Monday, 14 January 2019

Fairly Standard

New job is exhausting me, in the typical "I have forgotten how to do hard work" first week, and also combined with the task of helping the supervisor get on top of the backlog that had built up while my position sat open during December. I had already hit my weekly contracted hours by Wednesday and most of this job is likely to be afternoons + evenings. But while I'm bone tired I will also say a word of thanks for extra hours and for having landed in a job that (1) I can do; (2) will pay the bills, and (3) has nice people in it.

Side effect: I didn't get a chance to go grocery shopping, making for very boring food sustenance from my freezer and cupboards, but it saved me a bit of cash.

Side effect: I spent that saving by ending up in Subway, eating dinner with my supervisor.

Side effect: You don't use much energy in your home when you aren't actually home!

Friday, 11 January 2019

I Never Practise What I Preach

But I am optimistically calling myself a Work In Progress!

I (again) left my job without another one to go to. Uncharacteristically of me, I was doing an absolutely appalling job at the position I was in. Mistake after mistake and me not really grasping the systems. The people were lovely, but if I'm honest, it was a job I fell into and approached with optimism but without much realism. It just wasn't the right role for me at all. So I finished there and then had zero enthusiasm for looking for work - I had a bit a of a grump to myself over New Year, but halfheartedly put in an application for 4 hours per week cleaning with a company that I could see had several other cleaning positions. I figured that they might give me enough hours to cover my bills.

And by accident, (again) I ended up in a job I didn't apply for. Turns out the big boss was in town and wanted to meet me, and they hired me on the spot to do supervision and support, and I started that same day. They issued me a company vehicle the next morning - with mobile phone and iPad to follow. It's completely different role with a good mix of office and on-site duties, plus I have a really wonderful, dynamic and energetic supervisor who is great company and with whom I'll be working closely, so I am very pleased. I will be sitting in on interviews on my third day, helping recruit new staff to join us - I'm just blown away with the trust placed in me! And only one day of actual unemployment, so I am still pinching myself.

In financial news, two of my existing credit cards gave me increases (which I am not going to use any further, but which will help with my credit rating - why - because your credit score is impacted by the percentage you don't use - so the larger the limit and the lower the balance you actually use, the better it looks). I have also applied for a balance transfer credit card. I don't actually need it - I had put £600 in bills on one of my existing cards just to delay paying them for a few weeks while I found work - and then I unexpectedly found work quickly anyway. But after studying the offers, for a total cost of £36 this will allow me to tackle some other bits and pieces first and I will have six months to pay it out for no interest charge. Applying for the card will of course ding my credit rating a bit for a while, but since I have no expectation of applying for a home loan this year, I think I can live with it being in the "fair" bracket.

Remember kids, borrowing is not the end of the world but it should always be informed and considered properly first. I first made sure it was a benefit to me, then used the Experian comparison site to look at offers, and went with one that has pre-approved me - no sense getting a hard search on my credit rating for no reason - and then I read the agreement completely and thoroughly. Don't ever go ahead with any loan or credit that you aren't sure you understand.

Friday, 4 January 2019

Ten Financial First Aid Tips

Many of us get money blues in January. It's that sobering time of year that people realise what they spent in December and the things we have put off can catch up with us. With that in mind here are ten things you can do to help ease the pain of the "New Year Slim Wallet" Syndrome.

1. Eat from the freezer. This is an expression my ex-work colleague D liked to use, but it also includes eating from the cupboards. Check what you've got and see if you can concoct a meal (or three) from what's lain forgotten at the back shelf. It's a good opportunity for a clear-out too.

2. Delay your grocery shop. By a day, or even a few days, if you can. Scrabble around to see if leftovers could do the trick to keep you going a bit longer. Maybe you can even get enough meals together to skip the shop, and just grab a few essentials to keep you going.

3. Eat your eggs. Eggs are really versatile. Beat 2 eggs with the same amount of milk, and throw in whatever you have lying around (chopped ham, leftover vegies, a handful of cheese). Cook it in the microwave until there's no raw egg in the middle when you push it apart with a spoon. You now have a yummy dinner that you can chow down on with some toast, or more vegies, and that's one less meal you need to spend on.

4. Plan. While you're doing the top three items, keep a note of what you actually have. Think about what you could skip while shopping - if you've got three tins of peaches, maybe you don't need to buy apples this week, and if there are frozen vegies, you could use those and skip the fresh broccoli.

5. Ration the car use. Make it a rule not to use it unless you can combine two errands. If you drive to work, have you checked out the alternatives? Have you considered car pooling, or even park and ride, if you currently pay for parking?

6. Ebay it. Perhaps you got Christmas presents you just don't need. Perhaps you have things in the house that you no longer use. Be methodical and see what's just taking up space. A good declutter is also great for feeling refreshed.

7. Go prepared. Actually, make this a habit. Make a decision that you will not spend any money during your work day, and stick to it. This means preparing coffee or tea in a flask, and packing a sandwich or leftovers for your lunch. True frugalists have already conquered this money sieve, but the average punter is still spending every single day on "meal deals" or even on full takeaway meals and coffee - and then realising that they have no savings! If this is you, it's time to tackle this as a matter of urgency. You can do it.

8. Check for vouchers. Apparently quite a lot of us lose the Tesco vouchers, forget about our Nectar, Co-op and Boots points, and have long-overlooked gift vouchers walking around with us in our wallets. Look around and see what you have (and don't ever spend Nectar points on groceries - you can get much better value looking on the Nectar website for deals).

9. Your wardrobe is on sale. Seriously, don't go near the store sales. Take some time to rediscover pieces you like but don't wear often enough.

10. Close doors. Your bedroom might be too warm - 12-15°C is fine, so turn down those radiators and close the doors off from the rest of the house. Ventilate bedrooms in the mornings for 20 minutes to help prevent mould, of course. Humans sleep better in slightly cooler rooms, too, and heating bedrooms less will save you money.

Monday, 31 December 2018

What's Better Than a Post-Christmas Sale?

I stayed home on Boxing Day and watched with amusement as my social media blew up with Spendy Spenderella stories. One person proudly showed off a collection of carrier bags which each displayed a different brand name. (She is also prone to posting glam shots of the new designer handbag she has collected this week.)

