Saturday, 29 October 2016

Life's Simple Pleasures: Halloween Pumpkin Carving

It's been a while since I wrote about my simple pleasures, so a new post is long overdue. As I've said before, I'm a firm believer that happiness can be found in the little things in life. My personal view is that when we focus our attention on appreciating these small things, we can experience a more peaceful, contented and ultimately happy life.

Today I found myself with the biggest smile on my face as I experienced a rather creative, yet simple and fun pleasure...

Happy Halloween!

Yes it's that time of year when many people choose to have a bit of fun dressing up in ghoulish fancy dress, decking homes and streets with cobwebs, skeletons and all sorts of other spooky decorations, and getting into the spirit of all things halloween (pun intended!) 

I've always enjoyed the theatrical nature of Halloween. I love finding new suitably frightening costumes to wear as well as experimenting with spooky make-up techniques. Then of course there's decorating the house with items from my "Halloween box of goodies" such as my flickering haunted house, bubbling cauldron, and spiders web candelabra. I always find it fun when the local kids stop by trick or treating, and this year we have made sure to have some sweeties ready - it's the least we can do when they've made so much effort with their costumes.

Sticking with the theme of Halloween, while I was out investigating our new local Aldi store today, I decided to purchase a couple of reasonably large pumpkins for the bargain price of 99p each, with a view to having some fun carving them.

I don't seem to find the time these days to allow my creativity to flourish, so this promised to be an opportunity not only to share some fun time with The BF, but also to let my artistic side have a bit of an outing.

There were a lot of seeds to remove and scraping out
 to do before we started the carving!

Late this afternoon, we took some time to have a go at carving our masterpieces. TheBF had never carved a pumpkin before, and I had only carved about one or two basic attempts in years gone by.

First we began by cutting a large hole in the top of the pumpkin, then scraping out any seeds and pumpkin pulp.

There was lots to scrape out                     
Scraping complete!

Next we searched the internet for inspiration of what to carve. TheBF opted for a Pikachu style image, and I found a fairy image to carve. We printed out images to fit the size of our pumpkins and taped them onto the pumpkin so that we could use these as a guide.

Template applied and ready
to commence carving

I used a dressmakers pin to mark out the outline of the fairy (this took sometime and I now have sore fingers from putting the pin in and out so many times!) After this I was able to remove the paper image from the pumpkin and carefully use a knife to cut out the image of the fairy.

Pins for marking the outline                  
Something to keep me going...
well it was Saturday night!

After I'd fully cut-out the image of the fairy, next I wanted to create a "swoosh" of magical stardust trailing behind her. To do this I used a drill with different sizes of drill bits.

While I was doing this I switched the house lights out and popped a small torch inside the pumpkin to see how it was looking.

All in all, I think this mini project took me about 2-3 hours and I was thoroughly engrossed the whole time. In short I loved the process and better still I loved the end result.

A little bit of magical fairy dust

TheBF's pumpkin carving was fabulous too...


So now we're all set for the next couple of evenings, these babies will be taking pride of place outside our front door, facing onto the square where we live.
A pumpkin welcome!

After the pumpkin carving was complete, it was time to decide what to do with all the contents which had been scraped from the insides! A quick internet search suggested that we could turn the many (many!) seeds into a tasty snack. So we decided to give it a go.

It was really easy to do, and I have to say the results are delicious. We put the pumpkin seeds in a colander and rinsed them, then placed them on a baking sheet where we drizzled them with Olive Oil and sprinkled with sea salt.

These went into the oven (at 180 degrees fan assisted) for 16 minutes (anywhere between 10-20 mins is good depending on your oven), after 10 minutes I checked them every 2 minutes to see whether they had browned.

Our roasted pumpkin seeds hot out of the oven
Once out of the oven, I put the seeds onto kitchen towel to pat off any excess oil, then popped them into a serving dish and they were ready to sample. They're a lovely savoury snack, reminding me of a type of bar snack one might be offered!

Removing the excess oil                        
Tasty pumpkin seed snack

So that's my simple pleasure for today - the enjoyment of taking some time to be creative both in carving, and in coming up with a new tasty snack for us to try.

Have you tried carving a pumpkin this year? How did it go? If you have any pictures, let me know using the comments or my contact form and if you're happy for me to do so, I'll be in touch to see if I can list them in a follow up post!

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Now You Can Trade Gift Cards, With A Free £5 Credit For You To Try

Have you ever found yourself after Christmas, a birthday or even a wedding, having received a generous gift card but unfortunately it's for a retailer who you have nothing particular you wish to buy from? Or perhaps you have won a gift card in a competition? Or been sent a gift card as a reward for being a loyal customer elsewhere and you'd rather have received the cash value instead? 

