Life lessons from 2018 and a brief glimpse forward

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2018 was a quite a mixed year for our little family. Like us, I expect you’ll have experienced the ups and downs of everyday life during the last 12 months.

Taking a look back at the year as a whole, I realise that a bit of perspective on what we experience makes all the difference in the world. Here’s how our year panned out, with some of the life lessons we learned along the way.

Warm conversations during a chilly winter

Once the holidays were well and truly over, the first part of 2018 saw me settling into a regular routine of visiting our local nursing home as a volunteer with Pets as Therapy. Our little dog, Ollie (a 5 year old cockapoo), brightens the day of the residents every time we visit and I enjoy the conversations with the lovely people I meet there. Although a small number of the residents have indeed died during the year, my overriding sense is what a privilege it has been to enjoy their company; blessings all round!

Life lesson #1:

Giving (time) to others brings as much reward to you as it does to them (especially when there’s a furry friend in tow!).

East meets West

In February, we welcomed our second pair of international ‘homestay’ students, who stayed with us for the whole month. From Ritsumeikan University in Japan, the latter part of the students’ visit coincided with the ‘Beast from the East’ – a bitterly cold spell of weather that resulted in the girls’ return journey being postponed for a few days.

It was enriching to spend time with these young undergraduates and we realised that, in spite of some interesting cultural differences, we had far more in common than we might originally have thought.

Life lesson #2:

Opening your home to others can enable you to develop some wonderful, unexpected friendships, whilst enjoying a unique and mutually beneficial intercultural experience.

Spring forward

Just as the students returned to Japan, I started a new job. Having had a very modest salary increase with my new role, as well as going car free, we were now able to make some serious inroads into paying off debt. During the previous autumn, we had discovered an unexpected personal tax liability of several thousand pounds. So, 2018 became the year when we became ‘gazelle intense’ over our finances. That made a real difference as the year progressed.

Here, I have to acknowledge the approach of Dave Ramsey about whom I’ve written often. During 2018, I also discovered Pete Matthew’s Meaningful Money podcast and have enjoyed his first book: The Meaningful Money Handbook. Pete’s just established a Facebook community, too, so check that out if getting on top of your finances is part of your 2019 goals.

Life lesson #3:

Actually, there’s more than one life lesson in this particular segment:

  1. You don’t need a car as much as you think you do.
  2. You do need an Emergency Fund for when life slaps you in the face. Save £1000 if you’re paying off debt, then build a fully-funded Emergency Fund of 3-6 months of expenses once you’re debt free.
  3. You can learn a lot from listening to podcasts that provide sensible, consistent and free advice. Find the ones that speak to your situation and become an avid listener.

Long, hot summer

Summer saw our daughter, Amy, join her school friends on a four week visit to Costa Rica with Camps International. After two years of fundraising, she had a truly amazing experience, which involved a huge variety of activities. These ranged from building a septic tank to scuba diving in the Pacific Ocean!

Life lesson #4:

Step out of your comfort zone once in a while; you will have the time of your life.

During Amy’s first week away, we spent a few days on the Norfolk coast. Remember, this was one of the hottest years on record, but we ended up in the only cool corner of England that week. It was so chilly, we had to invest in new jackets. My mother reminded me that we had holidayed on the East coast in the intense summer of 1976 when the temperatures at the seaside had also plunged. So, if you ever need a cool spell during a heatwave, just follow me!

Life lesson #5:

Expect the unexpected (particularly with English weather) and never leave the house without a coat!

Sunsets and farewells

Sadly, things back at home took a turn for the worse when my mother-in-law died during the second week of Amy’s trip. My father-in-law had died only 15 months before, so this was an especially sorrowful time for everyone. My mother-in-law had been a gregarious, larger-than-life character, so it was especially sad to see her becoming more and more frail towards the end of her life.

