Category Archives: But what can I do?

On giving up screens, meditating, and the importance of ‘not doing’

Because of my slight obsession with Forest Gardens and compost heated showers (and LOTS more on those later) I’ve been using the Internet more than usual recently and it’s definitely having a negative impact on my state of mind – I’ve been feeling less in control of my life and distracted. It’s not just the lame personal advertising (and if I’ve just bought something, no I probably don’t want a duplicate immediately afterwards!) but also the distraction to other places, the Pointillism to coin a phrase used by Zygmunt Bauman – I start somewhere and end up somewhere else…. Fine if I’m allowing myself time to do this, but not if I have a purpose in mind first.

The last descreen/ meditation period I did was back in January of this year, and when I contrast my state of mind now to how I was back then when I was meditating 4 times a day, I was so much more centred : my basic rules were no screens in the morning or evening, except a quick email check, or if writing something specific. No idle surfing, no watching TV over dinner, and then basically an evening routine which went something like:

  • Eat dinner
  • Tidy
  • Meditate
  • Read if you must, preferably about Buddhism
  • Yoga
  • Meditate

Obviously I’m not against the use of the internet or screens, I am well aware that connectivity is necessary and even advantageous in my line of work, and the net’s great for new ideas, speed of access to info and the dreaded self-promotion. However I defo need to restrict it because it encourages all of the following negative traits:

  1. It leaves no real time for actual people (not that I’m that into people anyway)

  2. It encourages me to take a superficial approach to knowledge rather than a deep approach

  3. It scatters my mind, it pulverizes my attention into tiny moments, leaving me adrift in an anomic sea of montage.

  4. It exposes me to the great evil empire of advertising.

(Actually reading that lot perhaps I should just disconnect altogether?!?)

Because of the extreme negative traits uncontrolled net use encourages in me, I’ve developed the following guidelines to restrict my usage of it, and in order to promote mindful living! By screens below I really mean ‘net use’ – (I’m currently writing this off line, so this wouldn’t count for example).

  1. Remember the ideal of the concentrated Buddha – Remember that I don’t need this internet shit!

  2. Limit the amount of time online – Structure my day so it begins and ends without screens, and live the majority of time off-screen. This actually easier said than done given that my job involves a lot of screen use, so all I’ve got left is to make sure that the vast majority of time not at work is spent off-screen. To this end I’m endeavoring to check personal emails no more than twice a day (and respond to them) and try and have 30 mins of screen time in the evenings and at wknds max. In the holidays I’m going to try for 3/4 days totally offline.

  3. Before going online I must have a clear purpose, a list of specific tasks I want to fulfill. I’m also going to time my usage to keep it down.

  4. When online only have one window open at a time, unless I’m specifically cutting and pasting/ adapting.

  5. Switch off PC and iPad at the end of the day and keep in the office, not the bedroom or living room.

Having written this, I feel more mindful already, and if yer reading this online, then see you not so soon in the future…

Making Compost

While I’m quite pleased with the productivity of my allotment so far this year, I’m putting way to much effort into maintaining the beds – what with watering, weeding and feeding.

What I should be doing is spending much more time on prepping the beds by building compost/ sowing green manures and mulching, and when I say ‘much more time’ I’ve realised (through doing a lot digging excuse the pun) that I need to spend hours, if not days, procuring the raw materials to make said compost and mulch.

In short, rather than spending a 20% of my time prepping soil and then 80% maintaining, I need to invert this ratio – I need to put 80% of my time into compost/ soil prep/ mulching which should then mean much less time maintaining, and this should also mean less effort overall, and thus greater productivity.

I’m getting into it – Here’s my latest compost pile, consisting of about 20 barrow loads of woodchip and then a similar amount of manure, grass clippings and just weeds – and loadsa water…..

woodchip compost

It reached 48 degrees within no time (It actually went up to 54 but I didn’t have my camera on me.)

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Inspiration for all of this has primarily come from the wonderful Back to Eden Documentary which features the amazing garden of Paul Gautschi whose main source of compost is wood chips, pure and simple – He put down a 15″ layer on his orchards decades ago, has topped it up every year (most years?), and now he can dig down to his elbow and still find a moist loam more than a foot down.

For his regular beds he uses compost derived from chucking a range of kitchen wastes and weeds to his chickens – He basically just chucks everything into the chicken pen and they just eat it all and scratch it all up – and the end result is a rich compost which you can plant straight into.

Another good example of wood chip gardening is in this video.

Here it’s recommended that you use rock dust and mushroom spores to compost the wood chips quicker, and it seems you get an OK compost after just one year, otherwise with just pure wood chips you’re looking at three years for the stuff at the bottom to start turning into something resembling compost (obviously the finer the grade of woodchip, the faster the whole process).

What I see as a more ‘classic’ way of building compost is demonstrated by Geoff Lawton in this video – basically straw and manure plus a few other bits. This involves a bit more effort than woodchip, but it is super quick as the product is finished in a matter of weeks. (NB the video below isn’t the actual video I wanted (I couldn’t find it again!) but it’s of a very sound guy explaining a similar method…)

For me, a much more accessible way of composting is provided in this TED talk, the simple message of which is ‘shred your leaves and save them’, that’s all you need.

Finally, something else which also appeals to me is using bioochar – Although the biochar burner I’ve built is total rubbish in that it doesn’t work. Back to the drawing board with that I guess.

NB – One final thing I need to mention is the Jean Pain compost method – this guy constructs a compost heap from wood chippings so enormous that he’s able to generate sufficient heat for his house and water for 18 months from one pile, and enough gas (generated by putting a sealed vat of cow manure in the middle) to cook with and power his truck, although I’m sure the Health and Safety police would have something to say about the later if you tried it in the UK today.

Obviously I’m not really in a position to build such an enormous heap, but I’m working on composting on a smaller scale…

Ongoing compost experiments on my allotment.

I only have easy access to certain materials on my allotment, and not having a van doesn’t help acquisition of industrial amounts of material. However, I am actually quite fortunate in that I do have easy access to all of the following, and so have piles of these ‘raw materials’ on my plot.

  • LEAVES – There are lots of nearby trees, so if I can get over the slight self-conscious feeling of scrapping the nearby cycling path in autumn I can get barrow loads of leaves.

  • WOODCHIP – A local tree-surgery company has very recently taken to dumping woodchip on the allotment. I think they may be doing this on the sly but whoever they are, THANKS!

  • HORSE MANURE – We also get horse manure delivered.

  • GRASS CLIPPINGS – somewhat obviously

  • FOOD/ PLANT WASTE

  • WEEDS

  • WOOD for BIOCHAR (*although this needs burning in advance!).

Piles of these materials will all rot down of their own accord, but what I’ve learnt from the above videos is that the whole process can be sped up a lot by combining the above ingredients in a variety of ways. I’m guessing one of the combinations below will give me an ideal blend in terms of both quality and speed of finished product.

Present compost blends -

  1. Woodchip (sieved), horse manure, grass clippings, existing compost/ dirt

Planned future experiments

  1. Shredded* leaves, horse manure, food waste, grass clippings, existing compost/ dirt

  2. Biochar, horse manure, grass clippings, existing compost/ dirt

As I see it there are two majorly major advantages of having a healthy obsession with dirt -

Firstly, in the long term this is the most efficient way of gardening – OK it is a lot of effort sourcing and and compiling the materials, and you need some patience while it all rots down, but after a few years you’ll end up with the most amazingly rich soil, and maintenance in terms of weeding and watering should be much reduced because soil will be less compacted because of continual layering/ mulching.

Secondly, from a land-ethics point of view regenerating the earth after years of depletion seems like a pretty good life-purpose to me.

