Fed up with your December birthday? Then change it

P1070738.JPG
My birthday cards don’t have to compete with Christmas cards anymore

For years my Christmas-time birthday was a huge disappointment.  As a child it was over-shadowed by the seasonal festivities and couldn’t help but be just another strain on the family finances at the most expensive time of the year.  Aunts and uncles would buy me ‘joint’ gifts for birthday and Christmas, assuring me they had spent extra.  As every December-birthday person knows, even if they had spent more, nothing beats having two specific gifts for birthday and Christmas and that this isn’t something that June-birthday children have to contend with.  As a child I never had a party on my actual birthday, it was too near the festivities, no one had time and who wants to eat birthday cake at Christmas.  As an adult the lovely Mr BOTRA and my son and daughter-in-law have made a fuss of me and ensured the day was special and spending time with these three people is wonderful and should be enough … but I always wanted what everyone else had, a celebration with my friends.  On my birthday these friends were either with their family, busy at some other Christmas event or away for the festive period.  The only way to get everyone together was to celebrate outside the Christmas period, so when I was 40 I arranged the party for January.  It still took me a few years after that birthday to realise that this was the way to go and it was 2011 when I decided I wasn’t putting up with this unsatisfactory situation any longer and I moved my birthday to November.

There were friends who protested that it couldn’t be done, a few who still forget the new date, but honestly, I haven’t regretted moving my birthday to the preceding month for one minute.  Now, my birthday isn’t shoe-horned in to the Christmas festivities, my birthday cards don’t have to compete for space with the Christmas cards and my friends are available for a celebration.  It is this latter result that is the most important to me, I get to bring everyone I care about together for one celebration and that makes me happy.  It isn’t about presents and cards, for me it has always been about wanting to be with the people I love.

Over the past few years I have celebrated my birthday with friends in various ways.  We have played crazy golf, been for walks, had ‘posh’ afternoon tea, visited an art gallery and been out for meals.  At last I get to experience what other people with birthdays in any other month except December take for granted, a birthday spent with my family and friends.

And what of my birth-date?  This day still exists, of course I have to use it for paperwork and forms but really it is now just any other day.  The recollection that it is the anniversary of my birth might pass through my mind at some point during the day but it is no longer my birthday, that is the November date that I chose.  Moving my birthday was one of the best things I ever did and I am not moving it back.

Advertisements

Spain & Portugal: What did a two months campervan trip cost?

09.07 Salamanca night visit (35).JPG
The river Tormes in Salamanca

We loved touring around Spain and Portugal and highly recommend it.  If you’re planning your own trip to these or many other European countries these costs might be a useful guide, although WARNING – everyone’s trip is their own and everyone’s spending is different.  We are not uber-frugal campers and anyone could do this trip cheaper [even we could if we tried] but this is our trip, it isn’t all about money and we set out to enjoy it in our own way.  So below are a few notes on our spending.

  1. Of the 66 nights we were away only seven of these were spent free-camping, the rest of the time we were on campsites [although we stayed on low-cost camperstops and ACSI sites].
  2. In Portugal we had coffee and cake in a cafe almost everyday because it is cheap enough and the cakes are fantastic [hence the €434 spent in cafes] but we are vegetarian and so had very few evening meals out in restaurants as Portugal isn’t always ready for vegetarians.
  3. We did drink wine or beer every night but we did try some very cheap [and very good] red wine [the lowest we tried was 1.89].
  4. As you can see, we paid to get in to some attractions as we travelled, budget travellers could skip these.
  5. Other spending includes an occasional washing machine, presents for loved ones at home, bike spares, some clothes and a few household replacement items.
  • Diesel – €523
  • Food [supermarkets etc] – €864
  • Cafes & restaurants – €434
  • Campsites – €931
  • Bus fares, taxis etc – €48
  • Entrance fees to attractions – €174
  • Other spending – €146
  • TOTAL SPENDING – €3,120

Interestingly, this amount is more or less the same as we would have spent had we stayed at home [and while away we’ve not been using gas, electric or water in the flat] so the only additional cost to our normal spending has been the ferry.  Portsmouth to Bilbao is an expensive route at £730 but it does take you straight to Spain and I feel that this amount represents better value when spread out over a two month trip.

We have been generous with our budget and expected higher spending than this on our trips away so our annual spending for our first year of retirement is still looking good at the moment despite additional spending following the incident.

