DEBT FREE AT LAST!

Debt, significant debt, followed me for decades but I just made the final payment! *Pulls kilt over head and screams FREEDOM!*

Only gone and blinking done it! Decades of debt finally all gone, all paid down, every penny. I await a bill for some car repairs but otherwise and aside from a mortgage and regular bills, I owe nobody anything. The money in the bank is mine to do with as I please. I cannot remember back when this was the case previously. It has been my constant companion, my lullaby at night, my alarm call in the morning, it has been my travelling companion and as close to me as my own heartbeat. It has been a motivation to focus on what matters. We had a good life none the less but this is a legacy I didn’t want to pass to the next generation. I wanted the next generation to be free to take chances and be bold if they choose to be. It would have been easy to pay off minimums for the rest of my life and ignore the freedoms afforded to those who are not thus shackled. Easy. The hard decision was to live up to what I though was right for us. To actually decide that my life work until it was completed was to be free of things which erode my freedom to choose, and debt was right up there at the top. Each month it would eat away at my disposable income. It was a constant reminder of mistakes made. It annoyed me.

If you are minded to make the same decision and become debt free, hats off to you.

If you are minded to make a different decision and stick with minimum payments, more power to your elbow.

Shakespeare in Hamlet wrote:

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend, And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. This above all: to thine ownself be true,”

The whole phrase resonated with me but it’s the “This above all: to thine ownself be true” part which always rang in my ears since my days at the Provo Missionary Training Centre (MTC) and our District Leader, David Muntinga would repeat this phrase out loud to himself frequently. It stuck like an earworm and shaped my personal philosophy. So, thanks Dave!

My philosophy is based on strength of character, freedom to choose, kindness where possible, resilience to weather the storms, and a passion to embrace opportunities.

I think the experiences we have gone through as a family, particularly in the last 4.5 years should act as a cautionary tale to young people making life choices!

At any point we can make a different decision and choose a different path. The principle is called Agency. We all have it and it is like a muscle in the body, we either use it and it strengthens or we don’t and it weakens. Making a different decision feels awkward, clumsy and ungainly. It is not a pretty sight at first but I liken it to watching a class of 4 year old children learning ballet who look like cats on roller-skates at first vs that same group 5 or 10 years later with a gracefulness which is inspiring. Work through the kittens on roller-skates phase, it doesn’t last forever.

If I had my time over, these are some of the things I wish I’d adopted earlier.

  • Choose your path of study – does it get you where you need to be for your next life steps? Does it open or close doors?
  • Choose your career well – will it provide for you and your dependents. The higher qualified you are, the more freedom there is to make your own schedule. Qualify young, qualify highly.
  • Choose your partner well – if you choose to have a partner do they have complimentary goals and philosophies, are they equally carrying the load, are they easy to be around, can you talk about the specifics of budgeting without fighting or someone becoming moody?
  • Choose your financial strategy early in life – are you a spender, are you a saver, what did your parents do and did it work for them, if you don’t know about money, learn! There are endless resources available online or in your library. How many hours can you put in to your career. Do you have other priorities which draw away your attention. Is your strategy working for you?
  • Choose to budget – know what is coming in and what is going out. Know the dates of payments. Write it down.
  • Choose to recognise the true cost – I mentally add the time away from my family to earn the money and the tax already taken by the government into the cost of the product and think to myself “is it still worth it?” Conversely, if you have financial woes and plenty of possessions, know their value and sell them! Generate revenue, get back some of the cash and pay down expenses.
  • Choose to find the best deals for you – as contracts come to an end, shop around. As birthdays come up, buy early and allow time for shipping at a reduced rate. As utility prices fluctuate, move deals or suppliers. As tools become needed for a DIY project check the internet vs the high street prices and make good choices.
  • Choose to cancel duff subscriptions – FREE MONEY! Who doesn’t love free money. That’s what it feels like when you find a subscription you’d forgotten about on your statement and cancel it down.
  • Choose to continue learning and growing – there will be wise people around you in your life, listen as they chat, ask questions when appropriate, learn from them, use them as a mentor.
  • Choose to ask for help – if you are in over your head, ask for help. Call the companies and tell them. Tell a friend. Approach organisations who manage these situations daily. You are in it on your own, your choices got you here and your choices are going to get you out of it, but if it all gets too much and you need expert help, ask.
  • Choose to build a reserve – if you are debt free, build a slush fund, a reserve, a cushion, whatever you want to call it, to fall back upon in tough times. Tough times always come. It’s prudent to have done what you can to make those times a little easier.

