Night-time Walks with Pain

The clock on the oven says 3.34 as I walk carefully heel-toe, heel-toe off the wooden floor boards of our kitchen and onto the vinyl tiles of the hallway. I pass our bedroom, where my partner fortunately sleeps soundly and step onto the thick carpet of our spare room / study. There is no traffic on our dark and quiet road but I can see lights in the house across the way. The neighbour here has oxygen cylinders delivered and receives daily visits from the District Nurse and I remind myself that whatever pain I am in at this unsociable hour, there are others much worse off.

As I skirt the corner of the hallway and onto the striped and sligthly textured living room carpet I calculate how many of these nighttime walks I have done since I mysteriously did something to my lower back near the end of September when we were in Norfolk. The discomfort in my back developed into cramp-like pains down the back of my right leg that spasmed from the top of the thigh to my ankle. Within a few days this pain was waking me up at night.

I walk back along the hallway into the kitchen making sure every step counts. It is now 3.36, two minutes to complete one circuit of our small house and it only takes that long if I carefully take in all the corners. Sometimes I skip a section and then the oven clock has only moved on one minute since my last kitchen visit! There are not many times when I wish we lived in a bigger house but these night-time walks would be more interesting in a mansion and when we are away in our campervan I am basically walking on the spot!

I watch a neighbouring black and white cat saunter across our back garden before walking back down the hallway for another tour. I have found it takes at least ten minutes for the acute pain down the back of my leg to ease to something more bearable. Although the urge to go back to bed is strong, I make myself walk around for about twenty minutes before I return to my duvet. I hope my body will reward my self-restraint by allowing me a further three or four hours sleep but sometimes life isn’t like that and I am up again two hours later.

I have said before that to keep to our budget we always have some thinking time before we spend money. This might be a couple of days, a week or a month, depending on how many £s we plan to spend, but this rule goes out of the window when it comes to needing physiotherapy. You can get physiotherapy on the NHS but by the time you’ve reached the top of the waiting list your symptoms will either have gone away [a win I guess] or have become chronic and take longer to sort out. Keeping active is important to most people and I know we are lucky to have enough flexibility in our budget to spend the £55 per session for physio and for me, being able to choose what we spend our money on is an important aspect of financial independence.

The physiotherapist found an issue with my lower back and deduced that this had led to over-use of my piriformis muscle. This muscle in your hips is close to the sciatic nerve that runs down the back of the leg and if it becomes inflammed it can compress the sciatic nerve and cause pain.

For the last six weeks standing up is the only time I have a chance of being pain free and I now have breakfast standing up, I work standing up and occasionally watch television standing up. I try not to feel sorry for myself and don’t want to put my life on hold so, despite the pain, I have continued to walk and cycle. I am sure being upright during the day so much is good for me but I sometimes long to slob out for a while. I dream of curling up in an armchair with a book or kicking off my shoes, putting my feet up and watching a favourite programme. Instead, when I do sit down it is a brief moment with my back straight and supported.

But it is a full night’s sleep that I miss most. I pretty much always fall asleep easily but within a week of the initial injury I began waking in the dead of night with super-cramp down my right leg. There are plenty of suggestions for relief on the internet and I have absorbed these and shifted position and tried pillows in all the right places but frustratingly the only thing that helps a little is a heat mat [like a small electric blanket]. As every toss and turn is agony I am resigned to lying still and hoping I get at least four hours shut-eye before my brain can take no more pain and nudges me awake. No stretches or bed-based exercises give me relief and I know that walking is the only thing to do. Getting up takes effort and there are times when the pain is so intense for the first minute or so of moving around that the blood rushes from my head and I am at risk of fainting. I can’t put my head between my legs [I can hardly do up my shoe laces!] so I end up on the floor until it passes.

Some miracle manipulation by the physio that was worth every penny gave me a break from the night-time pain session for a couple of weeks in October but this has now worn off. This last week I can once again be seen, an exhausted and pathetic figure huddled in my fleecy dressing gown slowly making my way around our small house.

The frugal part of my brain had jumped at the chance to save money when, at my last appointment, the physio suggested I was doing so well I didn’t need to return for three weeks. Of course, this is a decision I am now regretting and my next session cannot come soon enough! Fingers crossed this is a temporary set back and I will soon be once again having long and sweet dreams until dawn.

Seven Lessons that made me a Saver not an Investor

As the last of our savings accounts with an interest rate over 1% matures and the cost of living in the UK keeps on rising, I have been checking out our financial position. We are all a product of our past experiences in some way and for me various life lessons put me on a purposeful and cautious journey to financial independence and early retirement [FIRE]. This journey did not involve taking risks with money; secure savings, rather than investment, was our mantra as we worked towards a goal. The FIRE community is packed with people that gainfully invest their money but my own seven life lessons led me to saving in building societies, Individual Savings Accounts and other yawningly dull and dependable accounts.

Lesson One: A broken washing machine

In my early twenties I lived on my own in a rented house, only ever one pay day away from destitution. Life improved when we got married in so many ways, including financially, but still for the first three years we muddled along with below average income and nothing in the savings pot. Then the second-hand washing machine we had inherited from a relative died. Annoying at the best of times, this felt catastrophic while we still had a child in nappies. Even in the 1980s we were environmentally conscious and we used washable and reusable cloth terry squares for our baby and dried these on the line [no tumble drier]. Washing nappies by hand was tough and it was an anxious few weeks until we managed to borrow the £250 we needed to buy a new washing machine.

Not wanting to be in that situation again the washing machine savings fund came into being. We did without and built up and kept £300 in a savings account for the next twenty years or so [long after we were washing nappies] as a security blanket.

Lesson Two: Campervans are fun!

Back in 2005 we made the life-changing purchase of our first blue campervan. Nothing was ever the same again and by the following year we knew we wanted to have a campervan gap year. Saving for this went way beyond the washing machine fund; this was big!

By 2005 we were both earning UK average salaries, our mortgage was small, our son was grown and would soon be finishing university and borrowing to buy a second-hand campervan became possible. This loan was paid off when I received redundancy pay the following year and we extended the mortgage for campervan number two. I took on multiple jobs and we became extreme savers with a clear goal to have a gap year. In the first of many spreadsheets, I began tracking our spending and savings from earnings and Ebay sales as we de-cluttered.