 

Being a good Ebay seller: My top tips

P1090100
Bags packed at the West Somerset Railway

I would certainly not claim to be the best Ebay seller there is but I have a lot of experience.  My current score on Ebay is 1,484 transactions and I have 100% positive feedback.  I have been an Ebay member since 2004 and 981 of these feedback ratings are for items I sold on to someone.  When we were down-sizing I sold all our surplus stuff on Ebay and when a relative died I sold the contents of their house, including a few hundred ornaments, 175 pictures, loads of furniture and a dozen tea sets on Ebay.

Friends have got to know about my expertise as an Ebay seller and occasionally I sell something for a friend and more often I have been asked for tips on how to be a successful seller, so here are my top tips:

Is it worth selling? – Ask yourself, is this something you would like to buy yourself, is it in good enough condition to sell, is it useful for parts or is it so unusual someone might just want it?  Just because you no longer want an item it doesn’t mean it isn’t useful to someone else but check it for damage as disappointed buyers will leave negative feedback.

Photographs – Take time over your photographs, think about the background, the lighting and the arrangement.  This is your shop window and you should make it look as attractive as possible or as informative as possible.  With tech items it is worth photographing the detail, model numbers etc and if an item has some damage a clear photograph of this can help to show you are honest and sell the item.

Use the whole word-count in your item title – Ebay will tell you that items with longer titles sell better, so give as much information as you can fit in the title.  Make sure you include the size or model number, if relevant, in your title so that browsing buyers can pick yours out from the list.

Do your research – Find out how much the sort of items you are selling might sell for on Ebay by checking out the completed listings in the advanced search settings.  Sometimes things are listed at high prices but they never sell.  These completed listings will help inform where to start an auction or what price to ask.  Your research should also reveal as much as you can about an item.  When I started selling my relative’s ornaments I knew nothing about Italian figurines but I quickly learnt.  If you have receipts for an item these may provide additional detail.

Descriptions – Put in as much detail as you can in the description.  Always include actual measurements [I have lost count of how many Ebay sellers I have had to contact regarding the measurements of an item] but cover yourself by telling buyers these measurements are approximate.  Be honest about any damage on the item and don’t sell anything you wouldn’t want to buy yourself.  Tell buyers how old an item is and how much it has been used.  We sold our high quality back-packing tent on Ebay and although I said how much it had been used and how long we had owned it I still got a very good price for it.  I think it helps buyers to feel confident by telling them why you are selling; for example I might say I am having another clear out or a spring clean or I have lost weight and this item no longer fits me or that my interests have changed.  It is also helpful to tell potential buyers if your item is from a smoke and pet-free home.

Posting and packing – Consider whether an item can be posted or if it is only suitable for collection.  Home collection can be inconvenient for you [as you have to be in] and limits your number of buyers plus someone will always ask if you can post something to them.  If possible always offer a postage option but this will mean you need to ensure you have suitable packing materials and with delicate items you can’t skimp on these.  Make sure you check the postage cost as the Royal Mail charge on size as well as weight.  When I was selling the hundreds of fragile china ornaments we bought double-wall boxes, bubble wrap and packing chips in bulk and I packed each item with care, this packaging took time and cost money and was reflected in the packing charges.  Despite travelling across the world everything arrived in one piece.  At other times I keep packaging from parcels I receive and recycle these keeping costs down.  All that said, I offered many of the 175 pictures from the walls of my relatives home and some of the bric-a-brac as themed lots of around eight to ten pictures [all the cherub pictures, all the floral ones etc] and people collected these.  These lots were attractive to dealers and I arranged a number of collections on the same day and displayed other items I hadn’t listed on Ebay and managed to sell a number of these to buyers.  Buyers like free postage and packing and this can make sense for buy-it-now sales, although of course you have to add the cost of P&P in to your listed price.

Auction or Buy-it-Now – Ebay has got much smarter at recommending whether you should offer an item on buy-it-now or auction [although it isn’t always right].  In general I find that unusual technical or collector items are best as an auction as guessing the price these will reach can be difficult and they sometimes fetch more than you expected.  I often get asked if I will change an auction to buy-it-now and I am willing to do this if there are no bids and they are offering what seems a fair price.  I do often have to tell potential buyers that I am not prepared to end an item that someone is already bidding on just so that they can buy it immediately.  Also be aware; some buyers may ask for a buy-it-now option and then not actually buy it.  Buyers need to know that as soon as you have changed an auction to buy-it-now anyone can buy the item; sometimes buyers are not quick enough and miss out.  I have had good success with the best offer option on buy-it-now auctions.  I have accepted fair offers or suggested a counter offer when something has been listed for a few days and I can see there is little interest.

