Thursday, 18 January 2018

Financial Filing

Yes, it's that time of year again, i.e Tax Return time, and for the last three days, I've been getting my financial affairs in order.

The first and most pressing job was my tax return, which I've all but completed.  I just need to confirm one last section before I file it and then pay my voluntary National Insurance contribution, which I began doing last year when it first became possible to do so at the same time as filing your tax return.

Last year, after paying my NI contributions, I didn't actually receive any confirmation that it had been received, so this year I rang the NI offices to find out if they had received it, before making another payment.  It turns out that they did receive the payment, but only credited me with 3 weeks worth of credit for the year.  As I speak, they should be trying to sort it out for me and I should receive some confirmation by post in the near future, of what has gone on.

A very nice lady at the NI offices did advise me to open a personal tax account on HMRC's website, which I didn't realise you could do, in order to track my NI contributions in future.  On her advice, I did so and it makes it so easy to check how much NI you have paid to date, how much you need to pay to qualify for a full pension, etc., so I will be using it more regularly in future.

Once I'd taken care (or almost) of the tax return, I set about preparing next year's accounts too, up until the current time.  This makes it so much quicker when January comes around, as it is mostly already done, with just a few months worth of figures to add to complete it.

I also carried out a year's worth of financial filing.  I'm kind of organised, but I don't file my statements away each month, instead I store them all in a file box and when the time comes to do my Tax Return, I sort them into date order and file them away. Don't ask me why I use this system, but I do and it works, but it means that in January I have to have a good sort out and get on top of everything.

Having done these tasks, I then decided to do a bit more financial juggling.  If you've read my posts in the past year, you'll know that I'm now out of debt and living in the black and have been trying to increase any income I receive on savings by moving things around to get the best interest rates possible. 

I'd done this with some savings and am now getting better returns, but there were still some accounts that were barely earning any interest at all, one of the main ones being a building society account I opened over 10 years ago, to pay some share dividends into. These long held shares now mostly pay dividends directly into this account, so I need to keep it open if only for this purpose, but there was a sum of £1000 or so in there that was earning 0.1% interest, which was diabolical.  This equated to £1 per year. I knew I could do better elsewhere.

Today, I decided to remove most of this sum into my current account, from where I will decide the best place to invest it.  It may make a temporary move to another account before reaching it's final destination in a few months time, where it will be earning more than where it originally was.

I've been meaning to do this task for a while, but just never got around to trudging down to the building society to do it.  Now it's done, I can move it around via internet banking, from the comfort of my own home. It was just as well I did it really, as in the process, I discovered that the account was still registered at my old address, where I lived over 10 years ago, so I was able to update my records at the same time, bringing the account bang up to date.

Over the next few months, I will be doing a bit more juggling of savings, as certain short term interest rate deals expire, in order to get the best interest rates I can going forward and hopefully will continue to increase any passive earnings I am making on my savings and investments in doing so.

Tracking this passive income, is something I started to do back in May after reading a  financial advice type book that talked about how to do it and I'm happy to say that my passive income has almost doubled since then. It's still a very small sum and is a very long way from being enough to live off, but just knowing that I'm doing what I can to increase it on a monthly basis, is very encouraging and motivating too. When it reaches a sum that I can comfortably life off, barring any financial disasters, I should be financially independent, so this is definitely something worth doing to propel me towards and keep me focused on this goal.

So, it's been a busy few days and I have a couple of other tasks that I need to investigate once I finish writing this post, one of which is to try to minimise my gym membership payments, by possibly changing to a different type of monthly membership which could halve my payments.  I'll keep you posted with progress on this one.

Are you making any financial changes this year?

Saturday, 13 January 2018

A Birthday Saturday

I wasn't working at all this weekend, which was a bonus, especially as it was LB's 15th birthday this Saturday.  She had arranged a meet up for a bunch of her friends in a local park, so I bought them some snacks and drinks to enjoy whilst they were there.

She seemed to enjoy the presents that I'd bought her, and the rest of her present from both OH and myself was money.  As a teenager, she much prefers to get money to spend how she wishes, than things, which is all good.

We've booked a week in New York at half term in February.  We've wanted to take her for ages, but never got around to booking it.  OH has booked our flights and we're supposed to be staying in an apartment belonging to someone he knows through work, although we'll be sharing it during working hours, as it is currently being used as an office. 

This will be a bit weird, but we'll probably mostly be out and about sightseeing anyway and alternative accommodation in New York is astronomically expensive, and quite small by comparison.  If the worst comes to the worst and we don't like the arrangement, we could always book a hotel for a few days when we get there. I'm just hoping that the weather isn't so bad that our flights are cancelled either way or that it will be impossible to get around once there.

As a consequence of the above, LB is very excited.  She's getting her birthday money in dollars, which also has the added advantage of preventing her from spending it before we go. She can't wait to go thrift shopping in NYC and I'd be very interested in visiting a few thrift stores myself out of curiosity.