We postponed the funeral until Amy’s return, then began the long process of decluttering the family home to prepare it for sale. This was a lengthy job and pretty hard work. However, a lovely and unexpected benefit throughout this whole process was the growing bond I have enjoyed with my lovely sisters-in-law.

Life lesson #6:

Through every sad situation, there will always be a ray of sunshine (I promise).

After this experience, I asked my own mother to do something that I’d heard of during Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast: Make a Facts of Life document. This is where you set out some basic information about your life: details of accounts, policies and other information that your loved ones should need ‘in case something happens’. This is how we in the UK euphemistically describe illness or death. Happily, my mum had already done this, so it was much easier to have that conversation with her than I thought.

August also brought GCSE results for Amy. The big deal with these qualifications was whether or she’d passed her maths (she had!!).

Life lesson #7:

Prepare for the worst, but hope for the best (things can and do work out).

Transition into autumn

Autumn saw yet more changes, as Amy embarked upon A levels and enjoyed another school trip. This time, she visited Marle Hall in Wales where she took part in a number of outward bound activities including coasteering. As far as I can tell, this involved moving along a rockface, then jumping in the sea periodically. That is not for me (especially in October!).

As a couple, we completed the intense period of paying off our debt. It’s wonderful to be going into 2019 knowing that this is behind us.

And back to winter

Around 3 weeks ago, our little pup became unwell. On careful investigation, the vet found a ‘foreign object’ in Ollie’s stomach. This turned out to be a whole and perfectly intact peach stone in his small intestine. A good deal of worrying, one surgery and over £1500 later, Ollie is now on the mend but has what looks like a little zip in his tummy as a ‘souvenir.’ Thank goodness for Emergency Funds and pet insurance.

Life lesson #8:

Take advice as soon as something happens that worries you (and – again – get that Emergency Fund in place!).

Today, as I write, my own mother (she who had sensibly created her ‘Facts of Life Document’) has just had surgery to remove a tumour from her stomach! We await to hear if more treatment will be needed, although we are hopeful that this won’t be the case. It’s strange that there should be yet another bump in the road during a time when we are reflecting on the year gone by and looking forward to what lies ahead in 2019. No more foreign objects in tummies, please!

Word of the Year 2019

Rather than make New Year’s Resolutions, we have decided to set out some goals for 2019. We may even adopt a personal ‘word’ for the year.

If I look back at 2018, I realise that taking the long view – and having a bit of distance to give perspective on your experiences – is a very good thing.  The life lessons we learned along the way in the last 12 months will stand us in good stead, as we embark upon another year.

As Courtney Carver once said, “Don’t write about it when you’re in it.” So, I didn’t blog about all the twists and turns of 2018. There have been a great many ‘ups’, as well as a number of ‘downs,’ but we live and learn and move forward.

What has 2018 been like for you? What life lessons has 2018 taught you? What does 2019 hold? And will you make New Year’s Resolutions or even adopt a Word of the Year? Do let me know by replying below.

Wishing you very Happy New Year 2019.


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No learning is wasted

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Just over a week ago, I was fortunate to be able to attend a talk given by Emma Kennedy. An all-round high-achiever, Kennedy is arguably best known for her work as a writer, actor and author, but she is also the winner of both Celebrity Masterchef and Mastermind. She is also a self-confessed conkers expert!

Inspiring women

The talk was part of an ‘Inspiring Women’ series, arranged by the Careers & Skills team at the university where I work. Although aimed at female students, Kennedy’s message applies to anyone who has tried, failed and tried again: follow your instinct; explore the things about which you are curious; be prepared to try (and fail); and never give up.

Starting out…

In a number of ways, Kennedy’s journey resonated with me a great deal. Like me, Kennedy left school at 16. Her first job was a washer-upper in a local hotel (later, she was promoted to vegetable peeler). Mine was for a well-known high street Bank where I ultimately worked for 4 years.