It's possible to end up in a situation where you are scouring a retailer's online site or store simply to find a product to purchase so that you can make use of the gift. It's a lovely gesture, but sometimes it falls flat when you'd rather be able to spend the value at a retailer of your own choice. Well that's where handy site Zeek comes in, solving the problem by allowing you to sell your gift card (for a small fee) so that someone else can purchase it who actually wants to use the retailer in question.

Not only does Zeek allow you to sell unwanted gift cards, you can also find generous savings on a vast array of gift cards available for purchase

Recently I was kindly offered a £50 credit to check out how Zeek works so that I could share the experience with all of my readers in an honest review. Unsurprisingly I couldn't wait to jump straight in and give it a go, particularly because I also have the opportunity to offer £5 free to all new members signing up using this link.

So, here's how I found the Zeek user experience...

First things first, with my frugal hat on I checked on Quidco and TopCashback to see if there were any cashback deals to be had for signing up with Zeek. Sure enough Quidco offered 4% and TopCashback offered 4.04% cash back for first purchases, nice! I found the sign-up process very quick and simple, opting to sign-up with my Facebook account (though there were also options to use your Twitter, Google or email accounts).

Since I didn't have a gift card to sell, my experience was instead from the perspective of a buyer. The great thing about Zeek is that you can pick up a bit of a deal, because you can buy gift cards for less than their face value, so I was excited to see what was on offer.  I found the site easy to navigate with options for "Buy Gift Cards" and "Sell Gift Cards" always present on the top navigation.
Just some of the many gift cards available to purchase at a discount

Selecting the Buy Gift Cards option, I was presented with a vast array of well known brands including NEXT, Debenhams, iTunes, Argos, Tesco, Boots, Pizza Express, Prezzo, John Lewis, Toys R Us and many, many more. I had been a bit sceptical about how much choice there might realistically be, but I wasn't disappointed.

Under each brand a percentage was displayed to indicate the maximum discount available, though the exact amount of money-off depends on the individual gift card being purchased. Since the cards on sale at any given time depend entirely on what has been sold to the site by other Zeek users, the denominations of card available for each brand can be quite variable.

On selecting a retailer, it was then possible to see any gift cards currently on sale, with the purchase price for each clearly listed. 
For each retailer there are a mix of card values to purchase with varying levels of discount

I opted to buy a £25 Debenhams card for online use, and a £30 physical card to use at Cafe Rouge, enjoying 8% and 7% discounts respectively (total cost £50.80).

For online cards, once purchased they're available immediately to spend, and can be accessed via a handy wallet option on the Zeek site. Physical cards are posted via recorded delivery to be received within 7 business days.

So my Debenhams gift card was available to use immediately from my Zeek wallet and I received my Cafe Rouge gift card in the post about 4 days after my order was placed. Unfortunately the Cafe Rouge card which I received was for £20 instead of the £30 I'd ordered. I immediately contacted Zeek to explain the problem and I have to say they responded very quickly and were keen to rectify the mistake. My personal view is that most companies will make a mistake at some point, but it's how their Customer Services handle the challenge of making things right that makes a good company really stand out.

Zeek, didn't disappoint, offering me two options to resolve the Cafe Rouge situation. I could either post the £20 gift card back, and once received, they would send me a £30 card (assuming they had one available for that value), or, they offered to credit my account with the £10 I was missing plus an additional £5 as an apology for the situation. I opted for the latter which meant I had another £15 to spend! This time I decided to opt for another online card, so I purchased a £20 Interflora card for £18 at a 10% discount.

In total I spent £58.80 for gift cards of value £65.00 which meant I'd saved £6.20 (nearly 10%).

Although I haven't tried selling an unwanted gift card to Zeek yet, the process sounds relatively simple. Gift Cards can be sold as long as their value is between £10-£500. The cost of sale is 7% of the card value (with a minimum fee of £3).

There are some things to consider when deciding to use Zeek for gift card trading:

  • For gift card sales, some of the face value is forfeited due to the sale fees (though this is nothing new - sale commissions are common practice across vendor sites on the internet)
  • You're not able to resell a gift card through Zeek if it was already purchased through their site
  • For purchasing, it would be nice if you could see the expiration dates of cards you are buying, as far as I could tell this wasn't an option to check before purchase (although for some of the retailers the duration is stated on the purchase page). Having said this, the 3 cards which I purchased all had long expiration dates on them (the earliest expiration being October 2017)
  • There's no easy way to search using the denomination you're interested in buying, instead you have to click into each gift card retailer to see what is on offer. A few times I clicked on a retailer to find that they only had £100 gift cards available, sadly outside of my budget
  • Turnover of gift card values available for sale can be fast, so you have to be quick if you see a card that you want
  • At the moment this service is only available in the UK. Although Zeek have advised that you can follow on Facebook, Twitter and their blog to find out when they're launching further countries

