Category Archives: Alternatives

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…

On Permaculture as a Low-Cost Lifestyle

I’ve just spent half an hour perusing the Annual Monitoring Report for Tir y Gafel Ecovillage (aka Lammas).

I don’t imagine this would float a lot of boats, but as I expected it’s striking just how low their outgoings are. Here’s the annual figures for what I’m assuming must be the two single person households on site (given that they’re a lot lower than the other households).

Plot C Plot F
Cost of need Met from land Cost of need Met from land
domestic wood use £650.00 £650.00 £300.00 £245.00
domstic gas use £108.00 £0.00 £90.00 £0.00
domestic electricity use £1,291.00 £1,291.00 £1,168.00 £1,110.00
Water £506.00 £506.00 £385.00 £385.00
Food £3,466.00 £700.00 £1,800.00 £642.00
Phone £156.00 £0.00 £350.00 £0.00
clothes £0.00 £0.00 £40.00 £0.00
maintenance £0.00 £0.00 £35.00 £0.00
council tax £0.00 £0.00 £0.00 £0.00
transport £1,000.00 £0.00 £1,000.00 £0.00
Expenditure met from land* £3,147.00 £2,382.00
£ from land based enterprises £1,700.00 £1,740.00
Totals £7,177.00 £4,847.00 £5,168.00 £4,122.00
Further monies required to break even £2,330.00 £1,406.00

*before income from land based enterprises is taken into account 

After housing costs (which are not included above) we have two annual expenditure figures of £7K and £5K, with THE single largest expenditure item being on food, which here includes alcohol and munchies (which is odd given that food growing is one of the key things Lammas seems to do.)

Expenditure is clearly kept incredibly low by virtue of electricity being generated on site through burning wood and use of other renewable sources and transport being minimal due to mainly working on site, as well as the fact that above two people must live in caravans given the zero figure for council tax.

There are items which are not included in the above table, but no matter, what this data strongly suggests is that once you’ve got your mortgage paid off you can get by on £5-7K in a year as a base income, and this comes down to £2-3 K a year if you can get your own electricity generated on site.

A final advantage shown by this example is that it is clearly possible to generate some (albeit limited) money from rural enterprise.

I’m actually staggered by the above figures. I mean, I always knew low-impact living significantly reduced dependence on money, but this has surprised me… £2-3K a year is really a startling figure, actually £5-7K a year is pretty good.

At some point I’ll add in how this compares to my own expenditure and insane (consumerism as usual expenditure).

The question in the meantime is simply one of how can I get a piece of this action and how soon, just without the community bit, in which case apparently it’s not really Permaculture, but then again I’m sure the definition’s open for debate (at least as long as you don’t want to formally use it to engage in the Permaculture Pyramid selling scheme.)

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!

Five Strategies to Help You Stop Shopping

If you like this sort of thing then check out my book (only $0.99) – Early Retirement Strategies for The Average Income Earner

I’ve developed a few money saving strategies viz shopping in order to help me reduce my spending – These are as follows:

1. Only allowing myself to shop once every 6 weeks, with the exception of food shopping which I now to once a week.
2. Constructing lists of things I’m going to try and live without for 2015/16 (which I’ll review annually) and also an ‘allowed to buy in 2015′ list.
3. Only food shopping once a week (rather than buying online and dropping in twice a week) – somewhat unexpectedly this has saved me about £50 a month so far this year.
4. Trying to have more non spending than spending days in the year.
5. Keeping track of everything I spend on a daily basis in an excel spreadsheet, analysing this once a month and publishing an overall review of spending once every six months.

The point of all this is because I think it’s more conducive to overall quality of life to not work hard-consume hard, and then work for 40 years. I think it’s better to work hard for 20 years, not consume and then semi-retire at 50 and do constructive non-consumerist things, as outlined here – My early retirement strategy. Anyway – more details on my 5 strategies to help you stop shopping.

