Goodbye 2018, Hello 2019!

I can breathe now.

Christmas is over.

After two solid days of baking and 288 Christmas mince tarts / pies plus 100 gingerbread cookies later … After an epic lunch of seafood, turkey and a ham that was in the oven for 14 hours (!) …

Baking is therapeutic for me (cooking, not so much). I pound the pastry and roll out little rounds again and again then methodically fill in the fragrant fruit mince heavy with brandy. While my hands are busy, my mind is free to roam and reflect …

… to reflect on how baking and finance is very similar. Once you have the right ingredients, and you follow a recipe that is right for you, a good result will naturally follow!

… to reflect on the year that will end soon.

… to reflect on the year ahead.

What I am most proud of in 2018 is ….

I took action.

Just that, I took action.

The year began with retirement anxiety and the fear of growing old.

I was scared of retirement and its implications. I was worried I would not have enough money in retirement. Or indeed, what I would do in retirement. I was fearful of growing old.

Yet, this fear and anxiety propelled me to DO SOMETHING  about my finances. 

Which led me to discover FIRE and the awesome FIRE community.

So, what actions did I take in 2018?

1) Pay off my mortgage

  • the satisfaction and mental relief experienced is priceless when I finally closed my loan account
  • the whole house belongs to me now

2) Retirement account

  • consolidated my superannuation accounts to one only
  • moved my account to a superannuation fund with lower management fees
  • invested it in the low cost index fund option
  • set up salary sacrifice with employer – I choose to contribute pre tax dollars together with my employer’s compulsory contribution to superannuation
  • should be on track to max this out ($25000) by end of financial year 2019

3) Savings accounts

  • opened 3 online high interest savings accounts
  • account one – emergency fund
  • account two – travel fund
  • account three – investment fund
  • set up automated direct debit from wages every week into these 3 savings accounts

4) Track my spending

  • using TrackMySpend, a free app from ASIC
  • identified my top spending categories
  • looking at ways to actively reduce spending as a result

5) Assess my net worth

  • looked at my assets versus my liabilities
  • understood what my financial position was at any given time

6) Invest in the share market

  • started learning about investments
  • reactivated my brokerage account
  • invested in low cost index funds
  • invested in several quality top ASX 200 companies
  • slowly building a diversified portfolio

7) Install solar panels

  • took advantage of the Victorian state government’s solar rebate scheme
  • back of the envelope calculation indicates system should pay for itself after 3 years
  • looking forward to receiving electricity bills from now on

8) Start a blog

  • as a result of researching side hustles, I decide to start a blog partly to be accountable on my FIRE journey and partly to share my struggles and wins along the way with the wider community

But who knew that looking into my finances would trigger so much self analysis and reflection?

Or I should say, more accurately, that going down the rabbit hole of financial independence (FI) has triggered a lot of self analysis & reflection. This, of all the things I achieved in 2018, has been the most surprising and unexpected consequence.

It has forced me to re evaluate my dreams and re define my values, my goals, my purpose.

Money, after all is  a tool.

A tool that enables you to pursue your dreams.

A tool to enable your dreams to come true.

It is not an end in itself.

For me, the pursuit of money has never been appealing.  Subconsciously, I always thought it vulgar to pursue money and riches. Upon reflection, I think it is the obvious display of wealth that repulses me.

However, the pursuit of financial independence is incredibly appealing. And exciting. 

Most of all, I want to reclaim my TIME, a finite resource. I can always earn more money by working harder, longer or pursuing side hustles, working a part time job. But time? I will never get back time once it’s gone.

Being financially independent will enable me to spend less time at work and instead, pursue my dreams of slow travelling; spending time with my niece who lives in another country; taking care of my elderly parents. I will be able to live a life with a lot less stress.

What did I learn in 2018?

In 2018, I learned about FIRE concepts and principles; and that the FIRE community is a big robust supportive community.

I learned about what type of investor I am – what my risk tolerance is; essentially, it boils down to this – I want my money to grow faster than inflation but that  I can still sleep at night.

My habits can change – with the right motivation & focus, I can develop new habits that serve the bigger picture. I never imagined I could give up takeaway coffee. Now my daily routine includes making myself a cup of coffee from my moka coffee pot. Not only do I save money, I am less stressed in the morning driving around looking for a carpark to get my coffee.

I learned that I can pick up new skills – starting a blog has been one steep learning curve. Now, growing it and maintaining it will be 2019’s challenge – bring it on!!! Navigating social media and Pinterest, SEO?? will be … a lot of fun?! I am looking forward to connecting with a lot more people – for an introvert, that brings heart palpitations.

I found that writing was therapeutic for me, that putting my thoughts into words was soothing. Besides crystallising my vague thought bubbles and the endless neurotic meanderings of my mind.

So what will I look forward to in 2019?

I want to embrace a simpler life, a life with less stress.

A life where I will have more time to spend intentionally with people and activities I value.

I am conflicted right now with the best way of setting goals or even if setting goals is a good idea. My history in keeping goals alive has been abysmal so I am exploring new ideas.

I am riding out 2018 on a high, just starting with a broad and quite frankly, vague goal of sorting out my finances. Who knows what 2019 will bring if I knuckle down and set concrete goals? Like my baking, I want to make sure I have the right ingredients to live my best life.

Guess you will have to stay tuned …

Incidentally, I will be most grateful if you could take 2 minutes to subscribe to my emails – I will not spam you, I promise! I don’t have any freebies to give away at the moment but you will be the first to get it when I do! Thank you very much for your support.

 

 

 

Be kind to yourself this Christmas season

But hang on, isn’t that ummm … kind of selfish?

Yes, but I am giving myself permission … to be kind to myself … this Christmas.