My experience has reached the Build A Reserve phase. It is quite exciting to build rather than be repairing. Feels completely different and it is actually a little scary which is silly. What if I do the next phase wrong! Anything new can be daunting so I choose to push through, carry on learning, carry on listening and carry on trying to make good choices. I may never rival the likes of a billionaire, people who I do not envy at all, they worked hard for what they have and I am pleased for them, but I can build from this point forth and can be pleased that I got my little family this far in the journey. It is hard. Oh so difficult in ways that I cannot find words to articulate. It is possibly one of the most challenging experiences of my life. I’m hoping that the effort one day feels worth it. Right now it is all a little raw and a little new so I have to let it settle in to the new normal before I can speak on that with any degree of confidence. This is my new Kittens On Roller-skates phase!

Now hopefully you’ve had a charmed life and never have to consider much of the above. You people who are adulting successfully have been a quiet inspiration over the past few years so thank you.

Critics Gonna Critique

When kids have opinions.

My kiddo is not a fan of the writing here.  The kid actively hates it. I know that because it has recently been articulated thus!  I have been articulating my journey through our experience and trying to be incredibly vague on anything which skims near her experience.  This blog is not about the kid, it’s about me, my experience of divorce, or new single life, the British Legal System, standing up to bad guys, or emotional health or single parenting in difficult circumstances from the adults perspective.  I frequently get things wrong but when I finally figure out how to do it right, I write it down.  When I started writing I didn’t quite know where I ended and others began.  I’d given away much of who I was in the name of compromise.  In writing, I find definitions.  In writing, I find a pattern of cheerfulness or hope, perhaps even a dash of courage here or there, and I definitely identify a trend in resilience.  I hope that the reference to third parties in years to come will be an evidence of my love for them and my reverent astonishment at their magnificent journey.  It is a little disappointing that I’ll likely cease referencing the kid because much of who I am is defined by her presence so it’s a little like asking a fish to describe themselves without referencing water.  I’ll figure it out.  Anyway, Kiddo, I love you and you can’t stop me shouting about that!!!

Unpalatable Conversations

London had a rough few days and arrests are being made in my home town. There’s a strong narrative in the air.

Tricky, innit.  The desire to be reasonable and civilised while feeling emotional at extremists rampaging through the Capital.

Like half the people I know, I was born in East London but grew up in a town called Barking which is near London.  If London and Essex were one of those circular Venn diagrams it would be the intersection of the two circles.  It is smack bang in the middle of all the troubles at London Bridge and arrests on Saturday 3rd June 2017 and in the days since.

My social media feed and my conversations with friends and family are filled with two narratives, often simultaneous but sometimes polarized.  The conversations flow around “Kill them, hang ’em, bang ’em up, ship ’em back to where they came from” verses “we have to find a way to weed out and deal with the radicals and those who contaminate the conversation”.

My view, I believe the police union representative yesterday during a televised interview who said the conversation around increasing police numbers by 2020 will only bring us back to pre 2010 levels which was just before funding cuts and anyone who says otherwise is lying.

Police are pulling double shifts, hospitals are maxed, much of what is known centres around responding – and they are responding fabulously, hats off – rather than having capacity to get ahead of the problems we are experiencing in society.

When the IRA were bombing London, they had a clear ideology to unite Northern and Southern Ireland and self govern.  That was something whether you agreed or not which was tangible and could be a yes or no answer.

The pickle we face nowadays is supposedly to do with imposing an oppressive ideology upon a free nation or punishing those who live in liberty – and that’s never going to fly.

Have you met people from London, whether native or new?  Have you met people from Barking where many of the arrests are occurring?

Barking bloomed in the 50’s and 60’s as a new neighbourhood for the cleared East London overcrowding and slums.  It was a beautiful town, green, spacious, tremendous infrastructure and industry.  It was almost nirvana.  Since mass overflow immigration in the past 20 years seeping in to the town from Central London, it is starting to look worn and no longer British.  The original locals are not pleased with these negative changes.

The people who populated Barking and Dagenham had just endured the Blitz and survived two back to back world wars.  They’re not soft.  They’re really hard as nails and haven’t had anything against which to fight for quite some time.  They’re funny, humorous, entrepreneurial, hard working, fun loving and family oriented. Unfortunately for those who seek to oppress Londoners, you got the backs up of people who call it home.

