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.

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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!

What did we spend during our 7 week campervan trip to Spain?

09.23.2018 Sierra de Urbassa walk (2)
A shepherd in the lovely Sierra d’Urbasa

You might recall we’re trying to keep within a budget and that this year achieving this has proved to be tough going with our spending feeling somewhat out of control.  I was therefore keen to keep costs low on our fantastic autumn trip to Spain from September to November.  So how did this plan go and what did we spend?

Diesel – £390 (we avoided the temptation to visit all of Spain and travelled 2,430 miles)

Supermarket / food shopping – £536 (around £100 less than we would have spent at home and we returned with dozens of bottles of wine for the cellar!)

Cafes & meals out – £326 (Coffee in a cafe is inexpensive in Spain and we do this much more on holiday than at home but we ate out in the evening less and so spent almost £100 less than we would have spent at home so a small gold star to us)

Campsites – £708 (we had a few nights wild camping to keep costs down but could have done more)

Public transport – £51 (we stayed off the motorways with tolls in Spain and managed to spend a little less than we would if we’d stayed home)

Entrance fees – £98 (similar to when we are at home)

Miscellaneous – £80 (new sunglasses, maps, washing machines, occasional wi-fi)

Ferry Portsmouth to Bilbao – £895 (ouch!  A lot of money to suffer the high seas of the Bay of Biscay)

Fixing the power steering & a new wing mirror for our van – £377 [power steering electrical fault]

Total spent £3,461

I’m feeling reasonably pleased with this total.  It really is not that much more than we would have spent if we’d stayed at home so hasn’t had a massive impact on our budget.  The lesson is that there are really no excuses not to go away again!

 

 

 

23 Spanish campsites and aires

09.30.2018 Ordesa walk (19)
The stunning Ordesa Valley

We spent over two months in Spain this autumn and stayed mostly on campsites where we could use our ACSI discount card.  We had an occasional night staying on an aire.  These were all good and as we are trying to save money we could have done more.  Most campsites were a reasonable price but the one in Toledo was exceptionally expensive.  The list is below with my notes on how we found each spot.

Campsite name Comments Cost
Bakio Motorhome Parking near Bilbao Sloping parking area near the beach popular with surfers and peaceful enough, public toilets nearby £0.00
Camping Etxarri, Etxarri Aranatz, Navarra Hedged camping pitches & lots of bungalows & permanent caravans, some pitches very shaded, facilities reasonably clean, showers cramped & push button were only warm.  ACSI €19.00
Camping El Molino, Mendigorria Large organised site with some shade & some grass, clean facilities & powerful showers with adjustable temperature & hot, nice walk by river, ACSI €19.00
Camping Valle de Hecho, Hecho Terraced site with trees, near to village, scruffy year-round caravans, facilities clean, showers cramped but mostly hot, wash-up out of doors, no bread out of season €21.27
Aire, Jaca Tarmac car park with reasonable size bays near to the town, very popular, quiet by 23.00, bells & neighbouring buses noisy in the morning €0.00
Camping Ordesa, Torla Terraced site with fantastic views of mountains, facilities dated but roomy and good hot showers €21.20
Camping Rio Ara, Torla Terraced site, grassy with trees and tidy, steep access road, lovely modern facilities and good hot showers, adjustable & free flowing, supermarket & bar, good size pitches €22.60
Camping Pena Montanesa, Ainsa Large site with open views to mountains, information about walks, 2 kms from Ainsa, a lovely old town, facilities a bit scruffy but good hot showers & bread, ACSI & bottle of wine on leaving! (Ainsa has an excellent aire too) €19.00
Alquezar Camping, Alquezar Terraced sandy camping site with narrow access routes & trees for shade, small shop & cafe, some good facilities, near to lovely town & good walking, ACSI €17.00
Camping El Roble, Valderrobres Small gravel site by the road, pleasant & helpful owner, modern facilities, good hot showers, marked good-size pitches, cycle routes from site, ACSI €15.00
Camping Els Ports, Arnes Large site with marked pitches, 1 km from town on main road & some noise, facilities clean & okay ACSI €19.00
Celler El Masroig Flat parking by the wine producer with emptying point, quiet village, car park used by staff from around 07.30 €0.00
L’Orangeraie, Calig Nicely laid out small site with marked pitches, facilities clean & showers okay, friendly welcome & peaceful, ACSI €17.00
Los Pinos, Peñíscola Gravel marked sunny pitches with narrow access roads, 1.5 kms from the town, clean facilities, good hot showers & good value €12.00
Aire at Morella Pleasant gravel aire by picnic site with views to hilltop castle and town, popular €0.00
Camping Altomira, Navajas near Segorbe A terraced campsite by a small village, views from higher levels, English at reception, underfloor heating in toilets but facilities a bit dated & showers only warm, cycling nearby, ACSI €17.00
Camping Ciudad de Albarracin Terraced ACSI site with gravel pitches about 1.5 kms from old town, some in full sun, clean facilities & excellent hot continuous showers, great views & walking €17.00
Aranjuez Camping Large organised site about 1.5 kms from lovely town, English at reception, facilities dated but clean & good hot continuous showers & heated, supermarket, trains to Madrid, ACSI €19.00
Camping El Greco, Toledo Level site with marked pitches 3 km from the city, hourly bus service, 30 mins walk from town, clean facilities & good hot adjustable & continuous showers €27.90
Camping El Escorial, El Escorial Level ACSI site with lots of tree cover & some frames to give shade, scruffy, busy reception, no heating in toilets, showers hot, disco can be noisy €19.00
Camping Riaza, Riaza Level site with grassy & sunny pitches, some road noise but mountain views, near to pleasant town, facilities clean, showers continuous & very hot ACSI €19.00
Camping Fuentes Blancas, Burgos Level grassy site, some trees, 4 buses a day to Burgos, some road noise, shower block 3 is heated with good continuous hot shower, block 4 is unheated, wash-up is outdoor, ACSI €19.00
Port at Bilbao Flat tarmac area with toilets, cafe only open in the morning this time €0.00

