Are you a retired spendophobic?

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After years of constant saving, practicing our own version of frugality, checking how the stash of money is growing, reviewing this against the amount we need to take early retirement and counting the days until we can give up the day jobs, how does it now feel to be spenders rather than savers?  Apart from my [very] ad hoc income from travel writing and the low return on our savings, our household now has no income.  We are relying completely on the money we have saved until our pensions start to roll in [the first is still three years away and it isn’t until 2024 that we will have sufficient pension income to cover our living costs].  Spending this money is what we were working towards after all and last November I wrote about looking forward to spending all the money.  How does that reality feel?  Having spent years living well within our income, what is it like having little income and watching our capital dwindle?  Have we become spendophobics or even spendoholics?

Some people are wary of spending beyond their income in their retirement.  They have become so used to living within their means, that is their income, it can be hard to adjust to spending those savings.  These people do not dip in to the savings they have accumulated for that retirement and become spendophobics and don’t necessarily have the retirement they would have wanted.

Well folks that isn’t us!  It seems that having that money in the bank doesn’t define us and we are not scared of spending it; retirement in our 50s is exactly what we were saving the money for.  Our years of frugality have made this a habit and we still practice caution in our spending, regularly checking that we are within our budget of £27,000 for this year [although it has been a funny sort of year up to now we are well within target].  Each month we transfer our ‘spending’ money in to our bank account as if it were income and this helps us budget.  Those frugal years have helped us to be careful spenders in our retirement but our outlook and plans mean that we are now spending the money on enjoying that retirement and we don’t suffer from ‘spendophobia’  [of course, we have no choice, with no pension income we have to spend our savings].  We have a plan [a spreadsheet of course] for how those savings will gradually disappear to almost zero by 2024 [the contingency money might remain if we have no emergencies and if I am honest I do sort of hope there might be a bit left as I think our budget is generous].  I am finding that watching that plan work through is as satisfying as I found seeing those savings build up.  We were conscientious savers and now we have become conscientious spenders.

We have been clear about what makes us happy and what we want to do with our retirement.  Much of that happiness involves travelling in our campervan.  This is so much fun and gives us so much pleasure [the recent incident has really highlighted this] and we don’t intend to miss out on our dreams just to keep more money in the bank and leave our son with a big inheritance.  We know that life is short and are only too aware that in twenty years time [if we are lucky enough to live that long] we might not want to travel in the same sort of way [but we might] and so we are spending the money now while we are fit and able, not hanging on to it like a comfort blanket.

Apologies for the over-use of parentheses in this post!  My normal writing style will / might resume next time.

 

 

 

Suede and nubuck brush reviewed

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It is a fact of life [in the UK] that our walking shoes get muddy.  Cleaning our walking shoes isn’t the favourite job of either of us but it helps if you have the right tools for the job. I recently needed to replace the simple suede brush we had as the bristles were wearing down.  I found this Kiwi Suede and Nubuck brush in the supermarket and despite it costing more than I expected I decided to see if it was better than the brush I was replacing, as it claimed to have more and better features.

This Kiwi brush is plastic and retails at around £3.  Kiwi recommend that the shorter rubber bristles are used for nubuck, the longer bristles can be used for removing soil in crevices and the shaped plastic edge can clean seams.

I found it didn’t work quite like Kiwi proposed.  After walks on sticky chalk soils and the thick clay of the Yorkshire coast our shoes were heavy with mud.  After each trip we left them to dry for a few days and then tackled the cleaning.  The longer bristles worked the same as any suede brush and got a lot of the dried mud off the shoes, along the seams, the sides of the soul and the top.  The difficult bit of cleaning walking shoes and one where I hoped this tool might help is the grip pattern on the sole.  For walking shoes to provide good traction a complicated grip pattern is designed by manufacturers, with many narrow crevices that get packed full of mud that dries to almost concrete.  In addition small stones lodge in these crevices and need removing.  Suede brushes cannot shift this mud easily and I usually end up seeking out a twig or a metal skewer to clean out the sole.  Instead I tried using the curved plastic edge of the Kiwi brush.  This did tackle these areas quite effectively but after only using the tool twice for our four shoes the plastic edge is showing significant wear; Kiwi don’t claim that this is what the plastic edges are designed for but if the plastic used was tougher it would work well for cleaning the soles of our walking shoes.

As this tool will be worn out very soon I will go back to an ordinary suede brush and a metal skewer to remove the soil from the grip on the soles of our walking shoes, as I really can’t justify the expense and waste of resources involved in buying a new plastic brush every six months.