And talking about life, or rather the end of it – There is something very comforting about working with dirt, in that becoming one with it (i.e. Rotting) will be, after all, my final destination. Yours too!

(* I’m going to try shredding using a few bits of wire attached to a long drill bit, if not I’ll fall back on using a petrol strimmer I part own.)

Early Retirement Extreme UK Update 2 – June 2015

Fingers crossed this formats OK, I just cut and paste the job-lot straight from Open Office, pictures and all.

End of June – And I’m now sixth months in to my 7-10 year plan to (semi-) retire by the time I’m 51, and ambitiously by 48. This is the first of my intended 6 monthly updates, this allows enough time to show clear progress (hopefully rather than regress) and also these things to take quite a lot of time to review.

Executive Summary

  • Total Net Wealth gain of £13300 (since Februrary 2015)

  • Average total monthly expenditure not including mortgage – £903

  • Averge monthly savings of – £557

  • Average savings to expenditure ratio – 64% (if I include mortgage payments)

  • Overall I give myself 8/10 – For once I’m actually going to focus on the fact that I’m doing most things right, rather than the few things I could improve on.

Reminder of Original Long Term Financial Goals – Updates in Italics

  • Be mortgage free in 7-10 years (£137K outstanding)

  • Pay over £1000 a month towards the mortgage (15 year term) with a mind to either using savings or ‘trading down’ to pay off early.

I’m easily on track to do this in 10 years if I stay put in my flat in Surrey. However, the £140 I pay (in reality it’s probably more) towards service charge every month is becoming increasingly insulting, and so I’m looking at ‘downsizing’ to a house in a poorer area and commuting to work, possibly as soon as the end of 2016.

  • Save £200 a month towards a ‘land fund’ – eventually to be used to purchase a van and land on which to establish a forest garden.

The ‘Land Fund’ is simply an investment account – I use Fundsmith, which I can thoroughly recommend – It’s now worth about £12K – and it gained £3K in value in the last 6 months – yes, that’s right, a 25% gain in 6 months – NB this isn’t a high risk fund, in fact, quite the opposite! Based on these figures I’m actually tempted just to leave it untouched and live off the income generated in my late 50s.

  • Save an absolute minimum of £250/ month in additional funds (=£30K after 10 years, without accumulations). Ideally this figure will be significantly higher.

I‘ve done quite well here – my average overall savings each month is £577 – I put £200 into the ‘land fund’ so that means my overall ‘other savings’ work out at £377/ month without accumulations. I’ve actually got £17K kicking about which is enough (just) to buy a small piece of raw land already, although it is extremely rare to find exactly what I want for this kind of price. If I could double this to £30K I’d have much more chance.

NB The reason I keep banging on about land is because land squatting is a key part of my ERE strategy.

  • Find additional income streams to boost the above figure. Target = £20K in five years.

I’ve realised I am not realistically going to generate any significant second income streams in my spare time, basically because I don’t have any spare time. (It’s actually quite interesting that it’s taken me sixth months to realise this, or maybe it’s about acceptance – I can’t actually do any more than I’m already doing without compromising my mental health). Thinking about it, this amazing piece of insight might just be more valuable than any financial gains I’ve made.

  • Continue paying into the Teacher Pension Scheme.

It’s not quite a no-brainer to keep paying into this, but it still makes sense. The amount I pay in has increased, and because of recent changes to the scheme I’m now stuck with a pension at 60 of around £7K/ year – everything I pay in from now on is not worth claiming until I’m 65 – If I claim my future contributions at 60, I lose 25% of the value of current and future contributions (what I’ve already got is protected, but then again I’m sure this could change under the nasties.)

Now onto the more detailed updates…

June Update One – Spending days compared to non-spending days

Early Retirement UK

I know it says nothing about how much I actually save/ spend but these are a great little invention! No spending days have prevented me from buying several superfluous coffees, munchies, and stopped silly trips to Poundland and Wilkinson’s. I can’t put an exact figure on it but I reckon a saving of somewhere in the region of £20-50 a month?.

Jan-June 2015 Update Two – Expenditure and Savings Summary

  • Ratio of expenditure to income excluding mortgage – 64%

  • Ratio of expenditure to income including mortgage – 23%

NB For calculating the above savings to expenditure ratio I always count service charge (an outrageous £140/month) as ‘expenditure’ but for the first calculation I count mortgage payments as savings because in the future my flat will act as an investment which will bring in an income (while I squat in a field).

Technically I should count the interest part of this as expenditure and the repayment as investment, but honestly I can’t be bothered to work this out and recalculate it every month as the repayments change, so stuff that! Just reduce the figure by a few percentage points if you’re uncomfortable with it.

Early Retirement UK

  • Frivolities = beer/ coffee/ subscriptions/ transport, (because I only really use transport for entertainment rather than work).

  • Necessities = council tax, services, food, ‘stuff’.

  • Property = mortgage repayments + service charge.

January- June 2015 Update Three – Total average monthly expenditure excluding mortgage more detailed breakdown

This is really the headline figure – and it comes out at just over £900/ month, or £11K/ year – This is an honest account of how much I will need in retirement to live extremely comfortably. The service charge is something which is going to disappear hopefully very soon, but I figure the future cost of running a van which I currently don’t have will come out around the same amount of £140 a month, maybe more, so I’ll stick with £900 a month to live off.

Early Retirement UK

Of course if I can pull off a land-squat my services costs will fall drastically, as will my food costs, so all of this could come down to nearer £5-600 in future. Whether that’s sustainable or not remains to be seen!

NB – The obvious immediate area for improvement besides service charge (PAIN!) is beer, I intend to hammer this down from September.

January Update 4 – Total Net Wealth

Well I’ve gained £13300 in 5 months – I’m happy with that, hence the 8/10!

This is what it’s all about! Remember, £200K is enough to semi-retire on! IMO anyone who already has more than £200K of TNW and is still in full-time work either really likes working, or if that isn’t the case suffers from a compulsive disorder (addicted to over-consumption) and/ or lacks imagination.

I don’t feel particularly comfortable posting details about my TNW, but it comes in at £101K including property – Half way to what I need. Rapidly may this increase!!!

It’s kind of comforting to know that that’s enough to buy some kind of Quinta in Portugal – I’ve even taken off £4K from the figure to factor in a contribution to selling up and moving on in case it comes to that! It also doesn’t include a small emergency fund I’ve got stashed away.

So all in all, I’m on track to achieve my ERE goals, I could do better, but I think this not so extreme route to retirement (land squatting aside) is sustainable!

If you like this sort of thing – then why not my book which is more focused on early retirement in the UK?

Early Retirement Strategies for the Average Income Earner, or A Critique of Curiously Ordinary Life of the Everyday Worker-Consumer

Available on iTunes, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble – Only £0.63 ($0.99)

extreme early retirement

Also available on Amazon, but for £1.99 because I’d get a much lower cut if I charged less!

Permaculture as an Alternative to Consumer Culture

I’ve been thinking a lot about the viability of Permaculture as an alternative to the consumerist mode of existence recently.

Permaculture is the practice of working with nature to design efficient, productive ecosystems, incorporating the principles of sustainability and fare-shares. The Permaculture Association (The Permaculture Association n.d.) suggests that there are three main aspects to Permaculture – Firstly there is an ethical framework, secondly the principle of understanding nature, and finally a design approach to working with nature.

As always a few examples are the best way of illustrating what Permaculture actually is…

Firstly I recommend checking out the case of Lammas. Based in Pembrokeshire, on about 75 acres of land, this is one of the few fully legitimate (in planning terms) eco-projects in the U.K. It combines the traditional smallholding model with the latest innovations in environmental design, green technology and Permaculture. The ecovillage was granted planning permission in 2009 by the Welsh Government and is currently part-way through the construction phase. The current residents aim to bring in £100K per year from the land, up from £2500 from the previous tenant farmer’s sheep farming.

