Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Income, Expenses and Savings for March

Each month I publish the following regular progress updates toward achieving my second goal for 2016 which includes the pursuit of Financial Independence:
1. Portfolio Value and Net Worth as it stood at the end of the previous month
2. Income, Expenses and Savings achieved for the previous month
3. My Investing Choice for the previous month's savings

This post covers point 2 above: Income, Expenses and Savings achieved.

Income - Mar 2016

This is likely to be the last month I'll benefit from cashback for my direct debits from the Santander 1|2|3 account* (£12.10), because I'm changing banks in order that money in my current account can be offset against our new mortgage as we move house.

It's another nice month for interest at £37.53 which is due to the fact that I had the profit from my flat sale sat in my account until it was transferred to my ISA.

Income was further supplemented by an expense that I'd previously forgotten to withdraw from my Company account to cover costs associated with office working from home (£208). I also sold my fitbit on Ebay in February and withdrew the money from my Paypal account in March.

My monthly income target (as noted in my FIRE Targets for 2016) is set at £3,332 per month, which I've easily managed to achieve with £256.30 to spare - mostly thanks to the business expense repayment.

* The Santander 1|2|3 account offers 3% AER (variable) interest when the balance on the account is above £3,000 (on balances up to £20,000) as well as cash back for selected monthly direct debits (1% for water, council tax and Santander mortgage; 2% for gas & electricity; 3% for mobile, phone, tv & broadband). More details and the terms and conditions about the product are available on the Santander website. This is not a referral or affiliate link, this is provided purely for information purposes only.

Expenses - Mar 2016

Points of note this month:
  • No council tax again because it's paid over 10 months rather than 12 by direct debit (not sure why, Councils seem to work it out this way for some reason)
  • I needed to pay the garage to fix and replace some of the wheel bolts on my car this month - I discovered they'd gone bad when I took my car to have the tyre replaced due to a flat a couple of months ago, this is exactly the sort of thing my Savings Stash is for (phew!)
  • My grocery bill was about £100 more in March than I spent in February, I need to keep an eye on this moving forward - it would be nice to try to keep this cost down a bit if I can. Part of the reason for the extra cost was because I hosted a Ladies Dinner and Film evening at mine, this is a monthly thing I do with 4 of my family/friends, so every 5-6 months it's my turn to host
  • March was a busier month for me entertainment wise, we took Mum out for a nice Mother's Day lunch, I had a trip to Cardiff visiting a friend and I went out for St. Patrick's Day with friends
  • My Savings Stash covers birthday and Easter expenses. I also used it to get a certificate for my gas appliances which I needed for my house sale
  • My cash spend was the same as last month at £40

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

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

The overall percentage of my income I've been able to save is 50.01%, that feels like a pretty solid savings rate again this month.

As I mentioned last month, the savings rate I'm really interested in is the amount going into the Freedom Kitty which is what 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. At 26.47% the Freedom Kitty rate is lower than I achieved last month (31.46%), but I'm not going to worry about it too much because I was only £50 short of my £1,000 monthly target for savings into my Freedom Kitty.

My Savings Stash usage looks like this for the month:

As well as the usual money in and out, I decided to shift some of my emergency funds from the Savings Stash to my Freedom Kitty so that I could take full advantage of my ISA allowance for the 2015/2016 tax year, you can see this reflected in the table as the £1,123 out.

Well, after my second month of tracking my income, expenses and savings rate I'm feeling pretty pleased with how things are going. On the whole I think I've managed to keep my expenses reasonably low (low for my normal spend rate anyway) and now that I have made a plan for how to get to FI it's really nice to document how I'm getting on with achieving it on this blog.

Did you have any last minute dashes to shift money around for the tax year end? Did you fill your ISA allowance? This is the very first year I've ever filled my ISA allowance and I have to say, it feels good!

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Portfolio Value and Net Worth - March 2016

Each month I publish the following regular progress updates toward achieving my second goal for 2016 which includes the pursuit of Financial Independence:
1. Portfolio Value and Net Worth as it stood at the end of the previous month
2. Income, Expenses and Savings achieved for the previous month
3. My Investing Choice for the previous month's savings

This post covers point 1 above: Portfolio Value and Net Worth at the end of March 2016.

