But my pictures from the last week or so show that I've also found time for a few other things. See if you can spot a theme.
Round up of Uber Frugal January in a few days!
This is my view a lot of the time. Tea (of course). Bags of plaster littering the kitchen. And my trusty decorating suit (as worn by 'scene of crime' officers, apparently). This suit has lasted through months of plastering and painting, but is finally on its last legs and I have ordered some Proper Overalls which (I hope) will give the impression that I know what I'm doing.
A lot of the DIY time this week as been taken sorting out these teensy internal windows. They look fine from the landing, but the view from the other room was, er, rather less finished.
There was also the small matter of the hole that they replaced.
Oh dear. Still, it looks a lot better now, even if it's not *quite* finished (depending on who you talk to).
This is the spare room, which has never been a bedroom as long as we've lived here, but I hope will do a passable impression of one for our house-selling photos. The light in there is lovely at certain times of day. Once this wall is sorted out, it'll be time to paint the floorboards, and then we can start moving furniture in.
There's also been a fair bit going on in the rest of the house - re-sealing round the bath (don't ask), and today I'm painting the kitchen ceiling, which I confess is not my favourite job so far.
But my pictures from the last week or so show that I've also found time for a few other things. See if you can spot a theme.
Yep, home made scones, home made heart-shaped carrot cake muffins, home made bread with home made damson jam, and a sneaky breakfast at the Women's Institute cafe yesterday, Uber Frugal January be damned (actually, it cost £3.05 for two cups of tea, two slices of toast, a piece of cake, and a flapjack, which seems pretty frugal to me).
So January, it seems, has been a mix of DIY and tea and cake. Not a bad combination (although less of the DIY in the future please, my enthusiasm is wearing rather thin).
Round up of Uber Frugal January in a few days!
I've started cycling again. I used to cycle a lot, when I lived somewhere flatter and didn't own a car, but convenience and idleness caught up with me and cycling became mostly something I did for fun, not for transport.
Not any more though! My bike has been retrieved from the cellar, panniers retrieved from the box they were packed in, and I'm now cycling to work every day, as well as further away places at the weekend.
All this cycling has prompted me to think more about how I travel around, which fits nicely with the Uber Frugal January theme of questioning all of your expenses.
Cycling: panniers are the key
Right now, cycling to work feels ridiculous - it's less than two miles away so it takes me ten minutes to get there, and longer to cycle home than to walk as it's so uphill. But I'm hoping I'll be fitter soon, and I'm planning to add more miles to the journey home once the evenings start getting lighter.
For me, panniers are the key to cycling. Without them, you have to use a rucksack, which makes for hot, sweaty cycling and squashed chocolate brownies (in my experience). With them, you can carry many things in comfort and safety. Mine are lovely, they're enormous, and waterproof, and easily to remove. They weren't cheap (about £50 I think) but so far they've lasted fifteen years and are still going strong.
This bike folds in half, which is (in my opinion) a useless feature as it then takes up far more space. But the handlebars and pedals fold in too - very useful for storing in a hallway without bits sticking out to trip you up.
I also have a 'proper' folding bike - a Brompton. This was expensive (about £600 I think, although now the cheapest seem to be £950) but again, it's lasted about seventeen years and I adore it. It folds up so small you can take it on the train without booking in advance, and you can even get it onto a bus. Perfect for my old bike-train-bike commute, and for slinging in the car to take on holidays (we have one each). Peter bought me a pannier to go on the front a couple of years ago and now it is the very pinnacle of bicycling perfection.
I will say something about hills and traffic, as those are the reasons that people seem to give for not cycling more often. I've used hills as an excuse myself plenty of times but it is just that - an excuse. Yes, I have to get off and push sometimes, but the more I cycle, the fitter I get, and I can now get all the way home from work without getting off, which two weeks ago seemed like it would never happen. Learn how to use those gears and get cycling!
As for traffic, yes, it can be daunting. But the routes I drive are rarely the routes I cycle. I use cycle lanes where I can, quieter roads when I can't, make sure I'm lit up like a Christmas tree (no Stealth Cycling) and most importantly, I remain vigilant. I make eye contact with people turning out of side roads (to make sure they've noticed me) and I am always prepared to slow down if in a car is being unpredictable.
Walking: sensible shoes and bags at all times
My bicycling enthusiasm has only recently been rekindled, in part because I've been conned into entering a 62 mile bike race in March. Before that, I walked (and drove, but we'll get to that in a minute). I love walking. I'll happily walk from one side of the city to another to meet a friend for a cup of tea (and often do).
