Friday, 29 March 2013

# 48 (2013) Rat Race

It's official. I have rejoined the legions who spend their lives wishing their week days away and dread the onset of Monday mornings. Yes, after 4 years I am an office monkey again. And it's every bit as bad as I remember it.

I stuff envelopes with bits of paper I have stapled together and tick boxes in databases for 37 hours a week. 5pm cannot come quick enough. But at least weekends have special recognition again. Kind of.

It was the situation I dreaded because it now means my business is back on hold. There is no time to work on commissions. Weekends are spent trying to catch up with general jobs I can't do during the week.

I'm not going to pretend that being back in work is lucrative. I am temping. Therefore work is sporadic and badly paid. I am only able to take these jobs because I am currently under the personal tax allowance. It means I am not taxed for this work and as I already pay my own NI's through my business I should receive 100% of my paycheck. And all the time I remain under this threshold I can keep on taking these jobs.

It is only now I see the Government's cunning plan behind raising this threshold on a yearly basis. To boost employment numbers, minimise outlay for businesses trying to survive through the recession and improve employment statistics by making it possible for many people to accept jobs they previously wouldn't have considered.

How this will get us out of recession and into recovery I'm not entirely sure. It certainly keeps everyone teetering on the edge of financial survival. Businesses can just about employee enough people to remain functional and workers can afford to take jobs and get off benefits provided they keep their earnings under the limit.

If I was doing my current job full time on the hourly rate I'm getting now, I'd be bringing in less than £1000 per month before tax, so that's about £640 on a basic rate including NI contributions. And for a 37 hour week that's pretty insulting by anyone's standards. Thankfully (depending on how you look at it) I didn't have to think twice before accepting the position on a temporary contract because I will get the rate before tax. 

If I only ever earn this rate, I have to average a 28 hour working week throughout the year to stay under the threshold. Thankfully though, because I am on a temporary contract, I know it's not going to last forever.

Being 'in it together' really does suck for some of us.

Monday, 25 March 2013

# 47 (2013) The Job You Love

Confucius says 'Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life'.

Since last July I have been doing just that. And whilst it hasn't been paying very well, at least the work has been exactly what I've always wanted to do - when it's been there.

Before that I spent three years at University re-training so I could set up my business and concentrate on what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. And I loved that. But even though I tried to treat it like a 9 - 5 job there is no doubt that the education system has turned me into a very lazy person. Because it seems I would rather be struggling in my current situation than working full time and not worrying about how to pay the bills.

Before I went back to education I had what I call my first career as a professional PA. I did that for 17 years in London, Buckinghamshire and Lincolnshire and I worked long hours for lots of money. Choosing to go to Uni was no easy decision and there are aspects of my change of direction which I don't enjoy and sometimes regret.

But a few weeks ago, amidst the realisation that if I didn't sort out my finances I was going to be sleeping in my car instead of moving house at the end of April, I re-registered with one of my temp agencies. And this morning I got a call. I start work tomorrow.

I am admitting defeat, taking a temporary U-turn and going back to what I know will pay the bills. But whilst I will be extremely grateful for the money I won't be glad to be going back to office hours. I am not ecstatic.

Like I said, University made me quite lazy.

This isn't regular work. I am only temping because I don't want to lose sight of what it is I am supposed to be doing, but for the next 6 weeks I am going to be punching data into a computer. Of course now that I am back on the temp wagon I may well find myself sucked back into the system. It's something I have to be mindful of. But all the time my business isn't living up to expectations, it'll have to take a backseat.

Hopefully, it won't be for long.


Sunday, 24 March 2013

# 46 (2013) In It Together?

I shouldn't complain really but the budget passes me by because none of it ever applies to me.

As a maritally single, childless, self employed, non-drinking, non-smoking, recreational driving, house renting, white British female there is really nothing there for me. We're not quite 'in it together'.

The BBC Budget Calculator tells me I will be £68 better off in the next financial year (yes that's for the whole year) because of my £5 a week petrol habit and because I am self employed i.e. I earn so little that I fall under the new personal allowance threshold.

I don't feel any better off. In fact some of the reasons I fall off this radar are actually quite depressing. But equally I don't feel that scoring low on the budget is going to help me through this murky recession.

Like everyone else I am watching my bills and cutting back on food, heating and anything remotely resembling recreational spending. So I guess the next year is going to be much the same as the last. If economy recovery guestimates are anything to go by, I'm probably going to be worse off because the basic bills I can't shake off are costing me more.

