Thursday, 23 February 2017

Taking a Fresh Approach

Firstly, thank you for your kind comments on my last post.  It's something I wrote more than 6 months ago, but felt embarrassed to publish.  However, admitting mistakes to ourselves is an important part of growing as a person, and as I feel more accepting of myself now, so I thought I'd publish it.

Moving on, I've decided that I'm taking a fresh approach to my finances.  As anyone who's been reading lately will know, since the beginning of the year I've been determined to get my finances in order in an attempt to bring us more financial security and generally be more mindful about them.  Don't get me wrong, we're not that financially insecure as it is, but as another blogger mentioned in a post recently and as I've found out this year due to unforeseen events, life is very fragile and the more we can do to shore ourselves up against the difficult times the better.  Besides, who knows what is going to happen in the next couple of years both politically and economically.

As I've already mentioned, the measures I've taken so far this year include setting up a direct debit and new savings account with better interest rate to save on a regular basis, taking out life insurance cover to ensure my loved ones would be taken care of if anything happened to me, moved and closed some small investments that have not and are not likely to actualise any benefits any time soon, and finally, I have also made moves to reinvest any share dividends in more shares, rather than taking the (small amounts) dividend money and spending it or saving it where it gains no interest.

It is the subject of interest that has made me consider a new approach and venture in terms of investing.  Money in the bank is just not earning any interest at the moment.  It is depressing.  The bank with whom I've banked for the past 25 years is constantly cutting interest rates for savers and frankly I'm getting fed up of entrusting any savings to them.

In the past I've been very conservative and played way too safe, but I've decided that I'm going to take a fresh approach and start investing differently for a while and see what happens.  I've been thinking about it for a while and have been encouraged by recent reading material to take a few small risks and see where it takes me.

I read a quote the other day, which said there are three types of people, those that make things happen, those that watch things happening and those that let things happen to them.  I'm trying to be one of the former and aiming not to be so much of the latter in the future.

My new approach involves making a small investment in some stocks and shares.  Now before anyone starts worrying that I might be throwing my money away on some risky venture.  I'm really not.  I've owned shares in a couple of companies for over 20 years now and I'm pleased and fortunate to say that they have gained in value quite considerably over that time.  Not by any skill on my part I might add. 

Some were an inheritance from an Auntie and Uncle who died and were accumulated through my Auntie's employment at a Blue chip company for many years. I don't have a huge shareholding, but I hung onto them and they are really worth a reasonable sum now as they are a FTSE 100 company.  I enjoy watching their progress, and they do sometimes go down as well as up, so I am familiar with the vagaries of the stock market to some extent.

Others were also an inheritance, but were the result of a windfall from the privatisation of many of the building societies in the 1980's.  They are worth substantially less, but their progress is interesting to watch all the same.

So what am I planning to do?  I'm going to take a sum of money (not a huge sum might I add) and invest it in more stocks and shares using an online stock broking company that offers a share dealing service.  I could invest in one of their funds that choses my stock for me, but I'm not, I'm going to choose my own investments and build my own share portfolio, made up of companies whose shares I want to buy and who I think might have room for growth in the future.

As everyone will tell you, share dealing is a risky business, as they can go up and down, and I'm certainly not encouraging anyone to follow me. I'm not, however, in it for short term gain, flipping shares to make a quick profit, I'm in it for the long term and I don't intend to jump in and out. I'm quite excited by the prospect.  I enjoy following my current shares in the financial press, so this will give me a few more to follow in the future.

I've already opened an account, which cost just £1 to do and as soon as I can arrange to transfer some monies into it I can begin to invest.  I've scoured the UK share index on the London Stock Exchange website and found a dozen companies that I am considering investing in and after a bit more research I'll be ready to go. Wish me luck!

Sunday, 19 February 2017

A New Word

I learnt a new word a few months ago. Oniomania - The uncontrollable desire or compulsion to buy things. I'd not actually heard of this word before, but it possibly describes my behavior of 6 or 7 years ago. (Warning: This is quite a personal post and is a bit long and rambling, so feel free to stop reading at any time if you are not interested or are not enjoying it.)