Lesson Three: A grown-up gap year

Having squirrelled away as much money as we thought we needed, we waved farewell to England in the spring of 2009. Our year travelling in our second blue campervan was fantastic and another huge life-changing event. We returned to Salford in 2010 having learned that early retirement was the only way we could have the freedom to travel we yearned for. We came up with a plan, secured new jobs and embarked on an even bigger saving journey with steely determination and an even more elaborate spreadsheet. Our single goal was to retire as soon as we could afford to.

Lesson Four: Banks are not always secure

We have avoided the ‘big banks’ since becoming aware of their role in debt and poverty in the global south in the 1980s. Despite the fashion for demutualisation of building societies a few remain and these are where we put our money. Although the failure of Northern Rock in 2008 only affected us lightly it did result in a ramping up of my cautiousness. Building societies are not squeaky clean but we are more comfortable with their structure and ethos. From 2010 until 2017 our ever-growing savings pots were recorded on those increasingly complex spreadsheets as we sought out the best interest rates in building societies, the government savings bank NS&I and the Co-operative Bank, spreading our cash around to limit the risk. We had a long-term plan and could tie-up money for many years and this allowed us to take advantage of reasonable interest rates.

Lesson Five: The cost of living increases

To anyone who was around in the 1970s and 80s, inflation is nothing new. With almost five years of retirement behind us the savings pots are decreasing. Now that inflation in the UK is officially over 5% and rising and our money earning little interest, we are losing value big time. I like to think savers should be able to expect their savings to ‘earn’ at least as much as inflation, staying steady rather than taking steps backwards but I have had to tweak the spreadsheet and budget to reflect these losses.

Fortunately for us this loss isn’t catastrophic as we have spent under our budget for four of the five years since we finished work. We hope that this surplus, along with my ad-hoc travel writing earnings over these years [never included in the budget] have left us with enough wiggle room to cope with an increasingly uncertain future but it does depend how bad it gets.

Lesson Six: Everyone deserves a home

Investing in housing has been popular in the UK and seen as a safe way of increasing the value of your money. Once we had sufficient funds to cover our spending for the years until our pensions paid out we could have used our savings to purchase one or two houses and become landlords, using the rent as our income. Getting our own buy-to-let might have been a wise investment decision but being a landlord is not who we are. Everyone deserves a house that feels like home and yet in my working life with homeless and vulnerable people I have learnt that many people don’t have that security. The UK’s enthusiasm for housing as an investment has inflated prices, excluded first-time buyers from the housing market and skewed the type of new properties built. I am grateful for the riches I have and count my blessings that I have a home, I am not greedy for more.

We have also never maximised the profit on our housing by pushing ourselves to have a big and bigger mortgage. We purchased our first home when we married in the mid-1980s for £13,500. The purchase was completed the day before our wedding day and with the energy of youth we married in the morning and moved across the country in the afternoon, waving to our two dozen guests from a hired Luton van full of our sticks of furniture! The small terraced house was affordable [our household income was around £6,000/year], comfortable and occasionally a headache but it was never an investment.

Moving north, we stayed in our Lancashire semi-detached house for over 20 years. To ‘maximise’ our ‘investment’ we could have taken advantage of our higher incomes and moved to a more expensive property as we reached our 40s. Our home was in the cheap-end of town but we liked where we lived and the mortgage was affordable, allowing us to enjoy a good quality of life. We still benefitted from the exorbitant rise in house prices when we sold it but by not actively playing the housing-market game and staying in a ‘cheap’ house we are now locked into the lower end of the housing market.

Lesson Seven: Sell, sell, sell

In the 1980s the Conservative government sold and privatised companies that I thought I already owned. We didn’t buy any of these get-rich-quick shares for utility companies but watching the scramble for a fast buck we added company shares into the best-avoided category.

I am clearly risk averse but in the 1980s I learnt that these investments were considered a route to wealth. We have saved to secure sufficient funds to be able to walk away from the straight-jacket of nine-to-five working and travel. Although I understand that by many people’s standards we are rich, I have never aspired to be wealthy and our money is diminishing rather than growing, as we work towards leaving this world with little or nothing.

Being comfortable with your own financial decisions

I guess if you want to free yourself from the necessity of employment in your 30s and 40s, you need firstly a high income and secondly you need to invest and achieve interest rates higher than inflation. Everyone makes their own choices, based on their life experiences and my own life lessons have left me valuing my good fortune and hesitant to squander that good fortune through risky behaviour. Fairness underpins everything we do and I hope I don’t lose sight of how lucky we are to have enough money to make choices about how we spend it.

Our wedding day self-drive removal van

2021 Spending Reviewed: Despite Rising Costs we Have Stayed Below Budget

It is the start of another year and time to share how much money we have spent in the last 12 months, revealing our spending habits in all of their immoderation. I divulge our expenditure for interest and accountability, as we aim to stay within the budget we set when we retired in 2017. Our spending is peculiar to us and comparisons are not always helpful but it does show you don’t need gold-plated pensions to have a good time. Any comments and observations are gladly received.

In 2017 we aimed to live on less than £27,000 a year for the foreseeable future and despite high inflation we spent under that figure for the fifth year running. In 2017, as new retirees, it was a generous amount for us that was around the average UK household spending but was less than we had spent while we were working. Although we had been tracking our spending for years, we didn’t really know how our retirement spending would pan out and, of course, as two vegetarians with no mortgage and a campervan there is nothing average about us! In 2020 we almost spent £27,000 but then there was nothing normal about 2020. In 2021 life was still strange but I am pleased that we have spent a comfortable £4,000+ below our budget. Our annual spending has tended to be a rollercoaster, with expensive years followed by frugal years and this trend, although it makes little sense, has continued.

As in previous years, expensive home improvements that we consider one-off are kept separate and not part of the headline figure. On top of the budgeted expenditure in the usual categories [see below], in 2021 we also spent £2,780 on new garage doors and a living room carpet. Even if this was included we would still have spent under £27,000, so I feel we have done pretty well. Our home improvements spending would have been more and we would have replaced our faded bathroom by now but have you tried getting a bathroom fitter recently?

Here is how our budget breaks down into my different categories:

Essentials – total £8,730 [38% of total spending] [2020 £9,833 / 38%]

Food – £4,142 [2020 £4,703] – We all know that prices have gone up in 2021 so I have closely monitored this spending line through the year and I am surprised it is lower than 2020. We continue to use discount supermarkets for the majority of our shopping and generally cook from scratch. The figures don’t lie and our supermarket spending seems to be inversely related to how much we spend in cafes and restaurants. In 2020 we hardly ate out at all and so food prepared at home was a bigger chunk of our costs. In 2021 we have spent more eating out so I suppose we could expect to spend less in our local supermarkets.