The things which I really liked and why I will continue to be a Zeek customer are:

  • The concept itself is a really good one - I love a bargain, so being able to essentially buy "money" for less is always a winner in my book. Plus it's nice to have an outlet for disposing of gift cards I simply wouldn't get around to using otherwise
  • The site is easy to use and the purchase process was quick and simple
  • The discounts I saw while looking through the different brands ranged all the way up to 25% off - certainly not to be sniffed at!
  • The handy Wallet feature allows you to easily see all cards purchased, and keep track of which ones have been used, as well as the all important expiration dates
  • I cannot fault the Customer Service, which was always super quick and very helpful
  • Zeek offer a referral program, which means that you can invite your friends to sign-up and they will receive a £5 free credit (as will you)

If you're interested in signing up to Zeek to make use of the promotional £5 credit, I would recommend following these steps:
1. If you already use a cashback website such as TopCashback or Quidco, navigate to Zeek via these to get your 4% cashback! (correct at time of publishing)
2. Sign-up for a Zeek account
3. Hover over your profile in the top right corner of the site and select the Promo Code option. Enter the promotional code: 23R7773N so that your free £5 will be applied to your account
4. Ensure that you spend your credit within 10 days of applying it to your account, because otherwise it will expire

Alternatively, if you don't use any cashback sites simply follow this link to sign-up and get your £5 credit (and importantly, remember to spend it within 10 days so that it doesn't expire).

PLEASE NOTE: In the interests of transparency if you decide to use the free £5 credit offer, I too will receive a £5 credit in my Zeek account. If you don't like the idea of this, please don't let this put you off giving Zeek a try, here is a non-referral link to Zeek from which I do not benefit whatsoever (though obviously you wouldn't benefit from the free £5 either should you use this). I also use other affiliate links in this article for the cashback sites I mention. Happy shopping!

If you give Zeek a try I'd be really interested to hear your thoughts and feedback, do drop me a line in the comments below...

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Look out Dallas, FinCon2017 here I come!

While I was reading my favourite blogs this week, I noticed in Mrs Frugalwood's latest post that she had not only attended FinCon16 but their website won the Best Frugality Blog of the Year Award in the 7th Annual Plutus Awards. Many congratulations on a well deserved win!

I've never attended any sort of conference before despite the fact that it's something I've always wanted to do. I guess I'd previously assumed that attending conferences was for employees of companies who decided to send "the chosen few" (of which I was never one). However, having entered into the blogging world earlier this year, and indeed venturing into Kindle Publishing as an income generating opportunity, I feel that attending a FinCon event could actually really help me get to a whole new level. Most importantly I suspect that I would enjoy it tremendously.

So this morning I bit the bullet and bought myself a ticket! I have to confess I am slightly daunted about going. For a start this means solo international travel to Dallas, a reasonable amount of expense after ticket, flights and accommodation are accounted for, and throwing myself into a situation where I'm likely to know no-one. Having said all that I'm also incredibly excited and will look forward to this immensely. Hopefully I'll get to meet fellow UK and non UK bloggers alike and maybe even make some new friends.

The early bird catches the worm
The real driver that nudged me into taking the plunge was the fact that there is currently a "List Sale" price for purchasing FinCon2017 tickets that's a significant reduction on the regular ticket cost. Until October 3rd 2016 the sale price is $189 per ticket compared to the normal $449 price. If anyone is interested in going here's where you can purchase your ticket. If you miss the October 3rd cut-off I'm not sure whether there will be any other form of "early bird sale" but it's always worth checking.

If you do decide to go (or indeed already have your ticket), or if you have attended FinCon before please let me know. We could share tips on getting there, what the best things to do are, best places to stay etc. Heck we could even arrange to meet up in person there!

No doubt I will do some sort of write-up on the event after attending (even though that simply feels too far into the future to even be thinking about just yet!)

Friday, 30 September 2016

It's all about the Side Hustles

I'm acutely aware that the regularity of my posts has been somewhat lacking of late, a long way from my aspirational 1 post per week! I have actually begun work on an update about how I've been getting on with my goals so far this year (given that the last update was for March), but it's going to take me a little while longer to get that post finished to a standard I'm happy with. So for the sake of letting people know that I'm very much still alive and kicking I thought I'd drop in this post about the side hustles I've been trying.