Wing mirror jousting!

09.23.2018 Visit to Artajona (9)
The Blue Bus parked at Artajona in northern Spain – a perfect place for jousting!

The mishap came as a bit of a surprise.  The road from Torla to Aínsa in Aragon is a secondary road but a good one and we were pottering along in the sunshine, enjoying the views over the Rio Ara and of the villages perched on hilltops.  The road has a white line down the centre but the carriageways are on the narrow side and the light traffic was driving considerately giving enough space to oncoming traffic.

Coming towards us were two massive white motorhomes in convoy.  The leading motorhome was taking up more than his fair share of the road and we moved over to the edge of the road to ensure everyone could pass by safely.  We assumed the big guy would do the same but it seemed he too had been watching Game of Thrones and fancied a bit of wing mirror jousting with our Blue Bus.  Bang!  We both cursed him as our passenger side wing mirror was slammed inwards and the glass broke.

We know this isn’t a tragedy, it is really just one of those things that will happen to lots of people in campervans.  Those big wing mirrors are a perfect target after all and this is the first time we have broken a wing mirror in our 13 years of having a ‘van.  The idiot in the motorhome didn’t stop – to be honest there wasn’t really anywhere safe to stop – and we limped along for a couple of kilometres until we found a lay-by to pull in to.  Shaken we gave each other a hug and investigated the damage.  The glass of the main mirror was shattered but fortunately the small blind spot mirror at the bottom was still intact.  The mirror no longer responded to being moved.  Our only consolation was that the big white motorhome would most likely have the same damage to his wing mirror and we hoped his replacement mirror was even more expensive than ours.

Our Renault has no internal central mirror, so the wing mirrors are essential.  We had a go at fixing a shaving mirror we carry in to the housing of the wing mirror to help the driver see behind but we couldn’t get this to work.  We have since found that you can buy temporary ‘mirrors’ and may invest in one or two of these.  After some thought and consideration we felt it was safe to drive using just the blind spot mirror for the remaining 25 kms to Aínsa.  Although this mirror is small it functioned pretty well.

A call to our breakdown sorted out a garage that was expecting us and the mechanics there spent some time ensuring they were ordering the correct mirror for our Renault.  The next day it took them 15 minutes to fit the new wing mirror and it cost us around £200!  An expensive jousting session.

2018 Oct Carol Kubicki wing mirror (1)
Fixing the mirror in the garage

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.

 

 

Two months campervan trip to Croatia, Italy & France: what did it cost?

05.05.2018 Krka National Park (1).JPG
Krka National Park in Croatia

On our long foray to the European mainland we spent just over two months from April to June travelling around Europe in our campervan.  I always monitor the spending of our trips.  Sp how did the spending go?  For various reasons this trip was certainly more expensive than our autumn trip to Spain and Portugal.  Here is the breakdown in sterling:

  • Diesel – £610 (Croatia is quite a long way and we travelled over 4,200 miles)
  • Supermarket shopping – £956 (we did stock up on wine)
  • Cafes, restaurants & ice-creams – £467
  • Campsites – £983 (for 64 nights)
  • Tolls, bus & train fares & parking – £218
  • Entrance fees – £279 (including about £100 for the Krka National Park excursion)
  • Miscellaneous – £115 [maps, campsite washing machines, occasional wifi & bits of kit]
  • Ferry [return Hull to Zeebrugge] – £489
  • TOTAL – £4,117 – average [without the ferry] £55 / day [this is £11 a day more than our autumn trip to Spain and Portugal]

We had travelled a long way to Croatia and to some extent this affected our spending.  We paid almost €110 for the two of us an excursion in a minibus around Krka National Park.  This tour [organised through Camp Marina] meant that we saw more than we would have and for us it was well worth it.  We used some toll motorways in Croatia and bought vignettes for Austria and Slovenia.

Not surprisingly the cheapest country we stayed in was France with some nights of free camping and plenty of ACSI sites that are reasonably priced.  Campsites are notoriously expensive in Italy but we stayed on some very good sostas to keep our costs down.

We had a fantastic trip and we both loved visiting Croatia but to stay within budget during our retirement a trip this costly isn’t something we can do every year.

 

 

 

Goodbye old shoes

P1090127.JPG

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.