Saturday morning we took LB out for brunch at a local restaurant, on her own request. The afternoon she spent with her friends and then theyof them came back to our house to hang out later and have a piece of her cute birthday cake, that I bought from ASDA. She's just now taking an interest in vinyl, but loves music, so this was perfect.

On the way back from the restaurant, I made a point of dropping into a couple of local green grocers, to buy most of our fruit and veg for this week, in an attempt to cut down on the plastic waste I usually accrue at the supermarkets. I should do this every week, but I've got into the terrible habit of the convenience of one or two stop shopping at big name and value supermarkets. It's a habit I really need to break this year, for things such as fruit and veg anyway, as they are packaged in so much plastic these days, that it is obscene. I did go out to the supermarkets later to get the rest of our shopping.

With the grocery shopping done for another week, I settled in for the afternoon to finish emptying the ironing basket, which had built up since we went away at Christmas.  It felt so good to get it up to scratch and feel on top of things again. The same can't be said for the cleaning, but I may do some tomorrow before I go back to work on Monday.

I'm not sure if I'm going to the gym tomorrow, as the system for booking has changed and I didn't get a place this week.  You can now book 20 days ahead instead of 7, so all classes get booked up and the waiting list, which used to bump you up into a class dependent on where you were on it, is now a complete free for all, which makes it virtually impossible to book a place when one becomes available. 

It's a real mess, worse than before. I can't understand why they introduced it.  Probably because of a few complainers.  Let them suffer the consequences, is what I say, and they will if they're not on it when it comes to booking 3 weeks ahead. Crazy. Now everyone will just book everything for three weeks and cancel as necessary, and then let the unlucky rest fight it out for the places that crop up due to cancellations.  So stressful.

It really has made me think seriously about cancelling my membership, but I'll hang on for a while and see if it all dies down after the January rush to the gym.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Life Afloat

I've been meaning to write this post for months, but I had to wait until I had a phone that had a decent camera, that also made it easy to upload photos.  Having got a new camera for Christmas from OH, I decided to get on with it.  So here goes.

One of my favourite pastimes when I'm walking the dog along the canal near where we live, is to see the different types of boats that people make into homes here in London. They are so varied in size, shape, type, age, etc.

Some are very short, compact and bijou to put it politely.

Some are incredibly long.

Some are just strange.

The orange one is a kind of small submarine type vessel. 

(Apologies for the finger over the lens here and the fact that I didn't zoom in - I hadn't worked out how to use it at this point.)

Some look like pleasure crafts of various kinds.

(Here's our little dog)

Some look like tug boats.

Many are traditional canal boats, of course. (Some with very cute names and side hustles)

Some are narrow, as is traditional on the canals, hence the name narrowboat.

Others are much wider and barge like, allowing much more living space.

There are quite a few very ramshackle affairs.
(I forgot to photograph any of these)

But some are very slick minimal hipster conversions, complete with shiny stainless steel, solar power and modern paint jobs.

I am constantly amazed at the diversity and resourcefulness of those who live their lives afloat on the canals of London, and due to the licensing laws of the canals, many of them have to move every two weeks. As a consequence, a regular stream of different boats appear all year round, creating an endless supply of fascinating tiny homes to observe.

I think I probably view life afloat through slightly rose tinted spectacles.  I'm sure it's cold and damp in the winter, but to me, the smell of wood smoke gives the impression of them being cosy and warm, with no room to keep lots of clutter.

Do you see canal boat homes where you live?

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

CS Catch Up

I've now been back at work a week and it's been a very busy one. I did put in a few extra hours here and there in an attempt to help with the huge mountain of donations that has accrued over the last two weeks. It's a good problem to have.

Most of the week has been spent inducting and training new volunteers, which although very time consuming, should hopefully be worth it in the long term, providing that they continue to volunteer. Hopefully, now most of the inductions have been done and next week I should be able to get down to more work in the stockroom which is bulging at the seams.

The poor Manager came down with a cold as soon as it got to be time for him to take his days off.  Typical.  It's when you stop after a persistent spell of work, that these things tend to hit. I'm hoping that he's feeling better when he returns to work tomorrow.

We've got a sale on at the moment, in an attempt to get people to come to us as well as visit all the myriad of stores with sales on in Central London.  It's been busy enough, but, of course, when you're selling things at reduced prices, you have to sell more to make the same amount of money. I'm not complaining though, as customers enjoy getting a bargain and we have plenty of stock to sell.

My priority this week, has been culling old stock put out before Christmas to other shops and getting new stock out on the shop floor. As a consequence, I've spent the last two days humping sacks of clothing all around the shop and now that I've finished work for a few days, I feel quite exhausted and I ache all over. At least it's good exercise.

There's still quite a few volunteers who haven't returned to the shop after the Christmas break and I'm hoping that most of them will return soon and make life a little easier. Some are away visiting relatives, some are unwell and others are students that went home for Christmas and may not have returned to their places of study yet. Time will tell.