Tinkers Bubble is another famous (in eco-circles) example of 9 adults living on 28 acres of land living in self-built low impact dwellings. Very similar to the above, but just on a smaller scale.

A more individualistic example, and an absolute classic in eco-circles, is Tony Wrench’s Low impact roundhouse – built over a decade ago in Pembrokeshire National Park and (after a huge struggle) granted retrospective planning permission. This example proves what you can do with £3000, if you happen to have an appetite for a ruck with the planners.

For further inspiration, the Permaculture Network provides plenty of links to some pretty inspiring examples of Permaculture Projects which range from your squatting type examples such as Yorkley Farm in the Forest of Dean to basically people’s back gardens. (37)

Finally, I highly recommend Permaculture Magazine (with an international circulation of over 100K) which has the acolade of being my favourite all-time bath time reading material.

To what extent is Permaculture a viable solution to Consumerist Culture….?

In short, I’d argue that Permaculture is one of lynch pins of an alternative culture which is not based around consumption, but rather ‘co-production’ with nature. This diverse movement is full of innovators who focus on producing their own food, energy and to an extent goods using sustainable and creative techniques adapted to local environments, so rather than consumption being focused on, this seems to be about going back to production, and the way things are produced (sustainable) as a unifying principle.

Given the DIY nature of the Permaculture movement it is possible to spend the rest of your natural life learning (both intellectually and practically) about aspects of living sustainably – If you ever managed to get your head around everything to do with planting a food-forest, then you can move onto aquaculture systems, low-impact building or small-scale off grid energy systems – If you get the bug there is easily a lifetime’s worth of exploration, non of which is based around consumption.

(It may not be your thing of course, but personally I find all of this fascinating.)

Obviously there are limitations to what Permaculture can do – It can easily be criticised for being retreatist in the light of global problems such as militarism, the refugee crisis and the ethical challenges of multiculturalism; and possibly a bigger problem is just how middle class the movement is – besides efforts to big up ‘Urban’ Permaculture and reports of Permaculture in the developing world in the UK at least your only option to really do full on Permcaulture is to either risk your capital in a collective venture such as Lamas or find approx. £30-40K yourself, buy some land and prepare yourself for an almighty ruck with local Nimbys, not to mention the anachronistic weight of the UK planning system.

On Grazing the Allotment as a Dinner Strategy

Maintaining an allotment with a full time job is a challenge. Although I do love planning and sowing and planting, watering (in the early morning), even weeding, TBH I find the process of stopping off after work and harvesting and processing the food before dinner quite tedious.

It’s not so much the actual digging up and picking, that’s quite enjoyable, it’s that plus the shelling and washing before cooking that just makes the whole process simply too time-consuming for it to be enjoyable.

So I’ve hit on a new evening eating strategy – Instead of harvesting, processing and cooking I’ve switched to grazing and eating immediately as I harvest except for those things which need cooking, which I then take back, wash and just cook up with some salt or soy sauce and that’s dinner. For those things which I think need washing, I just put them in a colander and run them under the tap, everything else which is most things I just eat straight.

It’s a bit weird – Today I started with the radishes – some of which had got a bit large, so I just ate all the non-woody bits and chucked the rest on the compost, then I moved onto the Kale, which was delicious, and the one small head of broccoli which the slugs hadn’t demolished (honestly, freshly picked broccoli more than anything else tastes completely different to the stuff you buy, it’s actually completely different and not even comparable, just a shame it’s so difficult to grow).

Then onto the mange tout, which is again another world when freshly picked, before moving on to some spring onions and lettuce/ chard and spinach, as well as picking some for tomo’s lunch box, before moving onto the strawberries, also saving some for later as there were too many to eat in one sitting/ standing/ bending down/ whatever you want to call it.

I also picked shed loads of broad beans and cooked them up at home with a bit more kale I’d saved.

I’d hoped to have some new potatoes by this time – but I’m reluctant to dig them up because having tickled them they seem a bit small – I think I over-nitrogened the soil.

Anyway, although eating in this way feels a bit nuts, it’s actually completely sane when you reflect on the following massive advantages –

1. Time efficiency – It saves time in terms of cooking, the ‘sit down meal’ and the washing up, also it does tend to mean you maintain the allotment while eating, picking off the odd weed for example.

2. It’s the cheapest way to eat – Theoretically, if you could just get used to just grazing, there’s no need to spend money on what Michael Pollan would call ‘edible food like substances’.

3. Health benefits – The fresher, the higher the nutrient content – You can’t get much fresher than two seconds from picking to mouth.

4. It’s the most natural and ethical way to eat – in that it’s the furthest removed from the industrial-food chain.

5. It gives me this strange sense of connection with the !Kung Bushmen of the Khalari and other traditional hunter-gatherer tribes – completely unfounded I know, but in my deluded little head I feel in-touch with my pre-historic self.

6. I actually like the fact that it’s a slightly nuts way to eat – It’s habit breaking. For example I can’t watch TV while I’m grazing, well I guess I could with a 4G iPad, but honestly, it’d hardly be ergonomic.

Incidentally I wish I had some nuts, that’d make the whole grazing process even more wonderful, or at least it would in the late autumn, assuming the squirrels are willing to share.

I’ve also been inspired to look up other inspiring examples of people who have set up the ultimate grazing gardens – here are a couple of examples….

Paul Gautschi is one of the world’s most inspiring gardeners – In this excellent video: Back to Eden, Paul uses serious mulch, mostly wood-chip which has turned into the most amazing compost and produces the most amazing quality looking fruit and veg for (after you’ve set it all up!) minimal effort. There’s some great grazing footage at about 1 hr 25 (NB – It is freely available on Vimeo if you click the link!)

Back To Eden OFFICIAL FILM from Dana & Sarah Films on Vimeo.
I’m using this as a model for my allotment, and am now trying to spend at least 60% of my time building compost rather than maintaining (I think the ratio should be higher, but I’ve got to be realistic!)

 

Closer to home, I’ve never been but one of the most interesting, and possibly largest examples of a food forest is Plants for a Future, established by Ken and Addy Fern many years ago.There’s footage of Ken grazing his ‘garden for all purposes’ from about 16 minutes in.


(NB the first section’s worth watching too – on the classic forest-garden of Robert Hart.)

Anyway, I don’t want to get lost in Forest gardening, I haven’t quite got enough money to buy the land to go there yet – The point of the videos is that they’re good examples of other people who graze, and on a much larger scale than me, and that proves I’m not nuts, I think.

Ode to My Chocolate Muffins

 

At the risk of sending my bounce rate stratospheric (and lord knows it’s bad enough already) I just needed to do a post on my recent resounding baking success with my latest batch of dark chocolate muffins. Also it’s nice to have  a break from all things Sociological once in a while.

20150228_182421

Ignore the saw, I was using it for something related, given the interconnectedness of all things, but not immediately related to anything chocolaty or muffiny in the less immediate mundane conceptual world.

I adapted this recipe combining the following ingredients, with approximate costs

  • 200g dark chocolate, melted – .70
  • 75g unsweetened cocoa powder – .80
  • 325g self-raising flour- 0.30
  • 100g light brown soft sugar -0.20
  • 30 grams dark brown sugar – 0.10
  • Two table spoons of honey – 0.15
  • One table spoon marmelade -0.05
  • 365ml milk – 0.15
  • 100ml vegetable oil -0.10
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder – 0.05
  • 2 eggs -0.20
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract – 0.20
  • Mixed spice (hideously out of date, but it still seams to be OK) 0.05.

