Back at the beginning of this year I decided to record our expenditure in a much more formal way than I ever have before, and to make this a permanent new habit.
Part of the reason behind that was because of my redundancy and the need to make every penny work hard until I either get another job or find the contract opportunities I need to be self-employed permanently. The other part is to understand where every penny is going so we can make much more conscious choices about what we spend money on as Martin's retirement rolls ever nearer.
Every receipt has been kept and stuck into a day to a page diary, the receipts are then broken down by category and then entered into a spreadsheet. This is cross-referenced with spending out of our joint account and credit card account, and more figures added to the spreadsheet. At some point during the day I ask Martin what he's bought today, and if he paid in cash and didn't get a receipt.
The results surprised me actually - I didn't think they would as I thought we were on top of everything. We're not.
1. We spend a lot on meals I don't make at home. Eating out and takeaways make up the equivalent of half of our monthly food spend. This is shocking, because we only eat out once a month on a date night, we tend to have a takeaway with Martin's family and then one alone together, and usually we have an afternoon cream tea somwehere. So one restaurant meal, two takeaways and one afternoon tea. If we eliminated eating out for one month but spent the equivalent amount of money on normal food, we'd have one hell of a store cupboard. And I already have one hell of a store cupboard.
2. Without realising it, we easily spend £100 a month on DIY-related stuff; duct tape, nails, replacement hammers, paint stripper, etc etc. It's easy to forget the small stuff and just focus on the large stuff. Some of the things we have bought over the last three months have been to replace things we think we have but can't find, so I have to come up with a better system in the DIY cupboard and change Martin's organisational system. He spent about 45 minutes looking for a particular type of pliers two nights ago because we didn't know what we had done with it - if we can't find it, we have to buy a new one.
3. A poor deal on our broadband and telephone. A very poor deal. We've just realised we have recently started going over our broadband limit and being charged. We didn't even realise we had a broadband limit. Martin will be ringing up both BT and TalkTalk inviting both to pitch for the respective bit of our business they currently do not have and seeing what deal can be struck for unlimited access.
4. We were spending a lot on cat food for the first couple of months of the year, but in our experience they were refusing what was in their bowls more often than not, especially the most common well known brands. It didn't add up. One month we spent the equivalent of half of our food bill just on feeding three cats. We felt like we were always putting down food and to a certain extent we were - because Fleagle had been eating the food rations of the other two when they turned their noses up.
Fleagle is now on a diet, having topped 18lbs through sheer thievery of the other cats' food. But it wasn't all her fault. We found once we switched the cats over to food with a higher meat content (Sheba and Nature's Menu), they were more satisfied and less inclined to turn their noses up or steal others food. So while it is a bit more expensive per 100g, there is less being wasted and they look better for it, especially Fleagle who is now 17lbs and has a lovely glossy coat for the first time in years. I shall be monitoring how much we spend during the next quarter.
5. Our telephone bill keeps rising, despite having a 'free weekends and evenings' call package. The culprit? Mobile phones. Specifically, me phoning Martin on his during the day. I'm being charged 12p to connect and 8p a minute to talk to him. One month that added up to nearly £25 of call charges on top of the line rental. I only phoned him twice on his mobile the following month, and instead sent him texts at 8p a text, and then only texts that were important. While my mobile spend went up by £5, overall I managed to save £20 the following month off the landline bill.
6. Health related spending is through the roof. Across January and February I was in and out of the dentist and buying expensive dental products. I've been to see a physio every 1-2 weeks for my knee across the first three months of the year, and Martin needed new glasses in March. I've had a long hard look at some of this stuff and decided to cut out the physio. While there have been enormous gains in the stability of my knee in that it no longer gives way on me, over the last six weeks or so I have not advanced any further and there is a still a niggly problem with tightness in my pes anserinus related tendons/muscles which the physio seems resistent to look into. So for now I am taking a break from the physio. I have introduced some yoga to my routines and added extra stretches to ensure my knee remains strong.
This type of financial monitoring is crucial if Martin and I are to achieve our financial goals. The detailed information will help me forecast how much we are likely to spend in our retirement across the various categories, making it more likely to accurately pinpoint when we can both retire and on what income. In addition the very act of monitoring what you spend opens your eyes to those things that don't seem that important in hindsight.
Without this monitoring, all I would be able to say is we will probably have to retire on a similar level of expense every month minus the mortgage, which we plan will be paid off by then. With that kind of loose estimating we could both end up working longer than we actually need to by several years. And who wants to do that ;-)
I've been hunting down some interesting frugal and financial blogs over the last few months, and I'd like to introduce you to three which I have found very helpful for keeping an eye on day to day expenses.
This blogger has been encouraging me to keep track of my spending, plan my meals better and introduced me to the concept of No Spend Days. She is also doing something that Martin and I want to achieve - living on less than 50% of our income.