Wikipedia describes this as a mental health condition, that often requires pharmacological intervention. I didn't have any, but what I did do, once I realized that my behavior was compulsive in nature, was to read lots of self help and other books, that documented the stories of other compulsive spenders, to try to understand why I behaved in this way and what it was that made me want to buy things. I can't say whether or not I was a severe case, but I know that my behavior and my compulsion to shop wasn't normal.

I still fight the urge today, but I have become much better at self control. I can't say that I'm cured and perhaps I never will be. It might always be a crutch that I fall back on when the going gets tough (if finances allow, of course). I still think about buying things a lot, but the urges have diminished enormously over the past few years.

Whilst I realize that the rampant consumerism and advertising we are exposed to these days might have fueled this behavior and that many people display this tendency today to some degree, I have to admit that it was a tendency I exhibited and acted upon in earlier periods of my life too.

Probably the first episode was on starting work, in what was a good job in the Civil Service in my late teens/early twenties. Over a period of a few years, I embarked on spending sprees in my lunch hour, managing to fill more than one credit/store card to their limit. I then paid minimum payments on these cards, incurring and having to pay ridiculous interest charges. I find it hard to believe now, that I actually paid all that interest. It seems such a waste of money when I think about it. Now I pay my credit cards off every month and avoid interest at all costs.  It would, however, be better if I used them a lot less.

A few years later, I decided to leave my job and return to full-time education to study for a degree, but with the debts I had to pay off (only a couple of thousand at the time, but still a lot for a young person thirty years ago), I had to wait for over a year until I had paid them back, plus I had to finish paying off a car loan for my first car.

After doing so, I vowed I would never get into debt again, but on a couple of subsequent occasions I have run up similar sized credit card debts, with little to show for them and then subsequently had to pay them off again over an extended period.

The last round of compulsive spending was triggered when my daughter started full-time school and I felt bereft, having stayed at home full time to look after her. One of the things I filled my some of my time with when she went to school, was thrift shopping.

As the house filled up with things that I'd bought (not particularly expensive things might I add), my partner became increasingly concerned about me and the amount of things I was bringing into our home, not to mention how cluttered it was becoming. Although I knew his concerns were justified, I ignored them for a while, the impulse to continue being too strong. Thankfully, for me, it didn't become a big issue in our relationship, as I gradually began to realize that he was right and it had to stop.

I think I survived the experience, because I recognized early enough that I had a problem and managed to find ways to avoid shopping. I went cold turkey on visiting charity shops and increased my visits to the gym which kept me away from the shops.

It helped when we got a dog, as walking her every morning gave me a new routine, not to mention the fact that her addition to our family helped me to recognize that much of the spending was emotional in nature. My little dog unknowingly helped me to take back control of my life. Walking her helped me to slow down and think about my behaviour, why I was doing it and how I could change it.

It's taken me a few years, but I'm gradually getting to grips with it and finding ways to control it. I couldn't possibly have volunteered in a Charity shop a few years ago, as I would have spent far too much money whilst working there, but volunteering in one now is possible because of the effort I've made over the last few years to understand where the compulsion was coming from psychologically and avoiding situations that might trigger it.

Volunteering in the CS has been a big test for me, as I have spent the last few years keeping out of charity and other shops as much as possible, and only shopping when I need something.  I rarely 'go shopping' these days, save for weekly food shopping, unless I need something specific. In fact, when I do visit my local mall, two hours is more than enough in this particular environment, before I start feeling overwhelmed by it all.

I'm no psychologist, and if someone has a similar problem that is affecting their lives detrimentally, then getting external help might be necessary. I'm grateful that for me it wasn't needed, but it is a battle I wage every day, especially now internet shopping makes it even more easy to shop, without even getting up from the kitchen table and I have had and still do have lots of moments where I give in to temptation.

I also quite often buy things from the CS in which I volunteer, but I try to stick only to things we definitely need or that I feel are educational and in doing so, I am hopefully saving us money, improving myself as a person and preventing waste and more clutter in the long term (not to mention giving to a good cause).

I'm still working on my behavior patterns. I am trying to keep away from websites that trigger spending, unless I absolutely need something. I have made a point of unsubscribing from many, to avoid temptation altogether. I also write a wish list of only the things I need, which as the year progresses, I work on until there is very little left on it at all.  I think I'm finally beginning to realize that there is little I actually do need, and thus I am gradually becoming more satisfied with what I already have.

