Category Archives: My ‘life’

Overanalysis of my not very interesting life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Compost

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

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

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

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

woodchip compost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ongoing compost experiments on my allotment.

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

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

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

  • HORSE MANURE – We also get horse manure delivered.

  • GRASS CLIPPINGS – somewhat obviously

  • FOOD/ PLANT WASTE

  • WEEDS

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

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

Present compost blends -

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

Planned future experiments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early Retirement Extreme June Update Analysis II

Or on how getting into early-retirement makes you dislike the curiously ordinary life of the worker-consumer even more intensely, and how it makes you hate yourself for any remaining traces of normality.

When I started out nearly 12 months ago I originally planned to work for another 7-8 years before ‘moving on’. However at some point over the last year I’ve become desperate to escape work, to the extent that I was, a couple of weeks back, looking to get out in 18 months. The interesting thing is that, on reflection, this urgency doesn’t have that much to do with work, which (although subjecting me to severe psychological abuse 200 days of the year) hasn’t got that much worse in the last 6 months. Thus my increased desire to escape it has probably got more to do with getting the ERE bug. I think the effect goes something like this -

  1. You set yourself an early retirement goal – In my case originally 52.

  1. You start recording in religious detail your expenditure and savings and getting a bit obsessive over the maths of early retirement.

  1. You realise that if you can shave 10% of your expenditure here and there then it means you can retire another year earlier, or 20% another 2 years early, and retiring at 48 sounds a whole lot better than retiring at 50, and 8 years sounds much better than 10.

  1. Saving everything you can means you have much less of a life than previously – there are less vents for the frustrations of work.

  1. (When you have little extra time after work) trying to generate second income streams proves largely fruitless in the grand scheme of things, this creates more stress.

  1. A stressful life means you want to get out!

  1. You start comparing yourself to other early retirement aspirees and get competitive, wanting to bring the key date down.

  1. Very importantly you realise the extent to which you’re being shafted by the system. These points are kind of in chronological order, but this is the most important one I think. This annoys you – a lot – my particular bug bears are interest on the mortgage and service charge on my flat.

  1. You start to look around for alternatives to get the above charges down and land-squatting comes up as the favorable option to be put into effect immediately – so this means you may as well jack in work and become a postmodern peasant asap. This doesn’t sound very appealing at the moment, which creates yet more stress.

In fairness, the original drive to retire early was brought on by the fact that my job is doing me severe psychological damage, and has also turned me into an agent which inflicts harm on others, and I will need to escape from in the medium term, but the job does come with good holidays and is well below my intellectual capacity to manage, and so I do have the mental capacity to cope with this abuse for another 5 years, especially when the income’s good and my original retirement model based on a 7-8 year projection (OK I have shortened it a little!) results in such a comfortable retirement, so I’m led to conclude that my recent desire to get out and retire even earlier is simply because of getting caught up in the goal of ERE, rather than accepting that my current situation is OK, and that a medium term plan is manageable. In short, I probably don’t need to ‘move on’ in 18 months.

Here’s a modified 5 year plan to address the above:

  1. I still want out in five (academic) years. I’ve calculated this means another 925 days at work from September next year. This is realistic, then I’ll downsize, move out of the area and go part time at age 47.

  1. Realise that I have no money to do anything and get into ‘doing nothing’ in the evenings – cleaning the flat, meditating,working the allotment, the odd Sociology blog, that’s it for the next five years.

  1. Abandon for now the second income streams most of them are too much like work(do these later) and instead focus on developing resilience (ie land squatting) skills. Work out a five year plan to develop these skills – this should be fun.

  1. Give up screens – Searching for alternatives means I’ve spent way too long on YouTube looking at compost showers and so on…. It’s doing my head in.

  1. Just chilax.

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.

On simplifying my diet – A food strategy for early retirement

Part of my early retirement plan involves simplifying what I eat. What I mean by this is reducing the variety of meals that I eat with each meal fulfilling the following characteristics:

  1. Reasonably cheap
  2. Quick and easy to prepare
  3. A high proportion of it fresh, raw or lightly cooked
  4. Nutritious
  5. Delicious – well, I’ve got to like it!

It’s important to me that this is a middle way strategy – I’ve toyed with the idea of extreme diets in the past, such as raw foodism or extreme budget diets, but I have a suspicion that many of these are at least as much about identity construction in the late-modern age as much as they are about what they claim to be about it – What I mean by this is that while people advertising their healthy diets are obviously keen on the supposed health benefits, and while people on extreme money-saving diets are clearly interested in saving money, it is just as much true that the people on these diets have a psychological need to be recognised as a ‘raw foodist’ or the ‘budget cook’ (ok maybe its less the case with the later).

I’m not claiming to be any different by writing posts like this by the way – I really do want to retire early, and this requires renunciation – but I also like the idea of being (in 7 years time) the guy who managed to (semi-) retire at 48 through employing renunciation as part of of his strategy. Somehow blogging about this now motivates me towards this goal.

Anyhow, my food/ diet plan. (BTW I should make it clear my diet I simply mean ‘food plan’ with a goal to simplifying, being healthy and saving some cash, I am not doing this as a means to weight loss – Lord knows I’m thin enough already!

My meal plan –

Breakfast – Everyday 

  • Muesli or porridge with milk or yoghurt – What can I say, I love porridge and I love muesli!

