Browsed by
Month: September 2018

Money lessons that weren’t about money (P.S. My gran is awesome!)

Money lessons that weren’t about money (P.S. My gran is awesome!)

My gran is awesome. She has reached the amazing age of 93 today! As I was baking fairy cakes for her- using the same recipe that she taught me as a little girl- I couldn’t help but think of all the little life lessons she taught me.

Lesson 1. How to bake fairy cakes Fairycakes

There is such simple joy in baking fairy cakes. You don’t need flashy, expensive ingredients. You don’t need hours of time. You can clear your mind, focusing on cracking the eggs and beating the mixture.

And yet, it is not an empty activity, like scrolling through pages of social media or perusing online shopping for things you don’t need. It feels fulfilling.

When your cakes are done, you can decorate them, or not. Share them, or not. But it always feels better to share them.

To my mind, baking fairy cakes is a way of living well. A way that doesn’t cost huge amounts of money. A way that brings people together. A way that is accessible to most.

Lesson 2: Find something to do

My gran would always tell my sister and I to find something to do. It is ridiculous how often I find myself not really doing anything. I spend far too much time scrolling on a computer screen and flicking between TV channels. Sometimes, deliberately doing nothing can be a good thing. But allowing it to happen too often or by accident is a waste of time and, quite often, money.

Simple as it sounds, ‘find something to do’ is such good advice. I have a much more positive mindset when I have used my time deliberately, and especially when that deliberate something has meant avoiding spending mindlessly.

Lesson 3: Sometimes you have to do things that you don’t like

I remember sleeping over at my gran’s house and watching Bedknobs and Broomsticks. In fact, I remember watching it several times! (In case you haven’t seen it, it’s based around 3 children who are evacuated during the second world war, staying with a lady who doesn’t want them around.) 

One night after the film had finished, I remember my gran telling me about evacuees that had stayed with her family during the second world war. Against the backdrop of the film, the prospect of having children to stay with you, having more friends, seemed exciting in spite of the circumstances.

I remember asking if it had been fun. I know what I expected the answer to be… a resounding yes. The actual answer?

No. They didn’t want to be there. It was extra mouths to feed. But everyone had to pitch in.

Ouch. Way to burst my bubble. But that response has stayed with me. It’s a reminder that we have to get on and do things we don’t always want to do. It also pops into mind when I perceive something positive about someone’s life; it might not be something that they think of as positive. It may be something they’re enduring for a period of time because it is necessary. It’s also a reminder of how much easier I’ve had it than my parents, grandparents and great grandparents- something I take for granted all too often.

Lesson 4: A trip to the shop

In the summer especially, we’d make a trip to “the shop”. Except it wasn’t a shop. It was the chest freezer in her box room upstairs that always had a block of vanilla ice cream. Do you remember the ones? They were packaged in cardboard, and could be sliced to be sandwiched between two wafers.

Now I think about it, this was an amazing lesson in re-framing. It was no less exciting that going to an actual shop for ice cream. In fact, the ice cream had obviously been bought from a shop. But we felt like we were getting such a treat, and even more so that it came from our own secret shop upstairs.

My house if full of things I have treated myself to in the past. It’s a really good way of looking at the things I already own, as it makes me feel less like I need to buy things all the time. It also means that I use (and enjoy using) the things I already have more often.

Lessons that weren’t about money

Some of the best lessons I have received about money, especially from my gran, weren’t about money at all. Most of them weren’t intended to be lessons, but simply common sense things that apply to life. However, all too often we can forget these lessons.

Perhaps it’s because we have more choice in what we buy and the careers we pursue, because social media causes us to compare more fervently than we have in the past, or because our minds are so full of information that we’re constantly taking in from screens. Whatever the reason, it is good to remember the simple, obvious lessons. The ones that help us live well and contently, without needing to constantly spend.

Whilst it’s been nice to reflect on these things that my gran taught me, I confess this post was mostly to shout about how awesome she is. Please feel free to jump in with valuable life lessons you’ve learned and feel free to shout about the amazing people who have shaped you…

Repaying our mortgage- luck, or judgement?

Repaying our mortgage- luck, or judgement?

It took us 5 years and 3 months to pay off our £103,000 mortgage. It’s not the quickest anyone has ever managed it, but by the vast majority of people’s standards, it’s pretty darn quick. (I still feel pretty staggered by it)

It wasn’t super easy and there are lots of things we went without in order to make our dream a reality. That being said, we also had a fair amount of luck on our side too.

I wanted to share with you some of the things that meant we could pay off our mortgage so quickly, and how much was luck, how much was down to our judgement and how much was a combination of the two.

We had a deposit of over 20%

Step one was getting together a deposit. A big chunk of savings came from pocket money, Christmas and Birthday money, Saturday job wages and early job wages that I’d saved rather than spent. My family always encouraged me to save rather than spend, so my bank balance grew nicely and rarely dipped. I also lived at home until I was 23, allowing me to save a reasonable proportion of my wages, even whilst I was earning an apprentice’s salary of £80 per week.

Being encouraged to save, able to live at home extremely low cost, and receiving pocket money were all things I was lucky to have. I just had to exercise judgement to not waste it all.

We bought within our means

We bought a house that was much cheaper than we could afford, meaning we’d have more money to make over payments on the mortgage. We were lucky to be able to do this, as housing in our area is below average for the UK. Of course, more expensive houses were available, so we also used our judgement to avoid borrowing to our limits.

We got pay rises

We both worked hard and were lucky enough to maintain our jobs and earn pay rises over the 5 years, as well as bonuses during three of the five years. Whenever our income rose or we got a bonus- you guessed it- we sent more cash to the mortgage. (You may be spotting a theme here.) Whilst we used our judgement to decide to overpay on our mortgage, we were lucky to be in careers that were rewarding our hard work.

