Moving on: Leaving Super Salford for Marvellous Morecambe

We have been a trifle busy just lately.  After eleven years of living in a flat in Salford we decided it was time, as they say, to move on.  Salford has been good to us and in many ways we will miss living in a vibrant and dynamic city and being a part of Greater Manchester.  Leaving our many friendly and helpful neighbours and our lovely tai chi class [a nicer bunch of people you would struggle to meet] was a hard but positive decision.

When we moved to Salford, a city packed with modern, shiny high-rise blocks of flats, we chose an unusual 1930s development of flats with three floors arranged around large courtyard gardens and open shared areas.  Thanks to the design of the flats, we got to know more neighbours than we have anywhere else we have lived.  The site is secure and we have never worried about the leaving our flat on our long holidays and the gated parking for our campervan has been appreciated.  The large garden is a sheltered and sunny place to sit on a warm day with none of the worries of having to actually do any gardening yourself, it was a happy and liberating place to live.

A short walk from home was Salford Quays and a stroll around the water was a regular favourite way to spend some time.  This is where we could encounter nature; the trees changing colour through the year, Canada geese and black-headed gulls and sometimes coots and pied wagtails and different weather transforming the river and canal from sparkling blue to slate grey.  In addition there is always something new to see; someone might be filming around Media City, we could encounter groups queuing for a popular TV show or stumble upon one of the many special events such as the Makers Markets or Lightwaves.

We were surrounded by plenty of other favourite places; Weaste Cemetery, Peel Park and Buile Hill Park, Chapel Street and the River Irwell.  There are so many things to like about Salford, check out my Surprising Salford page for the full list.

If Salford is so perfect why are you moving on?  A search for quiet is the simple answer.  Although there had been other nudges, it was after spending two months in Scotland earlier this year that we both returned to our urban flat and struggled to adjust to the bustle of the city.  The 1930s flats were solidly built with thick external and internal walls and there is rarely any noise that gets through from neighbours to either side of us.  What my acute hearing did pick up was from the flat upstairs.  The guy was always respectful and well-behaved but I began to get tired of knowing when he was home, when he went to bed, when he decided to listen to music, when he had visitors and even when he visited the bathroom!  In addition, in the 1970s it was decided to build the M602 through Salford and the roar of the traffic on this short adjacent motorway was a continuous presence.

That said, we would have stayed in Salford if someone had built / was building small affordable bungalows and not just tall blocks of flats or if we had won on the Premium Bonds and had been able to afford the half a million or so for a penthouse flat overlooking Salford Quays.  With none of those options available, we checked our budget and began the search for a bungalow [we like living on one-floor] that wasn’t off the beaten track but offered some tranquillity, alongside some culture, and had natural areas within easy walking distance.

Having lived in Lancashire for many years, it is not surprising that we soon decided on the seaside resort of Morecambe where we follow in the footsteps of a long line of retiring Lancastrians.  Morecambe has plenty of bungalows to accommodate retirees and along with Lancaster has a thriving art and cultural scene and has that magnificent view across the sands of Morecambe Bay to the Lake District.

Our move to Morecambe isn’t so much a downsize as a new era.  We have gained a garden [again] and a kitchen that seems vast after living with one where I could stand in the centre and stretch out and reach everything!  But, having got used to our huge bedroom in the flat our new bedroom can best be described as cosy and our 1960s bungalow needs a long list of improvements to bring it up–to-date … but now when there are footsteps overhead it is just a herring gull landing on the roof.

 

 

 

 

Frugal win and plastic-free fail

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Delicious vegetarian food

After the panic halfway through 2018 because our spending seemed out of control we changed our shopping habits with a plan to get things back on track and frugal.  We continue to purchase consciously, rather than conspicuously, only buy what we need and use the think-about-it-for-a-month method for expensive purchases or for something new.   We also continue to make do, wearing clothing until it is only fit for scraps and fixing things rather than replacing them.

Given that we are not prepared to give up our holidays, one of our bigger budget lines is food and grocery shopping.  This represented 14% of our spending in 2018.  We decided we would target this area of our budget and make some changes.  The main alteration we made last summer was to switch pretty much all of our shopping while we are in the UK to Aldi, the German discount supermarket, rather than a combination of Tesco, Sainsburys and Morrisons.

