My Savings Story: Past, Present and Future

The Past

As a child I was always the saver of the family, I always had my only little fund of money to spend on my favourite thing, which at the time was stationery. Due to circumstances Alex and I moved in together when I was 17 and so we didn’t have much chance to save for it, so we had to play catch for a few years after using credit to buy some of the things we needed. It’s not always possible for parents (my mum was a single parent) to put money aside to help their children out through these life events but that’s one thing I’d like to try and do for Erin. I’d like to be able to give her a hand financially if we can, I think it’s so difficult for young people to get themselves established these days.

The Present

During our twenties we set a goal of becoming debt free and eventually creating financial MacBookfreedom, I was inspired after reading Your Money Or Your Life shortly after having my daughter. Our focus has been on clearing a credit card and making plans to pay off both our cars and eventually overpay our mortgage. I have quite a strict budgeting system in operation which means that all our income is allocated into various pots in line with our goals. I keep a household budget spreadsheet to manage this. Alongside this we have also saved for two big trips. We went to Boston and New York for Alex’ 30th and I went to New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville for mine. This year we wanted to buy a PS4 and a MacBook, so some of our disposable income has been allocated to these pots too.

The Future

Route 66I’m really excited about the future, for the first time we have additional income with which we can choose how best to pursue our goals. In the short term we want to go on more holidays and visit new countries, we have set a goal of visiting eight new countries over the next eight years. We would also like to take a longer trip travelling across America for our 40th birthdays. I love our house, but one day I’d like to live in a barn conversion so that might be something we look at too. On top of this I’d like to build a much larger emergency fund.

So that’s our saver story. I love using tools like budget calculators and this savings goal tool from RBS. If you’re considering saving for a big goal, you can also check out Royal Bank of Scotland’s savings accounts.

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The Trip Of A Lifetime… And Being Detained

AdventuresI hate the idea of a trip of a lifetime, because if it’s true then I’ve already had mine. I don’t think it is though because if anything the trip I took last year has broadened my horizons and I plan to take many more like it. I actually bought this sign as we made our way to our last city to remind me… life is too short not to see the places you want to.

IMG_1249The trip I took was to New Orleans, Memphis & Nashville. My mum and I had always said we would visit Graceland and finally we did, tying it into our 50th and 30th birthdays. Preparation began with a couple of rucksacks courtesy of Mountain Warehouse. It was an escorted tour that would see us visit five states and move from hotel to hotel so I decided that a rucksack would be better than a suitcase.
Matching
My mum came to pick me up so that we could travel to the airport together, and that’s when we realised…we had inadvertently chosen matching outfits, from the navy and white striped cardigans right down to the white linen trousers.
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We flew to Heathrow and connected easily to our flight to Atlanta. Mum was carefree (see picture left), unaware of the horror that lay ahead. We disembarked the plane and made our way to security, I briefed Mum on the procedure. We approached the booth together and I placed my fingers on the fingerprint machine, within a minute I had my documents and I was ready to go.

Mum placed her fingers on the machine, nothing. The security officer asked her to do it again, still nothing… She muttered about sweaty fingers and dragged her hands down her linen trousers and once again placed her fingers down. Nothing. The security officer cheerfully told us it would be fine and it was probably just the machine, apparently the one around the corner would be better. He placed her documents into a clear folder and sealed the top, a different security officer led us away and into a glass room. The doors slid closed and LOCKED behind us. The warning signs on the wall told us we were not permitted to call anyone. There was a toilet. I quickly realised that this wasn’t necessarily the ‘short stay’ area.

Mum started panicking that someone had smuggled drugs onto her, panicking a little myself internally I snapped at her to quit her theories which were quickly descending as if we were about to live out our very own Hotel Bangkok nightmare. The minutes slipped away and it occurred to us that our ‘escorted tour’ may depart without us and we’d have to find our own way to New Orleans. Thirty minutes passed, it felt like we had been in there for days. Eventually I decided to ask if I could leave the glass prison to collect our rucksacks which were at this point spinning lonely on the belt. To my surprise he let me leave, but not before he pointed at Mum and said ‘but not her’. I scurried off feeling relieved by my freedom but guilty at leaving mum, detained and not knowing her fate. I returned flushed and a bit sweaty with two large rucksacks, I peered at mum through the glass prison.