I'll walk to work in whatever shoes I'm wearing, but for longer walks, comfy shoes are best. And for walking, a rucksack (although now I think about it, panniers around the waist might not be a bad idea). Preferably no carrier bags dangling from wrists, and if I'm going to be longer than an hour, I find it best to have a drink and snack as it's very easy to pop into a shop for a bar of chocolate when you're walking.
Walking is slower than cycling, but I often natter on the phone, listen to a podcast, or take picture of my own feet. You can look around more when you're walking, and I've seen many parts of the city I never would have seen from a car.
For both cycling and walking you need to plan ahead. Cycling needs a bike pump, spare tyre, a few tools (or someone at home with a car who can rescue you), panniers, lights, reflective jacket. Walking needs less preparation, but for both you need enough time. I've had to run before now, and with a rucksack and walking boots it's not pleasant. You don't want to be cycling in a rush either.
But I find that there is usually time if you pay attention, it's just a matter of getting into the right habits, and factoring in the benefits of fresh air, exercise and general wellbeing you get alongside.
I live in a large city, so there are plenty of buses. They're great for getting into town and back, but across town usually requires two, and at that point I often either walk or get in the car. Our local bus now charges £1.80 for a single journey to town (just over two miles) so I've usually walked in and got the bus home, although these days I'm cycling both ways which makes it free. We also have trams here, but sadly I rarely need to be anywhere along the route.
I love trains though, and managed a train commute for nearly six years without too much fussing.
The main thing I love about trains is that you can do other things while you're travelling - very difficult on a bike or while driving.
They're not automatically the frugal option though, but it's always worth checking. It doesn't necessarily follow that because you have a car, it's never worth considering public transport. In my old job, I commuted to another city 60 miles away. Yes, I could have driven - but it was on small, windy roads so would have taken an hour and a half, I would have had to pay for parking, and it would have meant leaving Peter with no car, as we only have one. The train cost £20 a day (I travelled two days a week) but I could read (or sleep, it was quite early) on the train, and walking or cycling to or from the stations at each end (about 2 miles each way in each city) gave me plenty of fresh air and exercise.
For longer train journeys, I've always managed to get tickets cheaper than the 'standard' price by booking in advance, travelling at odd times, or committing to a specific train. I usually use the Red Spotted Hanky website and always check the fabulously-named Tickety Split site to see if it's worth buying separate tickets for different stages of the journey.
We have one car between the two of us. It's thirteen years old (although we've only had it for three years) and we found it through Gumtree. It does around 45 miles per gallon, and so far (touch wood) hasn't had anything go too wrong. We deliberately bought one that was (just about) big enough to sleep in the back of. It's a bit cramped with two of us, so I wouldn't want to stay in it for more than one night, but I've been away in it on my own for several days and it's been fine, and it's great for sleeping outside friend's houses after parties, or a cheap night away in another city.
I've fallen into the habit of hopping into the car for small journeys over the last few years - even to the local shops, which are only ten minutes walk away. I usually justify this because I'm running late, or I'm in the middle of something and don't want to take half an hour out.
But Uber Frugal January is making me question those justifications and see what I can do to get rid of them. Planning ahead always helps - if I know we're running low on milk, I can get some while I'm out anyway, instead of having to make an emergency dash when we run out. If I allow plenty of time to get ready, I can be on time, rather than having to take the car because I'm late. This is working so far this month, and I've barely got in the car except for longer journeys or to ferry large pieces of wood or furniture (I don't yet have a bike trailer...).
Still, we spend roughly £60 a month on diesel, and even though that includes days out and trips to see family, neither of us drive to work so this still seems quite high.
I like being able to get about under my own steam, and I prefer it when I create enough time and space to be able to cycle and walk to places. I've never been reliant on a car to get to work and I'd like to keep it that way if possible although there may be some compromise if we move somewhere rural. We'll see.
Up til now I've always made decisions about where to live and work as if I didn't have a car, so the addition of one is a bonus to be used for longer trips, rather than a necessity. I've still found it far too easy to hop in for short trips though and that's something I've started to change this month.
More bicycling, I say!
Happy New Year!
I thought I'd start the year off with a look back at last year - then we can move on to looking forwards. I have some exciting plans for 2017, hope you do too!
