Somewhere between here and infinity

If all your peace of mind is gone, and is replaced by hypothetical money worries, you need to speak with your friends.

Don’t you love friends who talk you down from the emotional ledge?  (The correct answer is yes, yes we do love those friends).  I’ve been using much of my spare time to ponder next steps now that we are in the privileged position of being in credit for the first time in almost ever, and for the first time since becoming a fully fledged adult taking care of adult responsibilities.  For clarity, it’s not much in credit but there is a plus sign not minus on the ol’ bank account and that’s a good enough start for me.

When I was working toward bringing credit agreements down to a zero balance, there was a definite goal, a specific figure had to be reached for that to be successful, there was a stopping point.  While the task was immensely difficult, the actual ability to quantify the required outcome was simple.  Keep paying for stuff until there is no more to pay.  Reducing to a nought.  Simple to keep straight, eh.  If there was more than a nought on the balance of the credit agreement, I wasn’t there yet and had to keep going.  Simple.

What has had me vexed is the next step.  The next baby step.  It has kept my mind occupied while I pondered, cogitated, and strategized.

Now that the little number is increasing there is no ceiling, no natural end goal.  Numbers go up to infinity plus one as any clued up 8 year old will tell you.  It vexes me because there is no way to know how much is enough.  How much will we need to have set aside to get by in the next month, year, few years, decade, until retirement or until the end of my natural life.  There is no figure.  It will always be too little.  It will always be more than we had.

With no natural end result my mind has been in a spin.  It has in actuality been quite a little more difficult than dealing with paying down credit.  At least if we had almost nothing we knew what we could do with our little porridge pot.  At least if the money ran out we knew or at least hoped that we had food storage and petrol in the car and the bills were paid.  Although awfully difficult, there were specifics and I am a lady who loves specifics.  I need to know the end from the beginning and if I don’t then all merry emotional hell breaks loose.  Uncertainty does not sit well with me, never has, likely never will.

So, all merry emotional hell has been breaking loose as a consequence of feeling somewhat untethered.  Which is ridiculous.  How can success make a person uneasy?  It’s daft.  I felt like a fool.  I’d met a target, a stretch target as we like to say at work, and yet I was managing feelings larger than before I started.

Anyway, with a sky’s the limit, no end in sight, don’t know how much is enough mind-set I wasn’t feeling very settled.  Until in walks a buddy called Sinead, who herself was hot on the heels of a friend called Mel.

When I was in a tailspin and worrying out loud “what if the roof falls off?”, Mel had quizzically looked at me and said “you have house insurance”.  I slapped my forehead, of course I have insurance, of course if there is a disaster at the home not of my doing and that I cannot fix myself I can rest well knowing we are covered.  It soothed my troubled heart.  That worked for a few days.

Then I went on to fretting on the topic of “how much is enough to have set aside and when do I need to have it by?” because bills have due dates, don’t you know!  I was and still am in a due date mentality.

After confiding in Sinead in the corridor at Church between classes (sorry, missus!) who had only congratulated us on getting to where we were, she came up with the plan of having an account with a specific goal or figure in mind, like £500 for example, and when that is achieved, that is full.  I’ll have done it, it would be completed.  Then open another goal with a slightly increased figure in mind, work toward that and when that reaches the pre-determined figure, I’ve succeeded in that too, and it is done.  Then do it again and so on.  Effectively, we cannot determine the future but we can set goals and work toward them and tick them off when they are completed.  Is this making any sense?  Add a finite factor to an infinite problem.

It had the immediate impact of settling my troubled heart.  How simple.  How insightful of her to realise I wasn’t faux-probleming and that this really was a big deal to my family.  To both these ladies I doff my hat and say thank you in writing as well as in person.  Complex worries had simple solutions, these ladies comprehended the worries and helped by suggesting ways through.  How beautifully hearted of them.  Aren’t they lovely?

I was told a few years ago that someone perceived me to be a Solution Oriented Optimist.  Someone who could see the genuine problem, review, decide, act and stay positive when possible and even stay positive when highly improbable but never deluded.  Their opinion of my was a surprise because I knew what went round in my head at pace to get to the Solution they saw in front of them.  I think this experience over the past couple of weeks has fallen in to this category, without my friends I couldn’t see the solution.  They helped me peep through the fog of worry.  A fog which was of my own making but real to me none the less.  A solution has been formatted and we are making great headway.  Thanks for listening while I got this out of my head and on to electronic paper so to speak.

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.

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.