Sure, if that's what makes you happy, it is your money, but personally, I think I'd feel good for a few hours and then go back to normal - what about you? Maybe get excited for another two minutes when you take it out of the cupboard for a night out. That's about it. Meanwhile the money's gone.

It does make me wonder whether people think about the whys of buying designer products. Are they to make people admire you? Ok, so that makes us feel good. We like it when people "approve" of our lives. Or when they compliment us on our taste. We feel proud. We feel flattered. But dig a bit deeper and ask yourself if you want to be complimented on your ability to spend money. Trust me I could be an expert at that if I put my all into it, I could throw wads of cash like nobody's business, but does that make me... erm... clever? Worthy of praise? Can you imagine someone actually saying, "Gosh, Susan, you're so good at spending, I wish I could spend as well as you can, I try but somehow the money just won't leave my hands! I am ever so jealous that you can line someone else's pockets better than I can."

Anyway so as I was saying, I stayed home on Boxing Day and steered clear of the sales. Some people noted that most stores were very quiet at the sales (and of course that I should go shopping). I guess if you have a plan for what you're going to buy, the sales can be useful. I did actually pop in to a couple of shops on Saturday - and it was not planned in advance, which was Bad, but I did know exactly what I wanted when I went in, which was Good, and I did stick to it, which was Excellent. So I have come home with 5 pounds gone, but I have extra decorations for my tree for next year and no other junk.

There is still Christmas chocolate in my house. And Christmas cake.

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

The Frugal Guide to a Decadent Solo Christmas

It's probably not a totally frugal day if you follow all these things, but what's the point of being frugal all year if you never get to enjoy it? Also, feeling gloomy often peaks at this time of year, and I am a great fan of living my best life, so, here goes. (Besides, since frugality is a habit for you and I, even the decadent days will be good value.)

Preparation in the days before:
1. Get the grocery shopping out of the way. Preferably do it early in the morning when the shop first opens so you don't have to deal with the hordes of people who all believe it should be done one hour before closing on Christmas Eve. Or be like me and do it at 3.30pm on Sunday and marvel all over again at all the idiots shopping late on a Sunday afternoon (me included).

2. Buy yourself something nice for Christmas lunch. Screw tradition, just get something you enjoy eating. This opens up a host of opportunities in single servings - if you want to eat a roast beef hot pot ready meal for one, do it. Nobody else will be leering at your lunch so get whatever you want. This also frees you from the pressure to buy a turkey, when even the smallest joints are eye-wateringly expensive. I bought a tiny ham, just because I can. And potatoes, which I rarely cook. And brussels sprouts, which to my Aussie self don't even seem Christmassy but hey once a year why not.

3. Get a dessert. It's 2018 and if you go to a large supermarket, you will find they are available in budget ranges, in dozens of flavours, and in serving sizes for one (or one for today and one for leftovers). I bought a budget trifle which I will no doubt struggle to finish before it's out of date. And ice cream, and chocolate, which I will not struggle to finish, but which are important.

4. Get snacks. Then get even more snacks. At this point remember that you'll eat too much and won't want nearly as much as you can greedily drool over. Opt to buy less, or at least make it healthy, like some nicer fruit than you'd normally splash out for, or a Christmas cake that will keep for quite a while. Also cheese and crackers. And a spare Christmas cake.

Pretty.
5. If you're having a quiet tipple then skip tradition again and just buy what you will enjoy. You can break rules and drink white wine with a steak if that's what you want to do! You're the boss for the day. Fancy fruit juice, or soft drink, is also acceptable if you're not drinking. It is a good excuse to chill the bottle of Prosecco I got from work. However it might be a bit meh to drink that alone, so I bet that the vodka and fruit juice that I've already got ends up favourite.

6. Give something for the food banks. Yes we're skint, but someone else is worse off, so drop in a handful of items from your cupboard that you'll never eat - and if those don't exist, the items that food banks always need are tinned ham/fish or hygiene items. Tinned cherries and exotic food are never going to be king at my place so perhaps someone else can use them.

7. Go home and thoroughly clean and tidy your home. Get a load of laundry done. Do the washing up. Put up the tree even though you thought you couldn't be bothered.

On the day:

1. Sleep in - it's free, it's decadent, and you don't have to answer to anyone today!

2. Get out of bed and enjoy your gift to yourself - a lovely tidy home and the freedom to do whatever you please for a whole day. Switch on your Christmas tree lights and think about how pretty it is. Relax over coffee and check in on social media, realise that a lot of your friends are having similarly uneventful days merely because (surprise!) a lot of them are single, working, not from a Christian background, or just not crazy about Christmas. Feel good about being a bit normal after all. Different strokes.

3. Eat something cheap for breakfast, it'll make you feel at peace with your luxury lunch. On Christmas day, chocolate is allowed at any time, including with your breakfast. Dress up in something that makes you feel good. Or stay in your pyjamas all day, if you want, just because you can.

4. Send nice texts to anyone who deserves a text. Call or text anyone who you know might be struggling today.

5. Watch the Queen's speech, because it's tradition, or something. You may accompany this with a drink if you wish.

6. Think about making your lunch. Do this anytime you please, since it's your day, and if you want to eat Doritos while scrolling through Facebook first, you're allowed.

7. Put the radio on, on a station with real humans talking and playing Christmas music. Yeah, you're at home solo but some people have to WORK! Be glad all over again about having a day off.

8. Burn a scented candle. Rub your itchy eyes. Be determined not to be allergic. Burn some incense. Pop an allergy pill. Deny, deny, deny.

9. Watch something of your choosing. If you want to watch Home Alone, do it. If you prefer Nightmare Before Christmas, then not only do I think it's a solid choice but you instantly gain Cool Points. If you, like me, love a good mindless documentary, then Channel 4 has a three-part one all about the Pound Stretcher stores which kills several hours and is vaguely interesting.

I did not follow my own advice and struggled to finish it.
10. At some point, actually make your meal. Make it less huge than you first want to so that you can fit dessert, fruit, cheese and crackers, chocolate and ice cream. Eat all of these things if you want to. Take a pic of your lunch. Meditate on whether you bother to Instagram it.