Utilities, insurance & service charges for a 2-bed 57.2 sq mtrs [615.7 sq feet] bungalow – £3,854 [2020 £4,463] – I am also pleasantly surprised that we spent less on our bills in 2021 than 2020 but there is an explanation that isn’t totally about being frugal. We now have two full years in the bungalow to compare our spending on this essentials category. In 2020 some bills were initially more as providers got used to the amount we would use, not realising how frugal we are! For example, our water bills started off at over £30 a month and have now settled down to £18 a month, a better reflection of what we use. We also paid more in Council Tax in 2020 as we had a few months when we didn’t pay anything in 2019 after moving. The January to April lockdown meant that we were home all the time, not something we would expect to do in a normal year. As soon as we were able we were away from mid-April to the end of June and so using no water or energy at home. We did manage to trim some of our bills in 2021 finding better deals for our mobile phones and our boiler servicing contract. In addition we complained to our previous boiler servicing company [British Gas] and received compensation after some shoddy service.

Our health [including tai chi classes] – £734 [2020 £667] – In lockdown we paid for some online tai chi classes to support our teacher and keep us healthy. In person classes re-started in September and we have attended when we can. Most of this money has been spent on new prescription specs and dental check ups.

The money we spend on the essentials above are, in theory, the minimum we need to survive, if nothing goes wrong or wears out and we didn’t own a campervan and never went anywhere!

Stuff (electronics, books, newspapers and other kit) – £3,170 [14% of total spending] [2020 £7,175 / 27%]

Household spending [everything from glue, newspapers and books to bird food, gardening stuff and parts for the bikes] – £2,506 [ 2020£6,189] 2020 was the year of DIY! 2021 has been more about getting out and about. When we do buy furniture we continue to try and buy second-hand and in 2021 we have sourced some fabulous items that will last the rest of our lifetimes. It is hard to call the G-Plan large chest of drawers a bargain at just under £200 but they are beautifully made and the drawers glide in place. A second-hand wine rack and a small cupboard were other good buys from our local GB Antiques emporium. We search out second-hand books in charity shops and the warren-like Pier Bookshop in Morecambe and, even better, when we can we borrow books from our local library for free!

Clothes & accessories – £664 [2020 £986] – Again, I am pleased we haven’t spent more in this category. There have been a couple of essential purchases. My partner wore his hiking boots up lots of hills but eventually the sole lost contact with the body of the boot. Some glue kept them together during our holiday in Ireland but we did have to purchase more this summer. We both also needed new walking shoes and after mine caused massive blisters and bruising on my feet I complained to the manufacturer. They sent me replacement shoes but I am not convinced they were faulty and think it is a design issue and I haven’t dared to wear them yet. In the meantime I had purchased a pair of Vivo Barefoot walking shoes. I love their shoes but hadn’t tried their more substantial styles before and I am really pleased with them. This palaver does mean I bought two pairs of walking shoes in 2021! More frugally, while we were in Ilkley this summer I spent some time in the excellent charity shops in this well-heeled town and purchased some good quality second hand items I needed, including a soft and floaty summery frock for a few quid that is perfect for the four or five days a year it is warm enough to wear such a thing.

Experiences – £9,517 [31% of total spending] [2020 £8,336 / 31%]

Holidays [our favourite spending line] – £3,634 [2020 £2,834] – As well as plenty of nights on campsites, other holidays are in this category. Having had so many plans disrupted in 2020, we were determined to make the most of spending time with friends in 2021 and have had a couple of lovely weekends in hotels in the Lake District. In 2019 we paid for a self-catering cottage holiday with friends in Scotland for 2020. This was obviously postponed to 2021 and, due to another lockdown, has now been postponed to 2022. Is this a record for the longest wait for a holiday?

Restaurants & cafes – £2,225 [2020 £1,309] – After a woeful 2020, our 2021 spending in this category is nearer to our 2019 spending, although we haven’t got back to the regular meet ups and meals with friends in Manchester. We did manage a sociable night at Manchester’s Christmas Market and paying a small fortune for a mug of warming gluwein felt like a massive treat!

Running the campervan [servicing & insurance etc] – £1,280 [2020 £2,093] – It has been a cheap year for the van. No doubt the Blue Bus is saving up for some expensive new parts it wants in 2022!

Diesel for the above ‘van – £1,261 [2020 £1,227 ] – We travelled to northern Scotland and across Northern Ireland to Donegal but certainly haven’t put the miles across Europe on the campervan we would normally do.

Tickets for concerts, football & attractions – £589 [2020 £403] – By the autumn of 2021 we felt ready to attend events and gigs again. We attended a Manchester Literary Festival events and saw Chantel McGregor and Turbowolf live. I have missed live music and it was so amazing to immerse myself in it again for an evening. We have been to see Morecambe FC a couple of times too, where you win some and lose some. In the spring many venues weren’t open but by the time we travelled to Wales in September we could visit a bevy of castles.

Public transport costs – £528 [2020 £360] – Most of this is the cost of going to and from Manchester by train.

Giving – £1,352 [6% of total spending] [2020 £937 / 4%]

Gifts & donations – £1,351 [2020 £937] – Another discretionary spending line that we enjoy spending but try and keep under control. In terms of donations, we have given to some favourite local and national charities throughout the year. Our gift giving has been more extravagant in 2021 due to so many disappointments in 2020. The most expensive gift was treating our son and daughter-in-law to a weekend away in a Lake District hotel. The downside for them was that we came too! Time with them is very precious and worth every penny.

TOTAL SPENDING FOR 2021 – £22,769 – I am very pleased we have kept the spending low this year and still enjoyed ourselves and will indulge in a small pat on the back!

Over my five years of retirement we have spent an average of £24,744 a year.

We are gradually spending our savings but our expenditure doesn’t all come from the money we have squirreled away. As well as my side hustle travel writing income, in 2020 my small NHS pension began. This is based on my many years of part-time and full-time NHS work and is the equivalent to 12 years NHS service. These both help to reduce what we take from the ever-diminishing savings pot. Although retiring early was fantastic, for me, saving was never just about being able to give up work before we were in our mid-60s, it was also about us having the financial resilience to survive whatever ups and downs life threw at us. Let’s hope we continue to stay afloat and thrive.