I think I've mentioned before, I'm currently putting in a full time work week freelancing in IT for a retail company. I love the flexibility that contracting brings me, where I can have several months off at a time in-between contracts. The trouble is while I'm on my breaks between contracts I enjoy my freedom so much that I never feel like starting a new contract again! Of course I always do start again, because I have financial obligations to meet. 

In my ideal world I would be able to generate enough income from my side hustles to cover my expenses working from home. This is what I feel would allow me to truly be my own boss. Don't get me wrong, I feel very privileged and fortunate to be in a position where I can contract. In my opinion the freedom, variety and degree of autonomy freelancing provides, far outweighs the perceived benefits of having a permanent job. Nevertheless, while I'm working onsite as part of a contract, there's invariably a boss-man/boss-woman to be accountable to, whereas I'd rather be in a position to set my own deadlines and working hours.

So why am I telling you all this? Well it's because this year I've found myself on a bit of a journey. I finished my previous contract at the end of January and ended up taking 4 months off, mostly because I was preparing to move house. During that time off, I found myself drawn more and more to the blogs in the personal finance realm, because I was keen to find an escape route from the cycle of contract after contract. After initially being fascinated by the discussions around frugality, I quickly moved on to learning about investing as a means to becoming financially independent. This really struck a chord with me. Here was something I could work toward and action. 

So I set up this blog, worked out what I'd need to achieve to be FI in 10 years and I set myself some goals for this year to help get me motivated and keep me on track. 

As I read more blogs I started to discover that as well as saving I could potentially speed up my trek to financial independence by considering some income generating endeavours in addition to my freelancing. So I decided to take one or two of the ideas I've read about by other bloggers and have a go myself. Ironically it's because of the time I've been investing into these side ventures that my frequency of Organised Redhead posts has declined somewhat.

So what income generating activities have I tried so far?

Matched Betting

Back in May/June I had a go at a couple of matched bets. I love the idea of being able to make money (albeit in small increments) for relatively little effort and time. I used the two free beginner guided bets on Profit Accumulator and pocketed a profit of just under £40. However when it came time to sign-up for a paid account I paused because I had just moved house and did not feel I had enough time to dedicate to it. At some point I fully intend to get back into matched betting, but for now my focus is on my second side hustle attempt...

Kindle Publishing

I first heard about the potential of kindle publishing as a viable side hustle when I read about Huw's early experiments with it on his wonderful site Financially Free by Forty. It's not something which I would have considered previously because the thought of writing my own book was far too daunting a task. However, as I investigated my options online I realised that it was possible to get into Kindle publishing by commissioning someone else to write the book, once I had determined the topic, title and a loose outline of how I wanted the book to be laid out.

I'm a bit of a perfectionist, which I think goes hand in hand with having an OCD streak, so putting a book together was not a quick, throw-it-together kind of affair for me. I opted to recruit a more experienced writer who commanded more money per words than other people on Upwork (the site I used to find my contributors), because I wanted a quality book. It also meant that I took a reasonable amount of time to consolidate the book after it had been written, spending hours choosing the right cover, title, keywords, and getting the editing just how I wanted it.

After several months of working on my first book, I finally managed to publish it on Kindle (under a pen name), and then on Createspace which allows me to sell my book as a paperback. My next goal is to get the book onto ACX which is the site which allows you to offer books as audiobooks.

I launched this first book for sale mid July, being utterly clueless on how to market it to best advantage. Needless to say the sales were disappointingly low. However, I have since sought guidance through kindle coaching and putting what I've learnt into practice I've seen a markable upturn in sales and consequently my profits.

My endeavours into kindle publishing have ignited my passion for pursuing this side hustle with a view to one day making this my main income source. I have a long way to go, but I feel that for the first time in my life, I have genuinely found something which excites me and inspires me. Could it be that I've finally stumbled across my true calling? It certainly feels like exciting times ahead for me.

Even if I don't achieve early financial independence (which I am still pursuing in earnest incidentally), if I could simply succeed in growing my kindle publishing business to the point where it covers my month to month expenses, I would be one extremely happy lady.

I'm interested to hear of anyone else who has got the bug for Kindle Publishing, or indeed Matched Betting, or any other side hustles which they're enjoying. Please do let me know in the comments.

If you would be interested in being among the first to hear about my upcoming book publications, with exclusive previews prior to publication drop me an email using my contact form, and I'll be sure to let you know when I have new books coming out.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

A catch-up on how I invested my savings from March - August

One of my key goals for 2016 is to set myself on a path toward achieving Financial Independence. As part of my roadmap I intend to save money each month into my Freedom Kitty which is currently made up of two ISA's (one from the 2015-16 tax year, and one for the 2016-2017 year), and also into my Personal Pension which I hold with St. James Place. This post covers my investing choices for March - August.

