Category Archives: But what can I do?

Land Wanted (Advert)

Wanted

A small parcel of land in a peaceful area where I can put up my 16ft Yurt and small off-grid solar energy system. At the moment, I’d prefer this to be in the South East of the UK so I can maintain my current job.

What I want

What I can offer

1/8th to 1 acre of land

To be self-sufficient-ish

Based in the SE so I can earn some £££

Some other people on the same trip to work with

The company of my-self, part-time

Permaculture skills – Doing up yer land

30 000 of her majesty’s pounds

Dry wit and enormous doses of cynicism.

The land I have in mind would either have sufficient room for me to start establishing a water harvesting/ food growing/ waste disposal system using Permaculture methods, or be close to a personal or collective project which is already involved in establishing such a system. I’d actually prefer to be working on projects with a range of other people, I just want my living arrangements to be private, because I like a bit of space to myself some of the time.

I only actually need the tiniest space for my yurt (an 1/8th of an acre would do) but in my wildest dreams this tiny space would be in the middle of a few acres of land with sufficient room to establish a few fruit trees (although unfortunately I might not be around long enough to help harvest them!), a raised bed system, and with sufficient woodland nearby for me to able to source fuel for my (innovative) portable rocket mass heater, and somewhere for me to build a compost toilet, naturally.

Of course if all of this is already established, or in the process of being established, then that would be just fabulous, but I’m just as happy to plonk myself in a bare-field and start from scratch. I’m also happy to go much smaller-scale too. 1/8th of an acre would be enough for me to start establishing a Permaculture basic-needs system. In other words, if you’ve got a big one, I’d be happy to pitch-up in your back garden. Also if you’ve got a suitable caravan then you’d save me half day of putting up my yurt.

PS I don’t mind irritating Nimby dog walkers while in the process of doing this. I’ve been through a special blessing-ceremony especially designed to ward off attacks by those wielding tightly rolled up copies of the Daily Mail. I also have every faith that even Daily Mail readers can be reformed (although in fairness maybe their wealth will need to be forcibly removed first).

Payment

I’m sure we can negotiate but to kick off proceedings….

Ideally – No money changes hands. You just let me put up my yurt on your land and let me work on it – which I’m happy to do for free. Hours of work to be negotiated. I’m thinking a figure of 10 hours a week in exchange for living on your land is fair.

Less Ideally – If it’s an ideal setting and you’re happy for me to do less work than 10 hours a week, then I’m prepared to pay some rent.

Fantasy Realm – You allow me to live on your land for free, and pay me to work your land as well.

Super-Fantasy Realm

You sell me some land. I’ve got £30K kicking about that I’m willing to sink into the perfect piece of land, although I’m well aware of how little that gets you in the SE of England and how rarely such small parcels of land come up for sale (hence the advert, it’s too depressing searching and coming up with nothing).

Why I want to do this in the South East

Frankly I’m sick of paying mortgage-interest on my flat in Surrey and I’d like to sell up and buy outright in another part of the country to stop paying money to a bank which is doing nothing to earn it. However, I can only afford to do this in another part of the country, and I don’t want to quit my current job just yet, so I’m left with the option of squatting on someone’s land. Rent around where I live is just an insult. Fortunately I’ve just always fancied squatting some land and living in a yurt, for decades actually, so it seems sensible to give it ago.

Future Plans – Also give me a buzz if this sounds of interest….

In 2020 (ish) I’ll either be quitting work for good, or starting a ‘gap decade’ during which I’ll travel around Europe with a van and a yurt to visit and stay at some of the many interesting looking Permaculture projects that are evolving in numerous places, so if you’re reading this and you’ve got somewhere that you think might be a medium or long-term (anything from a few months to ten years) possibility for sighting my yurt in the not-too-distant future then do get in touch, as It would be nice to start networking and planning my grand-tour now.

Contact me via twitter if you can make my dreams come true… realsociology (on twitter)

P.S. Technically I don’t actually own a yurt or have any real Permaculture skills as yet (bar having gone on one Introduction to Permaculture weekend), but picking up both is in the medium-term plan, and if I get any decent responses to this ad, then I’ll just accelerate said plan.

Freeganism – A Definition and Overview of the Movement

I’ve been considering strategies for saving money recently, in an attempt to retire early, and got a bit carried away researching/ reading about freeganism – fascinating subculture/ network/ however your want to characterise it…

Freeganism – A Basic Definition

‘Freegans are people who employ alternative strategies for living based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources.’ (freegan.info – the first Google return for ‘freegan’ besides Wikipedia).