11. Consider donning the Christmas earrings (or an errant piece of tinsel) for a Christmas Snapchat photo.

12. Food coma time. Nap optional.

13. Play computer games. Chocolate.

14. Stay up late.

15. Eat leftovers.

16. Compose blog post.




Plate contents: Tesco orange-topped ham joint (cold), budget Christmas spuds and sprouts, small steamed onion (all cooked in microwave, in microwave soup cups), budget range coleslaw and spiced red pickled cabbage, budget range gravy (tip: make this up with a sliver of a stock cube for extra flavour). Approximate cost £1.30. Budget-priced? Yes. Missing out? Heck no!

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Knock Me Over With A Feather

Poor cleaners. I picked up every last piece of confetti.
My previous landlord has left a note in the deposit account that it will be refunded in full! Happy Birthday to me! It's all going on debts, but it's still nice.

Speaking of birthday, my workmates glitterbombed my desk and bought me a balloon on Friday (the balloon is floating out of shot). They also bought me a cake, which was lovely. I brought the leftovers home of course!

Work has also been deluged in chocolates and alcohol given as gifts to us by clients... they were divvied up and handed out, so I scored a large tin of chocolates, a large box of shortbread, and two bottles of Prosecco. Very happy with my unexpected Christmas gift, free food is great.

Slight guilt at the moment for skipping drinks with ex workmates, the thought of having to walk half an hour in the rain to the pub on Black Eye weekend - every tradesman in the town is out for end of year drinks, and if there's ever a night not to be walking on your own, well.

I am not spending up big on Christmas lunch, but I spotted a tiny ham in the supermarket for £4 and LIDL have mini roasting potatoes for 19p so I will make an actual baked dinner for the day with gravy. I will also buy a cheap ready made trifle, because making my own would just end up with too much to eat.

Running out of data for the month and accidentally discovered that I can up my plan by 25Gb extra every month at a cheaper price than adding 5Gb when I run out... sooo... upgrade done. I mean come on, I MUST at least watch Nightmare Before Christmas on Christmas Day. I wasn't going to bother with my tree but since I have five days at home, that might be a project.

A few friends have sent kind messages, cards and gifts, or spent time with me, and it was just what I have needed. Thank you. I try to imagine how this time of year must be for lonely people. Only one person was concerned to ask if I would be alone for the day even though practically everyone I know is aware I live alone. Please, chat with your single friends, casually ask about their plans for Christmas, and invite them along for dinner. Or a weekend drink. Or for coffee. Or whatever. It's not about pity, and some of us are ok with spending Christmas alone. Some are not, and one extra chair is no big deal at the table, but it might be a really big deal for someone who would otherwise be lonely.

Merry Christmas all. x

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Losing Google+

So you might have heard the rumour... Google+ for Humans will be no more come the new year. I think only a handful of my 20,000 followers even read my blog, but even so, if you are interested to keep reading I have put the email subscription widget in over on the right (or the RSS feed, for those still using RSS).

Anyhoo, what's new in general? I have been adulting and boy is it hard. Working, eating, sleeping, how come it takes up most of my life? Right now I am concentrating on getting on my feet, Step 2 will be repaying my debts, and then Step 3 will be the whole "plan not to work my whole life" project.

My car was due for its MOT. I took it in and told the mechanic: it needs the horn replacing, the part is on the front seat, and also the exhaust is rattly so please have a look. He did the MOT before replacing the horn and the exhaust bracket - meaning I now have a FAIL with a "Dangerous" and a "Do Not Drive" both showing in my online MOT history, followed by the PASS on the same day. No argument that these things were dangerous, but when I TELL you about them up front why do a stupid MOT test before fixing the things I told you about... I may wait a couple of months then do an anonymous one star review.

So Christmas preparations are in full swing all around me and I am struggling not to be a Judgey Jenny every single day. All I hear is what people have bought "just because". I almost thought it was me being jealous, but actually I'm thinking: this is a path to Never Having Savings. I am slightly concerned I will just become a Hermit Grinch who lives on beans and rice and claims vegetables are an indulgence! :)

I even struggle with the "buy lunch every day" concept. My ex-workmates all seemed to do it. Bringing lunch from home made me unusual (and the butt of jokes). I am just a bit confused, all of them had rubbish pay and lamented a lack of money, but still? If you bring your own food and accept that it's your lunch for today, you get used to not eating a hamburger... you really do get used to it. And I don't miss out because I can go home to a delicious evening meal that doesn't have to be expensive or difficult. Let me tell you, a chargrilled spicy chicken steak sandwich with roasted red peppers from a jar, some mange tout, grape tomatoes and a cold strawberry milk, all prepared in less than ten minutes, is delicious and comes in under £2.

My new obsession is reading the Money Diaries on Refinery29. Take one 20-30 ish person on an average income and see how they spend their money over the course of a week. (I don't bother reading the rich people because I'll just get annoyed.) The average earners all seem to follow a similar pattern, buying lunch, buying coffee, buying a super cute new item of clothing, going out to dinner, pub for drinks, seeing a movie with friends. I didn't want to believe it's normal for people to live an extravagant lifestyle but if this site is a fair representation of the UK in general, then it is. And I'm 99% sure they would all say they are not big spenders. But when you manage to blow several hundred quid on food and drink and going out in just seven days, wow.

My plan to sell all my surplus stuffs didn't go ahead and I arrived too late for the car boot sale. I donated most of it to the charity shop and am still pleased at having less stuff. Still a win.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Enacting Gratefulness

I have felt a bit meh and a bit flat this week, sort of wondering deep questions like "What is my life?" - obviously not helpful in any way whatsoever, but bound to happen when you are not quite sure what your goals are. Broadly, I want to watch my spending and try to save half my income over the next 12 months. But beyond that, I think my objectives are a bit too fuzzy for proper planning, things like imagining being rich, imagining being retired, imagining being a kingpin landlord.

Last night I sorted a dozen boxes' worth officially Going. Carboot cancelled due to the weather, but even though it's not gone I do feel more at peace today in my tiny space. It's tiny and it's constant compromise, but it's inexpensive, I don't need to share it and it keeps me off the streets, and these are things to be grateful for.