2020 Spending Reviewed & The Covid-19 Factor Means Nothing is Normal

It is that time of the year again when I share how much money we have spent in the last 12 months, revealing our spending habits in all their profligacy. I divulge our expenditure for interest and accountability, as we aim to stay within a budget. Our spending is peculiar to us but any comments are gladly received.

Our budget remains at £27,000 a year for the fourth year running. This is now below the average UK household spending. The headline is that despite the strange year we have had our outgoings for 2020 came within budget [hurrah], although the headline doesn’t tell the whole story. As I said last year, our annual spending seems to go up and down like a rollercoaster, with alternating frugal years and expensive years. Sometimes it is our campervan that costs us a lot of money but 2020 was a year of home-making and healthcare.

It is just over twelve months since we moved to our Morecambe bungalow. The home improvements that are included in our 2020 spending are all things we would expect to carry out more than once in our [expected] remaining lifetime. These purchases include a new bedroom carpet to replace the grotty brown carpet from the 1980s that came with the bungalow and could tell a tale or two; new furniture to replace some that was second-hand 36 years ago, a new sofa bed [as we thought we would have visitors!] as well as smaller items like paint, varnish and brushes. More expensive home improvements which we consider one-off items are kept separate. So, on top of the budgeted expenditure in the usual categories, in 2020 we spent £13,300 on new windows and doors, resurfacing the drive and a new kitchen.

Not unsurprisingly our 2020 spending reflects the Covid-19 factor. The breakdown shows that we had less opportunities for experiences and spent more of our money on food in supermarkets and local shops.

Essentials – total £9,833 [38% of total spending] [2019 £7,721 / 35%]

Food – £4,703 [2019 £3,491] – In my experience food prices have increased in 2020 as we haven’t eaten anything different or developed an expensive taste in anything. We will have spent more as we have eaten mostly at home [sitting eating around a friend’s dining table is a distant memory]. We continue to use discount supermarkets for the majority of our shopping and generally cook from scratch.

Utilities, insurance & service charges for a 2-bed 57.2 sq mtrs [615.7 sq feet] bungalow – £4,463 [2019 £3,974] – The various lock downs and restrictive tiers mean who have been home more than ever and so using more gas and electric. Council tax and heating for the bungalow are both more expensive than the flat, but we no longer have service charges to pay. The improvements we have made to bring our bungalow into the 21st century will help save money on utilities.

Our health [including tai chi classes] – £667 [2019 £256] – There has been very little spending on tai chi classes in 2020 and this is mostly some expensive dental work and new specs.

In theory this is the minimum we need to survive a year, although it would be a strange year when we didn’t need / buy some stuff.

Stuff (electronics, newspapers and other kit) – £7,175 [27% of total spending] [2019 £3,151 / 14%]

Household spending [everything from glue, newspapers and books to hiring a sander, plants for the garden and parts for the bikes] – £6,189 [ 2019 £2,300] – Wow! We have clearly had too much time for DIY and nest building this year! In 2019 we were moving house and the only DIY we did was freshening up the paint for the sale of our flat. This is a big category, with furniture, carpet, cushions and pictures on the walls all thrown into it. I am uncomfortable buying stuff and we try and source antiques / junk / second-hand items when this is practical. Bargain purchases this year included an Edwardian What Not [yes really] for a kitchen wall to contrast with the shiny white units for £30, second-hand lined curtains for the large living room window for £25 and some second-hand cushion covers for £5.

Clothes & accessories – £986 [2019 £851] – I have never gone down the route of a clothes buying ban, preferring to stick to buying what I need, as something wears out. Pretty much all the clothes we bought in 2020 were hard-wearing hill walking kit and probably not most people’s idea of clothes shopping. I needed new boots, we bought new waterproof trousers, a fleece, wellies and some comfy walking shoes; these were all replacement items. Where we could we bought second-hand items, for example a men’s winter coat on Ebay was just £24. Even when you buy quality items they don’t last forever but our walking gear gets plenty of wear; my previous boots had walked a lot of miles over six years.

Experiences – £8,226 [31% of total spending] [2019 £10,952 / 48%]

Holidays [our favourite spending line] – £2,834 [2019 £3,601] – The reason for this reduction in our holiday spending in 2020 is obvious and it isn’t because I have lost my wanderlust! In the north-west of England we have had travel restrictions for over six months of the year. We did get away a few times in the first three months of the year before the three months of lock down. We spent July taking trips to the Lake District, got to France in August and [after quarantine] thankfully managed to travel to Scotland in October. We have also paid for a holiday in a self-catering house in Scotland that has been moved to 2021 [fingers crossed].

Restaurants & cafes – £1,309 [2019 £2,418] – Despite using local cafes and restaurants when we can this year and having more takeaways than we would normally do to support local businesses this is much lower than normal. It is not particularly the food I miss, what I have really miss is seeing friends. In a normal year there are two old friends we would meet about eight times a year for drinks and a meal at a cost of about £500. Chatting over Zoom, although cheaper, hasn’t been the same. Interestingly, the reduction in our eating out spending is more or less off-set by the increase in our food spending.

Running the campervan [servicing & insurance etc] – £2,093 [2019 £1,931] – Last year I wondered if our six year old Renault Master was saving up some expensive repairs for 2020. It hasn’t done too badly but needed some essentials like tyres and brakes replacing as well as the usual servicing, insurance and road tax.

Diesel for the above ‘van – £1,227 [2019 £1,500 ] – We certainly haven’t put the miles across Europe on the campervan we would normally do.

Tickets for concerts, football & attractions – £403 [2019 £941] – Well what do you expect as for much of the year nothing was open. Live music is just a distant memory and the last football match we went to was a Morecambe FC match last Christmas. We have supported some arts events by buying tickets for online events and visited some RSPB reserves when we could.

Public transport costs – £360 [2019 £561] – Again, the pandemic effect has kept us at home much of the time.

Giving – £937 [4% of total spending] [2019 £654 / 3%]

Gifts & donations – £937 [2019 £654] – Another discretionary spending line that we try and keep under control but in 2020 we felt a need to be more generous. Many charities needed additional funding as events and places were closed and during the first lock down we sent cheering-up parcels to friends, as well as the usual birthday and Christmas gifts.

TOTAL SPENDING FOR 2020 – £26,171 – Despite all the home-making we have done in 2020, we have stayed within our £27,000 budget. Hurrah!

Over my four years of retirement we have spent an average of £25,351 a year.