 

 

Losing face over tyre valves

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Our campervan in the lovely coastal village of Burghead

I not only write travel articles for MMM I also read it from cover-to-cover.  Consequently, when I read the advice from Terry Acreman regarding fitting high-pressure tyre valves to your motorhome (August 2016), I marked the page and promised to do something about it when we had time.   The weeks passed by and the valves remained on the list, until we eventually had time to tackle this.  I contacted Tyresave, as recommended, and purchase five high-pressure tyre valves [one for the spare] and then booked our Renault Master in to National Tyres in Manchester for the fitting.  The appointed day was sunny and as Manchester city centre is just a 15 minute stroll along the canal from National Tyres we thought we would combine the valve-fitting with a leisurely coffee and a visit to a photography exhibition we wanted to see.

We hadn’t even licked the cappuccino froth from our lips when the phone rang; it was National Tyres to say they couldn’t find the wheel brace.  This wasn’t surprising as it is under the bed; feeling it was too complicated to explain, Mr BOTRA volunteered to walk back while I made a start on the exhibition.  About 20 minutes later, while I was unhurriedly admiring the photographs, my phone rang again.  Having arrived and retrieved the wheel brace, Mr BOTRA was on his way back to the exhibition and the tyre fitter was now ringing to say that the first tyre was off and he could see our ‘van was already fitted with good quality high-pressure tyre valves!

Re-united we both returned along the [now very familiar] canal to pick up the ‘van feeling somewhat shame-faced that we hadn’t realised what sort of valves Renault fit on their ‘vans.  The National Tyre’s fitter was very cheery about the whole thing and, to make us feel better, explained that they had only recently started seeing vans fitted with these valves.  National Tyres didn’t charge us anything and Tyresave took the valves back with a generous refund so only our self-respect was lost.

What will we miss about being part of the working community?

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Three ginger tray bake

There are not many things we will miss about work and there are certainly not many perks to working in the public sector that we will no longer benefit from.  But there are a group of guys Mr BOTRA works with who we will miss enormously.  His workplace workshop engineers have always been willing to use their technical and engineering skills to help us out with our latest DIY project [no matter how batty] involving the campervan or the bikes.  When we needed a metal plate to protect the worktop from [further] damage in  our old Blue Bus they found a suitable piece of scrap they had discarded in a corner, cut the metal to the size we needed and gave advice on how to fix it.  In our new ‘van we couldn’t find anywhere to put the hanging knife rack we had used in the Blue Bus.  It was this team who came up with the a foam knife rack design that fits neatly in to our cutlery drawer; again constructed from a small off-cut, this not only keeps our sharp vegetable and bread knives safe it is also lightweight.  On another occasion we decided what we really needed was a small container that just fitted in to the narrow space between the end of the worktop and the back doors to use as a waste bin.  Who did we call?  Yes, you guessed it, a visit to the workshop with a rough sketch was all it took and a few days later a beautifully constructed box of precise interlocking pieces was created from some small and spare bits of perspex that would have just found their way to landfill.

There have been other examples over the years when these guys have helped us out and there are many things we couldn’t have done or we would have had to pay dearly for without them.  As well as practical help they are also willing to give sound advice based on their workshop experience that is better than any You Tube video.  When we were unsure how to deal with a mis-behaving screw in the ‘van they had a great solution and a seized up bicycle part is just a challenge to these colleagues, bouncing ideas off each other as to the best way to free the parts.

This team of engineers have the skills to come up with these ideas and access to materials and tools we don’t have.  We are very grateful for their help and like to show this in some small way.  We could spend money on chocolates or tins of biscuits for these saviours but as frugalistas we say thank you by doing something we do have the skills to do; to show our appreciation for their help we bake them biscuits and cakes.  Every now and then Mr BOTRA will pop some homemade treats in to a tin and take them in to work for their tea break.

We will certainly miss their expertise and willingness to give any of our projects their consideration.  In just a few weeks time we will be on our own [with just You Tube to help] with our DIY projects.

 

Reducing our use of plastic progress report

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French markets are the loveliest places to shop

Shopping has always been a minefield.  We have tried to use our buying power [small though it is] as a force for good for a long time, balancing our desire to do as little as possible to damage the environment and workers rights alongside our need for quality and to save money for retirement.  Recently we have been constantly reviewing how we can avoid plastic packaging as much as possible and I have blogged before on how we manage all our shopping by bicycle [even through the winter].  The cycling is easy, avoiding plastic packaging is the tougher call.  For years we were part of a vegetable box scheme that supported a local organic grower and every week was a ‘Ready Steady Cook’ week as we ate whatever vegetable arrived.  This is no longer an option and we have joined the masses trying to find supermarket vegetables that are not wrapped tightly in plastic.