Same procedure as in the link above. Bake for about 25-30 mins.

Total cost comes in at about 0.25 pence per muffin. Not that much cheaper than a box of four from Sainsburys, but significantly superior, and about six times cheaper than what you’d pay in a coffee shop. Not to mention the sheer joy of the process, I love baking (career-baking runs in my family apparently so it must be in the genes), the overwhelming sense of satisfaction, AND I got to regress to childhood and lick not one, but TWO bowls. NB – Note the fact that you don’t need muffin cases, so long as you grease the muffin tins

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The lighting in the picture doesn’t do them justice, but oh man, are they good! Oh simple pleasures. I’m one happy and fatter man after these.

On Not watching TV and Meditating Instead (a lifestyle experiment)

 

The Dalai Lama of Tibet practices meditation four hours a day, the same length of time the average American spends watching TV. Now it’s obvious I’m not the Dalai Lama, and I’m reasonably certain I’m not his reincarnation born 40 odd years too early either, but like the DL I have recently tried to cut down my TV use and meditate more instead, although it’s taken me some time to commit to it properly.

Halfway through Le Tour 2014 I unplugged my TV and put it in the office, promising myself I would break my habits of watching TV over dinner and indulging in the occasional bout of idle channel hopping, but I pretty quickly just got into the routine of watching whatever on iPlayer or 4OD on the iPad or laptop.

On Sunday 4th January, however, I finally committed to watching no TV for a week, and I’m still abstaining. With the two exceptions of watching the final four minutes of The Dead Poet’s Society (don’t ask) and about eight minutes of a classic episode of ‘Why Don’t You’ on YouTube (again, don’t ask!) I have managed to be TV free at home ever since.

At the same time I also started to severely restrict the use of anything involving a screen. This means spending as little time in front of them as possible, and limiting the number of screens and ‘windows’ I expose myself to in any one period. Ideally, I try and limit myself to reading one book/ website at a time and writing into one Open Office Document at a time (like this!), rather than flitting backwards and forwards between multiple sources.

Also on the 4th January, I made a commitment to the following ‘evening disciplines’ –

  1. Leave work promptly – 16.45 at the very latest (I start at 7.45).
  2. Run or do circuits most days after work. (Although in fairness I did this anyway)
  3. Spend about half an hour tidying and cleaning every evening except Friday and Sunday (I even have a roster for certain rooms on certain days.
  4. Meditate for 40 minutes immediately following tidying.
  5. Do ‘soft meditation’ for 40 minutes before going to bed at 21.30 at the latest.
  6. Do a minimum of 4*40 meditation sessions on Saturdays and Sundays.*

This typically leaves me with 30 mins to an hour to do something else in the evenings, with plenty more time at the weekends.

After just two weeks, and they weren’t the easiest of weeks at work either, I’ve noticed the following benefits of not watching TV and meditating instead.

  1. I’m sleeping much more soundly. I’ve never actually had (ever!) a problem sleeping, but this last week my sleep has been even more sound. Sound is a good word to describe it actually, as would be ‘denser’, ‘heavier’, more intense, more complete, oh hang on, maybe ‘deeper’ is the word I’m looking for.
  2. My outlook on life has slowed down – I feel more centred, more stable, calmer, more in-control.
  3. Interestingly, although I only have a scant hour to cram in some ‘me-time’ I’d say I’ve been more productive in those hours than compared to double the amount of time without the meditation (I can see why the corporate world is into this mindfulness stuff, just don’t mention Right Livelihood!).
  4. On those few occasions I have gone online, I find myself more irritated by the whole experience – I am much more aware of and intolerant of the sheer amount of advertising, the explicit purpose of which is to distract me from what it is I am actually doing.

To conclude…

Technically speaking this isn’t a very good experiment because I’ve changed three variables at once (The amount of TV/ Internet Use and meditation) BUT in practical terms given that the former two are the antithesis of the later, I don’t think the benefits would have accrued as much if I hadn’t replaced the former two with the later: meditation (and mindfulness) require a calm mind, TV and the internet encourage a hyperactive mind. It may well be that had I maintained my habitual usage of TV and just increased my meditation hours (in which case I’d have to sleep less, so that wouldn’t work experimentally either), the effect of meditation would merely be to calm down the increased hyperactivity in my mind caused by media-indulgence. So it’s naff as an experiment, but it works!

In short, try it, stop watching TV etc. and start meditating instead.

*This may sound like a lot of hours – If you’re new to meditating, this much may be too much so you might need to spend a few years building up to it. I’ve been meditating for 20 years on and off, more seriously for about eight years after I spent a year taking formal Zen classes (after which I realised I didn’t need the formality), and I’m fairly sure that two-three hours a day is as much as is useful to me at the moment (by useful I mean conducive to promoting mindfulness in daily life). If you’re new to meditation, less may be more. Also, go to classes if you’re new to it!

 

Careers Advice for Teenagers Part One – Why You Can Never Do Enough to Make Yourself Employable

 

So you’re 17 going on 18 and it seems like the end of A levels are ages away, but for some reason your damn tutors keep haranguing you about about preparing for your future career NOW. When it comes to career readiness, there is no such thing as enough, even if you are going to university and possibly putting off the final choice of your ‘career pathway’ for another three or four years, there are still things you can be doing NOW to make you more employable in the future.

You know the sort of thing…

First of all there’s the ‘online careers survey’ which asks you to tick a load of boxes about whether you’re a ‘team player’ or like to ‘work independently’, on the basis of which you’re given a whole load of possible career options, most of which probably won’t sound that exciting. (Admitedly I think these surveys may lack some validity, as my ideal-career doesn’t seem to match any combination of answers I’ve tried: ‘lounging around in bed ’til about 10.00 and then strolling into to town for a Cappuccino every day’ never seems to come up as a viable option).

Once you’ve chosen a career, it’s quite likely that you’ll have to do some sort of work experience in that general area, not only to prove that you’ve got a basic level of competency, but also to provide some evidence of committment to this career-path. Alternatively, you might be lucky enough to have a part-time job in area you want to go into. I say lucky, but either option sounds pretty grim to me – the former will probably involve giving up some of that holiday time to work for nothing, which is a bit of a rub, while the later probably involves doing enough hours a week while at college to make balancing paid-work, college-work, family and social commitments something of a challenge.

Incidentally, if you’re putting this phase off by going to university, you may not escape it, given that we live in the age of the unpaid-internship, especially if you want to get into any of the higher-end professions such as journalism.

(What’s also interesting here is that it’s up to you to prove commitment to a career-path before you set out on it, while your employer, in this age of flexibilised labour, is unlikely to offer you the same.)

Thirdly, and finally for now,  you need to build a C.V. – Assuming you’ve got a decent set of qualifications and some work experience, and know your name and address, the first half a page is easy enough, but then things can get difficult because filling in the rest of it requires you to have engaged in quite a few ‘C.V. Able activities. And if all you’ve done these past few years outside of school and college is flit between Youtube, twitter and whatsapp, then you’d better get of your ass and go and join a gymnastics club, take up horse riding, volunteer with your local church, and apply for and WIN young apprentice, even though you’re probably too old for that already.

Indeed, when it comes to work readiness, there is never such a thing as enough. This is because we live in an economically insecure world, and the cause of this insecurity is that global capital is freer  today than ever to move around the globe to seek short-term profit and then uproot at a moments notice to seek greater profits elsewhere. As it stands there are no global institutions capable of controlling global capital (the Nation State is declining in power) and so this global economic context of ‘Flexibilised Capitalism’ is likely to remain.