Pure freeganism involves meeting one’s needs without money, which is typically achieved through a combination of a number of strategies such as:

  • Renunciation – Simply doing without

  • Scavenging – Living of food and goods which have been thrown away, dumpster diving being a practice closely associated with freeganism

  • Recycling and ‘Upcycling’ – re-purposing other people’s waste

  • Repairing – Making goods last longer

  • Foraging – making use of what nature provides for free

  • Skilling up – Growing your own and making goods – here the movement links to city farms.

  • Bartering – exchanging goods or skills

  • Sharing – sharing resources, and space – It’s important to emphasise that many freegans don’t perceive themselves as free-loaders – Some freegans are part of organisations such as Food not Bombs and do unpaid work to salvage thrown away food and cook it in order to give it away.

  • Squatting – is often the preferred housing strategy

According to Michelle Coyne (2008) freeganism emerged from a complex social history, having its roots in anarcho-punk culture of the 1970s which challenged Corporate Capitalism, and today there still seems to be strong links between the few visible aspects of freeganism and an anti-capitalism, anti-corporate and especially anti-consumption ethic. Most freegans seem to eschew the idea of spending 40+ hours a week working for money in order to consume hard and then waste hard and prefer to engage in more meaningful unpaid labour in order to meet their needs in a more environmentally conscious way and reduce their impact on the planet. There are thus strong links between freeganism, anarchism and the modern environmental movement.

In the absence of money freegans rely heavily on social networks, and either other people’s generosity or superfluity in order to get by. They also have to invest a considerable amount of time meeting their basic needs through scavenging and networking, which is something they have more of than the average in-work person. NB – It is important to emphasise again that most freegans do not see themselves as freeloaders, although this is often a critique leveled at the movement, rather they perceive themselves as re-framing and re-balancing the concept of work as something which should be more diverse, more humanly connected and less dehumanising than something you just do for money.

Four Examples of Freegans

It’s usually much easier to understand a concept through some examples – so here’s a non-exhaustive selection of four people who practice freeganism

Mark Boyle – The Moneyless Man

Britain’s highest profile freegan (at least in terms of Google search returns) is Mark Boyle who commenced a three-year money-free experiment on buy nothing day 2008. Reflecting on the experiment in a 2015 interview he says:

‘I lived in a caravan I found on Freecycle, and I kitted this out with a wood-burner made from an old gas bottle, which I fueled using wood I’d gather from the land around me. I cooked my simple fare outside, 365 days of the year, on a rocket stove…. I gathered up the unused apples from the surrounding area to make cider, and the campfire became my pub, around which friends would sing and dance and make music together. We became participants in life, not only consumers of it. To wash my clothes I used a plant called soapwort which I grow, and washed clothes in either an old sink or the river, where I also bathed. I brushed my teeth with toothpaste made from wild fennel seed and cuttlefish bone. I had a composting toilet and used discarded editions of The Daily Mail for toilet roll – a fine use for it.’

More details about the practicalities of living without money can be found in Mark’s book – The Moneyless Manifesto, along with the foundations of his critique of the money system and an explanation of his preference for economic systems based on gift exchange.

Before commencing his experiment, and indicating his broader commitment to gift-economics, Mark established a gift and skill sharing platform called Freeconomy, which has since merged with the similar site Sreetbank, where anyone can sign up and offer skills or stuff for free.

Since the money-free experiment Mark has co-founded the first moneyless pub. The Happy Pig is based on a Permaculture gift-based smallholding, An Teach Saor, soon to be offering free workshops, free education, free accommodation and of course, free alcohol. The pub was converted from an old pig shed and funded through a crowd souring campaign, so while not entirely money-free, it is still at least gift-based.

Dan Suelo, the man who lives without money

‘Easily the most famous homeless person in America’, Suelo has set up home in a cave in Arizona since he quit money in the year 2000. Although Suelo does the occasional critical blog about the system, and is something of a go-to man for advice about moneyless living, his lifestyle seems less politically motivated than Mark Boyle’s and he appears to be more of am individualist ‘free-spirit’. He says of himself:

I’ve been totally without cents since Autumn of 2000 (except for a couple months in 2001). I don’t use or accept money or conscious barter – don’t take food stamps or other government dole. My philosophy is to use only what is freely given or discarded & what is already present & already running (whether or not I existed). I don’t see money as evil or good: how can illusion be evil or good? But I don’t see heroin or meth as evil or good, either. Which is more addictive & debilitating, money or meth? Attachment to illusion makes you illusion, makes you not real. Attachment to illusion is called idolatry, called addiction. I simply got tired of acknowledging as real this most common world-wide belief called money! I simply got tired of being unreal. Money is one of those intriguing things that seems real & functional because 2 or more people believe it is real & functional!

https://sites.google.com/site/livingwithoutmoney/

Recent entries on his blog and Facebook page (which are sporadic because he relies on public libraries) refer to his having ‘fickle fun’ and the fact that he is a ‘mooch’. However, there is also something of a spiritualist side to the guy – he has recently given up his mooching in order to care for his ageing parents and previous blog posts talk about practising ‘deep sitting’ and his web site contains links to various religious ascetics who live for free without publicity.