Strategy One – On only shopping once every six weeks

Once every six weeks, or thereabouts – that’s my new shopping strategy. The plan is to do one shopping trip/ online purchasing ‘binge’ on the first day of every school holiday, and the reasoning behind this is to stop compulsive shopping and be more in control of my finances. If I want something in the six week build-up, I’ll just put it on a list and then buy it on one of the 7 days I’m now allowing myself to do shopping (I’ve added one in to the end of the summer holiday, given that this is a six week period). This applies not only to shopping but also to browsing and choosing (idle surfing) so this should not only save me money, but time and exposure to advertising.

Strategy Two – Lists I’ve constructed to help me reduce my consumption

The Hold out until 2016/ 2017 list

These are things that I would normally buy because they need replacing (just due to ordinary wear and tear), but I’m trying not to for a year. The longer I can make something last the fewer of them I’ll have to buy throughout my lifetime. Instead of purchasing, I’m going to try and ‘repair put up with’ until it becomes economically irrational to do so.

Also, what I’ve just learnt from populating this list is that there’s very little I actually want/ need anyways!

Hold out until 2016

  • New day to day bag for work/ walking
  • All shoes except for running shoes.
  • New work trousers
  • New arm band for musical device
  • Headphones
  • Books (I’ve got a significant unread pile)
  • Ipad

Hold out until 2017 or later

  • All running gear except for trainers
  • Posh gloves
  • Work shoes (Docs)
  • Lap Top
  • New Winter Jacket the waterproofing on mine’s going
  • New Garmin Forerunner (I can’t see it lasting that much longer)

The just do without List

Things I want but I’m just going to try and live without for a longer time. These are just a list of wants I’ve had for a long time. Here I’ll try and find alternatives, or just do without. If I stumble on a windfall, I might buy these!

  • Replacement Polar heart rate monitor
  • Swanky coffee machine
  • Posh netting for fruit cage

The allowed to buy in 2015 allowed list

New things or replacement items I will probably allow myself to my. Most of these are already overdue

  • Two new pairs of Asics – £100
  • 6 new shirts for work – £40
  • Pair of Jeans – £20
  • Trip to the dentists – £20
  • Trousers for Summer – £20
  • Fleece-top for spring/ autumn – £50
  • Fleece Jacket – £80
  • Propagator (ideally home-made) – £30?
  • Paint to redecorate bedroom/ hall and living room – £40
  • Fruit trees and bushes (*2) NB – Bought in Feb – £100
  • Bike servicing – £50
  • Flask – £10

Total = £460

Of course I will eventually buy a lot of this stuff, but an early retirement strategy works on the basis of saving NOW – this means more capital accumulation in the long term. What was it Warren Buffet said.. A dollar spent now is several dollars forgone in the future, or something along those lines.

Strategy Three  – Only Food Shopping Once a week

This one was unexpected – but limiting myself to shopping in Sainsburys only once a week (instead of doing an online shop once every two-three months and then nipping in twice a week) seems to be saving me a small fortune – £50 month?!

I’ve also started cooking more cheaply, although not uber-frugally. I might even allow myself the luxury of doing a recipe post at some point. For now I’ll just give a big thumbs up to Dhal and Chapatis (how easy are they!); home made pizza; and vegetable stew (swede is compulsory) with pearl barley – three wonderfully cheap and delicious meals, which are bit of hassle to make but are just FAB!

Strategy four – Aiming for more non-spending days than spending days.

This is another strategy I just sort of stumbled on – It prevents me from that kind of idle spending which I used to do compulsively – Nipping out for coffees, or nipping to the shop for munchies – A few quid here and there a few times a week can (and has in the past) easily mount up to £40-50 a month, or £500/ year. Looked at another way, this could mount up to £20K over 40 years – Or nearly a year’s worth of earnings on the median salary, just because of ill-discipline.

This strategy also has the added bonus of making shopping days quite unique experiences. Something to actually look forward and be in conscious control of, rather than something you just passively do without really thinking about it. In fact, I’m not even sure that I’d categorise most shopping as ‘intentional action’. I think I’ll stop there, I’m starting to think hateful thoughts about shoppers, not very Buddhist!