Our expenditure doesn’t all come from our savings. As well as my side hustle travel writing income [reduced in 2020 due to Covid-19], in 2020 my small NHS pension began. This is based on my many years of part-time and full-time NHS work and is the equivalent to 12 years NHS service. These both help to reduce what we take from the ever-diminishing savings pot. For me, saving for early retirement was never just about giving up work, it was also about us having the financial resilience to survive whatever ups and downs life threw at us.

2019 spending £22,478 / year: Our most frugal year & below household average

05.29.2019 Eshaness (1)
Is there a pot of gold?

2019 has been an unusual year with no trips abroad in our campervan and a house move.  We have stayed alive and healthy and we spent two months touring Scotland in our campervan, learning to love that country even more and visiting Shetland for the first time, leaving a little bit of our hearts there.  Financially it has been good too.  We have stayed within budget; in 2019 our household spending was as low as £22,428.  The ONS calculate that the average household in the north-west of England spent £26,062 a year in 2017-2018.  Of course, this average will include large families and single-person households, households that have expensive hobbies [like a campervan], those who are home all day and people who have little money or are super-frugal.  Although we don’t consider ourselves to be average, we generally aim to spend less than this average.  I had hoped that our frugal fail in 2018 was a blip [we spent over £28,000] and it certainly seems that we have got back on track in 2019.

annual spending graph
Our household spending from 2010 to 2019

Despite the rigour of my spreadsheets, our annual spending creates a graph that looks like a roller coaster and this does make a bit of a joke of the budgeting we do.  Over the last nine years our spending has ranged over £6,000 from £21,972 to £28,107, not allowing for inflation.  All this information really tells me is there are expensive years and cheaper years and that our budget for 2020 of around £26,000 doesn’t look too unrealistic.  What is interesting is that our 2019 spending of £22,428 is our next to lowest spending year [and a rough online inflation calculator suggests that £21,972 in 2011 is now the equivalent of over £27,000] so for us 2019 has been a frugal year.

This household spending does gloss over the £36,000 plus that has disappeared from our savings and been spent on our recent house move and the improvements to bring our 1960s bungalow into the 21st century.  It seemed fair to leave out these one-off costs as they would have massively skewed the figures but it also seemed best to fess up about this spending here.  Of course before we took the plunge of moving we did the sums and, although when our pensions start paying in 2026 we will have considerably less savings in the bank, we felt it was an outlay that was manageable … but time will tell.  The move became essential for our well-being and we are reasonably comfortable that we will have enough of an emergency fund to take us into our old age.  Who knows what will happen with the cost of care by the time we are in our 80s and whether we will need any.  We certainly won’t have much money spare for anything expensive but we live in hope that a fair system will be in place by then.

Our own expensive hobby of running a campervan and having lots of holidays continues and this is generally our downfall.  If we never went anywhere our spending would be much lower!  Everyone spends their money in their own way, this is how our 2019 spending pans out:

Essentials – total £7,721 [35% of total spending] [2018 £9,654 / 34%]

Food – £3,491 [2018 £3,870] – This is an essential but also an easy area to control and after the shock of 2018 we have been careful to use the cheaper supermarkets.  We cook mostly from scratch, including making bread, only ever buy what we need and rarely waste anything.  We now have a garden but don’t expect to start growing food, as this doesn’t really work with taking a long holiday.

Utilities, insurance & service charges for a 2-bed 58 sq mtrs [624 sq feet] flat for 10 months & a 2-bed 57.2 sq mtrs [615.7 sq feet] bungalow for 2 months – £3,974 [2018 £4,841] – We have been home more than previous years but try and restrain our use of the heating and water.  Our bungalow is more expensive to run in terms of utilities than the flat, despite good insulation, so watch this space for 2020.  But a big plus of not living in a flat is that we no longer have service charges of over £1,000/year!  On the flip-side we are now responsible for the upkeep of our four walls and roof, not to mention a garden, this feels a bit daunting just at the moment.

Our health [including tai chi classes] – £256 [2018 £943] – We had no expensive spectacles or dental work this year, hurrah!  We were lucky to find another reasonably priced tai chi class in Morecambe, at £3 each a week this is manageable and we can afford to attend regularly.

Stuff (electronics, newspapers and other kit) – £3,151 [14% of total spending] [2018 £3,333 / 11%]

Household spending [everything from glue and newspapers to parts for the bikes and a new kettle] & miscellaneous un-identified items – £2,300 [ 2018 £2,364] – We are a long way from a no-spend year on stuff but I’m relieved that this spending line is similar to 2018 as I thought that moving house might have spiralled this into another realm as we splashed out on new [to us] curtains, gardening equipment and a Remoska oven.

Clothes & accessories – £851 [2018 £969] – I am really pleased this spending line is lower than last year, particularly when I take into account that over half of this is accounted for by new waterproof jackets.  We took a deep breath and bought quality so hope they will last for years and years – maybe until we die?

Experiences – £10,952 [48% of total spending] [2018 14.095 / 51%]

Holidays [our favourite spending line] – £3,601 [2018 £4,681] – Our holiday spending is less than other years as [thanks to the house move] we didn’t get abroad but we did spend a fantastic two months touring Scotland.  Factor in the cost of the ferry to Spain in 2018 [about £900] and this line would have pretty much stayed the same; the ferries are really the biggest chunk of our holiday costs.  We spent only 108 nights away in our campervan, less than previous years [again due to the house move] but campsites in the UK are often more expensive than mainland Europe.  We took ourselves off for 10-days during the house buying process and returned to a pile of paperwork waiting to be signed, after that we hardly dared venture away.  This does include a splash-out weekend in a swanky Lake District hotel to celebrate a significant birthday.

Restaurants & cafes – £2,418  [2018 £2,963] – This is another chunk of spending that we can keep under control if we need to but we love meeting friends for meals out and sitting in friendly cafes.  So I am surprised [and pleased] this spending is lower than in 2019 as we seem to have been out with friends on plenty of occasions … but the numbers don’t lie!

Running the campervan [servicing & insurance etc] – £1,931 [2018 £2,578] – I was excited to find that moving to Morecambe from Salford reduced our insurance costs on our campervan, although it is no longer parked in a gated car park!  2018 was an expensive year for our ‘van and in 2019 we didn’t take such a hit spending £800 on fixing things on our campervan to keep it on the road.  Our ‘van is almost five years old and has driven around 50,000 miles and among other things it needed new brakes and reversing sensors.  I think the ‘van might be saving everything up for 2020 though!