Since last summer we were away during September and October but it is now four months since we returned from this trip to mainland Europe and I have been able to review what we have spent in supermarkets during that period [which includes Christmas].

The savings are clear.  We have saved an average of around £50 a month [£600 a year is not an insignificant amount in our budget]  As we all know, in terms of staying frugal shopping in Aldi is a win-win.  This has certainly helped with our budget and although it is really too early to say, at the moment this year’s spending is on track [there I did say it].

I am less happy with the amount of plastic packaging we come home with from Aldi and this was the main reason we hadn’t shopped in Aldi previously.  I do try and buy as much plastic-free fresh fruit and vegetables as I can from the store but this seriously limits our diet.  Baking potatoes, spring onions, aubergines, peppers and celeriac are all favourites that are plastic-free.  Fantastic, there are good things here that make great meals.  But we also like to include carrots, tomatoes, onions, courgettes and mushrooms in our diet and these generally come wrapped in plastic, whereas in other supermarkets I could find them loose.

Being frugal and taking care of our planet are both important in my life and at the moment it feels challenging to balance these two principles.  I have been an environmental campaigner for most of my adult life and this is very much a part of who I am.  Travelling in our campervan is also something that is close to my heart.  Spending more than our budget [the amount of savings we have are pretty much fixed] isn’t really optional.  The only way we can live the life we want to is by keeping our spending in control.

If we squander all our savings before our pensions kick in we will have to go back to work!  Not the end of the world I know [and don’t get me wrong I am not complaining and I know how privileged we are] … and yet I do wonder who would want to employ either of us in our mid-60s?  And so our shopping continues to compromise our environmental credibility until Aldi start to reduce their packaging.  Hopefully that is only a matter of time.

 

 

 

A Communal Hiking Lost & Found Box

‘I think winter wear is communal. You get some gloves and a scarf from a lost-and-found box, wash them, wear them for a while until you lose them. Then somebody else does the same thing.’ Adrian Grenier, actor

I share Adrian Grenier’s ideas about winter wear and I am pretty much working towards never buying hats, gloves or scarves again.  Certainly a frugal win!  It seems you can’t walk far in the British countryside these days before you find a piece of walking gear that someone has dropped and lost.  We found we were picking up so many pieces of gear that we started to wonder if it would be possible to kit yourself out entirely from found items, particularly if you didn’t mind wearing un-matched gloves.

On a recent trip to the Lake District we returned home with the following list of found items.  A micro-towel, one hardly used dhb cycling glove, one Sealskinz padded glove and a Montane beanie, at least £50 worth of gear!  I was already wearing a hat and a fleecy scarf that were both finds from different days out walking over the years.  At home we have a collection of hats and scarves we have picked up.  We had tended to throw odd gloves away but these have now been added to the lost and found box until they can be matched with another one of a similar style.  This collection doesn’t really fit in with my de-cluttering aim but I do hate to waste good quality gear.

Please understand that we don’t pick up items of clothing if we think they have been dropped that day and the owner might return in the opposite direction and be reunited with his or her lost piece of clothing later.  But if something has clearly been there for more than a day then it is really just litter and we always pick up litter!  The wellingtons in the photograph above were one of the few things I dithered over.  They were my size but we left them where we found them as we were sure someone would return to collect a pair of wellingtons.  Yet we were back in the same car park a few days later and the wellingtons still stood in the same place, waiting to be claimed.

I am not fussy about what I wear, but there are some things we find that neither of us is willing to add to our wardrobe.  We give these items to a charity shop or to our local homeless shelter.  In winter homeless shelters are often looking for warm clothing.

When we find something new I think about things that we have lost.  I like to think that items of clothing we have mislaid have been picked up by someone else and they are out there somewhere enjoying wearing them.  On a memorable day out walking to celebrate my partner’s 50th birthday, it was such a windy day we lost firstly a hat that blew off Mr BOTRA’s head on the summit of Pike of Blisco [more alarmingly taking one of his hearing aids with it].  Later while struggling to put my waterproof overtrousers on the wind smartly whipped them away and they disappeared down the steep hillside.  We gave chase but the wind was so strong they were quickly gone.  This was a hugely expensive day on the hills for us but I like to think that someone thought it was their lucky day finding a pair of Karrimor waterproof trousers!

