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

October 5, 2009

are you spending less for no particular reason?

Filed under: philosophical — Tags: , , — plonkee @ 7:05 pm

Really, my life hasn’t been materially affected by this credit crunch / recession / whatever so far. I’ve got a new job, but that was because I made a career shift. My house is worth more than I owe on it (probably) but my mortgage is only 21% of my take home pay, so I’m not struggling to make the payments. I have as much money (if not more) in savings as I did this time two years ago. My investments are down, but I’m in it for the long haul, so that has no real impact.

And yet, I feel like I’m matching the overall mood. I’m not so inclined to go out drinking, I haven’t eaten out nearly as frequently as I used to, I haven’t been to the cinema in months, and I am much less interested in international travel than I would normally be.

Some of this is because I feel the need to improve my house (to both increase it’s value and to improve it’s functionality as a home). I’m saving up for things like new bathrooms and boring fixes to the fabric of the place. I’m also trying to bump up my emergency fund – I never seem to get past the mythical £6k figure. (Around 4-6 months expenses depending on how frugal I could be.) And some of this might just be me settling down a bit as I approach my 30th birthday.

I’m thinking that on a personal note, it’s not so much of a bad thing if I’m spending less and saving (and investing) more. For the economy, as a whole, it’s not so brilliant – although the investing is good – but we’re in a bit of a prisoners’ dilemma. In any case, I’m not really cutting back deliberately, I’m cutting back because intuitively it feels the comfortable thing to do, and I can’t think of a logical or objective reason to spend more.

Is anyone else spending less in the recession for no particular reason? Or have you felt the effects more directly and are adapting? I guess it’s sort of consumer sentiment thing, but there must be a name for this sort of phenomenon. Let me know what you think in the comments.

September 24, 2009

do what works, because done is better than perfect

Filed under: philosophical — Tags: , , — plonkee @ 10:03 pm

I’m a firm believer that you need to do what works for you. Ignore ideology and what ‘should be’ the right answer – you don’t need to do what’s best, just what works and is good enough.


The other day I was talking about the food that I eat. I really don’t enjoy cooking unless it’s for other people, and I live alone. This is a fairly recent thing for me, so to start with, even though I couldn’t be bothered to cook I would buy sensible, ‘make from scratch’ food – like fresh vegetables, minced meat, chicken breasts etc. Good idea, right?

Wrong. I basically wasted all that money, because I couldn’t be bothered to cook the food and had to threw it out. Instead, I’ve moved towards putting more emphasis on preparation time when choosing food. I’m doing what works for me, even if it isn’t ideologically the best thing.

cash and cards

For a long time my spending money has been placed into a separate account and then I’ve been spending it on a card, and rarely used cash. That worked for a long time, but I started to get slack and then the card rules changed, which meant that it was too difficult to track.

Although received wisdom says that you spend more money when it’s on a card, I used to live primarily on cash, and I’ve long known that it burns a hole in my pocket and slips through my fingers. Cards are normally a better solution for me, but I need to know how much money is left to fritter in the month, without having to look it up somewhere.

I decided to take the plunge and experiment with cash only. I started a couple of months ago, and it’s going fairly well. The way that I’ve made it work is to take out all the money I’ve allowed myself for the whole month (so that I don’t need to track withdrawals), and then ration it carefully at home. I basically limit the amount of money that I have on me to the minimum possible. I’m rubbish at delayed gratification, so I avoid daily challenges on the issue by removing temptation as much as possible.

what does it all mean?

For me, doing what works means being honest about my own limitations. It means accepting that I have both strengths and weaknesses, and doing what is needed to ensure that I don’t sabotage myself and my plans. It means being auto-magical because I’m lazy, and writing everything down because I’m forgetful.

One of my favourite quotes/cliches is that ‘done is better than perfect’. Life is more pass-fail than about scoring the highest grade for the neatest work. It’s about what you learn, playing to your strengths. I try as much as I can to drop pre-conceived ideas about what ‘someone like me’ should be doing with their time and money, and try to do what I think will make me happy, and/or what will mean that I’m least likely to screw it all up.

What non-perfect tactics do you employ that work for you?

June 25, 2009

money isn’t the same in my head

Filed under: philosophical — Tags: , , — plonkee @ 7:28 pm

Isn’t it funny how not all money is the same?

Now I know with my intellectual maths graduate brain that money is fungible – which is just a fancy way of saying that it’s all the same. £1 is worth £1, and $1 is worth $1.

But you wouldn’t think it to look at how I actually work. I own a house which currently requires:

  • a small repair to the roof
  • containment of the little shop of horrors backyard ivy
  • gas fires removing
  • maybe damp sorting out in the bathroom
  • a new bathroom suite
  • insulation in the loft
  • a new front door

But, I went out and spent 2 years worth of earnings from this blog on a new (to me) oboe. Which is fine, because the oboe purchase makes me happy, but not so much, because it never occurred to me to spend the money on the house. In my head, I’d allocated blog money to the oboe fund and it couldn’t be spent on another purchase.

a useful mindset

In some ways, the idea that some money is different can be very useful. It can stop you from impulse spending money that’s set aside for another purpose. It can help you keep track of your goals.

In my case, whilst I didn’t need the oboe as much as I need to make repairs to the house, it was the first thing that I’ve really saved up for. As far as my learning and playing was concerned, I’d progressed well beyond the capabilities of the oboe that I was borrowing. Spending the money on a more sensible purchase would probably have been more grown up, but I’m not really all that grown up at heart. It didn’t work out too badly – at least I have something to show for my efforts.

or less than helpful?

On the other hand, if I’d thought about it, maybe I could have managed to squeeze out a new bathroom instead of the oboe (plus little shop of horrors and damp work which would be prerequisites). By not considering the money fungible, I didn’t give myself a chance to make that decision. I stuck to the idea that I had last summer, without re-evaluating.

This time, it hasn’t been the end of the world. Even if I’d thought about it, I might well have bought the oboe rather than been more sensible. Next time I might not be so lucky.

Do you tend to think of money as all the same, or as each pot having a specific purpose? Let me know in the comments.

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