Portfolio Value - end Mar 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 month value of my Freedom Kitty:

As you can see the total amount I'd invested into my Freedom Kitty by the end of Feb was £1,200. In March with the ISA year end looming I managed to contribute a whopping £14,810.53 in order to max out my ISA allowance for the year.

The reason I was able to do this was because I sold my flat (which I had owned since 1999) earlier this year and I made some profit (after putting aside money to cover what I anticipate will be the capital gains tax liability). I have had the money from the flat sale sat in my current account while I decided whether I would likely need it for my upcoming house purchase with TheBF. As we progressed through March it became evident to me that I should be able to use some of the money to pump into my ISA without causing us any problems with the house purchase (mostly because we're using our mortgage to cover up-front costs).

I'd also not yet invested the money I'd saved for the Freedom Kitty in January and February so these contributed to the figure. So the money I was able to put into my ISA in March broke down as follows:
  • Flat sale profit - £12,135.00
  • Savings from January - £678.78
  • Savings from February - £1,048.22
  • Savings from March - £948.53
  • TOTAL - £14,810.53

Within the 2015/2016 tax year I have paid a total of £16,010.53 into my St. James Place ISA. The ISA allowance for the year is £15,240, which means that the up-front fees for my ISA came to £770.53, which looks to be an initial fee of 5%. I don't yet have a benchmark to compare this up-front fee against, but I will certainly be paying a lot more attention to both up-front fees and ongoing fund fees from now on.

Due to the up-front fee, the current value of my ISA is less than the total amount I have invested by -£706.53, I'm hoping to see this deficit disappear over the course of the coming year, but who knows what may happen!

I have decided to consider an alternative ISA provider for the 2016/2017 tax year, so I've got some research to do in order to pick a good one!

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 66.54%, I'm now about two thirds of the way to achieving my Freedom Kitty goal for 2016 with 9 months still to go. Though of course I have been helped along the way to this target by the money from my flat sale.

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

It's particularly satisfying to see the percentage for my overall Freedom Kitty target shoot up from 0.54% to 7.3%. With 9 years 3 months to go until my desired FIRE date, I think this is a healthy percentage to be at. If I can manage 10% of the way to the £209,590 target by the end of the year I'll be very happy.

Here is the end of month value of my Personal Pension:

In March the monthly pension contribution from my business account was £3,000 again. This is great because my monthly target is £2,000. As I mentioned last month, I'm not currently working on a contract so there's no income into my business account due in March. I've decided to postpone starting a new contract until after we've moved house, which means it's likely that my business account will not have any sales income until August. For this reason I have asked my financial advisor to reduce my company's pension contributions to £1,000 per month with this change taking effect in May. However, for now at least, I'm ahead of schedule for achieving my pension contributions target this year.

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

I've got about 65% of the way still to go to hit my pension target for this year. My ability to achieve this target looks like it will really hinge on how soon I secure a work contract after our house move.

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

I've achieved 24.59% of my overall target for my Personal Pension goal, next month I should hit a nice milestone of 25%, and that will feel good!

Net Worth - end Mar 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. This month sees an increase in my Net Worth of £4,007.66 since last month, a nice increase largely fuelled by my pension contribution I suspect.

Overall March was a very positive month for me in terms of my increasing Portfolio Value and Net Worth. The challenge now is to keep up the good work, which could be tricky with the big house move fast approaching and the uncertainty over when and what my next paying contract will be.

How's your net worth looking at the end of quarter 1? How are your portfolios fairing with the recent turbulent times in the markets? As always I'd love to hear from you and appreciate your comments...

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Goals progress update for March

Here is my monthly progress update where I provide a review on how I'm getting on with my goals for 2016. This post is reporting on my progress as things stood at the end of March this year.

