Friday, 1 October 2010

From Headlines to Hard Times: I watched Ed Mitchell tell his story

This week, I went to a conference for Money Advisers working in the charitable advice sector, at which one of the speakers was a former tv journalist, Ed Mitchell, who, because of alcoholism and debt, became homeless for a while. It was very interesting to hear the perspective of someone who was well-educated, and successful in his career, but despite this lost his home and had to file for bankruptcy.

Mr Mitchell, who told his story eloquently and in places humorously, identified one of the reasons for his situation as being a dislike for personal finance generally, and another, a belief that life would be 'all boom and no bust'. Therefore, he never saved money from his high salary and so when he lost his job, was forced to depend on frighteningly accessible and expensive credit to survive.

He has now recovered from his alcohol addiction, and has a flat, thanks in part to a documentary - 'Saving Ed Mitchell' and also to sales of his book 'From Headlines to Hard Times', which describe his experience. (I will now read the book!)

It seemed to me that this story is an answer to those who think that earning a high income - especially life as a television celebrity or sports person - is in itself the route to financial security.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Losing weight - and learning to focus?

I've recently started a weight loss plan. I am counting calories and eating between 1200 and 1400 calories a day, with a view to losing an initial 9lb. Once I reach that target, I will review and decide whether I would like to lose any further weight. I am not fat, being an average weight for my height, but I once was slim, and would like to be so again.

Leo Babauta, in 'The Power of Less'says that when acquiring a new habit, you should focus on it for 30 days, and not try and make any other changes during that period. I had never counted calories before I started this plan - 17 days' ago - so consider this a habit I need to acquire. So far, I am making quite good progress with the plan, and have lost over 4lb without feeling overly deprived. I noticed, though, that after a fortnight or so this initial success made me feel quite euphoric, and I instantly started thinking about all the other things I could do - start exercising, start learning Korean, and so on.

However, I'm convinced that Leo Babauta is right; as soon as I start thinking about those other new habits or projects I might start, I can feel I am losing interest in my weight loss goal. So I am telling myself repeatedly that 'after 30 days' I will start thinking about those other things, one at a time. In the meantime, I won't distract myself with any new projects until the 30 days is up. Though my weight loss plan may still be ongoing after this time, it should by then be sufficiently automatic that I don't need to think about it too much.

After all, this is the weight gain of a dozen years - so really, concentrating on losing it for 30 days does not seem unreasonable!

Friday, 27 August 2010

TV programme call-out

I've been contacted by a television company who are planning a programme about people with unhealthy relationships with money. In case anyone is interested in applying, here are the details.....

Do you know someone whose spending is way out of control?

Or are you living with someone whose penny-pinching is making life a misery?

Or perhaps you yourself just can’t get a grip on your finances ….

Well, a new series is being developed for Channel 4 that aims to sort out unhealthy relationships with money whatever the problem.

So, if you’re fed up with scrimpers, or frightened of dire debt,
and are over 18, this is the show to teach you about smart spending, healthy saving, how to manage your money and still have a life - despite the credit crunch!

To apply to take part, email and you’ll automatically receive an application form which you can return either by email or to

Take control of your money, don’t let it control you!

Remarkable will use any information provided by you for the purposes of selecting participants for the programme and will only share information with Channel 4 and any independent contractors involved in the programme.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Autumnal weather, and the urge to splurge

Autumn is in the - very chilly - air, and I'm feeling restless and spendthrift. The autumn Boden catalogue has come through the letterbox, and while I've not been tempted by a catalogue in a long while, suddenly I want something on every other page of this one.

This evening we went out for a mid-week supper, again for the first time in a while. It wasn't very satisfying; we visited an Italian chain we used to frequent quite regularly in the bad old days of being much more stressed and in need of treats than we generally are now. I felt slightly annoyed afterwards that we had spent money on a rather average meal, and that we could have made something nicer at home.

Apart from the weather, and darkening evenings, which do bother me, I'm not entirely sure why I feel inclined to spend money at the moment. Partly, I think it may be a back-to-school feeling; I have to keep reminding myself that I am not about to return to a corporate job I don't enjoy, but for which I feel I should have a new Autumn wardrobe as a small compensation. In fact, J. and I are about to have a week off, after which life should revert to its current varied pattern, just with worse weather. And for which the clothes I have will, for the moment at least, do perfectly well....