…At the bottom

My very first task in the Bank involved sorting what my supervisor called ‘rems’ and ‘giros’ into specific pigeonholes. I didn’t have a clue what a ‘rem’ was. It turns out, a ‘rem’ was a ‘remittance’ – a cheque/check to you and me. A ‘giro’ was a paying in slip. So, I was effectively handling ‘money out’ and ‘money in’ for customers, albeit in proxy (paper) form. These slips of paper, once sorted, would be collected for onward distribution to their respective banks. Exciting, huh?

London life

By the age of 20, I had moved to London where I worked for 8 months prior to embarking on my next life adventure. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and honestly remember London as a city of blue skies and sunshine. My experience was a bit like being at university, but with the bonus of a monthly salary.

In those 8 months, I did a lot of growing up. I learned about cultural differences and customer service, improved my mental arithmetic, got a bit drunk at the Long Island Ice Tea Bar in Covent Garden, and developed an idea that meant I might actually resume my academic studies and eventually go to a real Higher Education Institution (as opposed to the university of life).

Moving forward

After a gap year in Switzerland, I returned home where I became the oldest 6th former in town. My pals at college had come straight from GCSEs. I arrived with 5 years’ experience, 7 O Levels (ranging from the very good to the mediocre) and an exceedingly good Swiss-French accent. Most importantly, I was ready to learn.

Loving learning

Like me, Emma Kennedy took a little longer to achieve her ultimate goal of going to university. She had been unwell during her A Level studies and it was through the encouragement and tutoring of her former English teacher that she managed to secure a place at Oxford. In my case, it was through the inspirational teaching of my own wonderful English tutors, which meant that I was finally able to get myself a place at university.

Like Kennedy, along with own sister, I was ‘first in family’ to go to university. Although my parents (and grandparents) had been teachers, their route into this profession had not been via Higher Education. My own parents had gone to teacher training college before embarking upon their careers.

What next?

On completing my degree, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do next. So, I decided to follow in family members’ footsteps and train to be a teacher. For me, teaching wasn’t an unmitigated disaster, but it wasn’t going be my life’s work either. Like Kennedy who decided to leave her post-university profession as a lawyer, I worked out quite soon that there were other things I wanted to do.

Listen to your gut

This time, I started to truly follow my instinct and that’s when my career trajectory changed. I was suddenly able to flourish, to develop and to try new things. I wasn’t on an obvious career path, but I started to enjoy myself.

Each job I’ve had post-teaching has enabled me to develop and grow. Like Kennedy, I may not have ‘failed’ at what I tried, but I developed a self-awareness that meant I knew when I was a square peg in a round hole.

Along the way, I have learned an incredible amount from my experience and from the terrific people I have met along the way (many of whom are still good friends). I always say this – especially to those I mentor professionally – no learning is ever wasted.

Living minimally

Now, minimalism is an integral part of my life and I wouldn’t go back to living in a way that was unintentional. That said, my career trajectory could not really be described as ‘intentional’. It was more a series of experiments. Try something? Not sure it works for you? Then, try something else. In some ways, it takes courage and resilience to make these changes, but nothing worth doing was ever easy.

With minimalism and simple living, there are many different ways you can adopt a more intentional approach to life. Take a look at my previous post on the types of minimalism you might consider. The point is that you can take some time to experiment; to learn; to follow your instinct; to explore the things about which you are curious; be prepared to try (and fail); and never give up.


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Looking after yourself, simple-living style

Mental Health infographic

This month’s World Mental Health Day shone a spotlight on an important issue that, happily, is talked about much more frequently these days.

I received the infographic for this post via a network I belong to. It caused me to reflect not only on these top tips, but on how adopting a minimalist lifestyle can also be a great benefit to our overall wellbeing.

10 practical ways

Eating well, not drinking too much and keeping active seem like a no-brainer. “Everything in moderation,” sounds like something your Grandma would say.

When it comes to diet, there’s been a lot of news in the media about cutting down on meat as a way to benefit both your health and the environment. Some analyses have gone as far as asserting that avoiding both meat and dairy is the single most significant thing you can do to reduce your impact on the planet. Back in the spring, a piece in The Guardian argued that 80% of the world’s grassland was used for livestock, which produced less than 20% of food calories. Now, that just doesn’t make sense.

