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SO much to say, so little time (or energy)

June 5th, 2013 at 10:11 pm

Wow. The longer I wait before really blogging, the more it stacks up. But work is so busy, and getting into the swing of things at home is time-consuming, and jet lag is still somewhat draggin down energy levels. AS and NT actually got a cold and are in bed early tonight. I should go too, but I want to try and get some of these news tidbits and thoughts into my blog before the list grows even bigger!

So where do I start? I guess with my vacation, since that's what caused this build-up.

So England was wonderful. We didn't do anything earth-shattering, just spent time with family and friends, kept the little ones entertained, ate way too much, and saw a few sights (mostly nature-related vs. touristy places).

I noticed lots of ways Brits do everyday thrifty/environmental things that Americans might consider extreme frugality. NT's mom had no dishwasher, so we washed all our dishes by hand. She had a dryer but didn't seem to use it; she showed us how to use the clotheslines that were on pulleys, so we hung our clothes out whenever we washed them. Cars are small and much more fuel-efficient than American cars, which is necessary because their government doesn't subsidize the price as much as the U.S. does. Most homes in or near cities are row houses or "semi-detached" (essentially a duplex). Yards are tiny but beautiful. Houses are always, as far as we could tell, chilly in comparison to typical U.S. homes. Temps felt in the mid- to high 60s. I like to keep our home at 70 to 75, so it was a big shift. If AA didn't get dressed right away and ran around in her undies, her teeth would start to chatter! When we went to our friends' house for the second week, they -- two bachelor brothers living in a house-sized man-cave, basically -- did have a dishwasher that they actually used, but they didn't have a dryer and instead hung all their clothes to dry.

I thought it was so interesting. So many frugal and/or earth-friendly things that are unusual in America (outside like-minded communities like this site) are completely commonplace in Britain. I'd noticed little things on past visits, but this time I really paid attention and saw this pattern recur.

I've been contemplating trying to get sweatshop/slave/child labor out of more of my products, and clothing has been my first focus. So this trip, I went to several charity shops. It's really nice that most of their used clothing stores are for good causes like fighting cancer. Many are church or charity-based in MN, but many others are just consignment stores for private profit. Every used store I saw in Oxford was a charity shop. Anyway, I got some really nice dresses. Most were around 12 pounds ($20 or so), but one was 32 pounds. But the tag was still on it and it had originally been 65! I still probably wouldn't have spent that much if I hadn't had vacation funds to do it.

We stayed under budget! My math got shaky toward the end, but judging from what we had left in the bank accounts (400 pounds and $90), we had about $640 left of what we planned to spend. This is directly attributable to A) NT's mum paying for the rental car and B) NT's family paying for a lot of stuff the first week. But we knew those two facts by the beginning of the second week, and so we went a bit hog wild: NT bought a suit for about US$350, we bought hundreds of dollars' worth of snacks and other things. And we still came in under budget! Guess we don't know how to really go crazy anymore. Wink

While we were there, NT visited his flat that he rents out. The management company showed him a lot of the wear and tear that's happened over the past 7 years or so with tenants. He was glad he saw and could confirm it needed a lot of work, because otherwise it would have been hard to swallow their number: They reckon it will take about 10,000 pounds ($16,000) to do a full renovation.

Now, we don't have to do it all at once. The new tenant just signed a year-long lease, so there are only a couple of things needed to make it livable for him; the rest can be stretched out over a couple of years.

There was good news to go along with this though: They reckon the place in its current state could sell for 140K pounds, and with the 10K reno it would be worth 160K pounds. So not only would it make it easier to rent in the future, it would contribute to our eventual profit for selling it.

When I got home, I checked what value I'd put on the place in my "big picture" calculations. 125K! That means if we put in 10K toward reno, we could come out 35K ahead of where I thought we were, or 25K after the reno costs.

I did realize I'd never calculated the management co.'s share of the profit (10% or 16K pounds). We could possibly avoid that by taking the place back for a year, but if our circumstances don't allow for that, we should calculate the fee anyway. Even with that, 9K ($14,400) better than we thought.

Aimed with that number, AS and I sat down and figured out that we could lower our big-picture goal number and move our timeline up 6 months!