My daughter, too, is getting used to the reduced shopping opportunities and I think my progress has been good for her, as she now shops much less too. I should hate to pass this compulsion on to her.

I'm hoping that I get to a point eventually, where I feel more normal and I don't feel I want or need to shop as strongly, although this is perhaps a little unrealistic, as there will probably always be something that needs to be bought, especially with a growing teenager, a household to maintain and a keen interest in gardening and other hobbies.

I hope that you don't feel I have shared too much in this post.  It is quite a personal account of the past few years of my life, and I have thought a lot before pressing the publish button. It has been written to help me and anyone else who may find they can relate to some of the things I've mentioned and to enable readers to understand where I've come from and how far I've progressed in the last few years.

It's also been written as a kind of thank you, for the kindness and support I've received from the blogging community, which has been a great help in my journey, so a big THANK YOU to you guys. You know who you are.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Small Business Update

I haven't really mentioned my small business in recent posts, save for mentioning that I was filing my tax return the other week.  The reason for this has been that I haven't really been putting much time and effort into it, mainly due to new commitments such as the CS, but also because I've been thinking of winding it right down in the near future.

I've never really made big profits from it, it's been more of a hobby business than anything else, that kept me occupied when I spent so much time at home, but as I've got busier outside of the home, it has taken a toll on any profitability.

Christmas trading this year was way below what I normally manage, mainly due to the fact that I made some changes to what I sold that didn't really work out for the best, I spent a lot of time at the CS not really applying myself to the business and the fact that there is just more competition out there than when I first started.  A steep and disappointing learning curve, that I just put down to experience for this year.

After procrastinating over my tax return yet again in January, I started thinking that I might close down the business by the end of the financial year, so that I didn't have the hassle of it, but I'm now thinking that I might continue with it a little longer, as I still have stock to sell, stationery to use up and I still need to file a tax return to voluntarily pay my National Insurance contributions each year, so maybe continuing isn't such a big deal and does have the bonus of bringing in a little money.

I'm not, however, spending much money on new stock, nor any longer printing and sending out business cards (a total waste of resources and money for me, as I don't even have a website) and I am generally trying to run the business super efficiently and cut out any waste, literal or financial. I'm still thinking about diversifying slightly, but haven't found the right products just yet.

One product I did diversify into has been selling quite steadily and is now bringing me in some profit, so I'm still looking for other opportunities. I do enjoy the challenge of it, but I don't think I'll ever make a million from it, put it that way.

I will probably continue doing most of my trading over the Christmas period and then just keep it ticking over the rest of the year, unless I find a particularly popular product to sell that sells well all year round. I'm happy enough with this arrangement for the time being and when I've got time and feel inspired, I like to try to find new products if I can find them at the right price.

The whole process of starting a small business has been an interesting and wholly positive one. It's not something that I ever thought I would have done, so I'm glad I did, as it has given me an understanding of lots of different things that I otherwise wouldn't have had. I was so scared at the beginning, but there wasn't really any reason to be, so long as I kept my spending in check and did what was required of me by law, such as filing my tax return and generally keeping my customers happy.

I'm not a big risk taker, so any business I do run will have to grow gradually as income allows. I'll keep you posted if things take off beyond my wildest dreams (I'm not sure they will), but for the moment, things are just plodding along nicely and if I make any money from and can reduce the stock that I am currently holding, then I am pretty happy, as it's not really costing me anything.

Who says that business has to be big to be worth anything anyway? I will always argue that it has been good for the experience that it has given me if nothing else, although I admit that I am speaking from the privileged position of not having to turn a great profit to live on.  I do, however, have nothing but admiration for those people that do manage to do this, as it is definitely not as easy as one might think.

Friday, 17 February 2017

A Better Week

I've had a slightly better week this week.  It's amazing what a difference having a totally free day can do and having LB off school meant that I could get some errands done that involved her.

The week got off to a good start on Monday. As there was just one class to attend at the gym, which incidentally was taken by a different teacher whose classes I love, some friends and I were able to take time out afterwards at a local cafe and catch up with each others news. This was the first time we've had the chance to do this so far this year.