Diesel for the above ‘van – £1,500 [2018 £1,937 ] – This is lower due to reduced campervan trips and lower mileage through the year.

Tickets for concerts, football & attractions – £941 [2018 £1,114] – A cheaper year but we have still had lots of fun experiences seeing bands, going to the football and getting face to face with a pine marten.

Transport costs included buses, trains & parking – £561 [2018 £670] – My target to walk 2,019 km in 2019 kept this number down as I was constantly choosing to walk rather than take the tram or bus.  We have spent more for the last two months of the year since moving to Morecambe, as not wishing to pollute the world more than we need to we have taken the train to Manchester on all but one occasion.

Giving – £654 [3% of total spending] [2018 £1,025 / 4%]

Gifts & donations – £654 [2018 £1,025] – Another discretionary spending line and we can only hope our family and friends understand why presents, although still thoughtful, have been small in 2019.

TOTAL SPENDING FOR 2019 – £22,478 – staying comfortably within our £26,000 budget helps to give us some financial resilience for future years.

 

 

 

Living on a Northern Terraced Street in Preston

1987 matthew and c august on larkhill st
1987 on a Preston street, wrapped up for the rain

1986 seems like another era; I had big hair, we owned a British Leyland Metro, Spitting Image was still on TV and we moved to Preston in Lancashire.  Along with fashions, the pattern of the communities in our cities have also altered many times since those days.  As a young couple with a tiny baby and two cats, living away from our home town and our respective families, we moved into a 19th century brick-built terraced house in a row of similar terraced houses.  This was our stomping ground for two years before we became upwardly mobile and moved to a more spacious semi-detached house.

These Lancashire terraced streets are still there and continue to provide great housing for families.  Our small terrace had two downstairs rooms and upstairs a double bedroom, two single bedrooms and a small bathroom.  Along the side of the house was a narrow alley that went underneath our upstairs rooms and that we shared with our neighbour.  This gave us access to the back yard and garden and was where we stored ladders and bikes.

In the 1980s we weren’t on our journey to financial independence, our priority was keeping our heads above water.  We were a single-income family with a mortgage on a house that had cost us £15,000 [you now need almost this much for a deposit on these properties].  Our terraced row of houses felt crowded but comfortable.  Along with our neighbours, none of us were wealthy; here was the wonderful diversity of what might be called the working classes, all struggling to make ends meet.  Although our family income came from a ‘professional’ job at the university, this is where we could afford to live.

To one side lived a couple with one child.  He had worked as a jockey, riding horses, as a young man but was now a butcher, both fascinating worlds I knew little about.  She was an outgoing hairdresser, working in a city centre salon.  On her day off she styled the hair of the neighbours in their homes, including me, giving us mates rates.  While we lived next door their marriage broke down and she began working evenings in a Preston nightclub for extra income as a pole dancer, another world I knew little about.

To our other side lived a couple with two children, a family living on the single income of his manual job.  It was this mum that was usually the parent that would offer to sit on the front step and watch her own children play in the street during the early evening, along with those of neighbours.  If the weather was fine I would often join her for a while with the baby and sitting on our respective steps we would talk generally about family news, the best schools and favourite TV programmes.  It was on these steps that I was informed that the best local primary school was the Roman Catholic school; I mentioned that we were atheists but she didn’t really grasp why that would mean this school wasn’t suitable for our little one.

During the daytime the street was a place for women and young children, all the men were at work and my early lessons in bringing up a child came from these women.  The street was lived in by families that were white-British but we were on the edges of more diverse areas of Preston and nearby there were shops that sold exotic fruit and vegetables that I enjoyed exploring.  At the end of the street, in the 20th century social housing, was a Muslim woman with children.  She was divorced, somewhat unusual in her community, and this single status sadly led to bullying by people who shared her religion; she needed a friend and sometimes I listened.

Just around the corner were an elderly couple, long-time residents of the area.  On warm afternoons he liked to bring a dining chair outside his tiny two-up-two-down terraced house and sit and chat to anyone who came by.  I walked by his house to the local shops and into town, always carrying our baby in a papoose, and would stop for a while.  He told me funny and interesting stories of his days as an engineer building bridges on the M6.  Life seemed to be slower in those days in this corner of Preston and people had time to talk.

Another family across the road had a son who was difficult to manage, he was often aggressive and sometimes violent.  He was removed from home and sent to the local children’s home that was unfortunately just 100 metres away.  He continued to return home and scream loudly outside his family home and once he broke a window while everyone along our street cowered indoors, no one trying to help.  In these narrow streets there is nowhere to hide and the family’s shame was a burden they carried, knowing the next day that everyone was talking about them.

On the corner of the road was the vicarage.  The vicar and his friendly wife had four children and were considered the middle-class residents of the street.  Quizzing me about how many more children we would have, I told her, ‘One is enough.’  She failed to persuade me that a big family was the way to go.  Their house was an enormous rambling property surrounded by a garden and easily swallowed their large family and the numerous visitors they happily entertained.

I have said before I have a literal mind and so when I learnt there was a Mums and Toddler Group nearby [these would now be called a play group or parent and toddler group] I understood the term precisely and didn’t attend until our son was actually toddling at 11 months old.  I laughed when I was told I didn’t have to wait until he could walk!   The group was held twice a week in a draughty and dismal church hall with a selection of old toys for the children to play with and tea and biscuits for the mums / parents.  In this unpromising environment, there was no sense of competitive parenting and everyone was supportive and helpful and I learnt more child-rearing skills.  It was here that I met parents who shared my love of reading, cooking good food, an interest in environmentalism and fellow atheists who recommended the local county primary school.  I made some firm friends here and the plan to move a short distance away to a bigger house began.

The narrow terraced streets are still there and probably still lived in by hard-working families.  The vicar no longer lives at the end of the road and the extensive garden is now a car park, the social housing has been improved.  The corner shop has gone, along with the telephone box where we would ring distant family and friends as we didn’t have a home phone.  Traffic has increased everywhere and I doubt if I walked here on a sunny evening I would still see parents sitting on the steps watching their children playing in the street but then again …

 

 

 

 

Achieving frugal minimalism? 2018 finances reviewed

Strathdearn day (2)

In 2017 I was feeling a trifle smug.  We had spent around £24,000 in our first year of retirement, way below budget.  That smug smile was wiped off my face earlier in the year when I reported that things were not looking so positive in 2018 and I was feeling a frugal failure.  With inflation I could have expected our spending to increase to around £25,000 in the year, instead it seems we were just saving up all our big financial hits for 2018.  In 2018 we were just average [2017 UK average household spending was £28,818).  This isn’t much comfort when we’re supposed to be being frugal and minimalist.  In our spending you won’t find any costs for haircuts, party frocks, frippery or pay TV, so what went wrong?  I’ve divided our spending this year in to essentials, stuff, experiences and giving.  The graph gives a summary.