So while I can understand the sentiment of the hang ’em high brigade, I’m going to go with supporting our Police officers as they operate within the framework of existing and suitable laws and try and be a voice of “yes, those folks who have separated themselves and wish to cause harm to the population need to be dealt with, but not with such vitriol, not yet” for the next while.

But when the blood is pumping that’s a tricky ask.

Make Hay While The Sun Shines

The resolve of British folks to make hay while the sun shines should be their defining characteristic. It’s magnificent.

I love the old saying “may hay while the sun shines”.  It harkens back to the days of manual agriculture with large teams of men scything hay in the fields but waiting until the warm and hot days of summer to cut and stack the crop lest it turn damp and rot away.  Without accurate weather forecasting it would have been a harvest which was anticipated and hoped for but couldn’t be planned specifically until conditions were perfect.  The farmer and the labourers wouldn’t know weather was perfect until they woke on the day itself.  In my minds eye I see people calling to each other,  drop your plans, today it is hay day, get a move on, pack a lunch, we’re heading to the fields, hurry up this is urgent, move it, got your kit, right, let’s go.  Then the shire horse would trundle into the field pulling the cart which would receive the harvest and the men folk and maybe some women would begin and finish while she sun shone.  It all rested on being ready to go as soon as the call came through and being willing to throw your back in to the work.

The British tolerate changeable weather for much of the year.  The location of the British Isles falls under the convergence of several weather systems.  There could be clear and blue skied days in the deepest part of winter, there could be hazy cloud cover on summer days.  Rarely is there a predictable weather pattern where snow or sun could be accurately anticipated.  The Brits wake each day and look out the window.

Brits make hay while the sun shines.  It is their defining characteristic. I have never seen nor heard of towns and cities coming alive so quickly as a British town experiencing a surprise warm spell or a snow flurry.  It is comparable to flowers blooming in the desert after rain.  It is extraordinary, exciting and beautiful.  Plans are hastily made, friends visit with friends, people go out for al fresco lunch, laughter can be heard all around.  British people endure tepid weather well in the hope and anticipation of a hay making week here or there and when it happens they really go for it, they completely go to town.  These occasional weeks or days here and there are enough to tide them over until the next time they can be overtly joyful.  While not perhaps being the first thing one thinks of when considering the attributes of British folks, I think this quiet resolve to enjoy where they are despite the conditions and to be joyful when the conditions finally become temporarily perfect is something which should be noted and held dear.

The New Normal

Life is normal for the first time in 4 decades and I think I’m becoming a fan.

So much has changed and is changing for the better (knock on wood) that the ease of the transition has been a surprise.  Sure, I slogged my guts out for weeks straightening the houses – and dropped a dress size in the process thank you very much – and there is still a lot to do, there will always be a lot to do, but the new normal is starting to sink in and I think I like it.

I have a nomadic heart so the idea of staying put for the next 25 years was a huge adjustment.  It vexed me and demanded my emotional attention but the concern, and it was concern, is dissipating now.

We have painted walls and we have fresh, new carpet.  We have a place for almost everything but I know those places will be altered in due course, I still have to put up the blinds but that is much harder than it looks, particularly when you drill where the brackets should go only to find loo roll, toilet tissue paper, padding out the void behind the wallpaper!

But the house is pretty easy to live in.  Some houses work, others don’t.  Rentals generally don’t work unless you go for a fancy one.  Invariably they were purchased by the owner because they were cheap, and they were cheap because they are difficult to live in.  This one works.  According to Missy “the flow” is right which I think means how easy it is to move around a house and use the spaces available.

The problem I have is that there are too many kitchen cupboards and I keep forgetting where I put my items so I have to go on a cupboard opening hunt for the items I need every evening while I mutter “D’oh, for the love of Sundays!”.  I find it amusing.

When the summer comes I’ll empty and repair the sheds, decide what we are keeping and chucking or selling, jet wash and treat all the wood in the garden on the deck and the fences and sheds, I’ll get a new hatch put in to the loft with a pull down ladder to make access to the roofspace less arduous.

Actually, if I do the loft hatch first, all the bits laying around which don’t have a home yet can be put away and that’ll really break the back of finishing this thing.

It’s never going to be in Country Living or Homes & Gardens but I can Pinterest he heck out of this and make it work for us and be a cozy place to be when we don’t have to be somewhere else.