NB – I am slightly behind – so March is going to be an uber-frugal month. I’d always planned it that way anwyays.

feb jan

Strategy Five – Keeping track of everything I spend on a day to day basis:

I’m just at the end of month two – I published the first month here. February has actually been quite similar, despite spending £100 on fruit trees and bushes. This is good discipline, But I won’t be publishing anymore until June, just because it gives a more representative and hence valid indicator of overall spending patterns.


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.

New Year, New Bathroom, New Lock-In?


So I spent most of the ‘Christmas’ holiday redoing the bathroom – stemming from a leaky waste on the bath and mould growth mainly because of a broken extractor fan – It took me several days to rip out the old (partly rotted) frame under the bath, build a new one and put it back in, sort out the leak, degrout and regrout, de-seal and reseal, sand and paint (quite badly, thankfully white paint is quite forgiving), and it cost about £100 for the tools and various industrial chemical products.

Now I could celebrate the fact that I now have the whitest bathroom in the known universe, the fact that I did this extremely cheaply compared to ‘getting a man in’, and I could even celebrate my capital gains – lots more tools, some more knowledge, and a tiny bit of extra-skills. However, I don’t see it like this – I’ve come to realise that my efforts have really only been ncessary because I’m locked into what I think I’ll call a sub-optimal bathroom context:

For starters had the original housebuilders left the side panel off the bath (which is only on there for aesthetic reasons) I would have noticed the leaky waste a lot earlier, saving myself hours of ripping out the rotten frame. The waste was only loose, not cracked – so firstly I’ve been a victim of uncessary normative bathroom aesthetics.

Secondly, the mould-growth due to the fan being broken only occurs because I live in a block of flats and there are no windows I can open to allow the bathroom to air naturally. If I could afford a house, which I can’t around here, I could simply open a window and the broken extractor fan wouldn’t be as much of a problem. Thus I’m also a victim of relative poverty, albeit on a salary of £45K a year.

Thirdly, I’ve also got to thinking that the need to grout and seal stems from the fact that the bathroom is inside – A bathroom is a wet area within a dry area – This might sound like I’m stating the obvious but it’s actually quite an unnatural place for a bathroom to be – outside would make a lot more sense. It isn’t necessary to have inside bathrooms, or even private bathrooms, but I don’t really have a choice to buy a property without one, or to use collective bathrooms outside (nothing in convenient reach for me). Thus efficiency dictates that I need to use my own private bathroom – So here I am a victim of a conflation of urbanisation/ individualisation/ privatisation.

Now.. I think most people would look at the job of redoing their bathroom and feel a sense of satisfaction (a kind of meaningful agency if you like). I do sort of feel satisfied, my bathroom is now VERY white – but I’m also painfully aware that this sense of satisfaction is as thin as the layer of paint on my bathroom walls, beneath the surface of which is a bizareely sub-optimal nexus which has led me into having no choice but to spend time and money on doing up my bathroom.

What annoys me most about the above point is that I do actually want a private bathroom – even though this is not necessary – I’ve been socialised into this, the result is extremely sub-optimal, and this is a tough one to break out of.

So what’s the ultimate solution to all of this? Well long-term, once I’m done with my job, which does require me to wash every morning, I’m going do without the normative bathroom aesthetics – the bath panels, tiles, extractor fans, anti-mould paint, grout, sealant and so on, and live in a field and wash outdoors with a bucket.

After all, water falls from the sky and goes back to the earth, may as well cut out the middle men.

Update –

Having wrote this (TBH I never intended to write this, but it’s been cathartic) I find myself interested in the Sociology of bathrooms and bathing – if anyone knows of any further sources on this please do get in touch! Questions/ issues I’m interested in are…

How many times would the average homeowner redo their bathroom, how much money would they spend>? I’m more interested in spread rather than ranges.

Based on the above – what is the lock-in effect of the average bathroom? – How many months of a working life is spent paying for bathroom upgrades?