Like everyone else I am suffering from an income that never goes up but outgoings that keep going up. And I guess that's the problem we're all having to contend with. I guess we are all in it together for very different reasons.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

# 45 (2013) Blogging Balance

Although I called this site 'Blog A Day', I rarely do. It's not a competition and I don't beat myself up about it. You can't force creative writing. You have to be inspired. Writing a mundane one liner just for the sake of writing something every day really doesn't fill the criteria.

I read a blog about balance by Amy Lynn Andrews. She thinks she spends too much time blogging rather than focusing on real life. I guess it depends on why you blog and what else is going on in your life. I do it to purge the things in my head that have no other outlet and to reach a wider audience than the few people who are close to me and may not want to hear me rant all the time.
This writer of course, has other things in her life besides blogging. She has a family, kids, a life. Writing blogs, updating, researching and 'tweaking' are the things I look forward to at the end of the day. This is how I wind down. For me it's like having a chat with friends over a glass of wine in the pub. I found her 20 questions quite disturbing. If I was asking myself questions like that I would be very concerned about my computer use. The fact of the matter is that I do use the computer a lot but I'm not worried about it and I don't ask myself questions about it. I only answered yes to one of hers in any case.

I took a survey about blog addiction on another site I found whilst looking for images for this posting. I only scored 54% which I think was fair. It even asked me if I would be blogging about my blog addiction after the quiz ended and I said yes. But to be fair, I had almost finished this posting when I found the quiz.

To me the computer is a business tool. A necessary one, not just for blogging and surfing for pictures to insert into said blogs. If I am busy (and I am very thankful when I am) I am more than happy to walk away from the computer. I may occasionally make mental notes of things to write about if I'm out and about during the day, but that's only when I think they are worth writing about and often they are subjects I think people will be really interested in.

If I was skipping important tasks or swapping a social life for the internet then I would be concerned. But in times of austerity the internet is a great social life alternative. I'm already paying for it. I'll use it any which way I want.

I'd certainly never swap sex for the internet though. I mean, really? Who would.....?


Friday, 22 March 2013

# 44 (2013) Stress Management - The Flip Side

I read a very interesting and totally unexpected blog the other day by a fellow Lincolnite who, if I am honest, I don't really know. I know her partner - he's a photographer I have worked with - but our paths have never crossed.

Her topic was stress and how much it engulfs her life and metamorphs into a series of health problems that she is trying to cope with on a daily basis. You wouldn't know any of this to look at her and I don't doubt it's probably only been priviledged information for those closest to her. So announcing it on a blog is a brave thing to do.


I run at the other end of the spectrum. My stress is very much internalised and it takes a lot of it to pull me down. In some ways this is worse because by the time stress starts to manifest outwardly in me, I am quite literally at breaking point. I take a lot of crap but it's as if I use it as a form of self flagellation, I never seem to give myself a break.

It means I will let people waste huge chunks of my life before I fight back. I'm just too nice. And I'm sorry to say I have wasted a lot of my life on people who just didn't matter in the long run.

I have a different attitude these days. Whilst there are some things that are continual nagging stress problems and never seem to be sufficiently resolved - financial, living environment, work concerns (most of society right?), there are many things I now deal with far more easily than I used to.

If people stress me out, I walk away. My ability to drop people who complicate my life may seem callous but believe me, it's a lifetime of experience that's got me to that point. What it means is that the people who are in my life are generally hassle free and the relationships are far more meaningful. I may have a small friend circle but it is refined and keeps the stress levels in check.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

# 43 (2013) Turning Down The Heat

Many of us now know what Fuel Poverty feels like. We dread the next bill. Many of us are turning our heating down or, like me, off all together. Now that I'm living on my own I can regulate my bills and in those two weeks I have already saved £15 on my gas bill which says a lot about the person I used to share with. Or maybe it says a lot about me. Who knows. But I'm not going to lie. It's cold here.
I move house finally at the end of April so I have just over 6 weeks to make sure my gas and electricity accounts break even so I don't owe them anything. I pay the same amount by direct debit every month and give regular metre readings as part of my package so I know my bills are accurate. This means that the OCD sufferer in me has been satisfied with making a spreadsheet to predict each months bills. This is handy when you're trying to balance the accounts in a predicted amount of time. I can even break down how much I use each day.  If nothing else, it means I have no nasty surprises when the bill comes in. It's just one more money stress I don't need right now.