Finally after nearly an hour they seemed to just let us go, no explanation, no dreaded ‘squat and cough’ examination. We were free as birds and we ran as fast as we could to meet the rest of our party. We were of course now ‘the late ones’, the ones who had kept the whole group waiting.
Detained
Picture: Mum after her ordeal

The group were not the youngest, the predominant colour was grey. In his enthusiasm to board the coach one gentleman slipped off the curb, I awaited the sound of his fragile bones cracking as he went crashing into the tarmac. Crumpled on the floor, I resisted the urge to tell him not to run as if he were a small child. Another gentleman was sporting a cast, he had slipped at Heathrow apparently. I thought to myself that it could be a long ten days, and quite frankly some of my fellow travellers would be lucky to make it…

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Low Interest Rate Vs Garden Room

We stood in the back garden, I took about ten (of my hobbit sized) paces and said to the husband “about that big?”. We’ve been considering a garden room (not a conservatory, I was corrected by our builder, that’s a different thing – who knew?) since we moved into our new build a couple of years ago. Something big enough to be useful as a second reception room and somewhere to chill out and read. I have visions of myself reading the Sunday papers in there with a nice cup of freshly brewed coffee….I know, I know, but I am about turn 32, I like my chill out time and small pleasures at the weekend. We thought we could even deck the rest of the garden, negate the whole ‘when is he going to cut the grass’ issue which threatens to ruin our Summer weekends…leaving us in a blissful state of harmony. We convinced ourselves the investment would be more than worth it so we got a price…around 16k. Not a bad price for something that would allow us to live in a blissful state of marriage for years to come. He would take the Flymo to the tip, I would perhaps subscribe to a second newspaper…

Clutching our quotation and dreams, we rang our mortgage lender to find out the state of play with our mortgage. Having started on the property ladder early we were pleased to discover that we had more than enough for our garden room BUT, and it was a very big but…we were informed that we were just 2% away from the level of equity where we would become eligible for the really low interest rates. Two tiny percentage points, just a few thousand and we would be there. Not quite the holy grail of paying off a mortgage and becoming debt free, but a big stride towards that. We’d be in a position to start overpaying our mortagage. We did the sums using the mortgage calculator, if we paid X amount we could be mortgage free in X years, and wow if we tightened our belts and paid a bit more we could be there even quicker. We’d still be young enough to start a second mortgage, or travel, or give up work – ok, not quite, but the pressure would be off. It’s what everyone dreams of isn’t it? Debt free, mortgage free… And here we had a plan that could see us get there well before we were 50.

What to do…. If we opted for the garden room we’d set ourselves back several years and we’d have to wait a long while before those interest rates were in our sights again.

So we did the sensible thing. We put our plans for our garden room on ice, and we’ve been working towards those low interest rates. I guess it was a nice idea, but we didn’t want it enough to sacrifice our long term freedom. So that was that, for now at least. It’s surprising how often these life changing decisions start to crop up once you get into your thirties, money is a great thing, IF you can make it work for you rather than having it make you a slave for the rest of your life.

This post is brought to you by Santander

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Skincare for Men by Aveda

Aveda SkincareMen’s grooming has come a long way since I was younger. Back then your choices were limited to a bar of imperial leather or clearasil. Men, as a species are now prepared to embrace the fact that we can look after our skin in a way that doesn’t make us feel a bit, well, girly.

Lots of products are now available focusing on a macho, manly brand ethos. Aveda have come at it from a different angle. Nature. The skincare set I’ve been using is based on natural products including camomile, lavender, peppermint oil and vitamin E. You can really feel the difference when using these products. They make your skin feel clean and revitalised without leaving that chemical residual feel of most other cleansers I’ve used.

The kit is a fully rounded cleansing routine which will work fast and fit into even the busiest lifestyle. The packaging is clean, neutral and has a quality feel to it. All while being biodegradable and eco friendly.

Overall I would say that if you like looking after yourself and are looking for an excellent natural product then I’d highly recommend this kit.

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Is ‘Medium Chill’ The Answer To Happiness?

Ever since I started delving into the world of self development, around the same time I started this blog nine years ago, the topic of happiness has fascinated me.

