing trade is almost non-existent and you depend on the land for your food because the only certainty about how much you’ll earn is that it will be a meagre amount. This is a very real part of the lives of the Mayan families we saw in the village in Mexico. It’s not a part that I would desire for myself.

The key to contentment? Romanticise snippets of your own life

So rather than look wistfully at the lives of others, look instead at your own life and try to see it as someone else might. I have been doing this for the last couple of years and am definitely happier for it. Genuinely, I would say I am content. For example;

Rather than seeing my 20 minute walk to work as a nuisance (too short to drive but too far to feel really convenient) I think about how it must appear to those passing drivers and experience it as others see it. And as a result, I enjoy it so much more. Sometimes I use that time to myself deep in thought. Other times, my only thought is how lucky I am!

Rather than seeing the place I live in as boring, I’m grateful that I have to use a little creativity sometimes to entertain myself. I’m not surrounded by expensive temptations that I feel I need to deprive myself of that would come with city living. Since discovering/ remembering a love of board games, I’m always looking for an excuse to gather friends and family to play as often as possible, and have created a new facet to my life that I love.

Washing up. Now this is a challenging one. Because really, who likes washing up? How to romanticise this? I think I’ve cracked it. Most days! There are two reasons I accept and am content with washing up as part of my daily routine. The first, it keeps me in touch with the childhood memories I have of my gran and grandad who would share daily washing and drying duties. The second, it is a 15 to 20 minute certainty each day, a routine that is part of my life, and an easy item to write on a to do list and quickly cross off.

Take control of improving your life if you can’t find contentment

I’ve changed parts of my life for the better. Rather than buying the cheapest box of cereal I can find for breakfast, I start my day off on a better note with fruit juice, yoghurt, granola and fruit. The thought always seemed so idyllic and so easy to make part of my own life. It costs me more money, but the impact on my health is noticeable. I have much more energy, feel more positive, and my stomach doesn’t start growling an hour after eating!

Over to you

Ultimately, your mind is a powerful tool. You can use it to compare yourself to others constantly, and continue the pursuit of happiness, or you can put on your rose tinted spectacles to look at your own life and find some unnoticed snippet that you love!

Chime in with your thoughts! Are you guilty of comparing your life to others? Or are you already content and if so, what is your secret? 

Is sacrifice necessary for financial success?

Is sacrifice necessary for financial success?

On the road to success is sacrifice necessary

Do you want to be financially stable, financially free or just frickin’ loaded? I think most people would say yes to at least one of those.

To become one of those, and particularly to become financially free or loaded, is going to take hard work and perseverance. A very small number of people will wake up with winning lottery numbers that change their lives forever. Most of us are going to have to work at it, and for a long time at that.

One day, in 5, 10, 20 or maybe 30 years, you could wake up and financial freedom could be a reality. But only when you’ve put in the work in the preceding years. I know it sucks and I’d love to be able to lean across the metaphorical table and whisper that I have a secret but I’m afraid I don’t. And if I did, I’d probably charge for it.

I’ve read articles that say you can get where you want to be but that you have to make sacrifices. And I’ve read that you can get where you want to be without needing to make sacrifices. So which is it? Well, kind of both…

I thought a definition would be helpful here for the verb ‘to sacrifice’.

  1. offer or kill as a religious sacrifice.
  2. give up (something valued) for the sake of other considerations.

The good news is I’m reasonably certain you won’t need to slaughter any goats to achieve your goals, so certainly in that sense of the word, no sacrifices necessary.

Will you need to give up something you value though? At first, yes. Only at first? Let me explain.

3 years ago, we sacrificed bi-weekly takeaways for the greater good of the holiday of a lifetime. We sacrificed the time and convenience that came with a takeaway for it’s monetary value to be used for something of greater importance. It was a difficult adjustment to make.

Fast forward three years, and takeaways are a rare treat nowadays. Why are we still making the sacrifice? Well to be honest, it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. We can both cook tastier and healthier meals than we used to be able to. On our rare indulgences, we enjoy them more than we ever used to.

What else are we doing to achieve our financial goals? Driving second hand cars of course! How much of a sacrifice is that? It’s never been a sacrifice- we never had a brand new motor to give up.

When you’re accustomed to a certain standard or lifestyle, pairing back always takes some adjustment. There is a feeling of sacrifice, even if it fades with time. If you never experience something, you don’t miss it. They say it’s better than to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all. But I don’t think that’s true where cars are concerned. It’s less catchy, but I think it’s better to have bought reliable second hand cars than to have lost a great chunk of value driving off a forecourt.

If you have consumer debt, that is, debt that doesn’t arise from a mortgage or student loan, for example, changing your position is going to mean sacrifice.