 

Failing frugality: Year two of financial independence

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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.

 

 

Goodbye old shoes

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I am a top-class de-clutterer!  I will happily give books I have read to friends, send things I no longer use or wear to the charity shop and sell stuff to others via Ebay and yet I am finding parting with these old shoes a real wrench.  These Brasher Ntoba shoes have given me around 15-years of comfort and I am pretty sure that no other shoes will ever be the same again.  Made for everyday comfort for exploring and travelling I have worn these shoes on walks up small hills and around the countryside, they have taken me to work in wet and snowy weather and out to the shops through the last ten winters; they have never felt uncomfortable and putting them on has always bought me pleasure.

I can still remember the day I bought these wonderful shoes.  It was a wet day in the Lake District and not really fit for walking and so we were shopping for shoes in one of the many shops specialising in walking gear in Ambleside.  I put these Brasher shoes on and as I walked around the shop trying them out for size and comfort I knew straight away they were special shoes; really I should have bought two pairs [or maybe three] while I was there so I had enough for a lifetime.

I think I am finding parting with these shoes particularly difficult because shoes are perhaps the most important item of clothing I buy.  They are my connection with the earth and carry me on the miles I walk every day and being able to do this is so much a part of who I am.  As these wonderful old grey shoes were already on their last legs five years ago I bought a replacement pair of Brasher shoes [again in Ambleside].  These brown Ambler GTX shoes are robust and comfortable enough for a few hours and I wear them through the winter but for some reason they are not the same and wearing them all day leaves my feet feeling tired.  Consequently I don’t love them in the same way as my old shoes.  For the hills I now also have some technical lightweight shoes that are really comfortable to wear and this might be the way to go for the Salford streets too.

I have hung on to these old grey shoes way beyond their reasonable lifespan as I have been unable to part with them but walking in them recently both side seams were gaping wide open where the stitching had come undone, the soles no longer have any tread left and I had to admit that it was time to call it a day.  So farewell old shoes, I am not sure walking will ever be quite the same again.

 

What is the best travel writer’s camera? The Panasonic Lumix DMC TZ100 is my choice

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A perfect day at Loch Linnhe on the Scottish west coast

Cameras are such an individual choice and fortunately today there are plenty of options out there to suit everyone but I am not the only person that wants high quality photographs from a compact camera.  I now own a Panasonic Lumix DMC TZ100 and think it is the perfect camera for the active traveller I am.  This camera is a million miles from the first camera I owned as a young teenager; this was my dad’s Kodak Brownie that he had been given in the 1950s and I was over-the-moon to have my own camera.  Once I was earning money I splashed out on my own 35-mm SLR camera, a Canon AE-1, apparently the first SLR with a microprocessor and a model that sold very well.  I bought different lenses for my Canon over 25-years and loved using it and it took beautiful photographs but by the 1990s we were taking back-packing holidays more and more and a bulky 35-mm camera with its associated lenses was taking up too much room in my rucksack.  Although I still loved taking photographs, it got to the point where I would deliberate whether I really wanted to take my camera out with me.

My first digital camera was bought in 2005, it was a second-hand Fuji that was still fairly bulky but I was quickly sold with the convenience of digital over film.  Never again would we lose a roll of film because someone had set the postbox alight [such as our precious wedding day photographs] or even have to limit the number of photographs I took.  Digital was the way forward for me; I could take as many photographs as I wanted, see them immediately and edit them in the comfort of my home on the computer.

By 2008 I had moved on to digital compacts and owned a Canon and an Olympus before upgrading and buying a Panasonic DMC-TZ40 Lumix just over four years ago.  At this time we were still saving up to retire and I thought the £200+ I paid for this camera was more than enough for someone who was trying to be frugal.  In this effort to save money I had not anticipated how important photography would become in my emerging career as a travel writer.  I loved using the TZ40 but it didn’t always perform as well as I would like.  There is a lesson here that sometimes being frugal can cost you money rather than save it and less than three years later I took the plunge and paid £550 for my Panasonic DMC TZ100.