Gas is by far the most expensive fuel to use. As I live in an old house that is badly insulated and given to damp, heating it is mostly a pointless exercise. And so I have resolved to switch off the heating. I now only use gas for cooking, bathing (sadly also rationed) and I sometimes allow an hours heating in the morning if it's been particularly cold.
I've worked out that if I continue to not heat my house I will have saved about £70. The down side is I am relying on a small convector heater to keep me warm. I only use it in the two essential rooms in the house - the bedroom and the front room. At the moment the cost of this isn't horrendous but I have six weeks to find 22 days of non heating with either gas or electric to make sure both accounts are in credit when I leave here. I am hoping there are improvements in the weather in April. Just a few degrees warmer outside and I can tolerate the cold inside. Never before have I hung on so keenly to every word the weather reporter says.

I've never had to regulate my fuel costs to such an extreme before. It's a sign of the times that many of us cannot afford to adequately heat our homes. Of course, this could be a good exercise in part. We have used and abused our fuel reserves over the years and done untold damage to our environment by excessive use and wastage of fuel. Learning to be a bit fuel savvy and to respect what we have may not be so bad. And for many of us, keeping warm with blankets instead of bumping up the thermostats is probably not the end of the world.

Monday, 18 March 2013

# 42 (2013) Those Who Matter.....

There is a saying which I have heard many times 'Those who mind don't matter, and those who matter, don't mind'. This last couple of weeks have been interesting on the friend front. A change in circumstances means things are on the up, but I am aware that those who have caused the change may be stirring things on the friend front.

My attitude is that if people are small minded enough to only get one side of the story, I don't need them. So whilst I may be a bit riled and wanting to knock some heads together, honestly, if they are going to be that petty I can't be bothered with them.

I like to filter the people in my life purely from a quality point of view. I've always said I'd rather have a few really good friends than a whole bunch of shallow backstabbers. I've been like that ever since I was at school. I was always the one to walk away from petty situations when others seemed to want to remain in volatile relationships with friends - bouncing from one argument to the next. What's the point?

I have a handful of people in my life who I know I can depend on. They are advice givers, emotional supports, fun and make the world seem like a pretty cool place to live in. And to be honest that's all that matters because they provide for me all the back up I need.

I realise I have been distanced from people of late, I'm not going to deny that. But there have been very different reasons, mostly money related (see my post from last Wednesday). I realise I haven't had the opportunity to explain this to some of my friends. Circumstances just seem to have prevented it. Those who want to know can ask. I have tried my best to do that with the people I have had a chance to catch up with and hopefully there will be more chances in the future as things pick up.

Sometimes it's a case of C'est la vie. If people want to walk away that's fine by me. But I am always interested by those who take the time to understand. And I'd never begrudge someone for doing the same to me. I'd take the time for them.

Friday, 15 March 2013

# 41 (2013) Emotional Infertility

Have you ever heard of emotional infertility - no? Well neither had I until this morning when I watched The Wright Stuff.

Emotional Infertility is a label assigned to women who delay child bearing because they want everything to be 'just right'. Generally it'll be career women wanting to have succeeded to their own satisfaction and be financially secure. It also often refers to those women looking for Mr Right to be the father of their offspring. These women might spend the whole of their fertile lives trying to tick all these boxes and never succeed or for it to be too late for them to conceive naturally.

All the way through my twenties this was most definitely my stance on things. But whilst I commanded myself to get everything in order - find the right partner, have a stab at my career of choice and be financially secure - it was quite clear this was never going to happen within the expected time frame. Control freak? Quite possibly. And I was quite happy going through my twenties and early thirties making these excuses. It suited my agenda. I didn't think I was in any rush.

The truth of the matter is that if I was going to wait I was never going to have children. Because here I am in my late thirites and I have most definitely failed to get any of those components to come together. In fact, what is clear is that I will probably be well into my forties before any one of these things looks like they may happen.

Not everyone wants children and that's okay (source)
But you know what, the problem wasn't that I was putting off having kids. All I needed to do was admit to myself that I didn't actually want kids. Even if we won't admit to it there is psychologically a lot of expectation on women to settle down and have a family.

The reality of the situation is that there isn't a maternal bone in my body. I have a suspicion that my first job after leaving school for two years, as a nursery nurse, pre-school teacher and babysitter for children aged 3 weeks to 6 years, probably had a lot to do with that. I am under no illusion what hard work kids are and I envy no woman their motherhood status whatsoever.