More recently, BBC Radio 4’s Today programme featured the uncompromising message that no amount of alcohol was beneficial when it came to drinking; a sobering reality? At least, no-one has said that about coffee. There might be a revolt!

On the upside, social prescribing is a more recent phenomenon where healthcare professionals encourage their patients to make connections through activities such as attending clubs or special interest groups. Since loneliness affects people of all ages, this has to be a good thing. The connections we make through social interactions mean that we will be more likely to care for others (which does us good), ask for help and even talk about our feelings.

Finally, 10 minute bursts of intensive exercise – frequently – are said to be really beneficial. Having just been out on my bicycle in the October sunshine, I would readily agree with this.

A minimalist’s ways

I would like add a few more ideas to the above list. If we concentrate and focus intentionally on the things that add value to our lives, we have less room for the things that don’t. Here’s my list:

Become and stay clutter-free

It’s impossible to thrive when you’re weighed down with stuff.

In a recent blog post, Joshua Becker wrote, “It is difficult to fully appreciate how much of a burden our possessions have become until we begin to remove them.”

I’d say that’s true, having spent several weeks decluttering the home of my late mother-in-law.

Our house certainly isn’t all bare surfaces and devoid of ‘stuff’ (remember, you can’t unclutter someone else’s belongings). But it’s certainly a place where anyone can walk through the door at any time and find it to be a welcoming and relatively clutter-free space.

Inject humour into your day

Every Monday, I pin a small humorous cartoon or aphorism to my office door. It started after the August Bank Holiday with a fun little poem called the Plodders Prayer (I just needed to plod quietly through the week).

After that, the humour became more focussed on the context (academia). Colleagues who pass by will often stop and chat about whatever I have pinned up.

Say no

Saying no is a huge way to maintain your equilibrium. Courtney Carver has a saying, “I will not say yes when my heart says no.” Wise words indeed.

If, like me, your tendency is that of an ‘Obliger’, learning to say no is a very important thing to do.

Last Saturday night, Mr G and I went to see comedian Sarah Millican. Smutty but very funny indeed, one of Millican’s sketches entailed her deploying an uncharacteristically deep, resonant and definitive sounding, “No!”.

“Would you like to perform at the Queen’s Golden Jubiliee?” Millican was asked.
“No!” she replied (she already had a prior ‘booking’ in the form of the arrival of a kitten).

“Would you like to open our new facility?”
Again came the resounding,”No!”

As I listened (and laughed), I resolved to put this into practice. I didn’t have long to wait.

On Tuesday, it was my WI group’s AGM. At the end of the evening, a member of the Committee approached me to ask if I would consider joining the team. Without a moment’s hesitation, out of my mouth erupted a clear and straightforward, “No!”

The lady looked a me a little quizzically, so I rewarded her with an explanation. But I didn’t change my mind.

Be your authentic self

As a natural morning person, I rarely stay up late and it’s usually me who is the first to leave an evening event. Just when everyone is revving up to ‘party on’ into the wee small hours, I usually announce that my batteries are flat and I need to go home (often immediately). No wonder – we are an ‘early to bed, early to rise’ family. In any case, it is said that it’s best to leave a party while you’re still having a good time.

A useful phrase that we enjoy repeating at home is, “Ce n’est pas mon truc!” (That’s not my thing). Practise using it, as often as you like. This builds on the ‘Accept Who You Are’ idea, but makes that self-acceptance real.

Choose simplicity over complexity

If you’ve got a demanding schedule, don’t make life any more complicated than it already is. A good friend of mine has recently started a new job, based in London. She commutes daily, so has very sensibly decided to get ahead with meal prep at the weekends. This will make weekdays a lot more manageable when it comes to getting home and putting a meal on the table (she’s a single mum of 3).