Elf Pavlick

Elf Pavlik is much less high profile than the above two. He gave up money in 2009 after he had come back to Europe from San Francisco. In California he had been working for a highly competitive internet company that was mainly trying to compete with other companies, without really producing anything to make people happy. He decided he had enough of that and started living in nature for a while and he tried to give up money. He lives an urban lifestyle, relying on other people to feed him and give him a bed or some floor space, and relying on discarded clothes. He walks or cycles most places, but does occasionally take public transport, and wears a ‘no ticket’ label when he does, which explains that he lives without money. He does work with other people, but only on collaborative projects, preferring to co-create rather than somebody paying him and telling him what to do.

Twitter seems to be Elf’s social media domain of choice where he describes himself as living moneyless and stateless and links to hackers4peace, zerowaste, polyeconomy and (interestingly) the world peace game.

Carolien Hoogland

A more mainstream version of freeganism is Carolien Hoogland’s year without money which she undertook because she wanted to to be freer in the work she did. She spent sixth months planning her experiment and wrapped up her wallet on New Years Eve 2009-10 and commenced a year of money free living. She arranged barter arrangements with her local dance school, electricity company and local cafe – she got her goods/ services for free and did free-work for them in exchange. She also cooked once a week when friends would bring food to share. She found that her life was more social and connected than ever in her ‘economy of relationships’ which also gave her a feeling of existential security.

NB she wasn’t technically money free, she maintained health care, splurged on ice creams once for her friends, and she also lived with her partner, so I’m sure he paid for the rent etc, but I think this is worth mentioning because it’s probably more manageable for most people, but I’ve included this here because I really liked the idea of just getting in contact with companies and bartering with them, definitely outside the box.

There are more freegans the world over, but I think four examples are enough – they provide a feel for the breadth of the movement – Mark Boyle’s freeganism seems primarily inspired by his commitment to gift rather than money-exchange economics and has evolved into an emerging globally networked yet locally based gift-based Permaculture in Ireland (definitely the type I most closely identify with), while Elf’s is more of an urban hacker’s freeganism, and he seems to be working on building virtually networked freeganism, something I don’t know much about TBH. Despite his recent tribalism, Dan Suelo’s moneyless living seems more like an eclectic personal quest for spiritual and individual freedom, while Carolienne Hoogland’s is a much more mainstream barter-based Freeganism.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning https://moneyless.org/ – A site set up by two people who have lived partially freegan lives and contains lots of useful advice for anyone wanting to get into freeganism.

What’s So Different about Freeganism?

While I do so love my typologies, I think it’s more useful to focus on the commonalities of these freegans – It’s not just the commitment to money-free living which distinguishes them from the mainstream, the following are recurring themes within the freeganism/ money free living movement

  1. Lamenting the de-personalising effects of money exchange – freegans prefer either gift-economics or barter and reliance of personalised networks to meet their needs.

  2. Co-creation within social networks – being money free means meeting needs through reliance of social networks, which can mean closer connections with people.

  3. Freedom from money as promoting individual freedom – being free of money obviously frees you from the need to engage in paid work, and many freegans also seem to relish the freedom to set their own day to day timetables and to travel as they please. There is the potential for this to contradict the point above.

  4. Ecologism – An essential aspect of many money-free strategies is meeting your own needs from the natural environment – through foraging and grow your own, freegans thus tend to be green-leaning.

  5. Anti-Consumption and anti-waste – freeganism is very much the anti-thesis of the rapid turnover of goods within a consumer culture, and dumpster diving to reclaim (mainly food) waste is a recurring theme in freeganism videos on YouTube.

  6. A critique of the exploitative logic of corporate capitalism. I don’t think it would be appropriate to label freeganism anti-capitalist, because so many of its practices seem to depend on it, but there is an undercurrent of critique of global corporations and a distinct preference for localism.

I include the ‘antis’ at the end because I get the impression that freeganism and money-free living are more about positive social change rather than protesting unjust economic systems.

How Many Freegans are there in the UK?

It’s hard to say for certain. Given the links between freeganism and left-green politics it is possible that there are thousands of freegans living off-grid in both urban and rural areas.

There certainly aren’t that many examples of freeganism in the UK online. A Google search for ‘Freeganism + UK’ suggests that there are a lot more people writing about freeganism, and/ or writing about their short-term experiments with freeganism then there are actual committed freegans writing about themselves. (Searched February 13 2016).