In January, I started my new job, and pondered how we'd likely be moving house in the first half of 2016. Hmm - now aiming for the first half of 2017... I looked back at 2015, and finally got round to making my third blog book (for 2011 - got a bit of catching up to do).
In February, we started decorating the house in earnest (much of 2015 was taken up with packing things into small boxes), and finally emptied the spare room (it's not been empty since - but an update coming soon!) I also hopped across the channel to visit my friend in Belgium for a weekend.
March was a waffly month. We had a weekend at the seaside, spring arrived, and I tried to find bubbles of peace in an increasingly chaotic house.
I had some time off work, which I spent running, cycling, and we wandered the countryside in search of a nice place to live, heading south, and east this time. The sun came out, I visited family, and pondered the nature of self-reliance after trying to get to grips with some particularly rotten decorating jobs. I did some wandering round town, and started knitting a pair of socks.
I was still off work for the first week of April, so did some more cycling, and we wandered looking for a new place to live again - north this time. I pottered about at home, we had the downstairs windows replaced, and I waffled on about DIY (again) and self-sufficiency. I did some more waffling about running (again), and we finished laying the landing floorboards, which led to new levels of floorboard-appreciation.
In May I pondered getting older, me and my sister did a triathlon (her first!), we abandoned the DIY and went wandering about the Peak District, and I did a whole load of plastering.
In June, I accepted (temporarily) that we wouldn't be moving house any time soon. I finished my sock, and did a half marathon with my sister. We visited our friend Fay in Scotland, and, inspired by her garden, I spent a lot of time in ours, sitting about and playing with the compost. I also got uncharacteristically political (don't worry, it doesn't happen often) and my sister and I did another race around Sheffield with a friend.
In July I went to Norway for work, and made good progress with the plastering, finishing both by the bed and the bathroom. I hopped across to visit my sister at the seaside, and my mum came to help with the gardening.
In August, we went to visit our friends in the Welsh hills (we just stayed with them for new year as well), and had quite a few little jaunts here and there too. I started keeping track of what I was reading, and the garden was looking increasingly lush. In contrast, the house was looking increasingly dire, and we declared that Everything Will Be Finished by the end of September...
In September I finally finished my second sock, did some more reading, and waffled on about how much I love cafes. I did some visiting, some running, an update about the garden - and we didn't finish the house.
I was quiet in October, as work got busy. Apparently I spent a lot of time in cafes though, did quite a bit of running, and appreciated the changing seasons.
In November I spent a lot of time in the woods, and we had our first frost. We sneaked off to the seaside for the weekend (again), I did a lot more reading, and waffled on about being thrifty (a nice precursor to Uber Frugal January).
Demember came around quickly. We got all cosy, and finally felt like we were getting somewhere with the house, especially after my sister came to help us paint. I didn't feel remotely ready for Christmas, but it came round anyway. I did a spot of walking, and some cycling, and made preparations to join in with Uber Frugal January. I ended the year with a teensy bit of greenery poking through in the garden. A good ending.
So there we are - 2016, a year of decorating and DIY, but also running, cycling, cafes, cake, a bit of knitting, a bit of reading, a bit of visiting. Pretty much like most years...
I mentioned the other week I was considering joining in with FrugalWoods' uber frugal month in January. Well, the decision has been made, and we're getting ready for a shake up in our spending habits and financial routines. If you fancy joining in too, pop over there and sign up (you don't have to sign up, but you'll get daily encouraging emails if you do).
Mrs FrugalWoods has posted some homework for us, and since I am diligent and always do my homework with plenty of time to spare (ahem), here's my start at working through the steps. If you're intending on reading all of this you might want to grab yourself a cuppa, I don't half waffle on...
Step 1: establish your goals
We want to move to a detached house with a lovely big garden. I want to have the option of working less. Right now, we are in a position where we could have one of those things, but not both. In ten years, I want the mortgage on our new house paid off, and to be in a position where I can choose to work (very) part time if I want to.
What I'd like to achieve from uber frugal January is:
Step 2: review last month's spending
Hmm. (Un)fortunately for me, I can do this very accurately, as I use the YNAB budget software (which in itself is not free... although if you do decide to sign up after using that link you'll get a discount, and I'll get a referral fee ). This tells me that in total this year, I have spent £16772.81. Crikey.
