Doing just one thing a day in our frugal retirement

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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

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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?

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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?

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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.

 

Creating a shared retired life

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The beautiful beach at Montrose

I am now five weeks in to retirement and I have settled in to the swing of it, the elation hasn’t faded and I am still grinning all the time.  How I spend my day is mostly dictated by the weather but is always very much my choice; I no longer have to spend a sunny day gazing longingly out of an office window.  If it is fine I will get out walking around Salford, exploring new hidden corners and wandering around favourite haunts picking up litter.  If it is damp and dark I stay home and work on a travel article or the blog or plan our spring trip in our campervan or meet a friend for coffee.  I don’t have anything that would resemble a routine and I am loving not having to be anywhere or do anything and the sense of freedom to be flexible and please myself.

I have had time to help and spend time with friends and organisations and that gives me a sense of usefully contributing to the world.  When I have so much, giving my time isn’t much of a gift but it is one that I can now give willingly and generously.

Mr BOTRA chose to continue working until March 2017 and so I have had this period of time to adjust to retirement on my own.  Having faced his fears about retirement Mr BOTRA has now overcome these and is looking forward to retirement with a positive frame of mind.  Everyone in his workplace now knows he is leaving and this has helped him make the adjustment and his focus is shifting from his employment to being an ex-worker and he is looking forward to projects of his own.  He is spending his last few weeks at work winding down, tidying up and finishing off tasks.  He was in high spirits recently when he delivered his last ever health and safety training session.

Although I really appreciate having this work-free period in the gap between retiring and taking our first long-term trip away in our campervan, I am thankful that I won’t be the lone retiree in the house for too long.  I can already see that if this continues for much longer I would have carved out my own way of doing things and got used to my own company, leaving Mr BOTRA to fit in or around this, rather than our adjustment to this next phase of our life being shared.  It is perhaps just as well that by taking ourselves away from home for a few months while we travel in the campervan we will have the chance to settle in to a redrafted retirement.

 

 

Let The Day Begin

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Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s fantastic version of the optimistic tune ‘Let The Day Begin‘ [originally by The Call] was a great way to bring in 2017.  BRMC’s reverberating cover is more to my taste than the original and was included on the Spectre At The Feast album in memory of their singer/guitarists father and band mentor, Michael Been.

Here’s to the babies in a brand new world
Here’s to the beauty of the stars
Here’s to the travellers on the open road
Here’s to the dreamers in the bars

The song reflected my mood of waking up eager for each day to begin.  Mr BOTRA has returned to work for another eleven weeks and so my days are free for me to structure in the way I want to and I am enjoying the liberation of not being tied to the work laptop and phone.  If I waste a day doing nothing there will be no one to tick me off.  Of course, I have articles to write, people to see, trips to plan and litter to pick up but I do these all out of choice and no one will be performance managing me, except myself.

It is January and so it is also time to sum up our finances for 2016.  Mr BOTRA and I had a joint income for 2016 of £36, 747.  We spent this in the following ways [2015 figures in brackets]:

  • Groceries 7% [8%]
  • Concerts, theatre and meals out 7% [6%]
  • Bills for the flat & running the campervan 12% [20%]
  • Holidays & campsites 14% [12%]
  • Everything else [gifts, clothes, stuff, public transport & healthcare] 19% [18%]
  • Savings 41% [36%]

We have made some good savings on our electricity and gas bills by moving provider to Ovo, on our broadband by changing to Hyperoptic [although we got a new customer deal and so this will no doubt be more expensive next year] and we saved on our house insurance through the Caravan Club.  Fortunately, our two year old Renault campervan hasn’t needed any maintenance.

We are happy that we spent £23,603 on our living expenses during the year as this means our budget of £27,000 for our first year of retirement is looking realistic.

 

In retirement we will have time to slowly linger

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One of the red squirrels at Formby

I am now winding down from paid regular work and looking forward to the days when I can spend my time watching the red squirrels scampering around the trees, stopping to gaze at every beautiful sunset and chatting to every cat I meet and not feel I should be using my time more effectively.  I am looking forward to being able to sleep until we wake up and spend the day reading a good book if we want or heading off for a walk just because it is a sunny day.  All these things got a bit closer as this week Mr BOTRA (Mr Back On The Road Again) told his boss at work that he will be leaving in March 2017 and now there is no stopping us!  His boss, who clearly knows him better than mine, wasn’t surprised that we were planning an early retirement and more travelling and was only disappointed because she had him in mind for a promotion when a colleague retires.  While a promotion might have been nice it is nothing compared to have the time and space for walking up craggy mountains, sitting on warm sand on a deserted beach or kicking dry leaves along a woodland path and these [and more] are all things we will soon be enjoying.

Of course, we have lots of plans to do all sorts of wonderful and helpful things during our retirement but one that I am really looking forward to is doing very little.  I am looking forward to knowing there is no reason why I can’t spend half-an-hour watching the wren from our dining room window as it potters around the bushes or sit and feel the warmth of the sun on my skin or even [if I want to] just while away the day reading tweets on Twitter!

As one of the workers, my working day has a structure and I am expected to produce things and be available.  This means that evenings and weekends are precious periods of relaxation when I try to cram in all the other good stuff.  I know that our retirement will be more than just evenings and weekends 24-hours a day and it will certainly give us time to improve ourselves in lots of way, by giving our time and learning and exercising and … so on.  But I hope it also gives us the space to have time to slowly linger.