plonkee money an english-er's thoughts on personal finance

January 3, 2009

you know you’re a personal finance geek when…

Filed under: budget — Tags: , — plonkee @ 2:13 pm

…you get excited because in December you managed to spend £225 less than you earned – when *spending* already includes investing for retirement, other investments and savings and donations to charity.

The money is going into savings at the moment, I have a few ideas up my sleeve – mostly involving travel and the house.

Bring on 2009.

November 4, 2008

a confession and sorting myself out

Filed under: budget — Tags: — plonkee @ 12:00 pm

I have a confession to make.

For a personal finance blogger, my bank accounts are in a terrible state. I’ve exceeded my overdraft limit for the last 3 months in a row, which is costing me about £200+ in bank charges. Naturally, I’m going to be saving the documentation about the charges in the hope that I’ll be able to claim them back inthe future. It’s not really the point though.

I firmly believe that nobody should be paying bank charges because they are just unnecessary. If you need to borrow money then you can use cheaper forms of credit. That extends to me too. I mean I think £35 an item is unfair but it’s still easily avoided.

How did I get myself into this situation?

Well, the short and simple answer is that I have some expenses to claim, and money to resdistribute around my accounts that I haven’t got round to doing. This has given my main current account a cash flow problem.

The long answer is that I’m tired. I’m not keeping a firm enough grip on my finances, but I’m not keep a grip on a few other things either. My house looks like it’s been hit by an explosion of papers and clothes. I haven’t written nearly as many posts on here as I’d like to. I’m doing the bare minimum on most of my other projects. My day job is sucking up the spare energy that I have, which makes sense as I enjoy it and it pays the bills, but I am not my work. Something has got to change.

Given that I don’t want to give up anything that I currently do, and that although my day job could get easier as I get more used to my newer responsibilities but I can’t rely on that, I’ll have to find some more energy from somewhere.

I’m thinking that I need to break up my evenings a little more so that I’m not moving from thinking at work to thinking about blogging. Instead I’ll try doing some housework and practising the oboe first, and then move onto more mentally draining pursuits later.

I also reckon that I could do with improving my diet. I’m too lazy/tired to cook, and I don’t feel all that inspired about making a huge effort to cook just for me anyway. I need to work with this rather than against it, so to get closer to my 5 a day I’m going to be eating more soup. From a tin it takes about 4 minutes to heat up at most, there are several kinds I like that are somewhat healthy although they probably have more salt than is really good.

I’m open to other suggestions on the food front if you have them. To be realistic, my limitations are that I have almost no freezer space, I want to eat within about half an hour of getting home, and I am just not going to do anything that takes more than 5 minutes preparation time – chopping up the vegetables for a stir fry is far too much effort. Yes, more effort on the food front would probably be better, but I need to stick to things I’m actually likely to do.

Finally, I think I need to make more of an effort to improve my sleep patterns. I thin I would feel better generally if I want to bed about 10:30 and got up at 7am. This should have several positive effects. Firstly, I’d be getting around 7-8 hours sleep which is a good amount. Secondly, getting up earlier should mean that I’m not running late which is helpful. If I’m going to be late, I’ll catch the bus. So if there’s less chance of me being late, I’m much more likely to walk and get more exercise, which should give me more energy.

Other things I’m contemplating but not putting in to action yet include

  • cutting back on caffeine – at work
  • starting bouldering again – although where I’d find the time, I’m not too sure
  • complete house decluttering – this needs to be done, but requires time again

If you have an suggestions for this errant personal finance blogger, please let me know in the comments.

September 12, 2008

English and American expenses

Filed under: budget — Tags: , , , , , — plonkee @ 2:19 pm

In a follow up to my previous comparisons of UK and US tax burdens, I contacted Mrs. Micah to ask if we could compare our expenses. Mrs. Micah lives in Washington DC with her husband. I, on the otherhand, am happily single living on my own in an English provincial city. However, we have easily comparable expenses for housing and utilities, and I’m using Mrs. Micah’s grocery list to compare the cost of food. Here goes.


Mrs. Micah’s Costs
Rent, electricity, heat or a/c: $783/month
Water/Sewer: $28/month
Internet: $30.70/month (split overall bill, since I couldn’t track down our paperless bill)
Tv: $30.70/month (split overall bill, since I couldn’t track down our paperless bill)
Phone: $0
Mobile phone: $88-89/month, depending if we get texted.
Gas: $65-80/month for gas,
Metro fare $41.85/month metro commute (normally a few extra trips).