(A quick word about our household finances. We own this house outright, after Peter spent 25 years working and paying off the mortgage, some of that while I was messing around doing a PhD. I am now the main earner - my wages are paid into our joint account, and I keep track of this and what we spend from it obsessively. We consider all money shared, but as Peter's income is mostly cash, and he is (by choice) in charge of food shopping, this mainly comes from his income, which I don't keep track of. Which is why I can be deadly accurate about most of our spending, but not food shopping, and not his personal spending, which he does very little of).
Anyway. That annual total breaks down as follows (I'm going to round up to the nearest £10 and use my existing, slightly odd, categorisation for ease). I've noted the monthly average as well as spending for November, as I think the average is slightly more revealing as not everything comes up each month.
True expenses - £5170 (average of £430 a month, £112 in November)
This is the category I use for things that I know will happen at some point in the future - birthdays, Christmas, car maintenance, dentist etc. It's also where all the DIY spending is being logged, which is why it's so huge.
Monthly direct debits - £3480 (£290 a month, £313 in November)
Council tax, water, gas and electric, internet, home and mobile phones etc
Everyday household expenses - £1880 (£167 a month, £50 in November)
Diesel for the car, odd bits of food (definitely a category that can be reduced!), household stuff
Quality of life goals - £1840 (£153 a month, £550 in November)
This includes holidays and weekends away.
Annual bills - £780 (£65 a month, £72 in November)
Car tax and insurance, house insurance, tv licence
Jenni fun spends - £2200 (£183, £250 in November)
Oh dear. This category holds my tea and cake spends, plus clothes, odd bits of fun travelling for me, and any other little bits of nonsense I care to waste my hard earned dosh on.
Well, that was interesting, but as Mrs FrugalWoods tells us 'do not berate yourself and do not get discouraged... you're participating in this challenge because you want to improve...'. So, I'll move swiftly on. I realise I've lumped a lot of things in together here but I'll expand on various bits as we go through January, this is just an overview.
Step 3: Categorise your expenses
Now we're going to categorise into fixed mandatory expenses and discretionary expenses, and rather than rely on last month's figures, I'll use the monthly average that YNAB gives me as this will be more accurate. This doesn't cover absolutely every single little category as we'd be here all day, it's just the main stuff (but I will be tackling the small things too!)
Another quick note, this time about what I've categorised as 'fixed mandatory' - these are things that either can't change (like council tax and the water bill), or that are annual bills already paid for this year, or that I've already spent considerable time trying to reduce over the years, and I'm happy with current level of spending, and therefore they're not being covered by this challenge this time round.
Fixed mandatory expenses
Council tax | water | internet | mobile phones (we both have cheap, monthly, sim-only deals) | my union | tv licence | Peter's national insurance contributions | web hosting | car tax | breakdown cover (paid annually in May) | car insurance (paid annually in March) |
Discretionary expenses (with average montly spending over the last year)
These are the things I'll be starting to tackle in January. The house insurance is also up for renewal, and our fixed energy deal is coming to an end so I'll shop around for a cheaper option for both of those too.
Step 4: What can I eliminate entirely?
Taxis, definitely. Clothes, for January at least - I have plenty, and most of mine are acquired through idle charity shop browsing which I reckon I can forego for a few weeks. Takeaways.
After that it gets a bit harder. We've had a discussion, and decided that if we invite friends out, we'll suggest our house, or a picnic, rather than a cafe. However, if we're invited to something that's already happening (a birthday in a restaurant, for example) then we'll go along. We'll see how it goes.
Step 5: Embrace the art of substitution
What can we substitute? Diesel perhaps? We do a LOT of just nipping to the shops in the car. I'm going to get walking again, and dig my bike out of the cellar. My gym membership is due for renewal in January, it's £180 (£15 a month) and I use it a bit, but not much. I'm going to hold off renewing until after January, and instead run outside, do yoga at home, and explore the world of youtube exercise videos.
Step 6: Reduce spending on discretionary expenses
I have a terrible habit of nipping into the shop for milk on the way home, and coming out with a bag full of food. This is why Peter is in charge of food shopping, but somehow we've drifted away from cooking and into buying pizzas and the like. Food is a big area we can make improvements in. I've already written about my work lunches, but there's more we can do too.
A big thing for me is roaming the charity shops at the weekend. We have a lot near us and it's something we really enjoy. We won't stop, as we're still looking for things for the house (nice excuse...) but I won't be buying clothes, books or anything unnecessary for January. It's only one month after all!