I also got some errands done with LB in afternoon, including finally getting her some underwear that she liked and was comfortable to wear on a daily basis.  Result. We also managed to collect her new glasses from the optician and I booked an appointment for me to go for an eye test next month whilst we were there.

Finally, on Monday I also attended my GP about getting my cholesterol levels re-tested. Whilst there I booked an appointment to have some blood taken next week and then I'll ring for the results a few days after it's been done.

I'm currently thinking of changing my GP as we now live further away from the surgery and parking is a problem. There's a surgery a five minute walk away from our house, which OH has registered with, and I'm considering doing the same for LB and myself.  I collected some forms to set the ball rolling this week, so more items ticked off my to do list.

One fail, however, was that I couldn't get LB's school shoes re-heeled this week, as they were too far gone. I should have got them done before they got so bad. Anyway, I managed to order her a pair from ASOS using a £10 off voucher they'd sent me, which helped soften the blow.

I worked my two days at the CS on Tuesday and Wednesday, during which very little else got done as I just don't have the energy after a day in the shop. A new volunteer started work this week and I'm hoping this will mean I can go back to just two days per week again from now on.  We'll see what happens.

On Thursday, I did my usual class and then went out with LB to do some more errands.  We managed to sort out the incorrect title she'd been given on her bank account and got it corrected.  I deposited some change I'd been saving up for her and a cheque from cashing in her few premium bonds, into her savings account and we are now just awaiting a new debit card with her correct name on it so she can start using her new current account and get her pocket money paid straight into it.

In addition, on our outing on Thursday she managed to get her hair cut and completely restyled to incorporate a fringe where none was before.  She really likes it, despite having ignored my constant protestations that she should get it done.  As a consequence, she's going back to school next week a very happy bunny.

On Friday, we went out again to do a bit of top up shopping and I managed to find two very good value bikinis at ASDA of all places for our forthcoming holiday.  I'm hoping they last longer than the much more expensive one I bought from ASOS a couple of years ago, which broke on only the second occasion that I wore it. I haven't tried them on before writing this post, so they may need to go back yet, but fingers crossed they'll fit okay.

When we got back, I did a bit more digital housekeeping.  I finally transferred over my photo's from OH's laptop, so that they are all now on my new laptop and I can use them to list items on eBay and for my blogging, etc. I also managed to get blogging again which I've done little of this week.

Slowly, slowly things are getting done.  So long as progress is being made on a weekly basis I'm a very happy bunny too. How was your week?

Monday, 13 February 2017

This Weekend

This weekend has been a mixed one.  On Saturday I took it easy in the morning, enjoying a weekend lie in reading my current book, doing a bit of housework, emailing my sister in Australia,reading blog posts, etc.

In the afternoon, OH was keen to go to the Zaha Hadid exhibition at the Sackler Gallery in Hyde Park.  As it was the last weekend of the exhibition, we took the car into town to take a look.   It was pretty busy. I guess that many other people must have had the same idea. The exhibition itself was free and was very interesting, so was worth heading out for.

We took the dog with us, leaving her in the car until we'd come out of the exhibition, and then we took her for a walk around the lake in the park.  We stopped off for hot chocolate, as it was perishing cold.  Stupidly, I'd not put enough layers on and it did affect my enjoyment a little.  It was good to get out and about and into town though, despite the awful traffic. It's something we should do more often really.

On Sunday, we had our normal stay at home kind of day after our regular gym classes/cycling and doing the weekly food shop at Lidl.  I tackled the two week old pile of ironing and got it all done and put away in between catching up on YouTube videos and creating a couple of long overdue blog posts. Just the kind of Sunday we like really. Nothing special, but lots of down time just doing our own thing, getting ready for the week ahead and spending as little money as possible.

The week ahead is a busy one.  LB is off school as it's half term.  I've got a few jobs that I need to do with her through the week such as take her for a haircut and go to the bank with her to sort out her new bank account. I also still need to collect her glasses from the opticians as they are now ready and also attend my GP for a follow up about my high cholesterol.

We're not going away this week, but we have booked a bargain week away to Crete in the Easter holidays.  I'm really looking forward to it.  I've never been to Crete before, and it's always quite exciting going somewhere new. I'll be taking just a carry on again, so I might start packing early as I always do so that I can fit everything in that I need.  I like a challenge.