What makes people happy? Why are some people happier than others? What part does money play in happiness? And the biggest question of all, how can I be happy?

As humans our main purpose is survival, but with most daily risks to our survival now taken care of, this gives way to a new purpose. The pursuit of happiness. If you ask most people what they want it will either be happiness, or something they perceive will bring them happiness, usually money.

I’ve been so busy recently I haven’t had much chance to ponder things let alone blog about them, but today I stumbled across the idea of the ‘medium chill’. It reminded me of some of the books I read a few (nine is a few as you get older) years ago. Medium chill reminded me of The Fulfillment Curve, the idea of ‘enough’.

Medium Chill is the idea that we should all stop striving to own the latest car or the bigger house, although when it comes to size I think TVs are the new way to prove who is the bigger man (or woman)? Medium Chill is about deciding what’s enough and sticking to it, and spending the rest of your time building relationships and enjoying your ‘free’ time. It also suggests we shouldn’t look to further our careers or take the ‘next step’.

This is all instead of the Big Chill which is all about “doing today what others won’t, so you can do tomorrow what others can’t” (this is a quote that has been requoted so many times I don’t know who started it, but a lot of entrepreneurs buy into this idea. In short, you work like a dog until you’re about 40 and then you retire on a beach somewhere. It’s a nice idea but I’ve never met any entrepreneur type that could actually lay on a beach for eight hours a day and suppress the urge to create.

So if the Big Chill is just a fantasy, is Medium Chill the answer? Would we be happy if we all just slowed down a bit and stopped our striving?

I think there are two issues here that need to be addressed.

1. Work makes people unhappy
2. Money makes people happy

Money doesn’t make people happy. Ok, that’s not entirely true. Money does make people happy but not as much as we think. If you’re incredibly poor then a bit more money will obviously improve your lifestyle which may lead to increased happiness. In general though it has been proven that whether good or bad things happen in your life, you eventually swing back to you usual level of happiness. We all end up about the same amount of happy, regardless of what we own. The amount of happy we are comes from how happy we decide to be. Happiness isn’t related to things so much as it is simply a decision. Most of the time you can just ‘decide’ to be happy (some life events will obviously affect this).

Work doesn’t make people unhappy.
The type and amount of work people feel pressured into doing is what makes them unhappy. If your job was to watch TV all day, eventually you would begin to resent it if you had to do it for 10 hours a day straight. If you have a job as a chocolate taster and you had to eat 10 boxes of chocolates a day, it would soon become a chore. You’d be unhappy. To be happy, we need to find work that has variety, that is fulfilling, that allows us the space to do other things if we want to. If you find the right work, something you are passionate about, it doesn’t feel like a chore to do it for long hours.

The key to happiness in my opinion, is simply to refuse to race. The rat race is a race that none of us can win. There will always be someone who has more. Always.

Rather than refusing to strive and going Medium Chill, which I find the idea of a bit boring, I think the answer is to create a new race. A race with yourself. Humans naturally want to develop and achieve. If we focus on being more, rather than having more, that could be really fulfilling? Nobody can be more you than you, but you can be more than you have been. It’s a race we can all win. You don’t have to always rely on stuff for status. When you set personal goals and reach them, people respect you, respect brings status. When you help others achieve, this also brings respect, which brings status. It’s not all about what you own, it’s the effect you can have on people too.

I’ve come to the conclusion that neither the Big Chill or the the Medium Chill is for me. I’m going to continue running in my own race, and I’m going to encourage other people to run alongside me (in their own race). They will cheer me on, and I will cheer them on. And all that matters is that we beat our own times and create a life’s work that we can be proud of.

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Low Flying Planes at Maho Beach, St Maarten

One of the highlights of our Caribbean cruise was our day at Maho Beach. We’d seen the pictures and videos on the internet and we wanted to go and witness it for ourselves.

We enjoyed a few cocktails and a paddle in the sea, and then this happened…

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My 2014 in Pictures

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A Family Cook Up with Galloway Cheddar

Last month Erin and I accepted a challenge from a lovely lady from Galloway (the cheese company, not the place – although she may well have been from Galloway). They sent us a hamper of ingredients, including a few Scottish favourites and challenged us to make some dishes.
Galloway
Our box included haggis, chorizo, turnip, macaroni and of course a huge hunk of Galloway cheddar.