How have bathroom aesthetics evolved? Who are the main agencies at work in the social construction of bathroom aesthetics. What has status got to do with this?

How many people do their own bathrooms renovations compared to other parts of the house? I’m quite interested in this – It is more of a technical challenge in some ways than a living room or a bedroom, but then again if you cock it up you have to spend less time looking at it, so its less of a risk (plumbing aside).

Anyway, enough of bathrooms for now…



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.



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 

If you like this sort of thing – then why not my book?

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)

Retirement Cover5

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

Live without a car and retire five years earlier

This is a redraft of a previous post (with additions towards the end)

Giving up the car is the single most significant thing the average person could do to save themselves money and achieve early retirement. I personally refer to cars as money sinks, at least when I fancy a change from my preferred label for them which is ‘pollution and death machines’.

This was one of the unexpected findings from my statistical analysis of average consumption patterns (E R E for infographsBLOGv3) is that an irrational addiction to the motorcar is the single most significant  factor which locks the individual into having to work until they are 68. Giving up the car and moving to within cycling (preferably walking) distance of work and most other places you want to go is the single most significant thing you can do to save money and make early retirement possible.

The average-consumer’s crazy car habit.

According to the National Travel Survey 2012, the average distance travelled per person  in 2012 was 6,691 miles, with 78% of these miles being travelled by car, which means roughly 5000 of these miles were travelled by car. If we assume that someone makes an economically rational choice and purchases a relatively cheap car, then using the AA’s Motoring Costs Survey 2014, the overall average standing costs of the cheapest category of car (up to £13K in this survey) stood at £1913, with a running cost per mile of £18.56. If we factor all of this together, the average cost of running a cheapish, and thus probably small car in 2014 was £2841. (See endnotes 13-14)

This works out at £277.77 a month or £3333.20 a year, which rounds up to a staggering £110 000 over 33 years, equivalent to 5.2 years worth of earnings on the median salary.

I was first alerted to the incredible economic inefficiency of the motor car by Andre Gorz’s excellent 1973 essay ‘The Social Ideology of the Motorcar’. Following Ivan Illich, Gorz made the point that the average American spent four hours a day devoted to their car, either sitting in it (moving or not-moving), or working to pay for the various services associated with driving. He calculated that if you added up all of these hours and divide by the average distance travelled by car, the average American travelled at an average speed of 3.5 miles an hour, or the same as walking pace, but thousands of dollars worse off and probably a lot more stressed as a result.

In Britain today, the statistics aren’t quite as bad as this. If we take the approximate average distance travelled of 5000 miles a year, and divide by the average speed of 24.6 mph, this makes a total of 203. 25 hours spent driving. If we then add to this the 212 hours it would take you to pay for one year’s worth of motoring costs, the total amount of hours we get is 415.25, which when divided by 5000 miles gives us an average speed of 12 mph.

Given that this is comparable with the speed of a bicycle, and that I am being quite generous in my calculations (the bigger your car, which won’t go any faster in all that traffic, the more local your journeys, the more of them are in peak hours, and the lower your wage, then the more time inefficient the car becomes), all in all I’d say the car is, for your typical person, a total waste of money and of 5.2 years of a precious human life.

It is possible to give up the car!

Although such experiments are not widely publicised, if you type in ‘how to live without a car’ into Google, the search returns a number of case studies of people who report positively on their experience of going car free.
The first search return (all accessed Summer 2014) outlines the case of an individual who went for an entire year in 2013 without even sitting in a car, while traveling around much of the country, moving house and even attending a wedding by a combination of bike and public transport. At the end of the experience she reports a £2270 saving compared to doing the same activities with a car, which is broadly in line with my own savings projections.

The second return, written by a motoring journalist, is somewhat less optimistic, but the author did note a saving over two just two weeks of £106, and her arguments for having a car included socialising, and needing to get to a job interview, all while living in a rural area.

After a third return in which an individual reports managing to hold down a decorating job while being on a bike, the fourth return outlines the story of a family in Edinburgh who have gone car free, albeit with the use of a car pool on occasion, saving about £1200 a year.