Freedom Kitty Investment - March to April 2016

In March I used a combination of savings from February & March as well as profit from my flat sale to max out my 2015-2016 ISA with St. James Place. This saw me transfer in £14,810.53, meaning that the total money paid toward the ISA in the tax year was £16,010.53 (the excess over the annual ISA allowance of £15,240 was for initial fees).

Prior to making this lump sum transfer I'd only been investing £150 per month into the ISA and for that reason I'd been recommended to direct my money into just one fund. My lump sum investment therefore also went into this one fund. So my 2015-2016 ISA is invested in the UK High Income UT - Acc fund, a link for the Financial Times fact sheet on this can be found here.

At some point I will discuss with my financial advisor diversifying my fund choice a bit for the ISA - probably later this year.

Freedom Kitty Investment - May to August 2016

Of the available money I'd put aside for investing into my Freedom Kitty in May - August, I actually invested £2,500 of it. I was particularly busy with our house move during May and June so it took me a while to find time to investigate and choose where to invest for the 2016-2017 tax year. Making use of the Monevator's superb resource page "Compare the UK's cheapest online brokers" (which has been updated in August 2016), I finally made a decision at the start of July and opted to open an ISA with Lloyds Bank Direct Investments Online.

I decided that I would like to set-up a regular investment plan rather than just making ad hoc transfers into the ISA (in reality I will probably end up doing a combination of both). So I have set-up a plan to invest £1,000 per month from July onward. In addition to this, I also transferred a one-off contribution of £500 into the ISA in July so that I could test out how the investing process worked (seeing as I was completely new to online investing).

I have opted to keep things really simple for now, so my investments were as follows:

For now my ongoing regular investments are set-up to go into the Vanguard 60% LifeStrategy fund, but I may look to change this in future months.

Personal Pension Investment - March to August 2016

For the period March - August 2016 the following contributions from my Business Account were made into my Personal Pension:
  • March: £3,000
  • April: £3,000
  • May: £1,000
  • June: £ 350
  • July: £1,000
  • August: £1,000
  • TOTAL: £9,350

The amounts fluctuated because I was going through a period of not doing any work contracts (for 4 months), therefore without any income source I opted to reduce the contributions to my pension scheme slightly.

Since I have a financial advisor at St. James Place where my Personal Pension is held, they select the best investment options for me based on my propensity to accept risk. The approximate split for the current allocation of my investments is as follows (I've included links to the Financial Times fund factsheets):

SJP Global Equity - 14.5%
SJP Schroder Managed - 14.5%
SJP Strategic Managed - 14.5%
SJP AXA Framlington Managed Pension - 13.5%
SJP Global Managed - 13%
SJP Worldwide Managed - 13%
SJP International Equity - 9.5%
SJP Multi Asset - 5%
SJP Strategic Income - 2.5%

It's quite an interesting exercise for me to delve into the funds which are underlying my pension investments, because I have to confess that most of the time I'm largely unaware of where the money is invested having chosen to leave these choices in the hands of my financial advisor. I've received comments previously and have seen similar view points while reading other personal finance blogs, that the charges for my pension funds are considered high, particularly compared to what I would likely choose if I managed my pension investments myself. However, for now I'm happy with the status quo of where things are. Time is a very precious commodity for me, I have many projects I'm working on at any given time, so it's nice to be able to invest into my pension without having to worry about monitoring and selecting the investment choices. I'm having a dabble at my own investing in this year's ISA to see how that goes, maybe at some point in the future I'll reassess things, who knows!

The key thing for me right now is that I'm investing more money than I ever have before, and it's all moving me in the right direction to my goal of becoming financially independent by the time I'm 50.

If you have any thoughts on my investment choices, or anything else about this blog please do let me know in the comments below...

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Income, Expenses and Savings catch-up for April - June 2016

Following on from my last catch-up post which covered my Portfolio Value and Net Worth from April to June, it's time to give a run down on how I've been tracking for my Income, Expenses and Savings rate. I like to track these to keep me on target for achieving my second goal for 2016 which includes the pursuit of Financial Independence.

Income - Apr to Jun 2016

In May I closed my Santander 1|2|3 account and opened a First Direct current account. This means "bye bye" to interest and cashback on direct debits, but "hello" to a nice introductory bonus from First Direct for switching. Since we opened a joint account too we got an introductory bonus for that as well - happy days. The reason for switching was because we've taken out an offset mortgage with First Direct and I wanted to have the money in my current account offsetting the mortgage (TheBF has his current account offsetting against the mortgage in the same way).