We had a number of redundancy threats

Redundancy threats are not all that nice. In fact, they can be really, really horrible.

Do you know what they’re great for? Focusing the mind. We were both lucky to avoid redundancy for the whole 5 years whilst people around us both were losing their jobs. But these threats gave us a renewed determination and we used them to remain committed to our goal and not to grow complacent. Once again, we made the best of our luck.

We controlled our costs tightly

In spite of buying a house that was within our means and seeing our pay increase, the amount of money we spent on luxuries didn’t really go up. In fact, we regularly reviewed our spending and cut some luxuries as time went on and we became accustomed to being more frugal. I even reduced my wine purchasing from a bottle each week to one once per month (would rather have nice wine than lots of it) and cut chocolate biscuits from our grocery shopping.

This wasn’t always fun and it wasn’t always easy. There were alterations- permanent and temporary- that we had to make for various health conditions that meant we had to spend more. Your health can have a huge, huge, HUGE impact on your finances and quite often, it’s not something you can control. We were lucky not to have significant health problems, and not just from the perspective of our finances!

I know that we are lucky that we are able to tightly control costs- as I’ve mentioned, we don’t have health issues that have significantly impacted this over a long time period, or parents that rely on us, etc- but I have to admit that we take a lot of credit for controlling our costs so tightly so this is an area where our judgement helped hugely.

We were amazing budgeters

There are very, very few expenses that came up over that 5 year period that weren’t budgeted for. We had budget lines for car expenses, household expenses, contingency lines for ‘out of the blue’ expenses, Christmas and gifts, charity, and travel. We split the shopping around for renewals between us, and researched purchases extensively. We deliberately ‘over budgeted’ if we weren’t sure, increasing our emergency fund and periodically making extra payments to the mortgage. We didn’t use the heating on some days where we really could have done with it, just to keep within our budget.

Our budget spreadsheet was judgement through and through… but gosh were we lucky that some of our expenses never came to fruition, there were no significant costs that we hadn’t foreseen and our cars survived as long (and longer) than we’d planned for them to survive.

I got made redundant

Five years and two months after buying our house, I finally got made redundant. After 9 years with my company, I got a reasonable payout. Not enough to repay our mortgage, but enough to pay around two fifths of our remaining balance. When I added up my severance plus our savings plus our investments, we had enough to clear our mortgage, keep a bit of a buffer in savings and free up our monthly mortgage payment amount to rebuild our savings.

It took me a month to be brave enough to commit that amount of cash to our mortgage, but I finally did it in July 2016. It was the perfect time to get made redundant, and we were incredibly lucky that our numbers stacked up.

In conclusion

I posed the question at the start of this post as to whether repaying our mortgage so quickly was a matter of luck or judgement. Your perception on how much luck versus how much judgement it took will be influenced by your own experiences; some people will have had a lot more luck, but others will have had a lot less.

Whilst we worked hard, were disciplined and went without some lovely things we might have enjoyed, we also know that we were very lucky and worked hard not to squander our fortunate position.

Why on earth did I write this post?

Was it to make you realise you can’t pay your mortgage off without being very lucky?

I feel I’ve underplayed the effort it took for us to pull off this amazing feat, but genuinely we had a lot of good fortune on our side. The thing is, we could still have 20+ years remaining on our mortgage if we hadn’t set ourselves up for success, and hadn’t worked to put ourselves in the best position to take advantage of good fortune. Small changes can make a huge difference over the years.

So if your aim is to repay your mortgage early, you definitely need to make strong plans and stick with them. Make the most of good fortune that comes your way, set yourself up to be able to take advantage of opportunities and weather any storms as best you can.

How are you achieving your goals? Are you setting yourself up to really benefit from good fortune that comes your way?

What race are we in, anyway?

What race are we in, anyway?

Slow and steady wins the race. That’s the mantra I’ve had since starting this site. It’s the idea that I know big results take time and patience. That making gradual but continual progress will get me to where I want to be. The question is, where do I want to be? Am I heading in the right direction?

My journey

There were 4 aspects about my journey that were important to me when I started to write; being generous, being healthy, consuming less and experiencing more and achieving financial independence.

Whilst being healthy and consuming less in favour of experiences can have a positive effect on your finances, sometimes those areas need investment that might otherwise have been dedicated to the financial independence goal. Being generous seems particularly at odds with dreams of financial independence, and yet, it doesn’t seem right to hoard money or not share my time with those that need it now. Ultimately, helping others feels good and helps me be content with my current life.

Where next?

If I’m honest with myself, financial independence isn’t the ‘be all and end all’ I once thought it was. I’m surprised that, in realising FI isn’t everything, my mental health is so much better and I have a healthier (and less obsessive) relationship with money.

However, being able to have a healthy relationship with money and good mental health relies on me having at least enough money for at least my short and medium term basic needs.

My savings are automated and I review my investment and pension contributions regularly, nudging them up when I can. That is going to carry on, giving me increased financial security and letting me put my time, energy and money into pursuing the other things that are important to me whilst the going is good, whilst providing adequate shield for when the going is tougher.

Pause for a moment

We tend to think that we must keep forging ahead. However, if you’re lost in the woods, keeping going can get you even more lost. It’s a good idea to pause for a moment, now and then, to make sure you’re going the right way!

Thanks so much for reading if you got this far. I know I’ve been quiet for long spells this year, partly whilst I work out where I’m going, and partly because I’ve been loving spending time and energy with my friends and family. The virtual world and writing is awesome, but I’m lucky to have an even more awesome real world!

How are you all doing on your journey? Leave a comment and let me know!