What this means is that it isn’t just NOW that you can never do enough to get ready for your that future career (which you may not even be certain about yet), but that in the future you will constantly have to update yourself to keep pace with an ever-changing labour market. Below are a few of the key reasons why you have to spend so much time an effort making yourself employable, and why you will need to continue to do so in the future…

Firstly –  ‘Technological Dislocation’ could be set to reduce the number of jobs available in the future. A recent post from The Economist summarises the situation thus….

‘Technological dislocation may create great problems for moderately skilled workers in the coming decades… innovation has speeded up a lot in the past few years and will continue at this pace, for three reasons: the exponential growth in computing power; the progressive digitisation of things that people work with, from maps to legal texts to spreadsheets; and the opportunities for innovators to combine an ever-growing stock of things, ideas and processes into ever more new products and services. Between them, these trends might continue to “hollow out” labour markets as more and more jobs requiring medium levels of skill are automated away.”

This is the first reason you have to increase your effort to be employable now and in the future – because not only are their fewer jobs and thus more competition, it is impossible to tell what jobs are going to disappear and what new opportunities may arise (which will require retraining) because of technological change.

Secondly,  it is cheaper for employers to pay a smaller amount of employees for long hours (50-60 hours a week say) rather than to duplicate the costs of such things as training, holiday pay and pensions contributions by employing a larger workforce part-time.

This means you may well end up in a nice job that you want, but with no choice but to work hours that prevent you from having anything like a social life, let alone a family.

Thirdly, Capital today is more free-floating than ever, in other words it is free to leave this country at a moment’s (or no) notice if it can find labour cheaper somewhere else. This has already happened in the low-skilled manufacturing sector, but it could just as easily happen with higher skilled, techno and creative jobs, especially when much work today can be done in a virtual environment and the costs to Capital of uprooting and relocating are no where near as expensive when it doesn’t have to rebuild expensive ‘heavy’ factories.  The chances are, if you end up being employed by a global company (or contracting yourself out to one) your job is likely to be increasingly insecure as the years ‘progress’ – given that you are competing with millions of other employees who are just as well qualified as you from lower-income countries.

Thus, in the future, be ready for periods of unemployment as your employer moves to countries with a cheaper source of labour leaving you to seek new employment (which is likely to get harder the older you get).

Fourthly, the primary source of profit for the Capitalist Class is to encourage consumers to consume more and more products and services at an ever faster rate – thus there is pressure for technologies, software, fashions etc. become obsolete at an ever faster rate, to have an ever shorter shelf-life – thus you are unlikely to be able to rest on your laurels – The software skills you learn in university may be obsolete when you start work, and that idea that made your company a fortune today will be superceded by someone else’s idea tomorrow, leaving you in the position to have to constantly update your knowledge and generate new ideas.

Yes, all in all, sorry to say it, but I’m glad I’m not 17, even though I had hair then. And I’m also glad I’ll be retired fairly soon, spending my days drinking my real ales, smoking ma cigars and, if they still exist, leisurely leafing through some ole school broadsheets.

Don’t like the sound of your flexibilised, insecure future – then what to do???

The mainstream starting-point strategy suggests that you should position yourself into the core of highly educated, highly skilled knowledge workers. This is the best way of guaranteeing yourself a high income and relatively secure employment (and if not secure at least well-paid enough to be able to endure short periods of unemployment between contracts).

The problem with this strategy is that it is only the extreme minority of people in the UK are going to be able to get skilled up to this level – What proportion of the population? 5%, maybe 10%? Certainly no more. And even for this top 5-10%, in a globalising ‘converging world’ where more and more people are educated up to degree level (especially in Asia) there is simply going to be more competition for these types of job, so the only way for this proportion is down.

By all means, try and land one of these jobs, but in the meantime, because you’ve got more chance of not getting a decent job than you have of getting one, you should also consider how you can minimise your exposure to the labour market and can minimise your dependence on money, because you may not end up having a choice in the matter.

Forthcoming Post – A few alternatives to working in an insecure job for the next 50 years.

My Early Semi-Retirement Strategy

Unlike many other ERE (early retirement extreme) blogs I’ve included some fairly specific details about my income below. Having read quite a few of these blogs it really isn’t helpful that most of them don’t talk about their incomes because this makes it very difficult to assess how likely it would be for someone else to pursue a similar financial plan. I’ve decided to include my own actual income in order to make it very clear that my early retirement strategy excludes at least the bottom 80% of income earners. So in short, unless you’re a high income earner in the UK already, or are on the path to becoming one, there is no point you reading this! This is what all ERE blogs should say, but don’t.

My grand plan pads out into three stages – 40-48/ 48-60/ 60+. The boundaries are flexible. NB I only stumbled upon and committed to the idea of early-retirement when I was 41 this August  2014 (so slightly oddly I’ve backdated this plan!)

Phase One – Age 40-48 years – Full time work, voluntary poverty, paying down the mortgage and saving

This phase consists of six goals…..

  1. Reducing my expenditure to a minimum and living a voluntary-poverty lifestyle. My current outgoings are around £930/ month, which might sound high by ERE standards, but a painful £160 of this is ‘service charge’ which I intend to ditch in the medium term, and so my actual long term outgoings are really just £770/ month.
  2. Paying off the damn mortgage over a 15 year term, at the rate of +£1000 a month. I intend to downsize and buy a property outright in a cheaper part of the country after 8 years.
  3. Saving a minimum of a further £450 a month. Combined with the £20K I already have saved this should give me around £80K at a 4% growth rate over 8 years.
  4. Continue paying into my current Teacher Pension Scheme (TPS). I’ve done the maths and it simply isn’t worth stopping paying into it. This should yield about £11K/ year (post-60) after another 8 years of payments.
  5. Generating second income streams. I’ve set myself the goal of earning about an extra £20K over the next 5 years. This would enable me to quit the rat-race even earlier and some of these streams might also give me some income from age 48 onwards.
  6. Developing ‘resilience skills’ – I got the phrase from Fisker, and I like it! Resilience skills to my mind include constructive skills, cheap hobbies and meditation, the kind of things that are free, and hence work with a frugal retirement plan.

Phase Two – Age 48-60 – Semi-Retirement  –  Hobo-capitalism and working part time.

By the time I’m 48 I should have £130K (2014 figures) equity in my current property and £80K in savings, which will give me £210K in capital. At this stage, I will either simply pay off my existing mortgage or buy a much cheaper property and invest the rest, and use these investments to bring in a base-income while I travel around the world for 12 years. I will need to do a mixture of paid and voluntary work during this phase of my life to support myself, but not very much given that a £210K pot would yield £8K/ year income at a 4% return.

Alternatively I might decide not to go travelling, in which case having the mortgage paid off would mean I could afford to work part-time or intermittently for the rest of my working life based in the UK. I might also just decide to skip to phase three below.

Phase Three – Age 60+ – Full retirement

Barring further layers of neoliberal shaft, my teacher’s pension should kick in at 60, which should be worth about £11K a year, which, with no mortgage costs, will be sufficient for me to live off comfortably. Something else I intend to do at this stage of my life (although I may do this a lot sooner) is to use a portion of my capital to buy some land and establish an edible-forest, with which I will merge to become ‘man of the forest’, or something along those lines.

A few facts about this thing I call myself

I can only start my early retirement drive from where I found myself when l became obsessed with the goal of early-retirement (I think it’s fair to call it an obsession!). TBH I find myself in a pretty favourable position, in a stable job I can probably stomach for several more years, earning more than 85% of the population.