I also received some income from the profits on the sale of my house in May, which has gone straight into my Savings Stash to help cover future expenses.

I had more business expenses refunded this month, for business insurance purchased (£327.95). I also transferred funds from Paypal into my current account during June for eBay sales which I made earlier in the year.

My monthly income target (as noted in my FIRE Targets for 2016) is set at £3,332 per month, so I've continued to achieve that through April, May and June. BIG TICK!

Expenses - Apr to Jun 2016

Apologies for the tiny font size in this insert, it's the largest I could make the text while still fitting the whole table in!

Key points of note:
  • Household expenses were dramatically less in June because we moved house at the end of May and so I had less utility bills for my old house, and not all bills had started for the new one. Things will start to get back to normal in July
  • My car insurance was due in April which came out of my Savings Stash, but due to the house move I then had to pay more when I changed my registered address. Strangely the insurance is more expensive at our new house than at my old house which was on a busy road near a roundabout
  • I had some rare spending on clothes in June because I started playing badminton again and realised that I needed new kit to wear (my old sports clothes were long gone)
  • In April I went to the hairdressers to get my hair coloured and re-styled. Since it's quite expensive at my current salon, I only go about 3 times a year and I save up for it in my Savings Stash. I may try to find a cheaper salon in the coming year
  • Now that we're in our new house we've had some office and bedroom furniture to purchase. TheBF works from home so it's important that we have an office that he can work from. I have a personal aspiration to start working from home permanently within the next couple of years so I wanted to make sure that I also had a nice desk to base myself at. I used my Savings Stash to cover my portion of this one-off expense, and we're both very happy with the end results
  • I've begun experimenting with income generating activities since my time off earlier this year. These have involved a certain amount of investment up-front to get me going. The two I've tried so far are Kindle publishing and Matched Betting

Here's the split of how my expenses were covered from my Savings Stash (highlighted in yellow above) and from my monthly income:

Savings - Apr to Jun 2016
Subtracting my expenses (excluding expenses covered by the Savings Stash) from my income for each month I can see what I've got left to save into my Savings Stash and Freedom Kitty:

So my overall percentages of income saved each month are 48.73%, 64.22% and 77.39% respectively.

In terms of my savings rates into my Freedom Kitty (which will fund me in the 7 years between becoming financially independent at age 50 and being able to withdraw my personal pension at age 57), this is where I feel there is room for the most improvement. April and May were particularly low at 12.93% and 10.51% respectively, I think this is due in large part to going through the house move process where we spent more money on eating out for convenience, as well as various house related expenses.

My 2016 monthly target for savings into my Freedom Kitty is £1,000 per month. I'm pleased that I managed to exceed this target in June, but my monthly average to-date is £839.27 so I have some catching up to do if I'm to successfully meet this target for the year.

My Savings Stash usage looks like this for the 3 months:

So that's a pretty big catch-up, and I think this particular post has taken me the longest to write of all the posts I've done so far! I'm pleased to have done it though because I would like a history of my progress to look back on, as far as I'm concerned it's time well spent.

Do you track income, expenses and savings? If yes, how's it going for the year?

Monday, 25 July 2016

Portfolio Value and Net Worth catch-up - to June 2016

It's been a while since I last posted one of my regular updates on how my goals or quest for Financial Independence is going. There are various reasons for the delay (yes I know excuses, excuses!):
- I was on a 4 month break from working a full-time contract when I started the blog, so had a lot more free-time available to write. Since the start of June I've been working a full week again
- I've been through the whole house sale and move process, which doesn't end on the day you pick-up the keys to your nice new house. We've been slowly working our way through a mountain of boxes trying to find places to best store everything
- I've been working on some income generating side hustles (kindle publishing and a little dabble with matched betting), which have been taking up a considerable amount of my free time because I'm new to them and learning as I go

All of the above have been impacting my precious free-time and thus the time available to write for this blog. I have missed posting about my progress I must confess, and I also feel guilty at times for letting my posting schedule slip. So I'm going to try to play catch-up on the posts about my finances and my goal progress...though it may be a somewhat slow process, please be patient!

So here's a catch-up post covering my progress toward achieving my second goal for 2016 which includes the pursuit of Financial Independence. This one is about my Portfolio Value and Net Worth for the months April to June 2016.

Portfolio Value - end Jun 2016

My portfolio includes the savings and investments in my Freedom Kitty as well as my Personal Pension, the combination of which make up my "FI Before 50 Roadmap".