Sunday, 22 August 2010

My birthday treat

It was my birthday this month, and I decided to do something a bit different. For a while, and especially since my friend Polly's post about gardening, I have been wanting to start growing vegetables. However, the space in my garden where I would do so was cluttered with awkward to remove plants, like mint, which had overtaken most of the patch. J. and I between us felt overwhelmed by the task of dealing with it.

So, as my birthday treat, I invited my family to a 'gardening day'. Between us, we dug up all the mint. (I'm afraid that I lacked the bodily strength to do much of the actual digging, which was largely done by the male members of the party.) We also cleared some large shrubs, my father pruned many bushes and trees, and we stuffed bags full of the resulting rubbish.

In between our labours, as it was a gorgeous day, we dragged the dining table out into the garden - we have no substantial garden furniture - and had lunch there; my mother and sister had made goats cheese and tomato tart, roast chicken and salad, with meringues and chocolate ganache to follow. Heavenly. The table was decorated with a bunch of flowers J. picked from our garden, and some my parents had brought from theirs.

I had asked for no presents this year, partly as I was asking for help in the garden instead. I did get some lovely presents, though: some books, a pair of fuschia gloves and a purple 'moc croc' wallet that I had bought on holiday and given to J to wrap up, and managed to forget about quite successfully in the meantime, some perfume.

My favourite present, though, was one my father made for me. Following the gardening theme of the day, it was a set of seed markers, made of wood and painted in delicate greens, greys and blue. The paints were testers left over from when my parents painted their house. I cannot think when I was last given a home-made present, and I absolutely loved it.

By the end of the day, we had sowed rows of lettuce, radishes, Swiss chard, and a pot full of rocket. The rocket and chard at least are looking promising at the time of writing, although the other seedlings seem to have suffered after a bout of torrential rain earlier in the week. I am definitely inspired to keep going, though.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Money versus time taken to earn it: I think I have finally 'got' it

It is a reasonably common piece of personal finance advice that it helps to think of money in terms of how long it would take you to earn the price of an item or experience that you are considering buying.

I've read this tip often, and made some use of it, but found it of limited use when I had a full-time job. It was an intellectual rather than emotional understanding. I had to go to work exactly as much anyway, regardless of how much I spent, I had some spare money, and buying the treat made me feel - albeit very temporarily - better about life and about my job.

Now, though, partly because I have just read 'Your Money or Your Life', which I will write about more later, and partly because I'm now dependent primarily on my husband's self-employed income, this suddenly makes a lot more sense. It has really come home to me that for each say £100 spent, this equates to a unit of his time that could either be saved, or used to buy time off for him at some later date.

If I spent say £10 a week on sweets, coffees and the like, which would not be at all difficult, it would take him more than a day a year of hard work to earn the money to pay for my treats. That really horrified me, as it feels like a terrible use of J's time and energy - I think I have now 'got' this concept. I'm not saying I'll never buy a coffee or packet of sweets again, but I hope I will only do so where I really want to, and as a treat, rather than as a habit.

Correction: it would actually take well over 2 days for J to earn the money for my treats, at this rate. (I knew this really, but somehow could not compute!)

Friday, 30 July 2010

I made a short, but sweet, list of my top possessions. What are yours?

I have been re-starting my de-cluttering project again recently; our house looks much better these days, but I am sure that there are still some things that we could do without.  As part of this,  and also while thinking about materialism, and home improvements, I have given some thought to what are my top ten possessions.  Not that I'm planning to get rid of everything else, but it seemed worthwhile to think about which, of my possessions, I really want to keep.   Partly, this was a useful reminder of how few of my belongings really matter to me.

Here's what I came up with - see that I didn't even get to ten:
  • My engagement ring.
  • The blue coat I had made last winter.
  • A silver christening spoon.
  • The armchair which belonged to my great-grandfather.
  • The portable writing-desk my grandfather gave me, which belonged to his aunt.
  • My Tod's handbag (a 30th birthday present)
  • My bed, with the headboard a friend made for it.
  • (Maybe) my apple laptop.
And that is actually about it.  Is that odd?  I would miss all my many books, but in a way it is not so much the physical books themselves that I need, as the memory of them, and hence the ability to find the information they contain again.  I don't value books as objects in themselves, very much.