I relate a lot to this blogger. He has many of the same interests and goals as Martin and I. He was also the one who introduced me to the concept of planning our finances in such detail for future forecasting.
Another blogger committed to monitoring the pennies in spreadsheets. Living in London things can get pretty expensive if you don't keep a careful eye on things, and this blogger certainly does. I particularly like it when she manages to cut her spending by switching something around or finding a new shortcut - it makes me consider what I can do with my own budget.
Martin bought me a small polytunnel for Christmas, and as he's been off last week we decided to start prepping the ground for it. I've chosen to put it on a bed nearest the house, working on permaculture principles of siting frequently visited areas nearest the house.
The bed had several massive 10 year old shrubs, including two dwarf trees, copious rocks, plenty of bindweed, valerian and other weeds, and under and around all of this, thick plastic with a 2-3 inches of pebbles.
It took six hours to sort it out and we filled a six yard skip.
Today a roll of 100g weed suppressant membrane will be delivered, which we will use to double cover the entire bed to prevent the bindweed coming up inside the tunnel, and then we will assemble the frame.
Once this stage is complete, we will construct the raised beds inside. I chose to go with raised beds rather than simply double dig because of the terrible bindweed problem this garden has. I do not use weedkillers, especially around the things we or the animals eat, so I usually find ways to manually block the stuff coming up and then hand weed any remaining persistent offenders out. Hard work but better than spending time and effort growing your own food and then still eating pesticides.
We estimate there is a day's work to do the frame, a day to build the raised beds and another two days barrowing to fill them, and then a few hours fitting and securing the cover on a windless day, which is almost unheard of in this neck of the woods so heaven knows when that will go on.
I don't anticipate this being done before middle of April, but it has to be done right and that will take time.
I turn my back for a couple of years and all of a sudden everything needs repairing.
The pen around the ducks had two posts broken off at the bottom, one fence panel that had come apart and the whole thing needed paint. I've been working on that for most of the week.
The shed had started leaning strongly on one corner because the ground had dropped due to all the rain, which made the rest start to come apart and ended up tearing the door off. It's been propped in that corner now and the wood had relaxed back to where it should be so now so I just have to tack the odd loose bit together, put a new piece of wood in the doorframe and fix the door on, replace a piece of roof felt, and then give it a scrub and coat of paint.
I spent yesterday cleaning the patio down, but I need to get some proper algae cleaner on it today and hot water and a stiff broom hasn't done the job. Unfortunately all the stones are loose and need reconcreting and repointing, so at some point this year I have to do that.
The patio chair has been trashed by the cats...new replacement wood needs to be ordered.
The workshop needs sanding and painting...
...and the greenhouse needs to have its panels put back on and this time glued into place! The winter winds made mincemeat of it.
That's before we even get to the normal gardening tasks for the year.
Ok...I promised I would show you what I ended up winning at the auction.
The two solid pine bedside cabinets, in the process of being stripped, cost £7 the pair. They'll go in our room to replace the existing tatty MDF pair.
The school desk £26. Needs stripping and restoring. That will go in my hobby room to store my laptop and other computer equipment in. I have an idea that the inkwell could be opened up to trail the laptop cable up to the machine and then have another hole inside in the corner to feed the cable to the plug, leaving the bulk of the unsightly transformer inside the desk instead of on display on the floor.
Something I spotted at the very last moment under a table; a knitting machine, a ribbing machine and three sets of attachments. £14. I only want the four way colour changing attachment and the wool winders to add to my machine so the rest is going on ebay.
The pews. A big splurge at £60, but the proceeds of selling off the knitting machine equipment I don't want will cover it. They are covered in thick orange varnish, so I will strip them back and restore them. They'll go either side of the bed in the back bedroom.
An oak bookcase for one of the bedrooms. £18. Nothing needed doing to it.
Old maps fron the 1940s/50s/60s. £3. Loved these when I spotted them, and four in there have some rarity value which I'll keep. I have some furniture upstairs that I'm overhauling so the rest will be lining the interiors of that furniture. Decoupage on the inside if you like.
So this little lot will keep me busy this week. Well that and the ironing (boo hiss!).
And the rest of the items in my previous post? Well, I bid on the pine wardrobe, but ducked out at about £65 as I was up against a very determined bidder. I let the suitcases go without bidding - as much as I loved the large trunk I have nowhere for it to go. The pig trough would have been lovely as a planter, but I foresaw problems with drainage and rust staining the patio so I didn't bid. I ummed and ahhhed about the paraffin powered tractor but then realised it would just be a dust gatherer as Martin was convinced there was a part missing that it would need to work
The vintage bamboo tables...I already have three in the house so really I would gave been entering hoarding territory with those.
Finally the singer sewing machine and treadle table I loved but practicality took over - it was very wide and had a small raised top on it which covered the hole when the machine was down inside the table, so very little could have been displayed on it once restored. It would have been impractical in a house of our size and I already have two vintage singer sewing machines that are portable so I let it go without bidding (sob).