I know there are more expensive cameras out there and although every camera is a compromise in some way, I now feel I have the camera of my dreams.  Although I am sure I could get even greater quality out of a more expensive camera, the TZ100 delivers great quality photographs, gives me flexibility to change settings, has more features than I will ever need to use and is small and compact and so is never a nuisance to carry on a walk.  I chose the Panasonic because of the positive reviews, for the good quality large viewing screen that I can use even in bright sun and because of my positive experience with the TZ40.  Staying with Panasonic brand also meant I could use the camera immediately as much of the functionality was familiar.

With this little gem of a camera by my side I can no longer blame the camera for poor photographs; I only have myself to blame for any hopeless shots.

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The Panasonic Lumix TZ100

How can you afford holidays when you live on a low budget

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Verona in 1991

We all prioritise what we spend our money on to have the life we want.  You won’t be surprised to read that I have always prioritised holidays over pretty much all discretionary spending.  Despite living on an average or low income for 40-years we have always travelled.  Firstly, some background … when I first started work and living alone I had little money to spare so marriage to Mr BOTRA was a big plus financially [and in many other ways].  Even with below average salaries we were much better off living as a couple.  We had our son in the Thatcher years and so received only a few weeks maternity pay, had to fight for one week of paternity leave, received no Family Tax Credits and the only state help we received was Family Allowance that was frozen in the late 1980s.  And yet we managed to afford holidays, how did we do this?

Through all those years we prioritised holidays over living in expensive houses, buying new furniture and cars and posh frocks.  This was our choice and whereas we would probably be better off now if we had made different decisions no one can ever take all those holiday memories away from us.  We had a ‘big’ holiday every year and these were often adventurous holidays abroad.  After paying the mortgage and the utilities, holidays were our next priority and we saved a set amount every month that was earmarked specifically for holidays.  This amount was put in to a dedicated savings account and such was our determination to explore foreign places that we never dipped in to this money for other financial emergencies.

Our holidays were never expensive and luxurious trips, it was always the travelling that we were interested in.  We enjoyed camping and before our baby was born we bought a high quality tent and acclimatised him to camping from being a toddler.  We chose wisely, buying a Saunders Spacepacker lightweight back-packing tent, widely recognised as the best available in the 1980s and beyond.  We could carry this and our ‘gear’ for our trip in two big rucksacks.  When our son outgrew our shared Spacepacker we bought him his own.

Travelling and seeing new places was what mattered to us, taking walks costs nothing and our holidays were about hiking in the mountains and enjoying fresh air and new experiences.  The budget rarely ran to eating out; the exception was our trip to what was then Czechoslovakia and is now the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1992.  Back then eating out was so cheap in those countries we could indulge.  We slipped up when we visited the Black Forest in Germany the following year, assuming the same budget as we had spent in Czechoslovakia and finding out that Germany was much more expensive than eastern Europe!  With no credit card to prop us up we had to stay within budget and it was a tight fortnight.  We discovered Germany’s budget supermarkets, spent the days walking, playing in the parks and visiting free museums and pitched up on a scruffy, anarchic and most importantly cheap campsite; it was an interesting trip.

It was 1991 when we first went abroad to Italy [see the photograph above] and this trip set the pattern.  We took the train to Verona, which had been on my list for many years and I thought I had arrived in heaven.  Camping Castel San Pietro above the town turned out to be the perfect place for two young parents and their five-year old child.  Set inside ancient walls this was a relaxed, welcoming and slightly quirky campsite.  From here we made our way on public transport to the Dolomites and spent our days walking in the dramatic and unbeatable mountain scenery.

As well as these train and backpacking holidays we would visit Scotland every Easter, sharing the cost of a large self-catering house with friends made it affordable and we would have numerous weekends away with the tent in the UK.  These were the days before Facebook but if we had been able to post about our holiday activity you would have thought we had loads of money!

These adventures and trips to all corners of Europe would not have been possible without that discipline of regular saving over twelve months.  We didn’t consider ourselves natural savers and we certainly didn’t save for anything else at this time, there was very little spare.  Our desire to travel gave us the motivation and we continued this monthly saving plan even as we became more financially comfortable.

Think Save Retire recently blogged about earmarking your money a well-timed post as I was drafting this.  Completing Steve’s statement clarified for me that holidays have always been our priority and made me realise how we continue to make sure that our money supports that priority.