My previous flat has mould on one wall. I suspect this means they want to retain my deposit, so I'm more than a little annoyed. It's a waiting game.

My car, Pugsley, is a bit growly. I suspect it is exhaust-related. I am currently assuming it's not a major repair. Since I don't drive him much anymore I'm hoping repairs are few and far between.

Work does actually seem pleased with me, but they've given feedback that they want me to relax and be myself and smile more? I had to reassure them that my resting face is just how I look and I'm not perpetually annoyed at the world!

Two Weeks of Discipline: sandwiches every day at work. No takeaway meals. One big shop per week instead of constant visits (less junk purchased... so the weekly food shop is around £15).

Purchase: Secret Santa gift for a workmate, £10, wherein I battled and finally found a non-tacky garden ornament under the price limit.

Purchase: a stupid sojourn into a new pound shop, £20 gone in a snap, but did incorporate a stand/shelf for my microwave which has created precious storage space. (Context: my kitchen is the tiniest kitchenette you can imagine.)

Ugh: I will run out of data this month necessitating an expensive top up. I am trying to use work's wifi to catch up on things.

Dinner: a piece of quiche, a handful of mushrooms, and yummy rice salad (rice, tin of mixed bean salad, half a jar of pickled red cabbage).

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Escapee

From my previous workplace, and also from my flat and into a new one. I have now located a small patch of floor.

This is my explanation of the state of my tiny new abode. I have officially moved (been here a week) and it has been a continual case of stepping over and around things to try to move about. I am seriously over-possessioned, as I just wasn't able to disown enough stuff before my move. I was hoping to carboot it all this weekend, which was scuppered due to the local one being closed for the season (this may necessitate a trip to my old town next weekend).

Today's achievement was to unpack three boxes. There are still 6 full of stuff with nowhere to go.

I am also gainfully employed in what I hope will be a great job - I say hope, because at the moment it is a learning curve, and with some amount of stress, as I am just not performing spectacularly, and also wondering what, exactly, my job will entail. Each day I am learning new tasks and every now and then they add: and this task will be your baby. These are relaxation moments because so far these tasks are ones that I can do well and will enjoy. It's a role that fell into my lap and was offered to me just of pure coincidence, one that wasn't advertised and for which I didn't apply. It's a role created for me, so now you see why nobody knows exactly what it will be!

The flat move should hopefully cut my expenses by about £400 per month. I am hoping to reach the magical 50% savings mark so that I can pay down some debts. November and December are of course Evil™ due to weirdness of pay dates and changing jobs.

Big plus: I will be not be working weekends apart from one Saturday morning out of every three. I'm so pleased, I finally feel like I can plan my life!

Plus: Discovering things I didn't know I had, such as a stockpile of shampoo and soap type things.

Plus: Now near enough to work that the car stays at home.

Plus-minus: Work's Christmas party coming up, in a chandelier-type venue, which requires an evening dress (boo) but I rebelled and decided to stick with an existing dress. Then I discovered that my workmates very much expect that we'll all be in shiny things, meaning my "plush blanket" dress won't cut it. I have bought embellishments for a pound and will grit my teeth and sew tacky shiny things to the versatile dress.

Minus: Secret Santa gift required for a colleague I barely know. Hmm. Somehow I think they will be getting something safe and boring.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Mental Energy? Where?

I am close to the bottom of the tank, motivation-wise. My coworkers are all feeling it too. We are conducting the same 10 minute phone call non-stop all day every day, and it starts to grate after a while, especially since the people who now call don't seem enthusiastic. So many people on the other end of the phone now don't seem to care about anything at all.

What irony then that I'm almost like that myself.

I'm in a catatonic state and functioning on autopilot. I eat breakfast in the car and drink my coffee as I drive. I make the same budget lunch every day. Every second evening I lose discipline and end up shopping for some kind of one-handed dinner, which also gets eaten in the car, because it's already 7.30pm by then and the mental fuel tank is on empty. Half the time I'm driving to the second job (eating at least half an hour of my income from a takeaway container).

So this week I know I'm arranging my new flat, and the old one is waiting to be photographed but nothing in my house is actually organised and neat enough for them to visit, but have I packed anything yet? --no, and when will I get to do that? Hahaha. And do I actually know WHICH job I will have in a weeks' time, or even when I start? Heck no, that's up in the air like all the other squishy juggling balls I threw up there. This is not like me, usually I can think and plot and plan on these things and come up with a solution (since hey I have had several months to figure this out) but reality is I haven't got the mental energy for solving this one so it's like a homework sheet that has sat untouched. The jigsaw is partly because I can't match up the logistics of actually moving, of how I will realistically deal with the excess furniture and how I will move the pieces I want to keep.

Now and then I come back to something I wrote several years ago.
...many of the people I know are working All. The. Time. And not particularly enjoying it. I feel sad every time they tell me (again) that the hours are killing them. Because I know they will fall exhausted into bed tonight, but get up tomorrow and do it all again. And the next day.
This is me. This is my life. I work two jobs and it only gets me a little bit ahead each week (which doesn't actually get you ahead when you had several months of unemployment and are trying to claw your way back). And I'm about to leave the second job behind and with no idea of my exact finances for the future.

Do. Not. Want.

I want the time to live a life where I can choose how I spend it. I don't need a lot of money but I want NOT to be a time-poor mega-consumer who is swallowing takeaway meals and doing nothing but existing. It's a horrible result for the environment to live this way and I want out.

Rant over.

Small thing... I bought a new pair of trousers, yet another "need" thing, boo, and managed not to buy the warm top that I wanted. But I think I'll "need" to buy a Christmas jumper because I need another jumper and why not make it festive?

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Exciting Update! No.

I wish there actually was something exciting to note here, but no. Life goes on. A chewy pecan, chocolate and caramel cookie was 9p from Tesco yesterday, does that count?

I did manage to organise myself into using the Park and Ride in the mornings, it's £33 a month instead of paying £158 for parking in the town centre. I know there are some days coming up where I'll have no choice but to park the expensive way (because I will have two jobs that day) but it will still be worthwhile overall.