Length of your auction – This has to fit in with you, so that you can post an item as soon after it has been paid for as you can, but it also needs to reflect the type of item it is.  Something unusual is better left on for ten-days, for example the rare tank regiment drinking glasses I sold were not something that is offered on Ebay everyday and it took time for everyone interested to find them.  Other items are more common place and can be listed for just a few days.  Ending auction items during the day on weekdays can limit working buyers from bidding and ending auctions early on Sunday morning isn’t always wise but as you might be selling to people in different time-zones [see below] this is complicated.

Posting abroad – It is worth considering posting abroad for collectors and unusual items.  Many of the ornaments I sold in 2014 went to Russia but others went to Italy, the Netherlands, the USA and Australia; collectors of particular items can live anywhere.

Questions – I often get asked questions about an item and I strive to answer these as quickly as possible and as accurately as possible.  Sometimes these questions are about something that I should have included in the listing and I will then publish the question on the listing for other buyers to see.  Answering these questions clearly and efficiently demonstrates that you are a reliable Ebay seller and helps to give a buyer confidence in you.

Communication – I always write a personal post card and place it in each parcel I send to an Ebay buyer, I might tell them a story about the item they are buying or just express gratitude for their business and hope they enjoy using the item.  Many buyers appreciate this and mention it in my feedback.  Using Ebay’s messaging I also tell buyers that I have received their payment and when I am posting their item and the method of postage so that they know when to expect it.  I always post items when I say I will as reliability is important.  I leave feedback after I have posted an item and I politely ask buyers to consider leaving feedback for me.

Happy Ebay selling and I am sure I have missed all sorts of stuff out of these tips so if you have any questions just ask!

 

Doing just one thing a day in our frugal retirement

20170515_190513.jpg
The Stretford End is usually packed for a match!

Now we are both here we are finding this retirement life pretty good.  As with our pre-retirement life, we are continuing to live frugally [that is within budget], stay active, get out and engage with the world and generally enjoy our lives.  We are also trying to remain relaxed and content by adopting a strategy of doing just one thing a day.  So far we have slipped in to doing two things just occasionally but the policy mostly applies.  Below is a list of our activities and spending on additional activities in the last week:

Day one – We attended a political meeting [free].

Day two – We bought day passes for the bus [£4.50 each] and went for a countryside walk.

Day three – We got free tickets for a play through the wonderful Show Film First and we went to the matinee because we can, walking there and back.

Day four – We walked in to Manchester to spend a book token Mr BOTRA had received for his birthday.  While we were choosing books, the book shop had a fire alarm and we went for a drink while we waited for it to re-open [£3.30].

Day five – We joined a shared lunch with friends and drinks for a friend’s birthday in Manchester in the evening [two things]!  [Public transport £13.20, drinks £23.60].

Day six – A guided visit to the interior of the lovely Ordsall Hall [£3 each]

Day seven – We went to see the Manchester United Reserves under 23 team play against Tottenham Hotspur.  Entrance is free and the crowd of a few hundred [the capacity of Old Trafford is over 75,000] watched Manchester United win 3-2.  We resisted the temptation to buy any of the over-priced refreshments.

So we spent a total of £55.10 [less than £8/day] on getting out and about this last week, this might be slightly unusual as we don’t celebrate birthdays every week [but we really enjoyed going out to the pub] and this amount is well within budget and has been so much fun.  We have learnt more about our local area, met some people with shared political views, enjoyed some culture and sport and kept very active.  Roll on more weeks of retirement!

 

 

Recognising the pattern of our day will be different in retirement

2016 March Wigglesworth Cottage (19).JPG

For as long as I can remember Mr BOTRA and I have generally spent the first half an hour or so after work in what I think of as our evening debrief.  Once we are both home from work we will put the kettle on for that essential pot of tea and then sit down and share our news from the day or talk through something we need to sort out.  We might chew over a tough problem, making use of the each others insights to find a solution, we might share something we have learnt or blow off steam about something annoying.  This dedicated time has always given us chance to catch up with each other, transition from work to home and it allows us to then leave work behind for the evening.

When the weather is warm enough we will take our mugs of tea outside and sit in the garden for this debrief.  As our garden is now a shared space this can sometimes mean that we meet neighbours and catch up with them too.  Our garden is in a sheltered quadrangle and has benches that catch the evening sun making it a perfect spot to relax at the end of the day.

When it is cooler or wet we will stay in the flat and sit on the sofa, hands hugging our hot tea gratefully after cycling or walking from work.  There will be no radio or TV on and we just focus on talking to each other for a short while.