Step 7: Empower yourself to insource
I don't think this is a step I'll have a problem with - we've already decorated most of the house ourselves after all, and I have had precisely ONE haircut in the last year (which cost £7). We certainly don't use a cleaner, or a car cleaning service (you'd laugh at the thought if you saw either our house or our car). Easy peasy.
Step 8: Examine your habits
Buying food on the way home from work. Nipping out for breakfast at the weekend. Leaving the shower running for ten minutes before getting in it. Putting the heating on in the morning and just leaving it on for the rest of the day. I'm sure there are more...
Step 9: Plan ahead
This is definitely an area with room for improvement. I'm rubbish at planning ahead, and it definitely costs me money. For January I'll be taking lunch to work, bulk cooking at the weekend and freezing meals for after-work dinners, taking snacks with me when we go out, packing a flask of tea for a picnic.
Step 10: If you do buy stuff, get it used (or cheap)
Another one we won't have a problem with. Peter is fantastic at sourcing DIY-related things (doors, floorboards etc) on Freegle and Gumtree. We rarely buy anything new. I'll keep an eye on it to make sure, but I think we'll be fine here.
Step 11: Banish excuses
Oops. I can already see a few excuses that have crept in to this post...
So there are - off to a good start with thinking and preparing. I'll write about individual things as they come up, but at least we've got a benchmark to move from.
Are you joining in with uber frugal January? Have you done this exercise yet? What did you find?
I don't feel remotely prepared for Christmas this year. Last year, I was uncharacteristically ready weeks in advance, and vowed to do the same in all future years. Needless to say, that hasn't happened. A combination of DIY, working full time, and general overwhelmedness has conspired to ensure that I will be out finishing my shopping on Christmas eve, like all the other unprepared fools.
Oh well. It's too late to do anything about it now, except don my festive earrings and enter the thronging hoards (and, of course, vow to be more organised next year). I'm looking forward to wrapping it all once I'm home, maybe with a glass of advocaat and something festive on the tv.
I love Christmas, but I have a slightly ambivalent relationship with gift-giving. I love giving people things - I just fret wildly about getting just the right thing, and that can sometimes make present-buying (or making) quite a stressful experience. I've had to work hard over the years to remind myself that I don't have to buy everyone just what they'd buy for themselves, and that sometimes the gift you never even thought of yourself is the very thing you end up loving. But I still haven't quite conquered the fear of giving someone a present that they really don't like.
My family and friends are grateful and appreciate recipients, so I don't know where this has come from. I really do wish I could let go of it, as it can be quite debilitating sometimes. I think I need to cultivate the habit of collecting things when I see them throughout the year, rather than trying to be inspired all at once.
Another thing I'm not ready for is my upcoming half marathon. I ran ten miles along this trail last weekend, but it was slow and ponderous and not at all reassuring.
Oh well. Both Christmas and the race will arrive whether I'm ready for them or not, so I might as well just face forwards and do what I can with the time I have left.
We've had some progress on the house front today - again as the result of a bit of outsourcing. We don't have much carpet in the house, and most of what we do have isn't being replaced, but the bedroom carpet has been there for 30 years and was rather a mess.
No amount of hoovering is going to make that look any better. And so, far too early this morning, a nice young man came and fitted us a new carpet. I think I last showed you this room back in August, when we'd finished the cladding and started the painting, but not finished. One wall was still dark green, the paintwork was gold (and royal blue on the landing), the carpet was covered in plastic from when the plastering was done several months ago, and you can't really see it, but there was no skirting board at all on the cladded wall.
Well, this morning it looked like this.
Slight improvement, yes? Ignore the piles of stuff on the shelves outside the door (oh, and ignore the fact that there's no door - there's not even one on the bathroom at the minute).
I'm not sure how long this room will stay empty for. There's a chaise lounge in the kitchen that needs a new home for a start. But right now it feels good to have one room free of paint tins and screwdrivers.
So bring on Christmas, and the half marathon. I might not be properly prepared, but I'm ready enough (or at least I will be after tomorrow's shopping trip).
As we slip into winter, I mostly want to be curled up under a blanket with a cup of tea and a good book. That isn't happening much this year, but warm drinks and cakes and cafes and friends are going some way to making up for it.
It still feels like autumn out there at the minute, but there's a definite feeling of winter in the air too.
In between doing things to the house and going to work, I've been trying to get out in the fresh air, which at the minute mostly involves walking to places I have to go anyway, and running. This is one of my favourite paths to run down.