Total Expenses $1036.55-$1052.55 (~ £585.62-£594.66)

Plonkee’s Costs:
Mortgage £500 (pcm)
Electricity £10 (pcm)
Gas £33 (pcm)
Council Tax £54 (split per month)
Water £10 (pcm)
Internet £5.45 (pcm)
TV £11 (tv licence, split per month)
Phone £10.50
Mobile Phone £10 (new deal, used to be £25)
Petrol £82 a month (assuming around £1k in mileage),
Bus Pass £37.50 bus pass

Total Expenses £763.45 (~$1351.31)


Rents for 1 bed flats in my not very salubrious area range from £375 to £700 per month, depending on niceness of the building, my mortgage is for a 2 bed terraced house, it would also rent out for about £500 or so a month. I don’t have a cable or satellite tv, but use a free digibox to get additional channels, cable starts at £9 a month and satellite from £17 a month. I don’t have a car, but estimated petrol costs from fuel consumption figures for a Ford Ka.


Mrs. Micah very kindly gave me her last set of food purchases, which I then comparison shopped in Tescos (£1 in 7 in the UK is spent at Tescos). This is about half a weeks food shop.

Mrs. Micah Shopping List
1 gal fat free milk $3.99
1 lb nonfat cottage cheese (tub) $2.00
2 28oz cans tomato puree $2.00 ($1/ea)
1 15oz black beans can $0.50
12.3 oz extra-firm tofu $1.79
16oz natural peanut butter $2.99
16oz canned mushrooms $1.39
8oz canned mushrooms $0.80
Loaf whole grain cinnamon bread $2.47 (sale)
1 lb brown rice $1.79
chicken thighs $3.02 ($1.99/lb)
9oz packaged spinach $2.99
celery hearts $1.99
2 lbs baby carrots $2.79
green peppers $1.44 ($1.69/lb)
bananas $1.35 ($0.59/lb)
3 kiwi fruit $1.50
1 bunch scallions $0.69

Total Cost = $35.49 (~£20.04)

Equivalent Purchases in UK
3.308ltr/6 Pints Skimmed Milk £2.24
650g Cottage Cheese Natural £1.45
4 300g Tin Tomato Puree £1.92 (£0.48 ea)
1 400g Tin Organic Black Beans £0.69
349g Tofu – Firm Silkstyle £0.89
454g Whole Earth Smooth Peanut Butter £1.68
750g Value Pack Mushrooms £1.47
Sliced Fruit Loaf £0.62
500g Brown Whole Grain Rice £0.81
618g Chicken Thighs Small Pack £2.03
300g Nottinghamshire Spinach £1.20
Small Bunch Celery £0.50
2 440g Prepack Mini Carrots £3.00 (£1.50 ea)
700g Prepack Peppers £1.38
6 Bananas Loose £0.84
Prepack Kiwi £1.49
Warwickshire Salad Onions Bunch £0.64

Total Cost = £22.85 (~$40.44)

food notes

I substituted for the Cinnamon Loaf as Fruit Loaf is more common in the UK, elsewhere some of the amounts aren’t identical, but it depends a lot on the package sizes that were available to each of us. For example, celery isn’t available in small bunches to Mrs. Micah, but is to me, whereas it was cheaper to buy twice as many peppers for me than the amount that Mrs. Micah picked up. Canned mushrooms are unheard of, I substituted fresh button cup ones instead.

Tofu, black beans and peanut butter are not particularly common purchases in the UK. Peanut butter in particular is nowhere near as ubiquitous in the UK as it is in the US. There isn’t an obvious substitute, as most of the other spread things – marmite, jam, marmalade, honey – don’t have quite the same usage. The black beans and tofu that I chose were pretty much the only ones available.


Overall, and somewhat unsurprisingly to anyone that has spent time in both the UK and the US, it’s quite a bit cheaper in America – around 20% cheaper at the current exchange rate. Let’s not forget that DC is notoriously expensive, and where I live – being neither in London nor the South East – is not.

To put it into context with the exchange rate, that would have to come down to around $1.40 to the £1 for expenses to be roughly the same for each of us. But, the Big Mac Index which estimates the true value of each country’s currency would suggest a natural exchange rate of $1.60 to the £1, suggesting that the UK is intrinsically more expensive than the US – something that every British tourist to Florida could probably tell you for free :) .

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