The top 17 of the top 20 search returns are for newspaper articles from either local, national or special interest sites and only 3 are links to actual freegan sites – one of which (search return number 1) seems to be the major info source for freeganism globally – ‘Freegan.info’. The second specific site is ‘Freegan.org.uk’ – and this only has limited information, with no information under any its main site headings, and the third return is for a blog called Dumpster Dinners which was last updated in February 2013.

In addition to the above – the following site (http://www.meetup.com/London-Freegans/) was founded November 2014 and has 229 members (Accessed 13/02/15), with 8 meet ups to date (although the most recent was in Calais). However, there is very little discussion, and as with the Google search – 3/5 posts on the discussion board are asking for people to be the subjects of journalistic investigations.

The UK Hippy Forum further suggests a dearth of online discussion – this thread is mainly devoted to dumpster diving and mostly seems to point to the limited opportunities for doing it.

http://www.ukhippy.com/stuff/showthread.php/60741-freeganism

Freegans are a little more active on Facebook – the Dumpster Dive group has 133 members and some photos of successful raids – https://www.facebook.com/groups/UKDumpsterDive/?fref=ts – b

Finally I’ve managed to source 11 videos on YouTube (playlist) which focus on Freeganism between 2008-2015 – which I think each cover different groups around the UK. NB the streamed-interview with Mark Boyle is very interesting.

The most visible manifestation of freeganism online is the Freecycle Network – which currently consists of 604 Groups spread across the UK, with 4,439,508 members. Unfortunately this tells us next to nothing about the actual number of moneyless or nearly moneyless Freegans in the country.

Freeganism’s connections to other movements

The practice of freeganism is common to a broad range of philosophies and movements, such as various forms of religious asceticism, monastic orders, various forms of anarchism, radical ecologism, and the homesteading/ Permaculture and off-grid living networks.

It’s likely that all of these will have some members who are living with very little money, and any true attempt to assess the scope of moneyless living in the UK would include an analysis of these. Such related networks include. Unfortunately this kind of breadth analysis isn’t something I’m in a position to do at the moment.

Criticisms and Limitations of Freeganism

The waste-reclamation aspect of freeganism has been rightly criticised for being dependent on the surpluses of Capitalism, but this is something of a moot criticism given that two of the above examples at least are actively involved in creating alternative gift-economies to meet human needs through a totally different paradigm. Whether these are realistic or not I’m not in a position to comment on.

A second criticism is that free-economics might work for basic needs such as food and clothes, but Freecycle’s not exactly inundated with skilled trades and professional people offering their services for free, which raises the question of how generalisable it is across different sectors of the economy.

A third criticism is the fact that freeganism is too radical a lifestyle for it to ever have mass appeal, so it’s potential for social change is limited, but this is at least partly countered by the breadth of the movement allowing for small-steps to be taken for those who can’t go through with total commitment.

A final criticism is that this does seem to be a very white, middle class movement – engaged in by people in developed societies, many of whom have the safety net of social welfare to fall back on. It’s a very romantic vision of ‘not poverty’, the reality of moneyless living around the globe, where the state isn’t paying for the roads or other infrastructure, isn’t so pretty.

Useful Sources of Information on Freeganism and Moneyless Living

General Info Web Sites

http://freegan.info/ (strategies for sustainable living beyond capitalism)

http://freegan.org.uk/

https://dustbindinners.wordpress.com/

YouTube playlist – UK focus – in chronological order, more or less

Groups active in the UK

Meetups – http://www.meetup.com/London-Freegans/

The UK Hippy Forum – http://www.ukhippy.com/stuff/showthread.php/60741-freeganism

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/groups/UKDumpsterDive/?fref=ts

Individuals – Links above:

  • Mark Boyle
  • Dan Suelo
  • Elf Pavlik
  • Carolienne Hoogland

Academic articles and Books

Victoria C More (2011) Dumpster Diners: An Ethnographic Study of Freeganism

Alex V. Barnard (2011) ‘Waving the banana’ at capitalism: Political theater and social movement strategy among New York’s ‘freegan’ dumpster divers

Michelle Coyne (20008) From Production to Destruction to Recovery: Freeganism’s Redefinition of Food Value and Circulation

http://www.uiowa.edu/ijcs/production-destruction-recovery-freeganisms-redefinition-food-value-and-circulation

Jeff Ferrell (2006) Empire of Scrounge: Inside the Urban Underground of Dumpster Diving, Trash Picking, and Street Scavenging (Alternative Criminology)

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.)

20150630_175717

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

20150228_180750

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!

 

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