I earn a gross salary of about £44K a year and I’m one year in to paying off a £146K mortgage at 3.1% interest. Previous to buying my current flat (mere non-inheretee high-income earners simply can’t afford houses where I live) outright in 2013 I’d already saved £40K towards it, and the flat’s actually now ‘worth’ about £200K. I work in education which means I’m likely to be able to draw on a  Teacher’s Pension  from the age of 60. At time of writing, after 13 years of paying into it, this is already worth about £6.5k a year (plus a lump sum of £19K) and on my frugal budget this is approximately two thirds of my desired retirement income. To put some of these figures in monthly terms, I take home £2500 after tax and pensions contributions (the later being about £400/ month).

I’m well aware that an early retirement extreme person would look at these statistics and think a five year early retirement strategy would be a doddle, but my own plan is to do it in eight, so what’s below is very much an early retirement light strategy, a luxurious early retirement vision by extreme standards, but still frugal by normal standards.

Below is more detail about how my plan pads out… I think it’s pretty bullet-proof.

Age 40-48 years – Full time work, voluntary poverty, paying down the mortgage and saving

Goal One – Frugality budgeting

Frugality budgeting means committing yourself to voluntary poverty. To my mind this means not only reducing expenditure on ‘necessities’ such as housing, food, transport and utilities to a minimum, it also means a rejection of the consumerist mode of existence. If this is taken to extremes, it is possible to live without money, but my own attempts fall far short of this – I’ve so far only managed to cut down on the take-out Cappuccinos and beers rather than giving them up altogether.

Below is a summary of my own monthly expenditure, based on a take-home monthly income of around £2450. All figures are approximate. NB I’ve since had a small gross pay-cut since I worked out these figures in August 2014 and as a result I now take home £2500 (that’s not a typo, that’s the effect of the wierd and not so wonderful TPS scaled contributions).

My savings to expenditure ratio

According to the early retirement movement, you should aim to save and invest somewhere between 60-80% of your income, which I’m well short of. Taking into account my Pension contribution, I am only at a 30% savings rate. However, because I see my property as a form of future-capital I am going to claim an overall savings rate of 67%. Of course it will be slightly less than this once you factor in the average £3K/ year I pay on interest on the mortgage which cannot be regarded as savings, which would bring my investment rate down to the low 60s in terms of percentage.

Some in the ERE movement may not accept my inclusion of my mortgage repayments to boost my savings rate to 60% – Fair enough, I may in fact be in denial of the insult that is the mortgage and just be trying to warp these repayments into something they are not. In this case, call my effective savings rate 30%, it’s still a lot better than the average, and the important thing is that I am effectively living off 33% of my current income, and the figures all add up to an extremely early semi-retirement after eight years. It’s worth stating at this point that high property prices and being lumbered with a mortgage will prevent most people in the UK rom achieving full early-retirement US style. I think the best we can achieve here in the UK is early semi-retirement like I’m aiming for…. The section below will give you an idea of something of the scale of the mortgage-burden. There are plenty of people worse off than me!

Goal Two – Paying off the mortgage as quickly as possible is essential

Unlike in the US, here in the UK property is the factor that makes Extreme Early Retirement (in five years) simply impossible for all but the very highest income earners (top 5%?). Even if you’re well into the second-decile of income earners like I am, repaying a mortgage on even a small property is probably going to take you 10 years if you want to stash savings away on top of mortgage repayments. (NB I am assuming here that someone hasn’t benefitted financially from a dead-relative at some point in their 20s and is largely self-financing their property. It also goes without saying that owning is the only ERE option in the UK, renting works out at least twice as expensive over a lifetime).

When I bought my current property in January 2014 I took on a mortgage of approximately £146 000 on a 15 year term. At 3.1% interest I will pay back about £183 000, which means the total cost of financing the mortgage is £37 000, or about £3,000 a year (very roughly). If I were to pay this back over the normal 25 year term I would pay back a total of £211 000, or an additional £55 000 over the amount borrowed.

As well as illustrating the extreme cost of a mortgage, even at a relatively low interest rate, this also illustrates the extreme savings (£18K) to be made by paying off the mortgage 10 years earlier than normal.

As stated above, I do actually intend to pay off the mortgage in eight years rather than 15, but I’m investing money elsewhere to facilitate this, to be utilised when I downsize in the future.

I’ve got to be honest, as it stands, the £3000/ year in interest and £1700/ year in service charges I pay above pay HURTS. Over a ten year period, it would cost me £47 000 just for the privilege of living in and eventually owning a two bedroom flat, above the actual market value of the flat.

Unfortunately, looked at in the long term, unless you want to put up with some pretty severe privations, there is no realistic alternative option other than putting up with being shafted to the tune of £5K/ year, mainly because the only other option (if you rule of living with your parents or squatting) is renting, which just means a further layer of shaft (paying of someone else’s mortgage). NB I refer to this as shaft because the only reason I am paying this £47K is because people in a position of greater power (i.e having greater control over the money supply) relative to me have set up a system which makes it impossible for me to live to the standards reasonably required to hold down a demanding full-time job without paying them money for which they effectively do nothing.

Goal Three – Saving….

In addition to paying off the mortgage I’m putting an additional £450/ month away into investment funds and savings accounts, in the hope that these accumulate at a faster rate than the 3.1% interest I pay on the mortgage, a kind of partial endowment-gamble if you like.

In most early retirement models, getting a decent rate of return on investment is crucial, however, my savings are relatively short term, and my income in full and semi-retirement will simply come from part-time occasional work, rent, and a decent pension, so this type of thing is mostly irrelevant for me. If are interested in longer term investments then you should check out Jacob Lund Fisker’s E-R-E blog where you will find links to financial planning for early retirement. Getting this right can make a massive difference to how early you can retire and your income in retirement, so you might want to learn about this. Personally, I’m happy to leave this dark-art to others.

Goal Four - Building second income streams.

There are huge advantages to doing this – I could retire even earlier, I could supplement my income while travelling, and a second income would give me more security. The second batch of ideas below are potential career changers too, and I do quite like the idea of diversifying jobs sometime before I fully retire! NB – My thinking here is ‘realist’ and very much within the ‘salary-man’ mind set. I’ve seen a few ERE blogs which talk about more creative ideas for earning passive income on the side through such things as monestising blogs and social media channels, but I’ve seen much more ‘wishful thinking’ about such schemes than actual evidence that such passive-income earning schemes are likely to bring in that much money. TBH I think such schemes are more hassle than they’re worth, and probably only worth a few hundre quid a month unless you approach them like a full-time job for several months or so to kick-start them, thus not really for me.

Ideas which overlap with my present full-time job:

The ideas below are all linked into my present job. Together, they could return a few thousand pounds extra a year.

  1. Write Sociological articles – I have had a few things published already, although the only source I know is through the Sociology Review.
  2. Write and sell A level Sociology Resources, mainly focusing on revision material.
  3. Develop an online Sociology course… which could get me into offering online tuition at some point in the future, maybe through the Open University.
  4. Develop ‘how to teach A level Sociology Resources’ – which could lead into earning money through training Sociology teachers.
  5. Sell My Soul Once More – Through Examining.

Other ideas for generating income – Career changers:

At present I have no in-depth plans for generating income out of any of these ideas, these are really just my interests that could be converted into income streams. All of which are feasible to set up with relatively minimal outlay, although number two might involve illegally using the allotment to generate an income.

  1. Make infographics – This is my preferred, long-term career change idea – although there is a mountain to climb in terms of skills development.
  2. Set up a business based around Permaculture design and an ‘edible perennial plant nursery’. There seems to be a growing demand for this sort of thing.
  3. Do a fitness instructor course and focus on developing classes for the over 50s market. Presently I’m in no way qualified to do this, but I’ve always thought Nordic Walking is totally cool, and something I’d quite like to get into in later life. Even if there’s no money in it for me, it’d be another practically free hobby – basically walking with poles.