It was about three years ago that I was finally able to admit to myself wholeheartedly that I had no intention of ever having children. And I am happy to tell anyone that I am very happy being child free. In fact, I'm quite proud of my choice because I guess it takes quite a lot of guts to stand your ground and do what you want for yourself.

I hope my state of mind never changes and I secretly hope my menopause comes early so I never have to worry about accidentally becoming pregnant. But equally I am aware that things may not always be in my control. If it does happen and all of a sudden my body clock mysteriously appears out of nowhere, I shall have to deal with the fall out because I doubt I will be in a position to reverse my decision.

But there are women out there, the age I am now, still beating themselves up about not having everything in place to be able to start a family. My first thought is that many women who want children just have them often with little regard of the situation these children will find themselves living in. If these career women wanted children, surely there would come a point where they would just do it. Hormones after all can be tricky buggers to deal with. If you are able to keep your maternal instincts in check on that basis perhaps you should be admitting to yourself that you don't want children at all?

Just because all your friends are doing it, it doesn't mean you have to. There should never be an expectation on any individual to settle down and have children just because that's what you do. There are already too many people in the world, a few more career women really wouldn't hurt.

Older women may be responsible for the latest baby boom (source)
Statistics suggest that the number of women in their forties having children has trebled in twenty years - that caters for nearly 30,000 babies born in 2011. That many of these children will have been born at all thanks to advances in modern medicine is perhaps a worrying sign. Many would suggest that you should have your children whilst you are physically able rather than because it fits with your lifestyle aspirations. These are children, not financial commodities after all.

But modern life is changing us. Women's roles have altered and many are expected to be main earners and home owners as well as housewives and mothers. But these roles were never meant to overlap. It was why the standard set up always used to be husbands and wives, breadwinners and homemakers. Both are full time jobs. 

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

# 40 (2013) Social limitations

There is nothing more keenly felt when you're on a tight budget than the effect it has on your social life. For a while you might go out anyway and worry about the consequences later. But there does come a point when you find yourself having to say no to anything that might incur any sort of expenditure. And even if it's just popping round to a mate's with a bottle of wine for a chat and tv night the thought of buying that bottle of plonk might be enough to stress out both you and your bank balance.

Friends might think you are being tight. Truly, you are trying to survive. Be mindful that they may not understand the situation in the first place. If you haven't told them, how would they know?

There are ways of coping with being social on a tight budget. This link definitely has some useful advice from my experience on both cheap ways to see your friends and how to explain to them that the cash just isn't there to spend.

You have to be able to bite the bullet and tell people that costly evenings are out of the question without them thinking it's just because you don't want to see them. It may hurt your pride to tell people you're failing in the finances department but apparently they'll understand. Those that don't, don't matter. 

I guess a lot of it depends on your social circle. I have friends at both ends of the financial scale. I have those whose idea of a cheap night out is cocktails and a 3 course dinner and those who'd be just as happy to pop over for a cuppa and a natter and nothing more.

Blindly spending cash because you think you have to, isn't going to solve anything but the rewards when you realise you're living within your budget or paying off your debts can be far more rewarding than that night out that leaves you worrying where all the money went. 

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

# 39 (2013) Hindsight

Do you ever imagine being 10 or even 20 years younger than you are now and being told where you would be now. And if you heard it, would you believe it? Would you be happy with your current situation? Would you be disappointed or ashamed? Would it have made you work harder or would you have made better choices when you were younger? Would you have been as complacent growing up?

Or do you just accept that we all make mistakes and life is what it is. After all, there's no point in regretting what's already happened. You can't change it and you can't grab back time.

I guess we're all guilty at some point of sitting back and thinking we have plenty of time.

Even now do these concerns for the future spurn you on to make changes where you can and take every opportunity that comes your way.  Is it ever too late to start again, to make up for lost time?

If you could start again......

Monday, 11 March 2013

# 38 (2013) Superscrimper

Now that I have inadvertently found myself with a three bed house all to myself (thanks dude!) the gloves are finally off when it comes to saving money on bills.

I have only two months left on my tenancy before I move house and the aim is to leave owing nobody anything so that I can start afresh in May. With any luck I might even get a few rebates.

Several days ago I switched off the central heating. But as gas is far more expensive than electricity at the moment I am allowed a ration with my convector heater which is just as well as it's been snowing on and off for 24 hours and it's like an icebox in here.  Cold is the biggest torture for me. Anything else I can cope with but being cold makes me incredibly miserable. I have noone to blame but my ancestry.