We've been trying to get out and do things in the evening too - something we've always done but which has been a little neglected of late with all this decorating.
And, of course, there's the usual charity shop and antique shop wanderings, which occasionally yield a little something for the house (nothing from this picture, I hasten to add - even I wouldn't know where to start wading through all that!)
But mostly it's just friends and tea and cake.
I'm well known for my ability to nod off in crowded, noisy rooms, including on sofas at parties, and occasionally even in the pub. I've discovered that if you slip a hot water bottle into a thin drawstring bag, you can carry it around under your coat all day and nobody will notice. Today, someone mistook my 'emergency cardigan' that I keep at work for a dressing gown. All evidence, I think, of my sensible embracing of cosiness at every opportunity.
There's not really much point to this post, it's just an excuse for gratuitous pictures of cakes. This evening I've been on my hands and knees again painting skirting boards so there'll be a post about that soon. For now though, I'm already in my dressing gown and woolly socks, so it's probably about time to head off to bed.
This is what came tumbling out of my purse when we came back from Scarborough last week. Not a pretty sight, but it seems I just can't throw away a receipt without tracking it first.
Do you save your receipts? For a long time I didn't keep track of money at all, partly because I didn't have much and it was quite easy to see what was (or, more often, wasn't) left. Then I ended up with a small but increasing sum on a credit card, and my regular income stopped, and I realised pretty sharpish that I'd have to get a grip.
About nine years ago, I joined the Money Saving Expert (MSE) forums, and the people on there have been a source of much advice and all round cheerfulness over the years. I've learned a lot about money, and one of the most valuable lessons has been how much it misbehaves if you don't keep a close eye on it.
I've always been pretty thrifty, again, mostly due to having very little money for a long time. I don't have expensive tastes. I learned on the MSE forums where I could save more, and how to make a bit extra through completing market research surveys and various other little tips. I no longer do most surveys (I don't need the extra money now and I always found them quite tedious), but if I needed a bit extra I'd pick them up again.
It was MSE folks who encouraged me to keep a spending diary. I'd probably tried to do this on and off over the years, with little success, but they talked me through it, and I finally stuck with it. I created a budget, and wrote down every penny I spent - and it quickly became very obvious that most of my spare money (and some that was allocated for other things) went on cups of tea and cake in cafes. Hmm...
These days, things are different. Having shot from being in the bottom 20% of income distribution in the UK to being in the top 20% in just a few short years, I'm well aware of two things:
Privileged is the right word. I feel lucky, but I've worked hard to get where I am, and made some difficult decisions to get too (including living on a very low income and doing multiple jobs for a lot of years while I studied). So it's not just luck, but equally it wasn't all just me - I'm also aware that there was a good degree of circumstance involved. Not everyone has the same opportunities as I did, and by that I mean a decent secondary school education, a family who encouraged (but didn't push) me to learn, no dependants, winning a research grant to pay for my PhD (including living costs), and all manner of other things, without which this might have been achievable, but it would have been a heck of a lot harder. So yes, privileged.
Incidentally, if you'd like to see where your income fits in relation to the rest of the population, this website is interesting.
Anyway, the point is that, while I've been in my new job nearly a year now, I could easily be made redundant tomorrow, as could most of us, and that thought makes me want to keep an eye on what's going on in my bank account.
These days, I don't use a paper spending diary, I use a programme called You Need A Budget, or YNAB for short, and it turns out that, yes, a fair chunk of what I spend goes on tea and cake in cheery little cafes. YNAB software isn't free, and so I'd never recommend it for anyone who was struggling with money, although you can use the methods without paying for the actual software. I've used it for a couple of years now, and I love it. It forces me to allocate every pound that comes in to a particular 'job' - whether that be 'holiday' or 'emergency' or 'new car' - and doing that means that you don't have a generic 'savings' pot that you mentally allocate to holiday AND emergency AND new car.
It's basically the age old envelope system, but with a fancy-pants app and lots of pretty colours.
When I'm about to spend something, I look on the phone app to see how much money I have in that particular category. If there's not as much as I'm about to spend, I have to decide where I'm going to steal it from. Holiday fund? Christmas? Dentist? Hmm. Makes that cake seem slightly less appealing, knowing I'm stealing from a particular fund, doesn't it? And that's the beauty of it - it forces me to acknowledge that by spending on one thing, I'm taking away my ability to spend on something else.