Obviously the list above is highly specific to my own circumstances, and strategies for generating a second income will vary widely.

Goal Five – Developing Renaissance Skills

As I see it, this consists of two things – firstly and most importantly developing meditation and mindfulness skills, and secondly developing those practical and social skills I’ll need to build my own personal ecotopia.

Developing meditation and mindfulness skills

This part of my early retirement strategy is very much inspired by Buddhism and TBH this aspect of my early retirement vision should come first. In essence what this means is putting meditation and mindfulness at the heart of daily life, which is best accomplished through very simple living. This facilitates early-retirement because, again simply, all of these activities involve minimum cost.

My own list of simple living tasks with the times I could spend on them each day if it were not for work are as follows, which is pretty much what I do most weekends and every day during holidays. This kind of lifestyle is what I intend to be doing when I retire, my early-retirement planning is really just to give me the property-security to allow the following to happen on a daily basis –

  • Meditate in the morning and evening and periodically throughout the day (120 mins)
  • Do ‘chores’ (mainly cleaning) mindfully and swiftly (60 mins)
  • Workout every day – for me swimming/ running/ cycling, possibly just walking by the time I’m 60 (120 mins)
  • Read about and offer critical commentary on a range of sociological issues (several hours)
  • Maintaining an allotment/ edible-forest (also several hours)
  • Soft meditation (flow type activities) – Yoga and contact juggling (90 mins)
  • Read about Buddhism (30 mins)
  • Repeat daily until enlightened

In my general life-philosophy, you don’t really need much to be happy – In fact I’m a big believer in the fact that meaningful happiness is something that is non contingent – you should be able to be happy just sitting there, breathing. If you can’t sit quietly alone, you clearly can’t stand yourself and that’s something that needs to be sorted out urgently. It is unfortunate that the norm in Britain seems to be one of constant distraction away from facing up to the ultimate intangibility of self through the work-hard, consume-hard cycle. Unfortunately for many who fall into this trap, retirement is likely to be experienced with an accompanying sense of dread, because deep down one knows that there is going to be a lot more ‘empty time’ in retirement. If you’ve already come to terms with this by the time of retirement, however, it will be much less of a concern, and you would have saved yourself tens of thousands of pounds too!

Looked at in a simpler way – the advantage of putting meditation and mindfulness practices at the heart of things is that it costs practically nothing and the basis of your life is nearly free (as is your mind, incidentally), and consuming things is just something you do occasionally, rather than the norm of unfreedom through overconsumption.

Developing money saving skills

While my own early-retirement vision is very much focused around maximising income-generation, there is also an important role for saving money by developing new skills. To this end, I am currently learning to grow my own food, build and repair bicycles, build cheap computers, and I will at some point move on to household DIY and construction and possibly even motor-mechanics if van-dwelling ends up looking like being a major part of my future. All of these will become much more important in my later years, and will be crucial to living frugally, but I haven’t dealt with them here because I simply don’t need to think about these things just now.

The 48-60 plan!

The mortgage should be paid in full by the time I’m 48,and my basic plan at this stage is to quit full-time work, rent out my flat and use the £8K I get from this as a ‘base-income’ to allow me to travel/ work abroad for 12 years, until I’m 60 and the teacher’s pension kicks in, at which point I intend to sell my flat and build ecotopia. Yes, sad to say but the only option I’ve got of retiring early is to shaft somebody else, just like I’ve been shafted for the last couple of decades where rent is concerned.

I may as well mention here that I have explored the option of buying land and living in an eco-shack now, but the depressing truth is that this isn’t feasible in the UK if you have a full-time job – basically because doing so means you essentially have to take up all out war with the planning system, which is time-consuming.

Building Ecotopia would be much more feasible abroad, but this would mean very limited opportunities for income generation. I’m sure it would be possible to do this now, if you’re creative, and prepared to take on risk, hassle and extreme-frugality, but as I’ve said before, given the fact that I quite like my job and my life and, I’m in no rush to get to this stage, and every year I hold off makes it more likely that the eco-shack future will be a pleasure rather than a miserable disaster.

The Transition from work to Nomad

The amount of money I’ll need to transition is mainly dependent on whether I want to van or cycle/ walk around the world – The former is about twice as costly as the later.  Assuming I’m prepared to go on foot I figure I’ll need something like the following –

  • £2000 to sort the flat out for rental – mainly replacing carpets/ bathroom and disposal of stuff.
  • £3000 in the bank as an initial fund/emergency fund/ return fund.
  • £1000 on traveling stuff, including tech.

If I wanted to go via bike, I’d need to add about another £1000, and if by van another £5000. So depending on my preferred mode of transport, I’ll need from between £6 and £11k to move on!   A further related advantage to my nomad Plan is that it will force me to get rid of much of the material crap I really don’t need and reduce my possessions down to the bare-minimum.

Rough plans for travelling

As I see it I’ve got another eight years to figure out what I want to do, so these are just rough ideas. If future projections work out, I’ll have about £8K/ year (or £650/month, or £20/ day) to do the following – not necessarily in the order below.

  • Cycle around the world. – Do some nice wilderness- trail walks in various places.
  • Live in Dharamsala for a while and just be.
  • Do voluntary work to learn the skills I’ll need to build my own eco-shack.
  • Find a location for ecotopia.

Needless to say spending will be a little tight, and when I’m not volunteering and exchanging my labour for room and board, most of my evenings will be spent camped at roadsides or on people’s couches. Having said this, it is possible to stay in a cheap hotel in many parts of the world for less than than the amount of money I’ll have coming in, so at times this phase of my life might mean holidaying in the classic sense of the word, and possibly for a greater period of time than most worker-consumers would typically ‘enjoy’ in their lifetimes.

It may be that I have to stop off and do paid work every now and then. I simply don’t envision this being a problem for a qualified teacher (especially as I’ve got a TEFL qualification). All of the above sounds like huge amounts of hard work, but also a lot of fun, and I really don’t understand why anyone whose already mortgage free with their kids at university (which amounts to hundreds of thousands of people in their 50s in the UK) doesn’t just quit work and do something similar, rather than continuing to work for the majority of the year and then paying through their teeth for holidays while leaving their houses empty. I guess people just lack imagination.

The 60+ Plan

TBH This post is already over-long – So I’ll just re-emphises that when I turn 60, I’ll buy some land, plant a few hundred ebible trees and shrubs and quinoa, don some lemmy style cut-offs and graze, bare chested in summer, for the next 25 years or so until this thing I call myself dies. I’ll also meditate a a lot, keep up to date with Sociology and comment via my blog, and take the odd trip into town slices of cake and a few beers. Sorted!

Related Posts

My Book – Early Retirement Strategies for the Average Income Earner (iTunes link)

A summary of Early Retirement Extreme by Jacob Lund Fisker

 

Five ways to spend less than £263K on housing over the next 32 years

The average twenty something in the UK will spend £263K on housing over the next 32 years of their life, and many will spend considerably more.

What I find deeply offensive about this astronomical figure is the simple fact that the house below cost £3K and took only 10 days to build.

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Given this, I think normal housing strategies are in need of serious reconsideration.

The Housing Norm in the UK (which is just NUTS!)

According to this is money, a typical first-time buyer who buys a £151,000 home with a £121,000 repayment mortgage over 25 years will pay back £191,600,  calculated at 4% interest. This works out at £638 a month or £7664 a year, which is equivalent to 9 years worth of earnings on the median-salary. Of these repayments, interest accounts for £191, 600 – £121, 000 = £70, 000.