1. Experience the joy, satisfaction and contentment of living with my partner (TheBF) for the first time
  • Accepting suitable offers for the sale of my house and TheBF's house, with both proceeding to sale completion - Following on from the disappointment of losing the buyer for my house in February, I quickly got it back on the market. It's quite hard work having people coming round to view the house as I always feel I need to run round beforehand tidying and cleaning! Within a few days of my house being back up for sale I had 3 appointments to view booked in, and in just over a week of relisting the house I'd accepted a new offer. Things have moved swiftly since then, the survey has already been carried out by my buyer's mortgage company and the sale is now progressing nicely. TheBF's sale is also proceeding to plan, the mortgage has been approved for his buyers and the survey is booked to take place in April

  • Finding a new house to buy with TheBF which meets all our purchase criteria
    - In early March we were house hunting in earnest. Initially we focussed our efforts on viewings in a neighbouring town about a 40 minute drive from where I currently live. As we reached the point where we were ready to put an offer on a house, I realised that my heart was really yearning to stay in my hometown and I had a bit of a "wobble" moment. It seemed no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get excited about moving somewhere that far away (even though I know for many people this is not far at all), and there were a few teary moments (on my part!) as TheBF and I had a heart-to-heart. Luckily for me I have the best boyfriend ever, I am so thankful to have such an understanding and caring partner, and we swiftly refocussed our efforts closer to home.

    So I'm delighted to share the news that we have now found our dream home in my hometown! We entered negotiations with the vendor and agreed a purchase price, so all that is left now is for the purchase process to go ahead alongside the sale of our 2 houses. I think it will probably be a couple of months before we actually complete and make the move - but this goal is WELL on the way for 2016 and I couldn't be happier

2. Gain the freedom to choose what I use my time for, removing the necessity of doing work that does not inspire me simply because it pays the bills

  • Pursuing financial independence - On target...
    • Create a 2016 financial plan/budget [by February 29th 2016]   {PREVIOUSLY DONE}
    • Create a "FI before 50 Roadmap" containing steps I need to take to become Financially Independent before the age of 50 [by March 31st 2016]   {PREVIOUSLY DONE}
      - Both of the above plans can be found here
    • Follow the 2016 financial plan/budget - Mostly achieved for March. Detailed Income, Expenses & Savings breakdowns will follow in upcoming posts - only the headline figures are noted here.

      Income wise, it was a really strong month, helped by the welcome news from my accountants that I had not yet claimed back my expenses for home-based office work, I was really pleased about that. My target monthly income is £3,332 which I achieved and actually managed a little bit extra (£256.30 more than target).

      My overall target for monthly savings is £3,000, breaking down into targets of £1,000 for the Freedom Kitty (I achieved £949.69) and £2,000 for the Personal Pension (I achieved £3,000). This means I've exceeded my overall savings target by £949.69, but the split of how I achieved this was slightly unbalanced compared to my plans. It's important for me to save into my Freedom Kitty because this is what's going to enable me to stop working earlier than my pension retirement age of 57 - it needs to be big enough to support me for 7 years

  • Researching alternative options for spending my time which could eventually help to replace my current mode of work
    • Create and maintain a blog site to track my goals and interact with the online community
      • Research suitable blog site & how to use it, and set-up blog {PREVIOUSLY DONE}
      • Deliver at least 1 post per week on average - Achieved for March! I published 5 posts which means I'm still on target for achieving an average of 1 per week since I started the blog
  • Research new alternative sources of repeat income
    • Generate at least £1 this year from a new source of regular income - I didn't receive any new income in March. I did however spend time investigating how kindle publishing works as well as reading about matched betting on Richard's blog (Live Happy Save More).

3. Become a better person by the end of the year, than I was at the start of it.
Can be measured in terms of knowledge & skills gained, health & fitness improved, relationships circle expanded & strengthened, internal beliefs challenged & reviewed, positive habits created

  • Completing a personal development challenge with my sister (100 day challenge or something similar) - Following on from last month's update, my sister and I have now set a date to work together through the daily practices in The Magic* by Rhonda Byrne. We start on April 1st and will finish on April 28th. During March we set-up a board using Trello ready for us to track our daily progress and share thoughts. Trello is a great tool to easily do this and best of all it's free!