We kicked think of with some Chorizo and Cheese Quesadillas, these are great for quick lunches or as after school snacks. Simply pop a little oil into a frying pan and lay one flour tortilla flat, sprinkle over some grated cheese and top with fried slices of chorizo. Place the other flour tortilla and flip until both sides are golden. Erin doesn’t like onion but I had a little red onion on mine too. Serve with a side salad and if you have it, some salsa.

Our second dish was a bit of an experiment which we named ‘Scottage Pie’. It’s cottage pie with a Scottish twist. I’m not a fan of haggis so this was also a twist on Haggis, Neeps and Tatties. Simply cook your cottage pie as usual and instead of layering the mash straight on, add a layer of mashed turnip first, then your mash on top and of course a generous grating of cheddar.
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Our final dish was one that I’ve been wanting to teach Erin to make for ages, Macaroni Cheese. I learned to make a roux based cheese sauce at high school and it’s helped me make many a lasagne and macaroni over the years – definitely a staple skill in the kitchen.

Win Your Own Family Meal with Galloway

1. Claim your free family meal by spending a minimum of £10 on a shop which includes a promotional pack of Galloway Cheddar. Upload your receipt to www.gallowaycheddar.co.uk – your £5 cash back will be sent to you along with some recipe ideas.

2. Upload a photo of your family dinner and be in with a chance of winning a Galloway serving dish, perfect for your Macaroni Cheese or Scottage Pie!

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Edinburgh Panto: Aladdin

As we settled into our seats for this year’s pantomime at the King’s Theatre I started to think about how you might explain pantomime to someone from another country. It’s a very British thing; men dressed up as women, the slapstick comedy, the audience participation. It’s an unusual set of ingredients that just seems to work, the whole family can take something from it and I think that’s what makes it so popular.Aladdin King's Theatre

The much loved trio of Allan Stewart, Grant Stott and Andy Gray featured in the King’s panto this year alongside Greg Barrowman (who, if I’ve done my research correctly, is the cousin of John Barrowman).

This year’s show is packed full of special effects which keeps the interest up for kids. Adults will enjoy the hidden jokes and subtle innuendo. The story is the one we all know and love, Aladdin goes on a quest to find the lamp and is bequeathed three wishes by the genie. Evil Abanazar has other ideas and steals the lamp and kidnaps Aladdin’s love Princess Jasmine. While the show often goes off on a tangent from the main story, they are welcome tangents. A great variety performance with a bit of everything thrown into the pot.
Edinburgh Pantomime
Allan Stewart steals the show with gag after gag, a few daring stunts and a big ballad performance of This Is The Moment.

Alex who isn’t usually a fan said it was the best panto yet, and I’d be inclined to agree with him. Fantastic Christmas fun for all the family, a must-do alongside the Winter Wonderland.

Aladdin at the King’s Theatre runs until 18th January. Tickets start from £14. More details and ticket bookings here.

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St Thomas & Tortola

After our day in the Bahamas our cruise visited St Thomas.

During our day at St Thomas we decided to take an excursion to swim with dolphins. We hadn’t realised that the excursion would take us through passport control and into another country! It was a full on day but it was worth it for Erin and Alex to have the chance to swim with dolphins, I’d previously done it in Florida so I sat at the side and took the photos.

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Royal Yacht Britannia

Erin’s been wanting to visit the Royal Yacht Britannia for a while, we attempted a visit last year but it was too busy – it’s a very popular attraction, especially for tourists to Edinburgh who want their Royal fix.

The opportunity came up to visit as part of the ‘St Andrew’s Day Out’ campaign. Over 200 venues and attractions participated, offering visitors special deals. You can see all the offers here, a few are still ongoing.

Before we’d even got onto Royal Yacht Britannia, Erin had whipped her camera and was keenly snapping away.

RYB 1

The tour begins on the upper decks. There’s special commentary for children which Erin seemed to enjoy. In fact she supplied me with a few facts for this blog post, so it must have been interesting!

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For example, did you know that shouting on board Britannia was forbidden. Apparently all orders had to be whispered to avoid disturbing the Royal family and their guests.

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There are two things we love on a day out, one is a gift shop and the other is a tearoom.