How's your weekend been?

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Loving Lately

I haven't done one of these posts for a while, so I thought I'd indulge myself a little.

The first thing that I've been loving have been these Thinsulate 40g insulated gloves.  I've never actually had a pair of gloves like these before and they are so warm and toasty.  Far superior to the cheap woollen gloves I usually buy from Primark, two pairs for £1.  They've come in very useful in the recent cold weather and although they were quite pricey, even when bought new from the CS, they have been worth every penny during the cold spells we've been having lately. I just hope I don't lose one of them.

The second thing I've been loving lately is this small cross body bag that I bought from ASOS this month. It arrived the morning of my friend's funeral, so was perfect to take with me on the day and is a great size for nights out, holidays and other special occasions.  I managed to use a £5 loyalty voucher which enabled me to buy it for just £15. I'm very happy with it as it is a perfect size to take my purse, phone and keys making it a perfect addition to my longed for, but not yet quite complete capsule wardrobe.

A good film that I've enjoyed recently has been this one starring Will Smith and his son Jaden.  I purchased it from the CS and watched it the same night.  Both heartbreaking and inspiring in equal doses and based on a true story. I'd definitely recommend it.

On Netflix, I've recently really enjoyed watching the crime series River, which stars the actress Nicola Walker who I've also been watching recently in ITV crime drama 'Unforgotten'.  In River, she plays the deceased colleague of a detective trying to find her murderer. This series is set in and around East London where I live, so I also enjoyed identifying some of the places where it was filmed. A great series, which I'm sad to have finished watching.

Finally, I have to say that I'm really enjoying reading books at the moment, mostly of the self help/development variety.  I know this genre of book isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I find them strangely appealing and we get so many of them coming through the CS.

My latest favourite has been 'Living the 80/20 Way' by Richard Koch which tries to guide you in living your life by taking account of the 80/20 principle, whereby 20% of the things you do bring you 80% of your happiness. It is an idea that fascinates me, namely that much of our lives are spent doing things that bring us very little pleasure or satisfaction. I read a previous book of his on this subject last year and enjoyed it and this book was no disappointment either.

If you've enjoyed any of the above or find any of these favourites appealing.  Let me know.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

CS Update

It's been a pretty exhausting week so far. I've worked two days at the CS and have another day yet to work on Friday, because the manager is on holiday for the week. It has been pretty tiring, mainly because I had two young student volunteers from a local college working with me for both days.

It was a new experience for me to be almost completely responsible for supervising other volunteers, especially young ones.  They were nice girls, but it was mentally and physically tiring trying to think about and instigate what needed doing in the shop, whilst overseeing two new volunteers.  Without their help, however, the shop wouldn't have been open, so we were grateful for their efforts.

I did have help from other experienced volunteers over the couple of days I was there, but I was mainly responsible for opening/stocking up the shop and supervising/delegating work to the girls.

One thing I have felt particularly brassed off about this week, has been the amount of theft that goes on in the shop. Every week it seems like at least one quite expensive, designer item gets stolen. Usually, when the staff are distracted by a queue of customers or a full shop.  It's making me more and more cynical. The perpetrators don't seem to care whether the clothes are security tagged, which some are.

I'm convinced they must have their own strong magnets at home to remove the tags without damaging the clothes. Such are the tools of the trade of a professional shop lifter. I think there's a mentality that thinks that because the shop gets given things for free, that they are entitled to take them for free.

Anyway, this aside, things seem to have gone okay so far, although there's a question mark over whether I will be able to open the shop on Friday, as there are no other volunteers available to work with me. I may be getting someone from another shop to help, but I'm not sure yet.

On a positive note, we have had a few enquiries this week from potential volunteers.  It will be interesting to see whether or not they become actual volunteers in the near future. I do hope so.

Tonight, I've managed to do a few household tasks and am intending to head to bed for an early night with a good book.  I've got a day at home tomorrow and  I've managed to book a Zumba class at the gym at the last minute, due to a cancellation. Other than that, walking the dog and the need to empty the ironing basket and post a parcel, I can do what I please for the rest of the day. Bring it on.