Second Breakfast 

  • Toast
  • Oatcakes
  • Home-made muffins
  • Home made flapjacks
  • Fruit*

Lunch – Some kind of carb with as much salad as I can stomach

  • Bread and soup with as much salad as I can stomach, basically whatever comes off the allotment
  • Whatever I’ve got available in bread (i.e. a sandwich)
  • Sardines on Toast
  • Last nights dinner with cous cous
  • pancakes with fruit
  • Tuna pasta (especially if running l8r)
  • Fruit*

Dinner – some kind of carb with whatever veg comes off the allotment

  • Potatoes with roast veg
  • Ratatouille with rice
  • Stir fry
  • Dahl with courgette
  • Chili
  • Home made pizza if I’ve got the time
  • Beans and eggs on toast
  • Home made muffin(s) and fruit* for dessert

As far as I see it – there’s sufficient variety above – and every single meal type ticks most of the criteria. Sorted.

Eventually I hope to evolve into ‘man of the forest’ and just graze, but that’ll only happen post-work. This is a pragmatic meantime strategy.

*My fruit strategy involves buying about 15 apples and 10 pears and oranges a week as well as having blueberries, strawberries and raspberries from the allotment for about 3 months of the year.

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Early Retirement April Update

It’s now been nine months since I realised I could realistically (semi-) retire by the time I’m 51, and ambitiously by 48. Here’s my four month in update

 

Reminder of Long Term Financial Goals – Update info in Italics

  • Be mortgage free in 7-10 years (£138k 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.
  • Save an absolute minimum of £250/ month in additional funds (=£30K after 10 years, without accumulations). Ideally this figure will be significantly higher.
  • Find additional income streams to boost the above figure. Target = £20K in five years. Only just starting – incidentally the reason I’ve stopped blogging here temporarily is because I’m trying to kick start some second income streams
  • 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.
  • Continue paying into the Teacher Pension Scheme. NB – Neoliberal shaft 1 (although I new this was coming) – My pension is now effectively split – the bit I’ve got will be worth £7K a year at 60, everything I pay in from now won’t be worth touching until I’m 65. 

April update 1– ‘Spending days compared to non-spending days’

April spending

This is proving to be quite a successful strategy – It prevents me from buying the odd coffee when out or the odd munchie when at work, and makes me think more about buying things.

April update 2 – Summary of average monthly expenditure

  • Frivolities = beer/ coffee/ subscriptions/ transport, (because I only really use transport for ents).
  • Necessities = council tax, services, food, ‘stuff’ (because I’m not a frivolous materialist consumer).
  • Property = mortgage repayments + service charge.
    April exp

It’s not as good as the January update, but then again I guess the novelty has work off. This is a pretty realistic day to day expenditure tally, but it will get slightly worse once I start adding on occasional purchases such as computers and other gadgets which I only buy every few years at most.

Ratio of expenditure to income including mortgage – 30%
Ratio of expenditure to income excluding mortgage – 71%

In summary, after property, my expenditure is actually still only £750 a month. Given that the stress of work causes some of this, once work is ditched I could bring this down a little, say to £700, giving me an annual retirement expenditure of about £8500.

Not bad, I’ll give myself a B grade. Could do better.

Ode to My Chocolate Muffins

 

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

20150228_182421

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

 

Early Retirement Extreme Update 1 – January/ February 2015.

 

It’s now been six months since I realised I could realistically (semi-) retire by the time I’m 51, and ambitiously by 48. I’ve saved a bit of cash in that time, but TBH I’ve only just got into the swing of the early-retirement drive since the start of this year, 2015, so this isn’t so much of an update, rather a starting-point statement of where I’m at, a base from which to compare in the future.

I’ve now started (since January 3rd) to keep a record of everything I buy in various categories, with the intention that this will inspire me to spend less and save more. It worked a treat in January, but that’s probably because (a) it’s still a complete novelty and (b) I haven’t actually needed to buy anything of significant value.

At the moment my data’s only in Open Office, I might move it online laters.

January 2015 Early-Retirement Extreme Update

Reminder of Long Term Financial Goals –

  • Be mortgage free in 7-10 years (£138k 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.
  • Save an absolute minimum of £250/ month in additional funds (=£30K after 10 years, without accumulations). Ideally this figure will be significantly higher.
  • Find additional income streams to boost the above figure. Target = £20K in five years.
  • 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.
  • Continue paying into the Teacher Pension Scheme.

January Update 1 – ‘Spending days compared to non-spending days’

I figure that I need to internalise not consuming – to this end I’ve started keeping a record of everything I buy and (roughly) how much it costs me. One of the interesting things that’s emerged is that there are several days during which I spend nothing and my non-spending days just over the 50% mark! This is now a new goal for 2015 – simply to clock up more non-spending than spending days.

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January Update 2 – Total expenditure excluding mortgage = £725 pounds

NB – Transport was £000.

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January Update 3 – Expenditure including mortgage

  • Frivolities = beer/ coffee/ subscriptions/ transport, (because I only really use transport for ents).
  • Necessities = council tax, services, food, ‘stuff’ (because I’m not a frivolous materialist consumer).
  • Property = mortgage repayments + service charge.

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Ratio of expenditure to income including mortgage – 30%
Ratio of expenditure to income excluding mortgage – 71%

Summary 

If I can keep this up for another 11 years, then I can basically move to full retirement – but this is premised on the following:

  1. Having a Teacher’s pension which kicks in at 60 (most of it anyway), meaning by the time I’m 51 (or thereabouts) I’ll have enough saved to simply see me through for 9 years.
  2. Continuing my very low consumption – After property my expenses come to around £600. I really don’t see why anyone needs to spend much more than this.

So – that’s me formerly started and outed on the ERE mission, bring it on!

Related Links

Early Retirement Strategies for the Average Income Earner (itunes)