Still no real indication this workplace will keep me on come mid-November. In fact, they have sort of indicated they won't have the budget to do it (hey at least that isn't a "we don't want you" response). They took 12 of us on for 12 weeks and we have lost one already, and two more leave next week. Dropping like flies. People can't afford to sit around on a maybe and end up unemployed in November. The main project we're doing has a pretty firm finish date of the end of October, so people dropping out won't actually mean that there is more work for the rest of us to do later. I suspect the first week of November will be incredibly quiet and sombre, lots of staring at hands and ceilings.

I did go for a shop assistant job near my current workplace and I got it. In fact I didn't even really interview, just chatted with the manager. She told me later that she decided in the first minute to give me the job, even before I met her, because she saw me chatting with another of her employees and decided I was able to make a connection with a complete stranger comfortably. Quite the eye-opener I have to say. It's the same company I currently work for so of course she already knew that I recruit for these exact positions and know what is expected in this job.

I have to see both real estate agents this week - the current one has asked whether I am renewing and needs an answer, and the other has a flat I'm hoping to get hold of. It's less than half the price of my current one (and of course half the size) but I honestly don't mind the small space. It's a little less convenient to fit my stuff in but to be honest I think I would prefer to own less stuff. I know I meet that agent's benchmark for minimum earnings - even though I will only have a 20h shop assistant contract at that point. It will be pretty tight to live off, but it will buy me time to find more work. I'd also be able to leave the car at home and walk to work so that would be quite a saving.

I keep putting off a decision on the caravan. It only booked one week of October. Overall it would probably break even if I let it the whole year, but then it defeats the purpose of owning one if I am never able to use it myself. I had sort of decided to sell it then noticed that similar vans are going for really low amounts right now (bad timing). I think I will have to just bite the bullet, sell it at a loss and at least have half my money back in hand.

Purchases of late: long winter coat £15 (it even has a removable liner), work top £4, new horn for my car £7.

PS. Ok I did it, emailed four agents for info on selling the van, let's see what they have to say.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Life "On Hold"

I was thinking to myself that I really should blog something this weekend in a spare moment, and even though I'd known I had been busy, I was aghast to see how long it's been since my last post... eek!

I know that I have fallen off the wagon a lot of late. I haven't really cooked in weeks, and have lived off scotch eggs and sausage rolls for dinner. I even bought a takeaway meal twice... quelle horreur. Worse still was the waste of food (insert ashamed emoji here). I really haven't been looking after myself other than to ensure adequate sleep, but at least I've had time for that much.

Cash actually seems just to bleed away. I am not making big spends but I'm making unplanned spends. Random spends here and there, I'm acutely aware of the fact that the wallet is coming out non-stop, but I literally haven't got the spoons to do anything about it. I mainly just hold on for the ride and hope that when I get back to the turnstiles, the bank account won't be in the negative.

sku-238917 eyeglasses angle viewI did buy myself a new (second) pair of reading glasses. These are those... they were $12 US including the postage. I cannot recommend them highly enough. The company is Zenni, and if you're a TopCashBack member you should go in via there (then make sure you sign up to the Zenni mailing list and get your intro discount).

I am beginning to begrudge the fact that my two jobs are in different cities. I think I've mentally checked out of my own town because the daytime job is in another town. It's like I resent coming home because I'll only have to drive back in the morning... which is slightly ridiculous and funny because most people would have the reverse attitude! :D

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Entitlement

I know it's a bit prejudiced, but I'm struck lately how entitled many people can seem. I blame the parents... we must have dropped the ball here. We have gone so far in assuring our kids that they can have the world if they want it, that many of them think they deserve it without any effort.

In my current day job I spend most of the day talking to people wanting shop assistant jobs. I talk to them about going to an interview, or about working rotas, and... what? Over and over again, the days that I mention are "not convenient". It is rarely due to being at school at that time. I often hear things like "I have a birthday party to attend", "I didn't really want to work weekends because it's the only time for me to see my friends", "I prefer not to work evenings", "Can I just work 3 hours on a Saturday?", "Could you please move that time after 11am so that I don't have to get up so early?"

What?

As one of my coworkers remarked: If I were going for a shop assistant job and the manager wanted to see me in thirty minutes' time I WOULD BE THERE. I would go any time, any place, exactly where they wanted me to be. Only a wedding or a funeral would stop me getting to that appointment.

And yet somehow in 2018, people feel entitled to an employer fitting things around when it's convenient for them. How did this happen? How have we created such snowflake monsters?

Sometimes the penny drops; sometimes not. Sometimes I have to tell them I can't consider them if they won't work on a Saturday. Sometimes they won't attend any of the four interview dates I offer them. Some of them wake up and reassess their priorities immediately... some of them say they will get back to me. No problem, love... I will give that job to the next person who calls, and then when you call me next week you'll be shocked that there is nothing left for you.

I write all this and yet at the same time I feel absolute envy for someone able to do this. Just like the ones who would quit any job where the manager disallowed trainers and jeans. Bully for you, for having the funds to walk away from a stable job just because you're forced into the horror of pressed trousers and tidy shoes. Slow clap for your self-righteous indignation that a company should value you for more than your attire. In a way many of us would like this. The freedom to work or not work, as our fancy takes us, to wear what we please.

But in the real world you are not your personality. You are not your inner traits. We do not look beyond your clothes to see the real you inside. Being a people person, or being a kind person, or being an organised person, none of that cuts it. When it comes down to human needs and wants, we don't want types of people.

We want actions.

We want the suit and tie... we want the time management. We want the cake baked by the lady in accounting. We want the high five, we want the early mark, we want the great sales figures. We want the Works On Saturdays.

We want the breakfast in bed, not the guy who says he is nice.
We want the warm hugs, not the girl who says "I love you".
We want the intimacy, the friendship, the real and tangible things.
We want that listening ear, that helpful advice, that kind gesture.

We have no interest in the person inside, really. What matters is the things that the good people DO. The person inside means nothing, because someone's insides never do a darn thing, I mean, think about it, your personality isn't smiling or holding the door open for someone, so what is the point of merely saying you're "friendly" or "considerate"? But if you start doing things... the doing is what we care about. We like that person who speaks honestly and we like that person who donates to charity and we like them due to things we actually see them do.