The concept of tilting – intentionally allowing life to lean in to whatever are the current priorities – enables us to acknowledge the other things that may demand our attention but to find the simplest way to meet those needs.

What about you?

So, what would your ’10 Practical Ways’ look like? Let me know by replying to this post, below.

And if you’re keen to discuss your ideas, why not come along our next minimalist Meet Up? Drop me a line if you’d like to get together with like-minded folk – we have a meet-up coming up soon.


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What should I do with things that I don’t want to sell?

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In the second of this series of mini-posts, I’m addressing a question I received from my friend, Emma. She asked, “Any tips or advice on where I can get rid of stuff I don’t want to just throw away but don’t have the time or energy to sell on eBay?”

Well, you already know that I’ve taken a raincheck on eBay, so these are my suggestions.

Offer to friends and family

When you’re having a clear-out, friends and family members will often swoop in and take things you might have otherwise given away. They say charity begins at home and it’s great to be able to help others that are close to you. What you don’t need might just be what someone else was considering buying (especially when it comes to kitchen gadgets, for example).

Donate

Charities – especially those that support families in need – will often welcome household items that you might otherwise find difficult to shift. We’ve recently become aware of a couple of charities in the Midlands, including Loaves n Fishes. This organisation helps people in poverty or those who need help to get back on their feet after a family break-up. It’s gratifying to know that you can help others just by giving stuff away that no longer serves you.

Re-use, recycle

Don’t forget your local recycling centre; it will inevitably have a ‘tip shop’ where you can donate items that your local charity shop might not choose to stock. So, when you take your items for recycling, you can also leave other things that are still serviceable but which might not be accepted in a high-street charity store.

A penny in the jar

If you have something for which you’d still like to get a few pennies, see if there’s a local community Facebook group that you can join. Ours is Things for Sale in Kenilworth, which attracts interest from towns and villages close by. People on there are looking for a bargain and it’s ‘selling’ but in a low-key, unstructured way. People come and pick up the stuff they’ve agreed to collect and you get a pound or two for the pot.

Cash4Clothes is similar. Your clean and re-useable clothes and shoes are distributed to countries like Ukraine and Romania, so you’re doing some good whilst getting a few pennies (currently 45p per kilo) for your efforts.

Of course, there are networks such as Freecycle that might also enable you to pass things on.

Finally, see if you can find a local group that needs support with fundraising. Often, such groups will welcome things they can sell at car boot sales to help swell their funds.

Throwing Away

There is no such place as ‘away’. Throwing away really means disposing of stuff via landfill. If you can avoid this by identifying alternative options, like the ideas suggested above, so much the better. You’ll maybe put in a little more effort to achieve it, but by doing good, you’ll feel good. Plus, you’ll be a little lighter in the process.


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Why summer’s a great time to declutter

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We’ve just returned from a mid-week break on the North Norfolk coast. After weeks of wall-to-wall sunshine, we drove into grey, cloudy skies and endured the coldest, windiest few days I can ever remember on holiday. Typical!

It was so chilly, we had to buy a windcheater for me and a new jacket for Mr G. Needless to say, the above photo is not from the immediate past week (it is, in fact, a picture of my beloved Kynance Cove in Cornwall).

My mum pointed out that we endured a bitterly cold seaside holiday during a sudden blast of chilly weather in the summer of 1976…. Maybe such holidays simply run in the family, then.

This weekend, I’m thawing out in balmy Warwickshire, where the temperatures are set to reach 28 degrees once again. As I have another week of annual leave before I return to the office, I’m looking forward to some time at home. That might include a sweep of the house for excess clutter….

Get your decluttering head on

Summer’s a great time to tackle unwanted stuff.

When the sun’s shining but you need to get out of the heat for a while, this is your chance to get on top of the clutter you’ve been meaning to sort out. So, head for the garage, the shed or any place in your home where you hate being when it’s cold – you’ll be glad you did come November.