I am already well versed in switching off lights (energy saving bulbs only), not leaving gadgets on standby and using the washing machine only when I really have to and I've just switched off the separate freezer since it's only me here (apparently I could save up to £4 a month on that). According to British Gas I use 90% of my electricity at night. Handy as I'm on a 2 tier rating.

There are plenty of places to get information on how much electricity is used by gadgets that sit idle all day. It's shocking how much money some of them gobble up.

Food wise I think I have finally gotten over the hill of feeling hungry a lot of the time and the food rations are lasting well. I bulk cook so that one session will last several meals and I still make my own bread which is a great fill in when other things are scarce or I need a 'food hit'. Carbs are my weakness. They make me happy.

I'm trying to pay off the last of my debts. My New Look store card which has been my clothing ration book for years hasn't been used since last October. I think I've done well.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

# 37 (2013) Illusive Phone Numbers

One of  the annoying things about living on a tight budget and not having a landline phone is how to deal with customer service call centres. I have a fixed price contract for my mobile phone and it does not allow for calls that cost me over and above my free monthly allocation.

And so overpriced 0800 numbers and their variations that keep you on hold can quickly cost a lot of money and are definitely over and above my budget. And I don't see why I should be forced to use them when there are cheaper options available.

Even more annoying is that some of them make their email addresses too illusive for you to find and use. Not only is email the cheapest way for me to communicate with these firms, it also gives me a written record of my conversations with them and therefore proof of whatever has been said.

It took me over an hour to find, in a roundabout way, an email address for Virgin to inform them I was terminating my contract in two months time. And in just over 24 hours they had replied so these addresses do work.

You can of course find the cheaper geographical landline numbers for many of these call centre numbers. Yes, they do exist. Websites like will help you find alternatives that are cheaper or will be free if you're on a mobile contract.

It's worth taking the time to find the alternatives. They could save you a lot of money in the long run.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

# 36 (2013) Number One

Living in a society, within a community and within routine means you are expected to conform and invariably do. It's made me into a person I never wanted to be. The one that always puts other people first. When all I've ever wanted to do was put myself first but never had the balls to do it. The reason I am where I am now is because of putting other people first and never having the spine to be selfish.

I only have myself to blame.

I am very much in admiration of people who put themselves and their well being first. Because they are the ones who are honest to themselves and that's an important thing. Those of us who fit in, do what we are told and tow the line will invariably end up looking back on our lives wondering what went wrong or where the time went. I often wonder what I would be doing now if I'd just put myself first.

Of course, saying that is easy enough. But wasted time is just that. Changing the habits of a lifetime is something else. Do you make a conscious decision to start right there and then? Or do you use your next move as the chance to start again and let new people see the refined you?

I suppose the most courageous choice is to start right here and now. And so I've made the decision. Already it's getting results. And in many ways it's easier than meeting expectation. And sometimes it's just a bit fun too.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

# 35 (2013) The Social Media Stalker

We are all aware that social media is a minefield of privacy issues and that to a degree everything is accessible. Or, at least, we should be.

Even when we know we have to 'friend' people on Facebook or we can monitor our followers on Twitter many of us do not check our privacy settings to be sure we're not getting unwanted attention from individuals or companies.

It also pays to be a bit savvy when you're running a business or making certain people or companies the subject of your blog posts or status updates. Because you never know when it might become an issue.

That employers will look for you on social media when you apply for a job is a fact. That your university may well be watching you years after you graduate is a fact. That an ex may be trolling your latest photographs is creepy but also a fact. But let's face it, these are not unexpected scenarios.

All social media platforms are able to give you some protection against unwanted stalkers but it's remarkable how many people do not use these settings to their full capacity. The number of times I have been able to view the Facebook profiles of people I am not friends with, is worrying.

Even Twitter has settings that allow you to get follower requests rather than letting anyone follow you. You can also restrict your Tweets to your approved followers only.

If you're running a blog or Facebook business page things are a little different. I try to keep business and personal profiles separate and I also try to operate a business minded policy when posting anything under my company name no matter how tempting it might be to slate a company who has wronged me or I think needs taking down a peg or two. It can be more difficult to restrict your followers and once it's in the public domain it's hard to retract a comment completely.

I am currently very tempted to write about a certain establishment which grates on me but I am in two minds about how to go about it in a professional way that means I can't be accused of targeting them. I believe that what I have to say has valid points for discussion and I don't want it to come across as a witch hunt.

Research your subject and try to leave your emotions to the side in these instances. Take a step back. An impulsive comment now could cost you dearly later on.