We have raised a generation of people who value who they are instead of the good things that good people do. And quite honestly, "who" you are is of zero interest to anyone.

But who is actually saying that out loud?

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Long Weekend

Well and truly overdue, it was tidy up time in my flat after several weeks of me barely being home other than to eat, shower and sleep. I had three assignments due this weekend - the conclusion of my course - and I am still struggling for motivation. It's quite challenging to force yourself to read and comment on things that seem so painfully common-sense, especially while working two jobs. Fortunately they have granted me an extension of another week.

Let's pretend I carry a briefcase.
Work is going well is going along. I enjoy what I do, and I feel like I'm doing quite well at it, I just don't have any indicators on whether they are pleased with me, apart from fellow newbies who thank me for helping them learn. The senior employee in the desk beside has been away for two weeks and I'm so pleased that she will be back this week, as I'm hoping she can find out how I'm going or listen in to a few of my calls and offer suggestions to improve.

Speaking of work, they have organised a dinner out next week, one that I will have to attend. I'm not keen on paying out for that, but I'd like to get to know my colleagues a bit, and I've been told the restaurant has lovely food. It will be a dry evening for me since I'll have to drive home afterwards, so I am really hoping it doesn't kick on late into the evening. I'm fine with being a night owl but it's maybe less glossy if everyone else is rather merry! At least it's on payday, even if mine will be a short pay because of the timing of my start with the company.

We have a tentative date. In 2023.
Also trying to arrange to meet up with three friends in other towns - sounds simple, right, but because three of us have shifting work schedules and unsociable rotas, this is becoming more and more ridiculous and has fallen through over and over again. I fear we might all have to drive to the middle of nowhere on a Tuesday just to say hello for an hour and then each head home for early nights. We have literally resorted to pasting each others' work schedules into each others' calendars, and last night I remarked: well I'll have time to invite you all down in November once I'm unemployed again...

Which is part of why, despite three weeks of extra evening work coming up from my old employer, and money that will really come in handy, I'm resenting the time it will take up :( I'm well and truly in the middle of "shit-life" syndrome right now! Don't get me wrong, I'm not unhappy, but it's rather frustrating having to endure this while literally having no social life.

Good: the £100 parking charge, while not erased, has been dropped to £30 as a gesture of goodwill. I consider this lucky.
Freebies: huge bag of apples which I picked from the roadside
More freebies: tinned tomatoes, unopened marmalade, and about ten half-packets of herbs, spices and stock cubes, from a client's employee moving to Germany whom I didn't actually know... but they surely would not care who took these things after ten days of them sitting in a box saying "help yourself".
Eh: the caravan has done better than expected, but will still likely not cover its site fees for the year. This is mostly due to the late start in getting it rented out. I am pondering whether to sell it soon and cut my losses.

Saturday, 25 August 2018

We're Dying Sooner... of "Shit-Life Syndrome"

Isn't that just a topic that makes you want to laugh, cover your mouth in horror for laughing, and then cover your mouth just in general horror? Life expectancy has been rising for years and years and all of a sudden, not anymore. And researchers have, believe it or not, put this down to "shit-life syndrome". That phrase is the actual name. I didn't make that up. (I wish I had.)

Peripherally, I knew this sort of thing WAS a thing in the UK and in the USA, even before I moved to England. We have ever-growing masses of people for whom the reality of their working lives is minimum wage, long hours, decades of debt and daily job insecurity. The Guardian blames this on poorly-educated people, but I'm in this situation and consider myself not to be completely ignorant, and I really don't think I'm a unique case. I'll be honest, I meet a lot of these people doing cleaning work (many seem to have quirky personalities that turn interviewers off, or they are smart people, but lacking the skills that would gain them work in other industries). But in kitchen work it is a mixed bag, there are some very clever, well-educated people who have landed in the gruelling work of a kitchen simply because they can't get work elsewhere. Surely, they can't all be terrible at interview. Surely it's a reflection of the reality, that it's not so easy to get regular, reliable work in the industry you're after.

So many of us are just working a gruelling, low-paid, low-skill job, with poor progression prospects and poor job security, and are reduced to feeling grateful for being a slave, just because it means the rent gets paid this month.

Well, it's correlated with poor health, to diet-related and lifestyle-related conditions which would be largely preventable with enough "education". Or is it? As I have spelled out recently, when you're tired you stop listening to the things you know and you start doing what's convenient. You eat a takeaway pastry and call that dinner, instead of the meat and three veg that you know is much better for your health, and you do it because dang it, you're tired and you've lost the will to care.

We are increasingly being treated for depression not because of major life events slapping us in the face, but merely thanks to the drudgery of our shit lives. We up the medication, or we self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Dependence on drugs is rising, as are overdose numbers, not just in the drug capital of the world but here in the UK too. We're not becoming more stupid about drugs though, because we've never been more educated about their dangers. We're simply growing in numbers, we of the Shit-Life Brigade, and we search for the easiest escape because we are just too tired to figure out a better way to solve it.

It's mesmerising, until you're actually stuck in it.
For the past year I've oscillated between "not enough work" and "too much work", a Newton's Cradle of job insecurity. When you're low on income you worry about money and you spend so much time and effort trying to find work; and when you actually find it, you're almost blind with fatigue and you hate what you are doing, but you're still trying to catch up from the past few months, while also conscious that you need to try to save for a future where you again, won't have enough work, and it is a cycle that repeats. For most of that time I've survived just by thinking that it's not permanent, that the exhaustion will pass, that soon I'll have permanent work in an industry that I enjoy. What must it be like for people who can't even see a light at the end of the tunnel? What would I turn to if I thought there was no escape from shit-life?

Don't get me wrong. I am very fortunate. I am healthy and have enough to eat, a roof over my head. Most of the time I am content. But I try to get my head around a world where fully half of us are treading water for our whole lives. It makes me want to rebel. It's my eyes trying to claw their way out of my head, yelling out "NO!" (Let's pretend that eyeballs have a way to yell.)