  • Reading at least 6 new books - With a little bit of extra reading time required on the last day of March I managed to finish my first new book of the year The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich* by Timothy Ferriss. I really enjoyed this book and it was a real eye-opener for me - it is possible to break away from a 9-5 office job and earn a good income with less time and effort required. I can see though that to achieve this I need to put in effort up-front to get set-up with a product and business process that will allow me to earn from it with very little effort on my part. I'm hoping to be able to put some, if not all of my learnings from this book into practice. I'll assess my effectiveness in doing this, based on whether I'm writing my blog from a beach in the Caribbean or from my office at home this time next year ha ha!

    In terms of my reading goal for the year, I'm a little behind where I need to be, but I know with the Magic Challenge that I'll be finishing my second book in April so I should be back on track by then.

  • Losing 10lbs in weight by the end of July and maintaining the weight loss through till the end of the year through good diet and exercise

    Unfortunately I made no progress with my weight loss in March - not helped by the fact that the Easter Bunny brought a fair bit of chocolate! I review my goals every day and the fact that I've not found motivation to get going with this goal has been bothering me a lot. So I spent some time in March investigating options which might help me such as Weight Watchers (which I've used successfully before), Slimming World and calorie counting style diets. I've pretty much concluded that a menu plan of my own choosing will be the best option for me, because I can make it flexible, plus I really don't want to have to spend money on a diet group. So I'm working on a personalised plan to get me going and I've also started indoor running for 20 minutes on most weekdays. Let's see if I have more to report in April!

  • Going on at least 12 planned "date nights" with TheBF in 2016 - we've been pretty busy this past month with the house sale and purchase process, so it's not really been the right time to plan any big dates. However, we have done two very fun date nights which practically organised themselves.

    We went to watch Speedway Racing thanks to receiving complimentary tickets (TheBF belongs to a biker group where the tickets were offered in the forum). INTERESTING FACT: Speedway bikes have no brakes and 500cc engines which can accelerate faster than a Formula 1 car to 60 mph! It was a really good night, particularly when we were given the opportunity to go and watch two of the races from the centre of the track.

    Our second date night was at Festival Hall in London where we saw one of our favourite comedians Dave Gorman. We watch his show on the TV channel "Dave" called Modern Life is Goodish, it's definitely my kind of humour, particularly with his powerpoint slides!

    So I think I'm going to consider these 2 dates as progress toward this goal (even though I didn't specifically arrange them) since they were so good, and at the end of the day, the reason I set this goal was because I thought it would be fun for us to do some new things we hadn't done before - and these were definitely new!

    {DONE AT END OF MARCH: 5 dates}

  • Going on a family holiday to France where I can spend quality time with TheBF, my parents, my sister, brother-in-law and niece - we'll be doing this in August

  • Researching and booking a mini-cruise with family - I've put my research into mini-cruise options on hold while TheBF and I are focussing on our house move. It doesn't feel like the right time to be arranging or booking any trips. I should be able to get back to this later in the year

  • Introducing a routine of regular meditation

* affiliate links, if you purchase through these links the cost to you will be the normal Amazon price but I will earn a small commission for directing you to the product

4: Use my unique personal skills and abilities to help others achieve happiness.

  • Offering tips, support and conversation online through my blog, social media accounts and getting involved in the FI and Personal Development communities - I've signed up to the emails or feeds of the FIRE blogs I've found so far that I like to read. I try to get some reading in every day and I enjoy participating in the conversations in the comments if I find I have something to say

  • Offering tips, support and help offline through any face-to-face opportunities should they arise, (meet-ups, coaching, training, speaking engagements) - In March I attended my first FIRE Escape meet, arranged by Huw at Financially Free by Forty. For anyone who hasn't been to one of these yet, if you're in any way interested in Financial Independence, Retiring Early or just talking about money, ways to increase income and save I would highly recommend it. Everyone was very welcoming and friendly, and it gave me an opportunity to find out how other people approach the same goal as me, we were able to share tips and experiences. There should be two further FIRE Escape weekends later this year and I'm hoping that they'll be on weekends that I'm free as I definitely plan to go along again

  • Supporting my chosen charities through a spread of donations totalling £350 this year - as at the end of March I've donated £95.52 to my chosen charities. I need to be saving £87.50 per quarter to achieve this goal, so I'm ahead of where I need to be, I think I'll easily end up donating more than £350 this year

So it's the end of quarter 1 already, 2016 seems to be flying by. I'm very happy with my goals progress to-date. I think my biggest achievement so far this year has actually been taking the plunge and setting this blog up! I'm looking forward to tracking and achieving more of my goals in the rest of the year and sharing my progress with you.