Go Swiss

Pretend you’re living in an alpine resort, throw open your windows, let your duvet (comforter) hang out of the window to air and let the the breeze gently enter the room, as you tackle that cupboard or closet that you’ve been ignoring for a while. It’s great to be able to enjoy a bit of shade indoors when the weather is really hotting up and it’s amazing what you can get done in just a short space of time.

Holiday living is simple living

In our Norfolk holiday let, we enjoyed a kind of ‘tiny house living’ courtesy of Airbnb. We rented part of a converted barn in a village location comprising a living room (kitchen space, dining table and two chairs, lounge area); shower room and bedroom. It was just perfect for two (plus dog).

I often remark that, when away, we enjoy a true slice of simple living, with just a few possessions in a minimal, pared back space. So, why not live with less back at home?

On your return from vacation, it’s not unusual to see your home with fresh eyes. This is a perfect moment, then, to reappraise your stuff and capture a sense of holiday living at home.

Put the kids to work

When the kids are around, it’s a great time to encourage them to take a look at their stuff. What could they donate or give away to make room for new things? What have they outgrown that won’t see another season come the autumn?

If you’re in a part of the world where the children are due to go back to school soon, now’s also a great time to try on school uniform or everyday clothes to check what needs replacing. However, I don’t advise this at the start of the summer vacation if you’re in the UK and about to embark upon the 6-weeks holidays; children who eat and sleep have a curious habit of growing!

Beware of decluttering seasonal stuff

When decluttering in the summer, it’s all too easy to make rash decisions about out-of-season items, so beware of letting go of something that’s not in season. What you wouldn’t dream of using when it’s 30 degrees in the shade could be a godsend when the nights start to draw in. So, hold that thought as you tug at the sleeve of that old winter coat. You might just need it.

Unclutter your diet

Summer’s a wonderful time to rejuvenate and throw of the layers in other ways. I’ve just discovered Michael Greger’s The How Not to Die Cookbook, which is filled with nutritionally-charged, delicious plant based recipes. If you’re turning over a new leaf in the house, you might also want to munch a few leaves in the kitchen.

So, turn your decluttering to the kitchen, getting rid of any out-of-date staples and stocking up on the wherewithal to make some yummy new dishes. Plus, as it always takes a little longer when you’re trying out a new recipe, the summer’s a wonderful time to stick on a podcast, roll up your sleeves and prepare a light and healthy dish for everyone to enjoy.

Have a plan

And if it all seems too much, you can always retire to your garden for some…. planning and organising of the cerebral kind. It’s always good to have a plan….


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Roots and wings

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Friday saw a milestone in the life of our little family, as we attended our daughter’s Year 11 Thanksgiving Service at the senior school she has attended for the past 5 years.

On the day after the final GCSE exam, this occasion brought students, parents and staff together to acknowledge the hard work and dedication that had gone into the last few years. We also looked ahead to the future.

Marking transitions

As you can imagine, this was a pretty emotional time. Our girl is leaving a community that she has been a part of since was just 2 years, 8 months old. Starting in nursery, she went all the way through primary school and onto the senior school, still with many of the friends she has had since she was a little tot.

Focussing on the important things

What I loved about the celebration was its focus not on material success but on leading a values-driven life, full of family, laughter, good times and friendship. It wasn’t about the accumulation of possessions, which might seemingly denote success these days. Instead, it was about giving thanks for what had been given to our young people in abundance.

Of course, there was a scripture reading from The Bible (The parable of the hidden treasure and the costly pearl – Matt 13: 4-46). But we also heard three readings that I felt chimed as much with the parents as they did with the students. So, I thought I’d share them with you.

Desiderata

If you haven’t taken a moment to read this wonderful poem before, do take a look (it is repeated in full here).

Written by American writer, Max Ehrmann, in 1927 but not published until 1948, Desiderata (Latin: “desired things”) is an incredible code for life.