All in all I was quite surprised by the positive tones of all of these responses, but it does seem that in order to give up the car then you need to make sure of the following – (a) live in a region with decent public transport links, (b) be prepared to cut down on your social life, (c) break the norm, be rational and save yourself £100k over 33 years – Yes, that’s £100 000!

What is also important is changing your attitude towards transport – Instead of thinking you and your life are so important that you need a car because you must be able to get to so many places as quickly as possible, take a step back and slow down, realise that you don’t need to do so much at such a pace and enjoy the journeys you take – walking and cycling are wonderful ways to travel if you approach them in the right way, and if you limit your bus or train use to a few times a month and are well-organised with your timings, even this can be pleasurable.

You’ve probably heard it before, and it might be something of a pseudo-spiritual cliché – but the journey is as important as the destination. Why on earth anyone would want to pay £100K to avoid being reminded of this everyday is beyond me.

Related Posts 

Five ways to spend less than £263K on housing over the next 25 years

If you like this sort of thing – then why not my book?

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)

Retirement Cover5

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



The National Travel Survey

AA’s car costs

The freedoms of living without money

I think learning to live with less money is a crucial life-skill that pertains to greater freedom, but here are two examples of people who have managed to live without money altogether…

Based in the UK and author of the Moneyless Manifesto, Mark Boyle gave up money for more than 2 years in November 2008. Having studied economics for six years he found himself looking around for a ‘big cause’ to devote his life to, he concluded that the one thing that disconnects us from nature more than anything else is money. Boyle points out that while we tend to associate money with independence, in fact it just makes us dependent on people far away from us, and less likely to look to our local communities for our sustenance. It is also money that is the root disconnect which facilitates the type of global production processes which are associated with social and ecological injustice. In the video below he makes the point that he couldn’t really proselytize about such things unless he actually lived them, and hence the moneyless experiment was born.

He originally set out to do this for one year, but after that year started to question how he could return to a money based economy, so he carried on.

A second example from the US is Daniel Suelo who occasionally updates the Moneyless World Blog has been money free since the year 2000 – Seriously, the video below is one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever watched. He says that he’d thought about going money free ever since he was a child, when he used to question why his Christian household didn’t really keep to the ideals of Jesus. He then went on the study other religions and realised that what they had in common was that they all stressed the importance of living a ‘giving’ life based on compassion, rather than one in which you do something now for future gain, which is precisely the typical lifestyle associated with our money-based economy. There’s also a major ecological thread running through his philosophy – he lives a ‘natural life’ rather than an ‘accounted’ life, and if you want an interesting perspective on death, this video is a must watch. (Also, I may have this completely wrong, but Suelo is what I imagine the Zen Masters of the Tang to have been like.)

The man who quit money from Sacred Resonance on Vimeo.


The difference between the two is that Suelo seems to be living without money for spiritual reasons, part of which involves living spontaneously, and connecting with nature, and although networked and now joined by similar people, he seems to be more of a lone agent amidst other lone agents, whereas for Boyle his experiment is much more political, and he’s well-embedded in the Transition Movement and is currently involved in in establishing Streetbank, a nation wide money-free skills and stuff sharing site. Mark Boyle’s book also has some interesting criticisms of the money economy, whereas Suelo seems much more content just living a money free life, relatively disconnected, stating that the problems with the money-economy are so obvious they don’t really need to be criticised.

Such radical lifestyles serve as a reminder of not only how central money is to our present social system, but just how colonised the average mind is by the very idea of money.

 You might like to ask yourself the following questions

  1. What do you need money for?

  2. Do the benefits of consuming the things you purchase actually outweigh the cost (working) of getting that money?

  3. Could you get the things you want by other means other than money?

  4. Could you let go of the the desire for the things you want and live with much less money, or without money altogether?

  5. Why is it that I struggle so much giving up take-out Cappuccinos?

OK, so the last one’s personal….!