Retirement will mean we will mostly be together during the day and this will change the pattern of our days.  The daily debrief will become redundant and I know that I will miss that time.  Will we need to build in dedicated time during the day for talking through ideas and issues or, will our relaxed and retired selves find time to chat to each other naturally throughout the day?  We shall see.

If we hadn’t blown a load of £s on a gap year would we be retired by now?

P1000920
Two goats enjoying the sunshine

In 2009 and 2010 Mr BOTRA and I went away on a later life gap year.  Gap years weren’t fashionable in the late 1970s when Mr BOTRA graduated and I went straight to work at 16-years old; taking a gap year wasn’t something that working-class young people did.  So between us we had never really spent much time when we weren’t in education, working [or looking for work] or being the carer of our child.  In 2009, after saving up loads of money, selling the house and downsizing and buying a campervan, we gave up our jobs and took off for mainland Europe for a year living in that campervan.  We had a ball on what we called our ‘Big Trip’ and the fun times were recorded on our blog.  The gap year refreshed us and we were lucky enough to find employment when we returned .  Of course, if we hadn’t blown a load of cash on our gap year we could have been retired by now but I find myself wondering how important that year travelling was and if we would have made the leap into early retirement without the gap year?

What with one thing and another the gap year cost us a bit more than the savings for one extra year of retirement.  If we had done without the year away and carried on working and saving, we would have reached our target last year and now be twelve months in to retirement.  But that would have meant waiting seven years before getting the break and the truth is that I have an impatience to do things sooner rather than later and I worry that opportunities might disappear.  This anxiety and need to take action means that I am not a procrastinator.  When you have seen a parent die in their 50s you learn that putting things off can lead to regret and I prefer to take my chance.  Mr BOTRA is always the more cautious one but when we returned from our year away we both felt pleased to have done it; we knew whatever happened no one could take that year away from us.

So the gap year was fun but I am sure that without the gap year we might not be about to retire now.  Without the year away we would not have been so sure that retirement [still in our 50s] is the thing for us anyway.  The year away from full-time work made us braver, stronger and more sure that we wanted to stop work as soon as we could.  After spending a year away living in a campervan we knew more about what we were capable of and felt confident that we would be happy doing it together.  The gap year helped us to formulate our plans for early retirement and financial independence.  This clarity of the goal we were working towards made it more likely to happen.

Fingers crossed we will both have a long and happy retirement over many decades but if that isn’t how our story goes then at least we took an opportunity when it was there and had that year away.  Now roll on retirement!

 

 

Premium bonds, are they still worth it?

p1010259

We have a spreadsheet that tracks our savings [of course], where they are and what they are earning.  One strand of our savings is a chunk of premium bonds and what this lovely spreadsheet reveals is that the amount of our winnings from these premium bonds has decreased [okay let’s be honest, it has halved] over the last three years.  In 2014 and 2015 we received a return of around 1.5% from our winnings on the fluctuating amounts of premium bonds we held but last year our return was only 0.75%.

I was bought up in a rural post office and so have always been a little sentimental about premium bonds as before the internet it was the local post office where you bought your premium bonds.  My parents were in a premium bond club, where a handful of neighbours pitched in every week and bought a premium bond for one member of the club, this way they received a premium bond every month or so.  I remember the excitement at home when they occasionally won a few pounds.  I have also long had a soft spot for ERNIE, the Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment that chooses the winners each month but it seems ERNIE doesn’t have the same loyalty towards me and it might be time to part company.

And yet, we will miss the excitement of the win.  These days we receive an email when one of our premium bonds has been chosen by ERNIE and there is always much heart pounding and nail biting in the BOTRA household until we have checked our account, followed by inevitable disappointment when we find we have not won a life changing amount but just another £25.

In the  Money Saving Expert article from October 2016 premium bond winnings are discussed.  Apparently premium bonds are the number one saving product in the UK, with over 21 million people having at least one, although no doubt many of these people have forgotten all about the one or two bonds they own.  Although any winnings are still tax free, the changes to tax on interest in the UK make this aspect of premium bonds less appealing today.  The article describes much better than I can that, although the annual prize rate is currently 1.25%, this does not represent the winnings you are likely to receive and that with £31,000 saved in premium bonds each month one in 240,000 people will win nothing at all.

Premium bonds are really a lottery [after all there is a chance of winning anything between nothing and a whole shed load of money] but at least it is a lottery where you don’t lose your capital.  Mr BOTRA and I have agreed that sentimentality is not always the best way to decide where to save and despite my childhood memories of premium bonds the numbers are pushing us to reconsider this aspect of our savings.