Even when things seem pretty bleak (and we continue to see “bleak” in the media every single day), Desiderata‘s timeless message provides a sage but simple way to look at the world, concluding with: Be Cheerful. Strive to be Happy.

Anyway

Another reading, which particularly struck me, was Anyway, which St Teresa of Calcutta reportedly had written on the wall of her home for children in Calcutta.

   People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.

            If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.

            If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.

           If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.

            What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.

            If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.

            The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.

         Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.

         In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.

Roots and Wings

This final poem was A poem to parents…. from their teenage child:

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Prom beckons

Tomorrow sees the occasion of the year, as the young people head to Warwick Castle for their Year 11 Prom. It’s a jamboree of prom dresses, tuxedos, hired stretch limousines and borrowed sports cars (not forgetting the spray tans, hair-dos and make-up).

It’s my hope that, when all the festivities are over and life returns to normal, the kids remember some of the key messages they heard in Chapel on Friday. We’ll certainly place the order of service in our daughter’s treasures box; she may not look at it immediately but maybe in the future she’ll look back, remember and smile.


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Things I would tell my 18 year old self about money

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Earlier this week, GirlGuiding UK announced that the organisation would be introducing a new Guides’ badge, aimed at improving the financial literacy of teenagers. You can read about the badge (and other new ones) here.

Since I am not aware of any aspect of the Personal Social and Health Education (PSHE) curriculum* in school that covers personal finance, I applaud the Guides for taking the initiative.

What would I tell my 18 year old self about money?

The Guides’ news got me thinking about what I’d tell my teenage self about money. I am actually 48 years old now. So, I’m 18+30, not ‘Club 18-30’. Ha!

30 years on from my coming of age, here are a few things I would tell my 18 year old self about money. I only wish I had taught myself these lessons earlier.

Always live on less than you own (and save the rest)

The 80:20 rule probably applies here. If you paid yourself 20% of your income as soon as your salary hit your bank account (and did this consistently from age 18), compound interest would do the rest.

When I spent a year in Switzerland, a fellow au-pair (Michelle) always sent cash back home for her pension. Her fantastic example was definitely one to follow. Michelle, I know you were destined to spend the rest of your life in Canada. If you’re reading this, I’d love to hear from you!

Get a rainy day fund

Grandma wasn’t wrong on this one. We all need an emergency fund and I’ve previously written about this to explain why. If you have debt and you haven’t got a ‘starter emergency fund’ then £1k is what you need while you’re paying down your debt.

If you’re debt free, then 3-6 months of expenses, stashed away in a rainy day fund, should cover most unexpected emergencies. Dear 18 year old self, if you don’t have an emergency fund, then Murphy’s Law will apply: what can go wrong will go wrong.

Yesterday, my mum told me that the source of a mysterious water leak in the parental home has finally been found. You can imagine how mum and dad felt when the kitchen floor had to come up. They’d have felt even worse if they didn’t have an Emergency Fund.

Know the power of compound interest

Interest rates move up and down over time. In my teens, interest rates were incredibly high (trebling at one point to a rate that almost crippled my parents when it came to their mortgage). Having had historically low rates in the UK for many years, borrowers have benefited over savers. Nonetheless, money invested wisely will grow and you’ll benefit from compound interest if you stick with it.

When you get the urge to splurge, distract yourself

Wait to buy whatever it is you think you need. Lie down until the feeling goes away (which it probably will). Control your impulses.

If you shop when you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired, then HALT! Run a bath, take a nap, call someone on the phone. Go for a walk.

Know your triggers and if you need an accountability partner, find a friend who’ll help you stick to your goals.

In case of emergency, break glass

Make it harder to buy whatever it is you want by making your money a little less accessible. I don’t mean putting your money behind glass (although I have read that some people do this with their starter emergency fund!). I just mean putting it a little more ‘out of reach’.

If cash burns a hole in your pocket, don’t carry cash. Also beware of “wave and pay” – it’s all too easy to flourish that card and up to £30 is gone in an instant.