I reject your assertion, World, that I have to live my whole life in a blur where the aim of the game is just to survive. I want more than survival. I want to have part of my life to myself, and dang it I'm going to do what I can to make that happen, even if it means giving up takeaway food and living on omelettes, fruit and sandwiches.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Arguing With Myself

It's all I seem to do lately when it comes to money. For example, the new trainers I bought for £12, that I badly needed, but that I knew were eating into limited funds. This week I also bought myself a pair of trousers from the charity shop, and two shirts, for a total of £8, and STILL I thought to myself: well I am only working here for three months so I really could have made do by wearing my skirts now and then. But once I was home I reasoned that denying myself a second pair of work trousers is really bordering on ridiculous.

I also badly "need" a haircut to try to tame the mess on my crown. Even so I am delaying it and delaying it because I'm so uncertain about having anywhere to live in November. I suspect what will happen is that I move my furniture into storage and spend another November in my caravan. That's not a bad thing, it is a lovely place even if rather chilly at that time of year, and I wouldn't be able to rent it for November anyway. And that has another side-effect, me being annoyed at having possessions, because having to pay people to move and store furniture is really very annoying.

I ordered a satnav for my car, and I justified it by getting an older and thus cheaper model, so if it doesn't do the job I'm going to be annoyed at myself to say the least. So far I have resisted replacing the radio. For about half my commute it will only pick up horrible radio stations that really test my patience, so of course I'm wishing I had a newer radio to get "proper" music. But until that's at a price I like, I will grit my teeth and bear it.

Silly purchase of the week: I paid to get a key cut for my work drawer because I am paranoid I'll lose the only key and be unable to get to the files I'll need for work. I realised too late that if I had lost it, the facilities team would break into the drawer for me (thank you, workmate J, for losing your key and helping us all to learn this lesson).

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Fallout

Remember how I said that when you're inanely busy, something has to give? Well we have the answer. I interviewed for a permanent position in my office and didn't get it. I just wasn't giving the answers they wanted to hear, and that comes down to a lack of preparation for the interview. I'm still not entirely sure what was lacking, so all I can really do is google typical interview questions.

The manager was very kind, we get on very well and she did note that I still have 11 weeks where I am, and there was still a possibility of... possibilities. Of course I can't bank on that so I have to assume I'll be unemployed at that point. The real difficulty is that it's almost right on top of my rental lease expiring, meaning I will somehow have to find a new place to live while unemployed. Just in case you don't immediately grasp the significance of that, landlords essentially never let to someone without permanent full-time work. To say that November is going to be a challenge would be an understatement. A dear friend has kindly offered to host me if the worst comes to worst, but he is in Wales, nowhere near either here, or my work, so I'm not sure I can realistically take him up on the offer.

Not my car, I park better than this.
I finally managed to get myself a small loan, and bought a car. It's a ten-year-old, pug-nosed, one litre shoebox on wheels that you could park on a drink coaster, and although it has 100k miles on the clock, the service history shows that this little creature has been very well looked-after. So I have now been driving to work for a week. Amazingly, I keep forgetting that I have a car and that having a car means I can Do Things™. Things like actually going down to the holiday park where my caravan is (I can't stay overnight as the van is let out to holidaymakers, but I could still use the facilities there or even just visit the beach). I can visit the big supermarket where the prices don't gouge me. I can get bulk buys home because I don't have to carry them. I quite dislike that it's a car that has made this all possible, and that I can so easily feel relief at doing things the easy way, but it is what it is. A week of commuting has been even cheaper on the fuel than I expected.

As for the loan, it is expensive, but not in the eye-watering-interest bracket that I had expected. It is definitely cheaper than credit cards or payday loans. The option is there to pay it out early if lightning strikes and I suddenly get rich enough. The repayment itself is quite affordable (I say that, as someone facing unemployment!!!) because even taking that interest into account, it is cheaper to drive than to commute by public transport. This world is crazy, huh?

As for my second (older) job cleaning, I got what I wished for and immediately wished I hadn't got what I wished for. They have found someone to replace me. I will, as of Wednesday this week, be absolutely free in the evenings and not have to run off to push a vacuum cleaner around. It's what I want, but of course I'm also thinking: I really should be trying to earn more money for November. As it stands my full-time income won't leave much over once all the bills are paid. There won't be much in the tank for an unemployed December. The old boss is still offering ad-hoc work, and part of me is grateful while part of me wishes I could walk away from needing two jobs...

Good: lost a bit of weight, not much but it's a start
Hmm: parking costs more if you pay for it online, so I am constantly chasing change to feed the machine, meaning I have to keep paying cash for groceries. Last supermarket visit I made five separate transactions to get as much change as I could. A few funny looks. I hope it doesn't make me go shopping more and spend on things I don't need.
Bad: parking fine two hours after I bought my car, in my own backyard, because I didn't have my permit yet. £100. Currently appealing this but unlikely to get it lifted.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Saying "No" to Plastic?

How did we ever live without ATM cards? I was thinking about this during the week. One of my memories of childhood was when Mum's local building society was bought out by a bank. Our regular routine had been to visit the tidy, sterile and efficient building society, and now we were subject to the utter boredom of having absolutely nothing to do while stuck in a large and dirty bank branch, a shabby old place with threadbare carpet, completely devoid of any kind of personality apart from "horrible". Each week my mother queued for teller service, to hand over her passbook and withdraw her cash, and the "progress" of having to change banks meant that the passbook was no longer fed into a machine to be printed - the bank teller now used a pen to write the transaction out by hand. My mother observed this backward step and got merely an apology that the bank system couldn't cope with the newer building society computer system...

Look at that queue! The smile is a lie.
Bank Branches. Blech. Give me an ATM any day. I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that having to actually step inside a bank is as alien as a rotary phone, or using a fax machine. I mean, what for, unless it's to remind ourselves that this is how we used to suffer?

So it was with interest that I read Brigid Delaney's piece in The Guardian recently, where she admitted to intentionally not replacing a lost ATM card, and instead forced herself to operate only by cash. While I lived in Finland I often withdrew cash and used it instead of my ATM card. I found cash somehow tactile, since I was not looking after bills and payments myself, and it gave me some kind of attachment to the financial world, even if very limited. It also meant that I knew how much money I had. When you have limited income, the feel of notes and coins, the physical sight of it dwindling as you hand it over for goods, all keeps it very real in terms of tracking your spending. One of my workmates does the same. Her debt burden is high, so she does the maths on every payday, keeping all her bill money in the bank and withdrawing the leftovers as cash. Once the cash is gone, it's gone - there is nothing left for her to spend.