It’s going to mean giving up something that, up to now, you’ve valued.

Without a doubt, financial success will come easier to some than others. Some will have greater earning power, some greater self control, some fewer responsibilities vying for their attention. Some will live in areas of the country (/world) where house prices are extortionate. Some will receive regular handouts or huge inheritances. These things are all true, whether we like it or not.

There are no guaranteed quick wins. There are no magic beans that sprout beanstalks, from whence we might procure bars of gold.

If you really do want to achieve wealth, whatever that means to you, you’re going to have to work hard for it. You won’t achieve a perfect 10. You might even fall off the beam a few times.

Today is a day when you can do something about your situation. Tomorrow is the second day. And so it continues. A sacrifice today becomes normal tomorrow (not literally, but you know what I mean.)

I’ve been diligently planning my finances for 7 years. When I look ahead to my goals, they seem monumental. Sometimes they seem too big, but then I have learned and changed much in the last 7 years. Am I ready to do the same for the next 7 years? I don’t know, but I’m ready to do the same thing tomorrow and I know I’ll feel that way for the next 7 years. So I guess the answer is yes.

The truth, whether we like it or not, is that success and wealth will take a lot of hard work for the majority of us. I’m putting in the hard work because I believe it will be worth it. Do you?

Challenges of living on one income

Challenges of living on one income

There’s an obvious challenge to living on one income. Namely, living on one income. But have you thought about the non-financial challenges?

We became a one income couple last year when I got made redundant. We had been preparing for this potential eventuality and that preparation made living on one income possible. Though we worked hard for it, it doesn’t change the fact that we were lucky to have reached a position where one of our incomes would cover our essential bills.

Having designed our life and finances to be able to manage on one income, I foolishly thought we’d be in for an easy ride. Unbeknownst to me, I had a lot of hurdles ahead that my budget spreadsheet could not account for. Here are the things I found difficult as the new non-earner.

Guilt

Oh wow. The immense feeling of guilt.

Without a job, I couldn’t help but feel guilty about spending money that my husband had earned. He did his best to relieve me of my guilt and I knew that if our roles were reversed, I wouldn’t want him to feel guilty. I’d be proud to be able to support us. But when you feel like the need to be independent, to not be a burden, is at your core, it is a very difficult mindset to change.

What I did find that I could do was guard our budget even more fiercely, making sure our source of income was being spent in the best way and wasn’t being wasted.

Busyness

You would think being unemployed would lead you to a lack of things to do. It turns out that work was preventing me from doing a lot of stuff I really wanted to. Being unemployed also added pressure to get a lot of stuff done. All of a sudden I was more busy without a job than I had been with one.

Volunteering, job hunting, looking after the house, restoring an antique bench, launching a blog and looking after my husband as he recovered through two operations. It was difficult to not feel rushed off my feet, even more than when I was working!

Cooking every day

“I’ll have plenty of time to prepare amazing dishes every day”.

Me, before becoming unemployed.

Cooking every day become a thorn in my side, unwelcome punctuation each day that cut short the time I wanted to spend on other things. When our choices cease to be choices, they require rather more endurance. I enjoyed cooking less without a job than I did with a job, if you can believe that?

Saying goodbye to efficiency

It is so easy to waste time when you have it to waste. A 30 minute job would get done in 20 minutes when I was working, because I just didn’t have the time to waste. Not having a job means you can be more leisurely, and that often means you take longer to do things.

As time passed, I became less organised, in spite of my busyness. I wondered how the heck I’d worked full time and how on earth I would again.

Losing who you are

We spend a lot of time at work with the same set of colleagues. I honestly didn’t believe so much of my self worth was routed in my job.

It’s been a valuable experience just for this reason. I’ve developed a blog, I’m living more in the moment (but don’t worry, I’m saving for my future self!) and I’m investing time in my hobbies. From time to time, I think about who I am and how much of myself is linked to my job.

One day I will retire, and when that day comes, I want to have a strong sense of self.

General panic

When you get to the point of being able to manage on one income, you have plenty of spare cash to throw at savings, investments, or whatever else you fancy. When that money is gone, the feeling of flexibility goes along with the peace of mind it brought. Panic is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration but I certainly felt uneasy about the challenge we would face to replenish emergency savings if they had to be spent.

You need to be more than financially prepared

Being financially prepared allows you to survive on one income. But you need to be emotionally and mentally prepared to live and thrive on one income.

I think there is value in everyone experiencing this, even if it is only for a short time. It made me realise how much money I previously wasted. It made me realise that money is more important to me than I’d previously admitted. It made me realise how much my job defined me.

Do you live on one income? What challenges do you face and how do you deal with them?