Previous to buying their first property,  A recent report by Santander found that the average person spends 7.4 years renting paying an average monthly rent of £474, totalling £42, 000,

Combined with the £191.6k loan repayment and the £30K assumed deposit in the scenario above this gives a total 32 year average spend on basic housing costs of £263 600. Obviously, if you are twenty-something, you have the choice to follow a similar path-to-property ownership and just settle for paying out an overall average of £600/ month for 32 years.

Obviously you have the choice to follow a similar path-to-property ownership and just settle for paying out an overall average of £600/ month for 32 years. Or, like me, you might think this is totally nuts and consider doing all, or any of the following in order to reduce this figure…

  1. Live with your parents for the rest of your life
  2. Squat someone else’s second (or third/ fourth/ fifth etc….) property
  3. Live in a van
  4. Buy some land and live on it without planning permission
  5. Set up a low impact eco-village

This post is really just an overview of some of these alternatives, to demonstrate that they are viable, even if challenging….

One –  Live with your parents – until they die.

According to the Office for National Statistics, A total of 3.3 million 20- to 34-year-olds lived with their parents in 2013, the highest number since it started keeping records in 1996.

While the prospect of a 34 year old still living with their parents may sound sad, it is good for your finances. Taking the average rent of £5688/ year, if someone were to live with their parents from the age of 20-34, they could potentially save £80 000, and that’s before accumulations on savings are factored in, and for the ultimate savings on housing costs, you could just live with your parents until they die, which is what 42% of current renters are waiting for in order to be able to get their foot on that first rung of the property ladder.

Two – Squat

Squatting means to unlawfully occupy an uninhabited building or settle on a piece of land.

Until recently squatting in England and Wales was generally a civil matter, not a criminal matter, However, in 2012  Squatting was technically criminalised by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012, section 144 of the LASPO made it a criminal offence to trespass in residential properties with the intention of living there.

However, a few test cases have revealed that if the police find you squatting a building, charge you with squatting and you plead not-guilty, it is actually nearly impossible for the prosecuters to prove that you were actually living in the building permanently.  Also, the law does not cover non-residential properties.

There are a few things you need to get right in order squat a property for any length of time –The squatter’s advisory service recommend the following –

  • You need to make sure you do not commit criminal damage to get into the property, and repair any such damage that someone else has done immediately after you take up occupation.
  • Always make sure somone is in the property, because if the property is vacant you can be evicted.
  • You should contact the utilities providors asap to prove that you intend to pay.
  • When the police turn up, do not give them entry, talk to them through the door, and finally research who the owner is so you know who you are up against when you go to court, and don’t expect them to be too happy about it the fact that you’re squatting their property.

It’s difficult to say exactly how many people squat in the UK exactly given that squatters don’t generally want to draw attention to themselves, but there are some high profile, political examples –  One of the most interesting being Grow Heathrow which was established in an abandoned market garden site in Sipson, one of the villages due to be completely tarmaced to make way for a third runway at Heathrow. Over the past four years the site has played host to a wide range of political gatherings for groups such as: UK Uncut, Climate Camp, Reclaim the Fields, and The Transition Network, so you would need a certain amount of subcultural capital to fit in to this network, but if you can embed yourself comfortably into that sort of thing, then the payback is free accomodation, and probably food too.

Also of interest is this site – Made Possible by Squatting which is an exhibition from  September 2013 documenting stories of how squatting has benefitted the lives of individuals and communities in London- against the backdrop of the government’s attempts to criminalise squatting.

Three – Live in a Van

Admitedly this doesn’t seem to be a very popular option here in the UK, so firstly to America for some inspiration….  To Simplify is a blog by someone called Glen, whose been living a mobile life for over 5 years in a heavily converted 1988 Volkswagen Vanagon, which he describes as the closest thing to a home he’s ever owned. The blog simply documents Glen’s life on the open road, and he also details his total van conversion, from totally gutting the original van and then installing a whole range of new features – not least of all the engine and a solar electricity system. I particularly like this picture in which Glen’s parked up with other, more typical American mobile home dwellers – it sort of sums up his philosophy.

van 1

Bringing it back across the Atlantic, El Pocito is a nice little blog which, among many other things of an alternative nature, outlines the experience of two art teachers, originally from the UK who spent 9 years travelling through Spain and Portugal in their converted van. The site offers some excellent advice on the realities of van-living on the continent.

Campervan Life is a web site devoted to providing advice on buying, converting and living in a camper van, set up by a guy called Darren who bought a cheap Mercedes Sprinter (£1000 in 2006), learnt how to convert it on-the-job with no prior experience or any significant background in DIY and then travelled around Europe in it for 9 months. He lists the ‘van-travel’ related costs of his trip at under £3K, and although he doesn’t appear to include costs of the conversion can’t imagine it would have cost more than £1000, which means that in total Darren had almost a year of comfortable living and travel for under £5K, which is cheaper than the average rent in the UK.

While there are no doubt hundreds of people who live in vans long-term in the UK, but hardly any of them document their experience, hardly surprising given the degree of prejudice against ‘travellers’. The only example I could find was of a guy (who, incidentally has a job!) who’s put a few videos up on youtube outlining aspects of his life in a converted ambulance. In this clip he’s talking about his ‘split charge relay’ while smoking a king size roll up (contents undisclosed)

Incidentally, living in a van may sound like it’s an extreme strategy for saving money, and possibly only for hippies, and you’d be forgiven for making this mistake given that one of the first search returns for ‘living in a van uk’ takes you to a forum called ‘UK HIPPY’, but there are even members of the relatively conservative caravan club who have lived in their caravans long-term, combining this with either owning a small no-frills apartment, or house-sitting.

Four – Buy some land and just build without planning permission

In eco-circles, the best known example of someone who has actually done this is Tony Wrench and his partner, who built their own low-impact roundhouse for about £3K in 10 days (picture above). Actually, this may be the only example of a couple who have managed to do this and get away with gaining retrospective planning permission, others, such as the couple who built the beautiful hobbit-house below don’t seem to have been so lucky.

Shortly to be torn down because local planners judged it to be 'out of touch with the countryside'
Shortly to be torn down because local planners judged it to be ‘out of touch with the countryside’

 

For this reason, although this particular strategy is the one I intend to adopt at some point in the future, you might be better off going for option five…..

Five  Set up a low-impact community

There aren’t very many low impact communities in the UK, this is a very emergent phenomeonon, but one example of a group who have managed to get temporary planning for their dwellings is Tinker’s Bubble, a community of 11 adults and 2 children based in Somerset who live on 28 acres of land in self-built houses, grow most of their own food and are fossil-fuel free. I don’t have too many about the economics of the place, but the dwellings most of them live in seem to be of Tony Wrench’s low impact design and the weekly contribution for food is only £20, so compared to the average mortgage-monkey, this represents a significant saving.

One of the most inspiring recent examples is that of Llammas. Based in Pembrokeshire, on about 75 acres of land, this is one of the few fully legitimate (in planning terms) eco-projects in the U.K. It combines the traditional smallholding model with the latest innovations in environmental design, green technology and permaculture. The ecovillage was granted planning permission in 2009 by the Welsh Government and is currently part-way through the construction phase. The dwellings being built here are more robust than those in Tinker’s Bubble, and thus more expensive, but over the course of a lifetime these individuals will save themselves well over a £100K per person compared to the average, and have a significantly higher quality of life into the bargain.

In conclusion

Although all of the above involve more hassle than the standard massive-mortgage route to home ownership, personally I think a little discomfort and risk is worth it given the injustice involved with said mortgage route – via which you pay tens of thousands of pounds to people who simply haven’t done anything to earn it.

Related Posts 

Live Without a Car and Retire Five Years Earlier 

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