But given that it's still possible to spend every scrap even when you're working in cash, is there a point? Maybe. I personally think that the contactless trend is insidious. Paying for things has become so easy that we barely think about what we're doing. Think about it next time you pay - the focus is on waiting to hear that beep, at which point we pull the card away and consider the deal finished. We barely think about the amount, or that we've just paid for something, at all.

These little purchases, for a chocolate bar, for the bus ticket, for lunch, all small snippets which can add up to a tremendous amount of moolah in a very rapid way. Think how many people you know claim to be hard up for cash and still flash that beepy little card all the time - but it's not hypocrisy. The purchases are no longer tangible. People are simply not connecting "many small purchases add up to a big total". It's a spending avalanche, like in the cartoons when you were a kid and you'd see a snowball becoming bigger as it rolled down a hill. The little things matter, folks. They make all the difference.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Just When You Think You've Seen It All

Ahem. It is now a thing to pay for a daytime nap. £18 for an hour, to be precise.

In a way, I understand completely why this is a thing. Not so long ago, it was normal for people to verbally compete with each other on who's more tired. Because being tired, you see, is a measure of how busy you are (which implicitly makes you a hard worker, a driven, dedicated, ambitious person we should all admire).

But most of me automatically rejects the idea of buying a nap. Pay for sleep? What? Who are the people who can afford this? And how dreadful is their money management when £18 seems worthwhile for a bed for an hour, and how dreadful is their time management that they have to snatch this nap while not at home? (Despite my previous week of sleep deprivation... I baulk at the very idea.)

Then there's a small part of me thinking: Dang, why didn't I think of charging people for naps...

But where was I? Oh yes. The competition for being more busy than everyone else. If you listen to the people around you, you'll hear it in general conversation. Sometimes people bring it up spontaneously. I've seen people stuck in a busy-loop (and I must admit I've occasionally been stuck in one myself). That point where you are merely existing, you check your calendar constantly to see where you need to be next, where appointments creep up on you (dang, I haven't had time to get ready for this one and it's here already!) and you know that your life is just too busy. But paradoxically, you're too busy to try to get yourself out of the loop.

Are we choosing this? Plenty of people will say they're not. That this is just a necessary evil. That their obligations to the people in their lives drive half of it (ballet class, cub scouts, swimming lessons, piano tuition, Pilates, book club, etc etc etc) or even the simple workaholic mindset. But what if we choose to remember that our entire lives are driven by small choices made one by one?

I have real empathy for the ones whose calendars are full just by working. I've been there. But I also recognised it was unhealthy, and I dedicated time to actually evaluate overworking as a choice. So many choices are made while thinking we don't have a choice. But we often just forget to factor certain things in. Feeling like we have no choice working long hours, for example, sometimes omits to consider our spending habits and the possible sacrifices we could make instead.

I choose not to live in a palace. I'm not even in the smallest place I could be living - and I think next time I move, I'm going to opt smaller, because it will allow me to kill more debt. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but I still find it fascinating that so many people don't even consider these things. Maybe if some people paid for slightly fewer "activities" for their kids, they could spend a couple of hours with their kids and even squeeze in a nap... for free?

Saturday, 11 August 2018

The Week That Was

I borrowed the title - in its original song it was about a horrendous week, but in my case, the last week has been probably one of the most blurry weeks I've ever survived. I don't think I can call it truly horrible by any means, but "tired" would be an understatement. And not like when I was physically overworked in the kitchen and my everything hurt. This week my feet have suffered to the point I could barely walk, but more than that, it was sheer lack of sleep. It turns you a bit loopy and really makes you waste money on things because you are losing both your proper reasoning and your ability to even care.

I started a new job with insane commuting costs. And of course I don't do things simply, so I'm still working at my old one (fewer hours, thank goodness) while also trying to complete a course in Business Administration. I cannot recommend having so many responsibilities at once. Sacrificing some of your sleeping hours to get work done is not recommended.

Predictably when you get to that point, something has to give. For me this week it was my spending on groceries. I did manage to get myself set for work (I have packets of soup, a microwave mug and spoon, plenty of snacks for my desk drawer, and the coffee is free). So I did sort of alright there. So far I have resisted buying anything at the work canteen. Unfortunately by afternoon I am starving, thinking about dinner, and facing the abyss of the commute home followed by going to my second job. So every evening I've ended up buying something I can eat on the train on the way home. It's been mostly inexpensive options from supermarkets, but even so it was a real lack of planning. By the time I realised I should have sorted this out, I was stuck in an entire week of "no time to cook any dinners at home, no energy to even think about that, it's just too bad". Literally. The choice was go home and cook dinner for tomorrow or go home and get that important extra half hour of sleep, and sleep won every time.

This role is a temporary contract so I did buy myself a nice (cheap) coffee mug for work to make myself feel a little bit like I belong, and a tiny plant for my desk, and oh some coloured pens. All bad and a bit of a waste of money I must admit. But I am trying to approach this job as if I will be staying, to give it my full attention and effort, to see it as an opportunity to learn new skills that I might be able to use in a future role. So far I'm quite enjoying what I learn.

The weather is kicking in with force, and ruining my work wardrobe plans of being in skirts and sandals. It's a good thing I hadn't bought more than I did, but trousers will need to be the go-to and more than one decent pair would be a smart idea. But that means I need some useful flat shoes which I do not hate. More shopping, sigh. I did finally get the new trainers that have waited two months to exist. Half marks for me.

Win: work is near the super cheap supermarket and I have "wait for train" time every afternoon to get cheap essentials to take home with me
Win/Lose: personal loan approved from the bank, to buy a car... up-front expenses ahoy, but I'd quite like to gain an extra 90 minutes back of my life each day thank you
Lose: the guy who won the auction for my scooter decided he had no interest in paying for it or even replying to messages
Thought to ponder: why are there soooo many things in this world which you realise that you have to get and really annoyingly, they cost money? Deep, I know.