Here is the end of June value of my Freedom Kitty including the interim valuations for April & May:

After maxing out my contributions to the 2015-2016 ISA in March I could make no further contributions to it. I continued to put savings for my Freedom Kitty aside in my current account during April, May and June, but because I wanted to choose a new ISA provider for the next tax year I did not actually invest during those months (more to follow on this in July's update), so the savings have not been listed here.

As you can see, the end of June value of my ISA was £14,728, which is less than its value when I did my last post in March, and overall down by -£1,282.53 on my original investment. However the value had been much better in May, having increased by £421 on March, but then Brexit happened and everything went wobbly! I'm not too concerned because I can already see improvements during the month of July so things are getting back on track again.

Here's how the Freedom Kitty is tracking for the year - I've set myself a target of £23,000 for this calendar year (Jan-Dec 2016):

At 64.03% I've actually gone backward on the progress I'd made in March (which was at 66.54%), but I have half the year to go and I'm still over 50% of the way toward my Freedom Kitty goal for 2016. With my additional savings to be added in the latter half of the year, and hopefully a bit of a rally for my investments I am optimistic that I will still make my target.

Here's how the Freedom Kitty is tracking against the overall target of £209,590:

A slight drop from 7.3% to 7.03% since March, but I think I should still be able to achieve 10% by the end of the year with a little bit of luck.

It's been an interesting few months for my Personal Pension. I decided to instruct my pension provider to cut the employer contributions being made by my Limited Company because of the period of time I was not working (4 months) and therefore not billing for any sales into the business account. Until this point the contributions had been set at £3,000 per month which is a lot to eat away from the company's cashflow, when said cashflow is not being replenished. I asked to drop the amount to £1,000 per month. Unfortunately, despite being advised that it's easy to change the regular contribution amounts when I first began the pension, there have been a few hiccups at the pension provider in making the change so my figures will reflect the sporadic nature of what has ensued! I've been promised that things are now sorted and should be consistent moving forward (not to mention apologised to with flowers and wine!)

So here is the end of June value of my Personal Pension

Even though my pension contributions have effectively been reduced to £1,000 per month from May, at the moment I am still on target to hit my overall £2,000 per month goal. This is because I have contributed an excess £3,000 across the months of February, March and April. I will need to see how things go later in the year to decide whether I'm brave enough to attempt to change my regular contribution amounts back up to £2,000 (I need a few months of consistent withdrawals by my pension provider for my confidence to be restored!)

Here's how the Personal Pension is tracking for the year - I've set myself a target of £110,000 for this year:

Great progress here since March, I've now got just under 47% of the way to go to hit my pension target for this year.

Here's how the Personal Pension is tracking against the overall target of £364,965:

I've achieved 26.15% of my overall target for my Personal Pension goal, which means I'm now over a quarter of the way there, a really nice milestone for me...happy days!

Net Worth - end Jun 2016

I don't include assets such as car, valuables or house sundries in this calculation - it's really only the big or purely savings items I choose to include. The credit card debt listed is my monthly spend which I always pay off in full each month by direct debit. Following the house sale and purchase we've just been through, my net worth has seen a little dip because I used some of the equity from my house sale to fund my share of the stamp duty for our house purchase. Since March my net worth is down by £5,492.05, but I'm sure it will be on the up again soon as I continue to invest and of course over time we'll be paying our mortgage off which will help.

So at the half-way point through the year, I'm very happy with where my FIRE funds are at. Given that I didn't even have a plan for FIRE at the start of the year I'm really pleased with my progress. I'm looking forward to a strong second half of the year now that the big expense of the house move is complete and I am back in a paying freelance contract - not to mention the income generating side hustles which I've started.

So, I'm interested to hear how you're getting on now that we're over half-way through 2016. Have you seen much impact in your investments as a result of Brexit? Have you been enjoying the unusually hot British weather?! As always I'd love to hear from you and appreciate your comments...

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Yes I'm back!

It's been a while since I last posted, but fear not I haven't abandoned my blog - I've simply been moving house and have had no broadband until yesterday. I think it will take me a while to get back on track with my posts and I may have to do a consolidated catch-up post to get up-to-date with my finances, but the main thing is I'm back!

A historical day
This morning I set my alarm to get up at 5am to catch the last of the EU referendum results for whether Britain would vote to remain or leave. I have to confess I wasn't expecting the result as it's turned out, we will evidently be leaving the EU. A couple of things have struck me as the last results have come in...

We're now entering a period of very uncertain financial times - the truth is no-one really knows what will happen next and this is reflected in the immediate turmoil in the world markets - notably with the GB pound down 10% at the last reckoning. It will be interesting over the coming hours, days and weeks to see whether this is a temporary wobble due to the immediate shock of the result, or if this is a sign of things to come for the UK.