Be intentional with your purchases

These days, if I do need to buy something, I usually agonise over it (especially when it’s something new and not second-hand). I have to say, I bore my family as I pore over the various options before deciding on whatever it is I need.

My husband has a trick for when you do need to choose something: 1) Find something suitable. 2) Find something equally suitable. 3) Buy the second item you found. Job done!

Oh, and never pay full price. Especially for things like clothes.

Be prepared to walk away

I’m going to make a sweeping generalisation here, but I’d suggest that we Brits don’t care for negotiation when it comes to making significant purchases. We find the idea of haggling terribly awkward, even embarrassing. So, we avoid it.

That said, there have been a few times in my life when I have haggled successfully. One such time was the purchase of a new bed. I had a fixed amount to spend and I could not (and would not) go over this.

We found exactly what we wanted; an oak bed frame and memory foam mattress. The price of the two items together exceeded my budget by just under £50. So, I offered the salesman what I had. He wasn’t prepared accept my offer, so with my (then) little girl at my knee, we thanked him and headed for the exit. Just as I was pulling the door open to leave, the salesman was at my side. And we had a deal.

Second-hand is infinitely preferable

Some things must be bought new. Mattresses (see above); car seats (unless you know where they’ve come from); bicycle helmets; and riding hats (to give you a few examples) should really be bought new. However, so much of what we need can be bought second-hand. I’ve written about this extensively, so I won’t labour the point, but I really mean it.

Let go of your sense of entitlement

Just because X has Y doesn’t mean that Y is right for you. You may not be able to afford Y and that’s 100% OK.

In her book, The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need, Juliet Schor exhorts us to “Beware prosperous referents.”

It may be that your girlfriends are remodelling their kitchens, having extensions built or are driving round in fabulous cars. Good for them. Chances are, they’ve put the home improvements on the mortgage and are paying over the odds for their vehicles through expensive car loans. Suddenly, being like them doesn’t seem such a good idea after all.

Get on a written budget

If you want to manage anything effectively, you can’t just wing it. Imagine you’re managing a project involving myriad stakeholders and various work streams. Chances are you’ll use a Gantt chart or project management tool to help you. So, why wouldn’t you do the same for your money?

My preferred ‘modus operandii’ is my dual account budget spreadsheet. I have tried apps (see My First Month with EveryDollar), but time and time again, I revert to my trusty spreadsheet. I like to see everything in one place and my Excel sheet does this just fine. Let me know if you want a copy of it!

Credit is like sex

Replying to my question on Twitter, “What would you tell your 18 year old self about money?” Tarra Jackson replied: Credit is Like Sex. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. And if you do, use protection (a budget).

Great answer, Tarra!

Better still, perform plastic surgery on your credit card. Cheaper than botox, you’ll look a whole lot healthier (financially) if you do this. This way, you can also tell your cash, “You can stay money.”

Don’t move up in house before you’ve decluttered the one you already own

One of the reasons excuses we all give when talking about moving house is that ‘we’ve outgrown our current house.’

Is it that our actual family has grown (so, we really do need more bedrooms)? Or is it that we’ve accumulated so much stuff that we need to take stock, purge and reset for the life we now live?

Only recently did we finally donate a collection of children’s books that might not otherwise have seen the light of day for some considerable time. Apply this logic to a whole house and you might save yourself a significant amount of money by not moving.

A minimalist mindset can help you win with money

Recently, I’ve been working on a short eBook on this theme: I do believe that adopting a minimalist mindset can help you with personal finance. When you stop going after things you don’t need (and let go of anything that no longer adds value), you’ll change your spending habits. And that’s something I’d love to have told my 18 year old self.

One final thing I’d definitely tell my 18 year old self is this: If you didn’t get your Girl Guide Savers badge, join as a helper and help someone else achieve hers.

*Teachers, if I’m wrong, then please do tell me. I really don’t think our 16 year old has had any such education at school, but I’m open to learning that I am mistaken.


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