Screenshot (1)

Essentials – total £9,654 [34% of total spending]

Food – £3,870 – We are two vegetarian who like to drink red wine and gin & mostly use the discount supermarkets.  I do know that wine and gin are not essential but we haven’t separated the costs of these from our supermarket shops during the year and together these probably represent about £400 of the total.   [2017 £3,612] 

Utilities, insurance & service charges for a 2-bed 58 sq mtrs [624 sq feet] flat – £4,841 – This year we have changed supplier for our gas and electric and moved to a cheaper mobile phone contract to save money.  The increase is only because we payed up-front for the gas boiler servicing to receive a discount  [2017 £4,621 mis-reported last year!]

Our health [including tai chi classes [?essential?]] – £943 – An expensive year thanks to some dental work [£235] and both of us needing new specs [£503] [2017 £376]

Stuff (electronics, newspapers and other kit) – £3,333 [11% of total spending]

Household items [including parts for the bikes] –  £2,364 – Although this category does include a multitude of things, including postage, one newspaper a week, books [often second-hand] and bits and bobs for repairs, it also includes stuff.  In 2018 we decided to buy a new laptop [£450] and one new mobile phone [£115], replace our ageing head torches [£70] and cycle helmets [£50]; although all replacing old and well-used items these are purchases that we don’t make easily and we had been putting off for some time.  [2017 £1,668]

Clothes & accessories – £969 – Whenever we can we buy second-hand clothing.  The almost £1,000 we have spent is mostly for replacements for walking gear that has worn out.  Even with the best quality clothing things don’t last forever and this year we have bought new walking shoes, trousers and rucksacks.  It is true that about £100 of this spending is for a couple of things that were bought because of a want, rather than a need.  [2017 £525]

Experiences – £14,095 [51% of total spending]

Holidays [our favourite spending line] – £4,681 – Despite being away on holiday for even longer, around 40% of the year [155 nights in the campervan, plus a couple of other holidays in self-catering cottages] we have spent less on this budget line in 2018.  Result!  The spending is mostly on accommodation and ferries and also includes £380 for a 2019 holiday.  [2017 £5,285]

Restaurants & cafes – £2,963 – Only a tad more than last year [2017 £2,864]

Running the campervan [servicing, insurance & parts] – £2,578  – a big increase on last year [2017 £1,636] all due to replacing brakes and tyres, failures in the air conditioning and power steering and a bit of wing mirror jousting.  What a year!  Readers might not agree that the costs for our campervan come under experiences but for us this is an important part of our lifestyle and so this is where it fits best.  Friends might be surprised that I didn’t put it under essential spending!

Diesel for the above ‘van – £1,937 – the price of diesel has increased and we drove more miles in the Blue Bus this year, particularly on our trip to Croatia [2017 £1,641]

Tickets for concerts, football & attractions – £1,114 – Wow!  We must have been to a lot of events this year!  Tickets for the football have increased in price and in Croatia we visited more paying attractions than we might have as we’re unsure whether we will travel so far again.  Although this is experiences, rather than stuff, this is definitely an area we could try and make savings in 2019. [2017 £633]

Public transport – £670 – We don’t use the campervan around Manchester and cycle and walk to do things or visit friends but sometimes [if it is raining/cold/too far] we take the tram, the bus or the train [2017 £517]

Unknown spending – £152  – [2017 £81]

Giving – £1,025 [4% of total spending]

Gifts & donations – £1,025 – we buy our family and friends birthday presents and buy Christmas presents for a shorter list [2017 £1,173]

TOTAL SPENDING FOR 2018 – £28,107 [2017 £24,196]

I’m pleased to see how much our spending is weighted towards doing things, rather than buying stuff so perhaps a tick for being minimalist if not uber-frugal.  Despite having a year that has still been a bit heavy on replacing things 51% of our spending has been on our own version of enjoying life.  We have a plan to cut down our spending on stuff in 2019 and I hope spending only 4% on giving make us look frugal rather than mean as I’d like this to remain this low.

It is impossible to make any conclusions from one year and averaged over two years our spending of £26,152 a year still seems fairly low.  This year has shown us how important over-saving or over-estimating budgets is for planning to live without any earned income.  After this expensive year my travel writing income is becoming essential, rather than extra cash.

Having spent more than our original budget of £27,000 our future annual budgets have been increased to reflect this.  We’ll see what 2019 will bring and try hard to have a low-spending year but at the moment we have no need or plans to go back to the nine-to-five!

Go the extra mile it is never crowded

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A quiet corner of the Lake District

You might laugh [please do] but when I came across this saying recently my literal mind skipped it’s metaphorical intention and took its meaning to the letter [I often do this].  My thoughts wandered to when we have walked an extra mile or so on a beach or in the hills or cycled just that bit further and felt smug as we left the crowds behind.  The saying is spot on; going that extra mile often takes us to a quiet corner and to somewhere special that we can embrace as our own for a short time.  By just taking a bit more effort I can enjoy an undisturbed experience of a location with the space and tranquillity to really see, smell and feel the place.

The quote attributed to Wayne Dyer, author and self-development guru, is, ‘It’s never crowded along the extra mile.’  After thinking about all those idyllic places we have found it eventually dawned on me that this quote isn’t to be read literally and instead encourages everyone to believe that by putting in the extra effort you can reach the top.  My mind turned to those times when I have gone the extra mile on a task.  Doing just the minimum required can be an easy option and I have times when I need to cruise through jobs because my mind is preoccupied with other stuff.  But I feel much better about myself when I put the extra effort in and give my absolute best.  And yet, the number of people who will reach the heights of the elite in any field is limited [or never crowded] and unfortunately not everyone can be outstanding otherwise outstanding becomes the average.  For myself, I don’t expect to be award winning, I go the extra mile to compete against myself, stretching my performance and improving my skills.