The other thing that I find deeply saddening is that this historical decision looks like it could end the UK union as we know it, with both Scotland and Northern Ireland calling for referendums to leave the UK and stay in the EU. It looks like the Great Britain I have grown up in could be about to change forever.

I also feel sorry for any of those from the EU currently in the UK who must now be feeling pretty unwelcome and worried for their future - particularly those who have been here many years and are an integral part of our communities. For my part I would just like to say that as far as I am concerned you are still very much welcome and I hope that anyone here in this country will be permitted to stay.

As the weeks ahead unfold who knows what else will happen - perhaps this will signal the end of David Cameron's reign, perhaps other countries in the EU will call for their own referendums, perhaps the UK will enter a recession, perhaps my savings and investments will bottom out for a while, perhaps interest rates will rise (glad we just locked in our mortgage rates for a while!), perhaps there'll be a run on the banks or we'll see some large financial institutions collapsing - financial armageddon?!, or perhaps things will stabilise much quicker than anticipated and things will trundle along much as they ever have...

I certainly will be following with great interest the developments that this historical decision has caused, and I hope that things are not going to be as bad as some have predicted, but instead as good as the Leave campaign have predicted...

More news
Following on from my previous post where I updated that we had exchanged contracts on the purchase of our new home, I can now proudly declare that we have moved in to our beautiful new home! The big move date was on 26th May and I have to say the move itself went very smoothly, much to the credit of family and friends who so kindly helped with our move.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, we have been without broadband since that date because the landline had been stopped by the previous owners and it takes about 4 weeks to get the landline reinstated in a new name so that a broadband provider can then be selected. We have both dearly missed our sturdy internet access! We did have limited internet capabilities through our mobile phone data packages, but it's certainly made me realise how many things we have that require wifi to operate, and how much data we actually use month to month. TheBF works from home so having a stable and robust internet connection is key for us.

Unpacked boxes waiting to be disposed
It's often said that moving house is one of the most stressful things a person will do in their life. So despite going through 2 house sales and a house purchase and move, I decided that this wasn't enough for me and that it was time to rejoin working life! Just one week after our move I started a new contract working on a project in an IT department for a company involved in Retail. It's a position which effectively requires a full-time week of hours so my free time is significantly impacted. This poses challenges on several levels, I will need to be very good at managing how I split my time across unpacking boxes, setting up home, writing this blog, working on income generating side hustles, catching up on reading all the blog posts I've missed, and of course leaving some time for sport and hobbies.

Getting back to normality
So now it's time to settle in and get into some sort of routine where I can hopefully fit in everything that I would like to do. One of our first challenges is putting all the furniture that's still displaced around the new house into the rooms where it will eventually reside, and of course unpack and dispose of the many, many boxes still waiting to be unpacked in pretty much every room of the house! Please be patient with me while I endeavour to return to normal, my posts may be a bit sporadic for a while but I am trying!

More boxes - waiting to be unpacked!
In the meantime, do tell me what's been going on with you?
I'm also interested to hear your thoughts on the EU referendum result - the UK was clearly split on the vote, obviously slightly in favour of "leave" - it's really interesting to hear thoughts from the different perspectives, I'd like to try to keep an open mind on these things...

Friday, 13 May 2016

Busy times

Time for a quick update post to let everyone know that I am still alive and very much here! I'm sorry for the slow-down in posts over the last week or two, but there is good reason with some breaking news...

TheBF and I have finally exchanged contracts TODAY on our new house!

That's a giant step toward achieving my number 1 goal for the year! We are both incredibly happy, particularly because the journey to this point has been fraught with problems and stresses. There were several times over the last few weeks when we thought that the chain we were in would collapse and our dream home would disappear from our grasp. Luckily, the stars appeared to align today (despite it being Friday 13th!) and the contracts were finally exchanged.

In the UK, the key part of the house sale/purchase process is the exchange of contracts, with the completion date following either on the same day or within the days/weeks thereafter. In our case, we now have a completion date just under 2 weeks from our exchange date (near the end of May), so now we're going to be very busy packing, boxing everything up and moving our things into storage ahead of the big move day.

As well as doing a lot of chasing with Solicitors and Estate Agents and packing over the past days and weeks, I've also been working on a side hustle which is new to me - I'm having a go at Kindle publishing and this has also been taking a lot of my time. Hopefully I'll be getting my first books published soon and will see whether my hard work has paid off in getting some returns on my investment. I will keep you all posted!

As soon as I am able I will be back to "usual business" with my blog posts, I have 1 update post for March still to post (about how I invested my money in March) as well as all of my posts for the month of April. I just wanted to let everyone know that I am still here and will be raring to go again once the house move is complete.