The need to save money had taken me to Lidl and Aldi for all our shopping but these supermarkets lovingly wrap most of their fruit and vegetables in heaps of plastic; even the spring onions come in a plastic bag!  Fortunately, I now have time to move around the supermarkets for different items.  Our four local supermarkets sell lots of vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, potatoes, peppers and onions loose but only our local Tesco sells large bunches of coriander and parsley that are not in sealed plastic, whereas Booths [a wonderful northern supermarket institution] is where I can fulfil my desire for cherry tomatoes and gorgeous tasty large flat mushrooms.  I take a cloth bag on my shopping trips to help carry these items home.

We have now not only given up shop-bought hummus we have also given up all those plastic wrapped meat-free slices for sandwiches and we do withouturt.  The only convenience food we buy is Linda McCartney sausages that come in cardboard boxes [no plastic and they taste the best, hurrah!]   But there are plenty of things there are no alternative for; Mr BOTRA isn’t able to give up his need for packets of crisps, although he has reduced his consumption and, although we make most of our own bread, so no plastic there, we’re not prepared to do without hot buttered crumpets for occasional breakfasts.  We are certainly not perfect; sometimes we splash out on expensive butter wrapped in paper, but sometimes we save the money and throw in to the bin the combination of foil and plastic the budget butter comes in.  We don’t have the space or a supplier for bulk pasta and rice [and even in bulk these items come in a plastic bag].  For non-food items we try and keep the cleaning ‘stuff’ to a minimum; it is easy to buy washing powder in a box but washing up liquid still comes in a plastic bottle.

Looking at the spreadsheet, it seems that although we’ve moved away from the cheaper supermarkets for our vegetables, by giving up the [often expensive] convenience foods our food bill hasn’t increased over the last twelve months and so we can stay within budget.

 

Staffordshire oatcakes & The Roaches: an almost perfect combination weekend

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Looking over the Mermaid Pool to the Roaches and Cloud in the distance

Almost anyone living near Leek on the edge of the Peak District in North Staffordshire will have been bought up to enjoy Staffordshire Oatcakes for lunch and breakfast.  Leek oatcakes are not the paper-thin oaty imposters you can buy in the supermarket, these phonies give only a hint of the deliciousness of the oatcake.  The ones to buy and savour are the thick and fluffy oatcakes that you must travel to Leek to find at the simply named ‘Oatcake Shop‘ on the edge of the town.  We generally return from this area with a dozen for the freezer to satisfy our cravings until our next visit.  Oatcakes are a local delicacy that existed before the UK had ever discovered the wrap and they are perfect hot or cold and rolled or folded with all sorts of fillings, although our favourite remains grilled cheese.

Leek is a small market town surrounded by hills and the Roaches, an outcrop of gritstone crags that rise from the heather moorland above the town.  If you don’t get to the Oatcake Shop in time to buy your oatcakes you can always call in to The Roaches Tea Room to enjoy an oatcake lunch there while taking in the splendid view over Tittesworth Reservoir.

We had a great and restorative weekend in this area.  On Saturday we walked along the disused railway line between Rudyard and Leek and I reminisced about the days when this walk was my commute to work.  On Sunday we walked from Flash to Three Shires Head where Staffordshire meets Cheshire and Derbyshire.  Flash claims to be the highest village in Great Britain and as children we learnt that it is where the term ‘flash money’ came from.  At the remote Three Shires Head criminals could easily jump from one county to another to escape arrest and this may have led to it being an ideal spot for illegal activities, one of which may have been counterfeit coins.  Three Shires Head is one of my favourite spots but on this Sunday it was noisy with the sound of scrambling bikes and the air was heavy with the smell of two-stroke oil that took me back to my motorcycling days.  I am always impressed with the skillful handling of motocross riders but the pretty and generally peaceful spot of Three Shires Head is not an appropriate place to practice this sport.

We stayed at Goatfell Farm, a Caravan Club Certified Location at Bottomhouse near Leek for £13.  This lovely and welcoming site sits in an open field and we had a glorious sunset across the fields in the evening and we tried a bit of star gazing in the clear night away from the city streetlights.

 

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.