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We were delighted to find a lovely tearoom serving scones and tea, as well as soup and sandwiches (which looked lovely!)

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The tour continues and you get to see the Queen’s bedroom, the formal dining room, private offices and the lounge area.

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The most fascinating part of the tour for me was the staff quarters, you get a real feel for what a trip might have been like for them. Everything has been kept as it was, even the naafi is still there and selling sweets to visitors.

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We had a lovely day and would highly recommend a visit, at £12.50 for an adult ticket I think it represents good value too. Find out more about Royal Yacht Britannia here.

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Have you discovered Toothpick yet?

ToothpickIf you’re anything like me, most of the household admin is done online. I manage banking, book hairdresser appointments and do food shopping online. If it can be done quickly and efficiently online then I’m on board. I was interested then to hear of a new online booking system, one that lets you book your dentist appointment online.

Toothpick is the UK’s leading online booking platform for dentist appointments. Launched in 2013, one million people have now used the technology to book their appointments.

Toothpick are on a mission to make dentistry more consumer friendly, by making it easy to access up to date information on both NHS and private dentists near you – including prices and reviews! They say that 50 percent of bookings are now being made outside of dental practices’ usual opening hours and 60 percent on mobile devices. For busy parents, not being restricted to fitting everything into the 9-5 is very helpful. It’s been so popular that Toothpick is now being rolled out in Holland, Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

Once you’ve made your choice, you can book an appointment in under 60 seconds.

Follow these three simple steps to book your appointment;

Search

Select a treatment, and search by location, practice or dentist name.

Browse

View and narrow your results, to show for example NHS/private or dentists who treat children.

Book

Click on an appointment time to start your booking. We’ll verify and confirm it via email. You’re booked in!

This post is brought to you by Toothpick

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There Is Only One Success

I love this.

Freedom

Cars and houses are nice, but freedom and choice are the real markers of success in my opinion.

Is success being tied to a well paying job that you hate, that someone could take away from you at any moment? Employment is fine, but getting to the point where you are there by choice has got be part of the success barometer? Likewise with assets, if you don’t actually own those houses and cars and you’re only acquiring them to show off, can that really be classed as successful? Because I think our society currently doesn’t look past these superficial things to find out what real success looks and feels like.

In my opinion, success isn’t a collection of assets.

It’s a feeling.

It’s being completely at ease with where you are in life and how you spend your time and money. It’s having the freedom and choice to do what you want to do and not be beholden to someone else and whatever agenda they may have for you. Beholden is the key word here, employment is the right road for many people, but success is knowing that if you ever wanted to leave you could. Success is having the courage to beat down your own path whether society values and classes that as ‘successful’ or not.

I was chatting to a friend yesterday and we were saying how important and valuable the ‘can’t wait to go to work’ feeling is (as opposed to the dreading Monday morning feeling). Time and the way we spend it is far more valuable than money. There are always ways to make more money, time is finite, once it’s spent you can’t make more. We should value time more highly than money and only spend it on things that are really important to us. Yet too often people ‘work for the weekend’, spend years in jobs they hate (and spend years moaning about it), and put off pursuing hobbies and taking trips for when they have more time. I realised on a trip recently that there would never be ‘more time’. Time in the future is not guaranteed, all I have is the time I have now so I figured I’d better start using it. That’s resulted in adjusting work patterns, spending more time with family and actually using some of my time to pursue hobbies and plan the trips I’ve been looking ‘forward’ to. I’ve got a better deal on our mortgage and started saving more too, I realised that if I wanted to feel successful in the future and have the same level of freedom and choice, that I would had to spend a little bit of my time, and a lot of my money protecting it.

Of course one person’s successful feeling is not the same as another, but on the whole most of us (really deep down, past that ego bit) value similar things; family, a comfortable home, fulfilling work, time for hobbies, a bit of travel… We are often made to believe these things are out of our reach, but if you turn down the noise on a lot of the things that we don’t need (that we are told we do), then you usually find that the important stuff is well within reach.

Right, I’m off to play my new cornet. I thought playing a musical instrument was quite a wasteful use of my time, I’ve realised that doing non-money making things actually gives the money-making activities more point and context. Feels much better to do a bit of the living now and not just saving it all up for some non specific time in the future.

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