How has the first quarter of 2016 gone for you? Is it just me, or do you think that this year has gone really quickly so far? I wish you well in your endeavours for the rest of the year, and would love to hear from you if you feel like leaving a comment...

Saturday, 2 April 2016

How I invested my savings from February

Each month I will be publishing the following regular progress updates toward achieving my second goal for 2016 which includes the pursuit of Financial Independence:
1. Portfolio Value and Net Worth as it stood at the end of the previous month
2. Income, Expenses and Savings achieved for the previous month
3. My Investing Choice for the previous month's savings

This post covers point 3 above: My investing choice.

Freedom Kitty Investment - Feb 2016

As I discussed in my Income, Expenses and Savings update I was able to save £1,048.22 toward my Freedom Kitty for February 2016.

Last year I decided that I wanted to have a stocks and shares ISA even if I was only able to invest a small amount into it, so since July 2015 I've been saving £150 per month into an ISA with St. James Place. With the tax year end fast approaching I decided that the best place to put my hard earned savings from February would be into this ISA - anything I can do to max out the ISA for the 2015-2016 tax year would be a good idea.

However, while I took time to decide where to put the money, as well as deciding what to do with some profit I made on the recent sale of my flat (which completed in January) I didn't get chance to invest the money during February. Therefore you will see when I publish my investing post for March how much I finally managed to transfer into my ISA before tax year end (essentially the sum of my savings from February, March and the profit from my flat) as well as the fund choice.

Sorry it's not much of an update about my investing for February, but since I have committed to providing 3 regular progress updates per month on my financial independence goal I felt it was important to be consistent and publish the 3rd post for February anyway (even though the detail will really be coming in March).

Personal Pension Investment - Feb 2016

In February my Personal Pension received a regular contribution from my Business Account of £3,000. My Personal Pension is held with St. James Place. Previously I'd had 3 different pension accounts which I'd accumulated from working at different places where a workplace pension was provided, so I chose St. James Place to consolidate these (a process I began back in February 2015).

One of the reasons I chose St. James Place (SJP) is because I don't know a thing about investing (or at least I didn't at the time of my decision!) and so I was looking for somewhere with a Financial Advisor I felt I could trust. Since my parents had held their pensions with SJP and were very happy with how their affairs had been handled it seemed a sensible decision to follow suit. I had previously sat in on some of their meetings with their financial advisor to make sure I was happy that everything was being done as I felt it should be (although I'm no expert, I have worked at a Pensions company in my past, and I felt I knew a bit more than my parents so could let them know if I felt anything didn't feel right!) I like that you get assigned a financial advisor who will always be your contact, and they will come out to see you at a place and time that's convenient for you several times a year (on an as-needed basis). So far I have been very happy with the SJP product and service, though it's a bit early to tell how well the investment will do.

Since I have a financial advisor at SJP he ascertains my propensity to accept risk, and selects the best investment options on that basis. The approximate split for the current allocation of my contributions is as follows (I've included links to the fund factsheets on Trustnet):

SJP Global Equity - 15%
SJP Schroder Managed - 15%
SJP Strategic Income - 15%
SJP Strategic Managed - 15%
SJP AXA Framlington Managed Pension - 15%
SJP Multi Asset - 15%
SJP Global Managed - 10%

Do you use a Financial Advisor or Company to invest with or do you undertake your own investing? If you self-invest, I'm interested to know how you first learned the basics of how to do it, and how you found the process of investing in the early days.
Do let me know in the comments if you have any thoughts...