Our original goal was to hit about $107K of combined progress in savings and non-mortgage debt repayment by end of December 2016; that would require average progress of $2229 per month. Our new goal is $94K by end of June 2016, and that will require $2237 per month.

Very exciting! And that still leaves about a $150 monthly surplus, and doesn't account for any windfalls coming our way.

So, I felt good enough about our financial position to make some unbudgeted purchases when we got back home. So far we've bought:
Sit-n-stand tandem stroller (used) $85
Swim class for AA $45
Gifts for our UK hosts $35
Gifts for our daycare lady $25
We also had to pay for a 3-month bus pass for $97

The vacation money left over in the UK account will go toward the immediate repairs needed at the flat. Not sure if that counts toward the 10K; I might have NT ask them if they think it'll be 10K above that or if these are included. If so, I could count it as big-picture progress, since saving for the reno is now part of our savings goal.

AS had a lot of time to think about her job during our trip, and she capped the vacation off with a visit to a UK publishing house she has dealings with. Through it all she realized she couldn't put up with the work levels and pay imbalance much longer. Her boss (also a friend) has acknowledged this, but today she decided to make it clearer that she was pretty close to a breaking point. They talked about solutions, and one he mentioned was a raise in the near future! So that could accelerate our progress even more.

I had a stressed out moment at work today where my main (and contentious) client casually mentioned in a group conference call that he'd be calling me later to discuss something. Well, this is rarely a good thing, so I started freaking about about possibly losing this account (easily 50% of my job) and getting laid off or fired. I don't think any of that would happen, but it made me nervous. We wouldn't struggle to live if we lost an income, but we'd struggle to make the debt and savings progress we need to if we're going to be able to move soon. Unlike AS, who is way under what she could be making, I feel I'm at about the peak of what I could earn with my limited skills. So although my job isn't perfect, I really don't want anything to change with it for a couple years.

So anyway, I'm not celebrating AS's likely future raise just yet. I need to talk to my client and satisfy my sudden insecurity. I hope he calls tomorrow! (Or, it could have been something minor that he's already forgotten about. Gah.) But it will probably end up to be nothing, and when AS's raise comes, we'll be on even better footing!

15 Responses to “SO much to say, so little time (or energy)”

  1. PatientSaver Says:

    Please don't' worry too much about that phone call. It's probably nothing.

    I don't think the lifestyle/habits of Brits you described are really all that different from many Americans, outside of the oblivious or too rich to care set. For what it's worth, I have a Brit neighbor who squandered tons of cash on a 5,000 sf house which he now can't afford and has on the market.

  2. creditcardfree Says:

    Nice to hear all your news! Especially the increase in value on the flat. Smile

  3. SecretarySaving Says:

    Glad to hear you are back and had a good time.

  4. BuckyBadger Says:

    It's actually more efficient to use a dishwasher.

    http://www.treehugger.com/kitchen-design/built-in-dishwashers-vs-hand-washing-which-is-greener.html

    And this is one of the few articles that allows that it is even remotely possible to come close with hand washing.

    I also don't think Brits are naturally more frugal. The culture is different, sure, due in part to the size of the country, but it's still a country filled with all kinds of people - frugal and not. I think you're so excited to move there that you're looking at it with a bit of a extra-rosy perspective. If they had the space and the population growth and technological revolutions like we had in the US they would have developed sprawling suburbs just like we did. I keep my house in the upper 60's in the winter as did my parents.

    It's just a place filled with people like all the other people in the world - no different from anywhere else. (I lived there for 6 months, so I'm basing my comments on that experience.) It's not nirvana ;-)

    But I am glad that your numbers are looking up. I'm sure it's nothing with your client, and it sounds like AS might really be in for a bit of a bump! Congratulations!

  5. BuckyBadger Says:

    link to article:

    http://www.treehugger.com/kitchen-design/built-in-dishwashers-vs-hand-washing-which-is-greener.html

  6. ceejay74 Says:

    Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that dishwashers are probably more eco-friendly. Maybe not as frugal since the initial cost of buying one would be so great.

    And, I'm sorry if I gave the impression I thought Brits were "naturally" more frugal. I was too tired to lay out all the reasons I thought their behaviors were more thrifty, and you mentioned most of them: less space to expand, different things their govt. does/doesn't subsidize, higher cost of living, etc.