It’s normal now to drive through the neighbourhood, to say hi to the neighbours and stop to chat with them for a while.  They’re all lovely so far.  It’s normal to sit in the back garden in the sun and read a book for a few minutes when I get in from work, it’s normal to look out of the kitchen window while I do the washing up, it’s normal upon arriving home to call up the stairs to Missy who will almost invariably be in her room and ask her to come downstairs and pick up after herself.  I love that we’ve been there long enough for me to have made it untidy and tidied it up again.  I love declaring “This kitchen looks like a pig pit!!!” and quickly doing a couple of bits and it’s back to looking good again.

Life as such isn’t easy, we all still have to work hard to earn a crust, and we still have the chance to get involved with things which matter to us, and we still have friendships to maintain and enhance, and we have tired days and energetic days, it isn’t easy but it can be made easier than it would have been.

I don’t recall ever having had normal before, I think I’m becoming a fan.

My Curly Haired Baby Finishes 3-16 School. 

16 year old kids are ready to leave school, I however am not ready. I am a hot mess.

OK, so I might have been a hot mess last night. I might have managed to keep my “I am so pleased for you, congratulations sweetie” composure as Missy dropped the news that she leaves school officially on Wednesday lunchtime. The penny dropped. I suddenly twigged that my little curly afro haired baby who’d been wearing a school uniform for over a decade would be finished with uniforms as she enters study leave for her exams. My curly haired baby who looked at me so doe eyed in those first days of school was now laughing at me getting misty eyed as she talked about the final ever classes with her favourite teachers and how they were taking pictures with the students and giving them pep talks. My child is a child to me. Sure, the world sees a 5′ 10″ young woman who is capable and confident but I see my baby fresh out the hospital or in her oversized polo shirt with a logo. They see someone doing really well in the sciences and I see Chip and Biff early reader books. They see someone who stands her ground and I see someone who needed defending. 

She is ready, I am not. 

After this summer, adulthood looms. She is going to be magnificent and rock everything she sets her mind to. I will have to continue letting her move away and acclimatise into opportunity and responsibility.  My whole mandate for 16 years has been to let her be free enough to be a child, safe and loved. Now my mandate is changing and it is happening so quickly that it is difficult keeping up but I will get there.  She still has two more years of school but is more like junior college where they’re more autonomous. My baby is no longer a baby and it has come as a surprise. 

I am often behind the emotional curve, this is nothing new, no major surprises. I am very pleased with the woman she is becoming and look forward to standing back and observing her in adulthood in a few years, but not yet. I need a little more time. 

Debt Free At Last, Free At Last!

Debt is a form of modern day slavery. Well, with a little luck, this Woman is about to get her freedom papers.

If I have my numbers right, and I am quietly confident that I most likely have, in 2 months I will be completely without debt excluding a mortgage and regular bills. Did you hear that?  (knock on wood)! *runs around the house with her shirt over her head screeching hallelujah’s*.  

I have within my grasp the idea of being debt free for possibly the first time in a long time. I am excited to start building rather than repairing. I am excited at the idea of getting out in front rather than keeping up.  I am excited that the £28100 rent in the past four years didn’t quite pull us under. I am excited that elbow grease and value for money service providers were the biggest component in fixing this home, I am grateful for a wizard of a Mortgage advisor who negotiated a very manageable deal. 

Now, in among this happiness let us not start planning a new wing on the house, or moving to Kensington SW1 in London, or buying fancy things. We will, by the grace of whatever we believe in, and with a trade wind in the right direction, have enough to get by. We will, putting aside the obligatory emergencies, be able to live comfortably enough to to have everything we need and a little of what we want after building up a little reserve for the future.  I will not have to do mathematical gymnastics and keep a mental and physical spreadsheet log of everything draining our resources and their current APR.

Now, although exciting to me and joyful, it is also a little embarrassing to have been in this predicament.  Lesson number one, when the boy says he needs all your money and you have to pay the daycare fees and household bills too, don’t do it. He will have nice clothes and you will not. He will go out with friends and you will not. He will put your shared houses in his sole name. He will be a toe rag but you will not. 

In a month the divorce will be through. I am going to see if I can push and have this all knocked off before then. It is a big ask but wouldn’t it be grand to have matrimonial and financial freedom occur simultaneously?!  A woman can dream and then wake up and get to work to make her dreams come true.