Anyway, the point of all this waffling is that, every couple of days, you'll find me sat with a cuppa, gathering all my receipts and making sure I've entered them all. Not the most exciting activity, but one that I actually find quite satisfying. Being forced to confront my spending decisions every few days does really make me think twice about what I buy.
Of course, I'm not perfect by any means. Just this week, for example, I stole from the Christmas savings pot to top up our holiday fund so we could sneak off to Scarborough for a few days. The 'new car' fund only has £54 in it, so the old car had better keep going for a while. But I'm not kidding myself about what I'm doing. For me, whatever you earn, it's about making sensible decisions, based on the information available. And the better that information is, the better decisions you'll make.
I'm not going to stop spending in cafes any time soon. Most of the ones we go to are small local businesses that I'm happy to support. But there are other things I am willing to compromise on. We only have one car, and it's thirteen years old. We've done most of our house renovating ourselves rather than paying other people. We stock up on things when they're on offer, and rarely buy branded anything. When I have the time and head space, I make bread, jam, soap, and many kinds of soft furnishings and household items. We use things til they run out or break (and sometimes we tape them back together and keep them going for a while longer).
I'm doing a lot of pondering about money at the minute, because at the minute we don't have a mortgage, and pretty soon we're about to take out a rather large one. We won't take on more than we can afford, and we'll try to pay it off as quickly as possible, but it's still quite a commitment. It means I'll be more reliant on my job than I've ever been. Lots to think about...
This is quite ridiculous. I had to go all the way back to March to find a photograph with a book in - and this is one I didn't even get past the first chapter of! I used to read all the time (apparently as a child I once fell down the stairs because I had my nose in a book), but lately I've found myself wandering around the internet on my phone instead.
Of course, that has its merits too, but it's really just not the same.
So I'm trying to get back to reading. I got a book out of the library - and then had to renew it after three weeks because I hadn't started it, and then had to renew it again after another three weeks because I'd only read the first chapter. Not a good start. Only holiday I bought four books in charity shops, and even read one of them (as well as the library book!) but it seems I didn't take a single picture.
I love reading, but I've never been much of a one for book clubs or talking about books. I never feel I can say the 'right' things, whatever they are. I want to sound intelligent, but often can't get past 'but I really liked it!' This feeling has always put me off talking about reading here until it dawned on me this week that I don't have to say anything at all! What a revelation! I can just tell you what I've been reading, I don't have to provide intelligent analysis and witty commentary.
So here goes - what I've been reading in August:
Simon Garfield - A Notable Woman: The Romantic Journals of Jean Lucey Pratt
A friend bought me this for my birthday. I do love a good diary, especially one set during wartime. I love reading people's accounts of everyday life (which may explain my enthusiasm for reading other people's blogs), although I've never been particularly good at keeping a diary of my own. I confess I didn't really warm to Jean Lucey Pratt at first - she's obsessed with whether she'll be successful, whether she'll find a husband, whether she's doing the right thing or should be doing something else, and her diary contains (I'll be quite honest here) the kind of thing I write when I do try to keep a diary - inner anxieties and vanities and things that are best left unread. However, it seems that Jean did intend her diaries to be read (she mentions it quite frequently...), and, since they start when she is a young teenager and run through until a few weeks before she died sixty years later, by the end I'd become rather fond of her. It made me start thinking about keeping a diary of my own again, but, needless to say, that idea stopped as soon as it started.
Toni Morrison - A Mercy
The only other Toni Morrison book I've read is Beloved, which at times I found distressing and quite hard to follow. This was more straightforward, and marginally less distressing, although it's still definitely not a cheerful read.
Bill Bryson - The Road to Little Dribbling
I read this with some trepidation - in his previous book about Britain he visited a place a mile from where I grew up and was not very complimentary. However, if he did say anything about my current city I obviously wasn't offended by it as I have no memory of him saying anything at all.
Albert B Robillard - Meaning of a Disability: the Lived Experience of Paralysis
I started reading this for work, but rapidly found myself drawn in. This is a true account of the author's experience of developing motor-neuron disease, becoming paralysed and losing his speech. The first few chapters deal with his frustrations at medical professionals and acquaintances refusing to communicate with him, which is both distressing and a good lesson for the rest of us. Again, not a particularly cheerful read.
There, that wasn't so hard, was it? I'd love to hear what you've been reading if you're willing to share.
I've been away for a week for work. Not a usual occurrence for me, and while it was fun, it was also tiring. I didn't sleep well (also unusual for me), and it's hard work being 'on show' (even just some of the time).