Spoiler alert – this post has more to do with my mental health status than tips on saving money.

The days leading up to Christmas

The days and weeks leading up to Christmas is the most stressful and hectic time of my year. I work in retail so I am immersed in the endless commercialisation of Christmas – buy, buy, buy … did you forget anything, anybody? Buy, buy, buy …

We are constantly looking at our sales figures; are we doing better than last year? What else can we do to attract more customers? Are our offers comparable with other retailers? There are deadlines to meet, Christmas cards to post (we are old fashioned at my work). And on and on it goes. 

To make matters worse for an introvert like myself, it’s Christmas party season – not only my workplace but also supplier Christmas parties which I routinely turn down … Oh you can’t make it to the party? No worries, we’ll come out and have lunch with you. NOOOOOOO!!!!

Unfortunately, I can’t say no to everything. So juggling various work commitments plus trying to organise my own personal Christmas demands usually create a very stressed out me. Quite frankly, I don’t like me right now.

The perfect Christmas gift beautifully wrapped by an angel

Everywhere we look, be it on social media or in the physical shops, there is the reminder to gift the people we love expensive presents. The more expensive the gift, the better sister, daughter, friend, you are. 

So begins the anxious search – what is the perfect present for so and so? How much should I spend? Suddenly it is the middle of December and online shopping is no longer an option, that is if you want your presents to be available on Christmas Day. So now you have to brave the mega shopping centres with their unceasingly cheerful carols and visual barrage of Christmas decorations.

This is where I fail – because I am not organised in my immensely harried world, I miss the opportunity to shop at Black Friday sales. (These sales are certainly gaining in popularity in Australia) When I am desperate at the last minute, days before Christmas, I really do not care what I spend – I just need to get the job done and buy something, anything. So note to self, next year start my list in October.

Even when I choose to gift non store bought items, there is the organisational nightmare of buying ingredients to make the mince tarts, cake and biscuits etc. First I have to find the various recipes. Every year at around this time, I think I should have been more organised. I should have looked up recipes by September. But invariably, I never achieve this goal so every year I go through the same chaos. Then I have to schedule in the prepping time, the baking time … and coordinate it all so gifts are still edible by the time the recipient gets it. 

When I finally get around to wrapping my presents, I am so tired that I just do a perfunctory job. At work, our gift wrapping is accompanied by beautiful bows & loops. My personal gifts are just wrapped. Full stop. No embellishments whatsoever.

Oh, and what is it with Christmas decorations?

We must have the perfect tree, decorated according to colour themes and elaborate ornaments. What happened to decorating with hand crafted wonky ornaments that the kids made in Grade 3? Or the ‘heirlooms’ that Grandma had on her tree?

Every year, I am bombarded with new ornaments that I can buy, different ways I can decorate the tree. But I save so much money, just reusing my ornaments. I may add something from my travels, a souvenir but that is all. 

My tree is still sitting in its box on my floor. Hey, I got it out of storage – that is a start. I love the after effects of putting up my tree – admiring my ornaments nestled among the twinkling lights. But I procrastinate until it becomes a matter of urgency to put it up. That is when something fun becomes stressful. 

So, what is the perfect Christmas for you? 

If this question conjures up anxiety and heart palpitations, then we are in the same boat!

For me, it is spending time with my family and friends. But even in this simple wish, there is the pressure and expectation of making everything perfect. Thank you, Pinterest & Instagram. 

I am not sure if the expectation is from others or from within myself but I desperately need to let go. 

I am a generous host and take pride in my Christmas lunch being a feast. Traditionally, it is abundant with seafood such as lobster, prawns and oysters plus turkey, pork and side dishes. It is not unheard of that I spend upwards of $500 just for lunch for 6 adults. We all end up eating too much and I am left with lots of leftovers. Which I love as I don’t have to cook for the next week.

But the pressure of getting everything just right and serving food that is instagram worthy is killing me. I place so much pressure on myself on having the perfect setting, the perfect food. Often after the event, I am so exhausted that I always collapse in a comatose state on my couch. In part, it is physical exhaustion as food preparation often begins the day and night before the big day. But I am just as mentally exhausted and relieved that it is all over.

I know others experience this too. Someone commented recently “Oh and Boxing Day is when I have to perform; that is the day the family comes over and I have to present a feast” Perform? That is what serving food to the people we love has become? But the fact that I understood immediately when she said it was troublesome. Others around me thought she was performing in a musical or theatrical event.

So this year, I will reduce the number of dishes at Christmas lunch. Not only will it be good for the budget, it will be good for my mental health.

Please be kind to yourself this Christmas

I know my snapshot above is only my version of how stressful Christmas can be. I don’t have children – but I know parents who are stressed out preparing for and attending Christmas plays or concerts. Even debating what to buy for teachers is a recent facebook discussion.

I desperately want to enjoy the time leading up to Christmas. This year I am taking ten days off as extended family arrive from overseas. I hope to spend it not worrying about Christmas lunch or rushing around maniacally doing last minute Christmas shopping. Instead, I will bake till the early hours of the morning in a zen like state with choral Christmas carols playing in the background. I want to decorate Christmas ornaments with my niece so I can add them to my tree.

I am sure my family appreciates the immense effort required to host Christmas lunch – it’s only my own expectations of how I should do it that is putting undue pressure on me. If my friends quibble about how my presents look, they are not really my friends. If I don’t get all my Christmas baking done in time, oh well … gingerbread cookies taste just as fantastic in January.

So I am giving myself permission to let go of my own expectations of myself and be kind to myself for a change. Everyone else will cope. And everything will fall into place.

Happy Christmas everyone! May you all enjoy a stress free time with people you love and care about!

 

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