Overall, I'm enjoying getting back into the swing of it.  I'm sure I'll get back used to the pace again soon. In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy the next four days of not working.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Back to Basics

On Saturday, I finally took down the Christmas tree and decorations. I seem to be reluctant at both ends of Christmas, reluctant to put up the decorations and reluctant to take them down. I'm sure I'll get used to the bareness of the house within a few days, but I miss those twinkly lights, making the room feel cosy.  Maybe I should keep a set back to use all winter.

Luckily, it's LB's birthday next weekend, so a few cards about the place will fill up the room a bit more.

Anyway, the decorations are back into the three or four storage bags, one for wrap, one for wreaths, one for decorations and one for the tree.  I did manage to declutter a few more items whilst I was packing everything away, which is all good.

I was reading somewhere the other day how if you want to be eco friendly, you should stop using plastic trees. It really didn't make any sense to me. 

If you've already got a plastic tree, why throw it out and stop using it.  Surely it's more eco friendly to continue to use it and then you wouldn't need to ever buy another or a real one.  Besides, many Charity shops (like ours) don't actually accept Christmas trees in January, as they don't want to give room to them for a year, before anyone is likely to buy them. So, despite preferring a real tree, I'm going to keep our artificial one and continue to use it, whatever anyone says.

After reading a great post on Where the journey takes me about re-using Christmas cards, I cut up those cards that seemed to make good Christmas gift tags and put them with my wrapping paper ready for next year. Here's a couple of pictures of the ones I made. 

A bit of a mixture, but I'm sure they'll look great on gifts with a bit of added ribbon.

After a quick dust and hoover around, it's like Christmas never happened. Oh well, I'm sure it will come round again soon enough. Best get on with 2018 now.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

My New Phone

Anyone who's read my blog for a while, will probably know, that I'm a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to technology.  In an attempt to bring me into the modern age, OH bought me a new phone this Christmas. It's the same brand as my previous phone, but with a much better and more current operating system (if that's the right term to use).

It's a very nice phone, but I don't know if I'll make good use of it's potential.  It has, however, caused me to get to grips with a few new apps, which is a good thing. I've joined What's App, which is very useful for contacting LB when I need to. I feel like I've finally joined the party, although I don't really know what to do with myself now I'm there, if you know what I mean.

I've also signed up to Castbox, which is an app for listening to podcasts. I came across it after watching a new favourite YouTuber Gillian Perkin's video on Android apps that she uses. It's working for me and I've subscribed to lots of interesting podcasts that I can now listen to on the bus to or from work.

Yesterday, saw me listening to the end of an Oprah Winfrey interview with Gretchen Reuben and then another with Cheryl Strayed, author of that wonderful book I read a couple of years ago, Wild. Very entertaining on the bus journey to the shop.

I'm know I'm going to really enjoy indulging in this new activity, as it will provide a little pocket of me time on my commute, which should make the journey pass a little quicker uses my commuting time more efficiently too.

Other than this and the fact that I've downloaded a pedometer app, so I don't need to buy another one, I don't know if it the phone is going to change my life too much. Although, having a camera whose pictures are easier to download should make life easier, and I'm looking forward to using that more now that I have it.

Are you like me and need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the present day when it comes to technology?

Friday, 5 January 2018

Making Again

Yesterday afternoon, after bemoaning the fact to other bloggers that I hadn't done any work on any creative projects for a while or really done much at all with my time whilst on annual leave, I decided that there was no time like the present and headed up to my sewing room.

It's still full of Christmas stuff at the moment, namely the Christmas decoration boxes which are waiting to be refilled, once I get around to take down the decorations. In spite of this, I was still motivated to get on and start a project that I'd been meaning to do for at least 6 months, namely making some new cushion covers for the living room.

I have so much fabric and decided that after four years or so with the same cushion covers, it was time for a change.  I'd picked out some suitable fabrics and put them aside and I finally got them out and started work.

I didn't intend to finish the covers that day, but after completing a couple, I decided to just carry on and make the other two that I needed.  They're not perfect (far from it), but they will freshen up the living room as we move towards spring.  The print on the fabric is a tulip print, which seemed appropriate, and the colours are pretty. 

I made envelope style covers, as I didn't have any co-ordinating zips and didn't want to spend any money on the project or have to go out to get any. After having mismatched cushions in this room for years, they are all now co-ordinated which feels a lot more grown up.

Whilst I was at it, I also decided to make a new cover for the footstool, that would tie in with the new cushion covers, as it was previously covered in the same fabric as the old cushion covers.  I decided not to use the same cushion fabric this time, as it had a cream background that could get dirty easily and the footstool cover isn't removable, it's sewn on.

Instead, I used some of this dark navy print velvet fabric that I've had in my stash for years and which used to part of some old curtains that I purchased second hand.  I had heaps of it. It's nice and tactile and cosy for the winter months and shouldn't show up any dirt. (Fluff and dog hairs, but not dirt!) In addition, I won't necessarily have to make another one should I replace the cushion covers again.

I now just need to make a new runner to co-ordinate. A pretty productive and frugal afternoon, whereby I get a bit of a new look in the living room, without spending any money.  Result.