    Believe me, it was not a rip on Americans. I just thought you guys would be interested to know there are large populations where some of the frugal behaviors segments of America think of as extreme -- but we on SA think of as just smart -- are pretty routine.

  7. My English Castle Says:

    well, Brits certainly do use energy differently--mostly, I suspect--motivated by the very high cost of it. My limited experiences with British dryers were NOT good. Were the ones you saw part of the washing machine? But indeed, everyone has a clothes line or a drying rack. Yet again, I've calculated the cost of drying a load here, and it's somewhere around 50 cents. Factor in my time and anxiety about it raining, and I still often hang laundry, but not sure about it's economic sense. Environmental sense, yes.

    I think the economy still in a slump affects stuff. But attitudes towards energy and the cost of it is a huge difference. I agree!

  8. ceejay74 Says:

    Oh and, far from an "extra-rosy" perspective, I was already scheming about how many American conveniences I could sneak into our lives if we do move there! LOL. Though I did enjoy hanging clothes. (English Castle has a good point, though; it rains so much there, I would want a dryer as backup. One day we hung our clothes indoors because of the weather, and they still weren't dry in 24 hours!)

  9. rob62521 Says:

    Fascinating post...enjoyed reading about your travel and their thrifty ways. It is interesting that we have so many folks in the U.S. at poverty level and I'm not saying they aren't at poverty level...don't want to start a war here...but for many, their idea of doing without truly isn't so drastic. Many people live below the means of many of our folks who are at poverty level and have a satisfying life...hanging up clothes, washing dishes, even cooking from scratch...yet so many would consider this poor people's ways and snub it.

  10. MonkeyMama Says:

    I think our experiences are often very regional. I think most everyone in the current city I live in would be appalled by living conditions you describe (small homes/shared walls, small fuel-efficient vehicle cars, hang drying). So I probably would have found England extremely refreshing in that regard. I Totally get it. Unfortunately, most the people I know are pretty freaking oblivious.

  11. Kristina Says:

    I still line dry most of my clothes, especially in the summer when it is 90+ degrees here in California. But I also line dry during the winter, it just takes a little longer as I keep my apartment around 68 in the winter. I use an Ikea rack and it can hang two loads on my patio, and no one sees it (complex rules). The only thing I don't line dry are bath towels. That is one thing I hated growing up, scratchy bath towels. Those are dried in the dryer.

    And I usually wash dishes by hand over my dishwasher, unless I have a cold or cook for more than just myself.

    Interesting post because I am dying to go to Ireland/UK and am planning to go September 2014 for three weeks.

  12. scottish girl Says:

    Glad you had a great time!
    Interesting post, we haven't got a dishwasher or a tumble dryer. No space for either one. MIL has one though, I think she would be lost without it, even though there's only two of them.
    I don't know many frugal people. If they are frugal they're hiding it well. Also nobody seems to talk about money, to me anyway - apart from "I'm skint till payday/in one hand, out the other" or something along those lines.

  13. snafu Says:

    I'm very appreciative of any insight in how other cultures operate day-to-day and their value system. I work with a lot of Brit/Europeans and Americans in 3rd World Countries and as soon as management explains the need to use public transportation our new American colleagues are visibly upset. I try not to knowingly put my foot into it, but even though the people rotate, the behaviours repeat. I see your enthusiasm C J and wonder if I should expand the number of countries I send in proposals. I like the challenge but the cost of living in Britain scares me silent.

  14. My English Castle Says:

    The cost of living varies widely across Britain, particularly when it comes to property prices. London is scary expensive as are other parts of the London commuter circle, but other parts must less expensive. And British council tax, compared to some American property taxes is much less. No health insurance deductions for most people. When I tell my British relatives what prescription co-pays are, they start shrieking. It's an interesting balance.

  15. scottish girl Says:

    Prescriptions are free in Scotland, have been for years, although we did have to pay for a while but it was under 5 I'm sure. They didn't make us pay for all prescriptions though, contraception was free. Also we get free eye tests too. I'm always amazed when I read how much you guys pay for medicine.
    It's so interesting to read all of this, I know a lot of people that would love to move to the US.

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