I was glad to get home last night to familiar food, my own bed, and a nice cup of tea.
I'm not complaining, of course, oh no! It's a pleasure and a privilege to have the opportunity to travel somewhere beautiful for a week, even if you do have to work while you're there. And I mustn't forget that this trip was, in fact, my idea. So no, no complaints. Just a bit of weariness. I'll post some pictures later.
And, of course, while I was away, there was the small matter of the referendum about whether we stay in the EU. That made me tired too, and sad. There were good arguments for both sides, but unfortunately these were mostly lost in a campaign that focused on stirring up divisions between neighbours, and unreasonable 'promises' based on lies. I'm depressed at the role the media played, and that the level of the debate descended into essentially playground name-calling.
I voted to stay in, as did many people I know, although not all. My personal disgruntlement with the political system lies largely with the leaders of this country, not with the European Union (although as an institution that is by no means perfect either). For me, therefore, voting to leave would have signalled my desire to put even more power into the hands of people I do not trust one tiny bit. I'm glad we have cross-nation rules about things like workers' rights and protections for the environment. Right now I don't trust those in charge of this country to keep to similar standards if they have the chance to lower them.
So yes, I'm a little sad that yesterday 52% of voters opted to leave. I hope it's because they can see, and are willing to work for, a viable, positive alternative. In the popular media, the argument for leaving doesn't seem to have extended beyond 'we want our country back' - with little idea of what we'll do once we've got it (or who, indeed, 'we' are, because those heading the leave campaign are every bit as much part of the political and financial elite as those heading the remain campaign).
The whole thing has created disharmony in the country, and I don't like it. I didn't like the vitriol from some in the leave camp around immigrants being to blame for all the country's problems, and I don't like the way some on the remain side are branding everyone who voted leave as a bigot. We're all as complicated as each other, and we all had our reasons for voting as we did.
So there is so much uncertainty about what happens now, and my head hurts with trying to see a way forward that isn't based on divisiveness and blame.
However, fortunately for us all, crafting and negotiating a way forwards isn't solely my responsibility (phew!) And I can only dwell for so long on gloomy thoughts. I woke at three this morning with my head spinning, and instead of reading more about politics, I read instead about other people's gardens. I looked started with Rhonda at Down to Earth, and she led me to Little Home in the Country, which made me long for our own moving day. I ended with Jan at The Snail of Happiness, who I have met in person and who is most lovely. I adore her limery - it's lodged in my head as something I'd love to have at our new house.
When I got back last night we walked to the local park, and took these pictures. I like it here. It's high on the hill, and gives a sense of perspective. The sun still rose this morning. My family and friends are mostly well. My house is still standing (hooray!) although it could do with a good clean. My garden is lush and growing. Nobody is stopping me from writing whatever I like here on my blog (although after this post I will be back to my usual cheerful ramblings with no politics or gloominess, I promise).
Today my sister arrives at teatime. The sun has just come out, and there is a sparrow preening itself in the garden. The gooseberries are ripening, which has reminded me to rescue the last of last year's gooseberries (and two boxes of redcurrants) from the freezer to turn into jam. I have a new (to me) compost bin to replace my rickety old home-made one. The garden is growing (and growing) and there is a car full of stuff to go to the tip. It's going to be a busy day, and I'd best get on.
Just as soon as I've had one more cup of tea.
It was my birthday this week, and I'm now closer to forty than thirty.
As birthdays go, it was pretty uneventful. For the first time in goodness knows how long, I was at work. I didn't work very hard, mind you, but there were several meetings I didn't want to miss. We went out in the evening, and again the next evening, and again the evening after that. I'm tired now.
Now I'm distracted, because Weebly has just informed me that I have hit my limit for posting photographs on this site. I'm surprised - one of the reasons I chose Weebly was because I thought there was unlimited storage. Clearly I misread - turns out you can have unlimited pages, but storage of photographs is limited to 500MB, which it looks like I have reached after just over a year.
I confess I don't know what to do now. I'm reluctant to pay Weebly £60 a year to upgrade. I've switched blogging platforms twice already, which something tells me is unwise, but really - why? As long as there's a trail from one to the next, does it really matter, for a quiet little blog like this without millions of followers? Do I go back to Wordpress, with a new name? Register my own domain? Would that give me any more storage? Right now I feel baffled by the whole thing and unable to make a decision.
And now I do sound old.