I consider myself a slow writer; certainly each time I write a travel article or blog post I spend hours rigorously writing, editing and re-editing.  I do this for two reasons; I am certainly terrified of the shame of making a mistake that makes it in to print [although they do and I have to deal with it] but I also want to produce work I can feel proud of.  I constantly review, learn new techniques and apply these and I feel that my writing has improved over the years.  I don’t go the extra mile for promotion or a higher salary, my editor is not pushing me to write differently, I am self-motivated to do better and throwing together a piece of writing with the minimum effort has never been an option.  By going the extra mile I might not reach the top but I do maintain my self-respect.

 

 

 

 

 

Failing frugality: Year two of financial independence

05.28.2018 Lago di Corlo walk (2)
The pan is empty

It is now over 18 months since I finished the nine-to-five and 15 months since Mr BOTRA last had any paid work.  At the end of 2017 I was feeling pretty smug as our spending of £24,000 in our first year of retirement was well under budget – clever us I thought.  Now it feels as if all manner of expenses were just waiting in the wings for year two.  We are just over half way through our second year of spending our savings and we are on target to spend £3,000 more than last year.  You may recall £27,000 was our budget for each year. What has gone awry?

The campervan

Just over £1,000 of our additional spending in 2018 has been on the campervan.  Our Devon Tempest is now over three years old and with over 30,000 miles on the clock has needed some TLC this year; two new tyres [it will need two more before the end of the year], new brake pads all round as well as general servicing.  The conversion has also needed a bit of work as we had to have the water level sensor replaced.  There have been other odds and ends such as a new kettle and replacement levelling blocks too.  This year has been spend, spend, spend on the ‘van.

Holidays

Holidays remain our priority.  As well as the usual costs for ferries and campsites we have had a long weekend in Milan this year for a significant birthday [not the cheapest city to visit and our trip cost just under £1,000] and we have paid almost £400 up front for a holidays for 2019.

Health

Our health is important but this has been the year we have both had to have new specs and Mr BOTRA has had some expensive dental work, totalling over £900.

Clothing

We wear everything until it falls apart and when it comes to gear we like to buy quality kit but with so much free time we are out walking a lot of the time and it seems that even quality gear doesn’t last forever.  This year we have had to replace walking shoes and other bits and bobs of clothing, pushing this budget line to over £800 already this year.  Last year it was much less, maybe next year it will be too!

Increased cost of living

We know the cost of food has increased in the UK and we have noticed this in our spending.  In 2018 we are spending an average of around 16% a month more than we did in 2017.  I don’t think we have changed what we eat or where we shop so this must be related to an increase in the cost of fresh vegetables and other staples.  In addition with the pound falling against the euro our supermarket shops on our holidays abroad have become more expensive.

Don’t panic

We monitor our spending so that we can keep it in check and avoid any problems but there are three reasons why we aren’t in a panic yet about this increase in our spending.

Firstly, we had given ourselves what we thought was a generous budget of £27,000 a year and we are currently projecting around that amount for 2018.  It could be that our first year of not working was particularly cheap and the budget we set was accurate rather than generous.

Secondly at the moment my travel writing income will more than cover the £3,000 projected increase in our spending for 2018 over 2017.

Thirdly, we have that emergency fund.  We are glad we saved what we needed and a little bit more to give us a cushion in the tough times.  This emergency fund increased last year as we spent under our budget and it increases every time I have a travel article published.  We don’t really want this to dwindle to nothing and hopefully it won’t.

Looking ahead

On reflection our campervan, our health and our trip to Milan together more or less account for the increase in our spending.  Only the wonderful trip to Milan was really optional and we won’t be repeating this in 2019.  We will keep monitoring our spending and see if we need to revise our budget and perhaps rethink some of our regular spending.  We have already arranged to switch our gas and electric supplier to save us a small amount and we have come up with some new water saving ideas too but there are others areas of spending that we could pull back on if we need to in the future to keep us on track.

 

 

What if you had loads of money?

Thames article photos (8).JPG
A very expensive house boat on the River Thames

We were at a travel show recently and began to daydream about what we might do if we didn’t have to live on our budget and had a bucket-full of money to spare.  We have a good and happy life spending our £24,000 a year, we travel around Europe in our campervan, socialise, eat as much ice-cream as we need and go to the cinema and concerts pretty much when we want.  Our frugal lifestyle isn’t exactly impoverished and we are content with the life we have because it is the one we chose.  Although I find it hard to put myself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t need to watch the pennies [after 40-years of thrift] I have pushed myself to have fun playing the what-if game?  So … what if a premium bond win or a surprise inheritance suddenly gave us an extra £10,000 to spend, what do I think we would do with it?

  1. Topping up the contingency fund

No surprise here, we might be really boring and just add this to our contingency fund but that isn’t really playing the game is it?

2. Travel

Turns out if we had a chunk of money I would mostly want to use it to do something we certainly couldn’t do without the money and this is travel to see far-away friends.  We have dear friends in the USA and in Australia and spending time with them would be such a wonderful treat.  We have the time now and it is really only the cost of the flights that stops us packing a suitcase and going.  Unfortunately, our current budget doesn’t quite allow for this trip on top of our European trips in our campervan.

The other trip that is hugely expensive but that I have on my wish list is taking the campervan to Iceland on the ferry [over €3,000 for 2018] but what a trip that would be; in my dreams we would spend a month or so touring around Iceland, just imagine …

3. A new home?

I am comfortable living in the less wealthy side of town  where our neighbours are hard-working individuals who don’t go to work in suits but often leave early in the morning in a high-vis jacket; I like living alongside these down-to-earth folk.  £10,000 wouldn’t be enough to make moving home worthwhile but double that might have us considering buying somewhere in the posher [and more expensive] part of town.  We certainly wouldn’t be buying an expensive house boat on the River Thames.

4. A shopping spree?

Even with money to burn we wouldn’t start buying stuff.  Would we buy a new campervan I hear you ask?  Our current Devon Tempest works really well for us, is only three-years old and has done just 26,000 miles; this hardly merits replacement.

5. Giving

In my dreams I have enough money to be able to give a chunk of cash to one or more of my favourite local charities, helping them to be financially stable, and still have enough left over to shower my friends and family with gifts.

These might be harmless musings but it has spurned me on to start calculating the cost of my dream trip to visit our faraway friends.  Having under-spent on our £27,000 budget by £3,000 in 2017 I might hang on to this dream by just a tiny thread.  If we under-spend again in 2018 it might become a real possibility in the future.