Building a better 2020

So we are entering the final months of 2019, and I can bet that for the vast majority of us we are no further forward than we were this time last year and for some of us we may actually be worse off, and that will be further exacerbated by the up coming festive season and the pressure from both the media and advertisers as well as the personal pressure you put on yourself to spend money on presents and entertainment for your children or yourselves, often on credit cards or over-draughts or worse still loans, this time of year is really a hunting ground for capitalists and vultures looking to tie you into agreements that mean next year you will have to come back for more.

It is not our fault, advertisers and social media put us in positions that we simply cannot escape, and we borrow in order to “keep up” with the neighbours or our work colleagues be it through our children’s activities or through the car on the driveway, holidays, clothes even sports and hobbies all say something about us and our ability to pay out money, this is all well and good but what happens when you can no longer work? I don’t mean if something were to happen to you right now, more the inevitable end, Retirement we are all heading there and most of us with nothing planned to see us through.

I would like to push for another type of new years resolution, it will be something we are going to achieve in our house, that is instead of the standard “no chocolate” or “go back to the gym” both of which normally only last a couple of months before we find ourselves sitting on the couch eating chocolate while we should be at the gym, we are going to be working toward reducing debt and becoming more financially intelligent, after all how can you expect to master something without knowing how it works ?

Some startling statistics are that the average UK debt is £31k per adult! that is shocking and although I don’t know anybody quite there I am aware of people near that threshold, when you put that against the average UK household income of £28k the gap is clear to see, and of course as this comprised of borrowed money the interest is also staggering, an average of £967 in interest alone paid last year for every Brit.

All economies run on the least paid individuals, this is the case universally, as these economies are propped up on debt, the circle is vicious and relentless and designed to make it difficult to break, but not impossible.

Firstly bear this in mind, there are debt charities and advisories that offer free and payed advice to people struggling with debt, but this advice in my opinion is flawed beyond belief, the basic advice is centred around either declaring bankruptcy or entering into a sponsored agreement where you declare to the world that you are nearly bankrupt and asking for them to freeze all your accounts and let you pay off the balances, but let’s think that through for a moment,

  • Bankruptcy – Stays on your credit file for 6 years, and will affect your credit rating for much much longer, so let’s say that you have reached the point where you believe that is an option, you would normally be around 30 years old and may possibly have a mortgage, so you would need to sell the house and use the equity to repay debtors, everybody is made aware of the Bankruptcy as it is public information, and it will have to be declared when you apply for housing with private landlords, any credit over the value of £500 and could remain for longer based on how long it takes to become discharged, at the very best based on a 30 year old this means you are 36 when discharged and paying through the nose for credit while you try and rebuild a credit rating, then at around 40 you are able to start re-building your life and possibly look to buy a home again, all the while having to declare that you have been a bankrupt and paying higher interest for the rest of your life, this doesn’t sound like a good option to me.
  • IVA – Individual voluntary arrangement, this is a fixed term of between 60 and 72 months (so 5 years at best) possibly 6 and the conditions are no more relaxed, you will still have to sell any assets you have to pay into the IVA and then you are still the same age when you start to re-build your life.

And of course you could just bury your head in the sand and do nothing, but that leads to all manner of issues and most of these will ironically cost you more money because you are always viewed as not wanting to pay as opposed to not being able to pay and this is despite the fact that you haven’t got enough money for the initial debt.

The first steps in my opinion are to understand the nature of the debt, how much actually is it ? how much is the interest and how much am I paying off the capital ? often these questions are not asked and people simply start at the least amount and try to pay that off while struggling to keep up the payments on a debt that is costing them a fortune in interest every month.

Work out how much your utilities actually cost, it is surprising how many times we just simply pay the regular estimated payment without question and then are excited when the company gets in touch to tell us that as we have overpaid we can either claim the money back or allow it to be credited to our next bill (most companies assume this by default) under these circumstances we view this as good will on the part of the company but actually that money could have been better spent on a debt reduction rather than sitting in an energy companies account gaining interest.

Not everybody of course will be affected by the previous examples but I guarantee that if you are reading this you are either trying to make money to be more comfortable or you are stuck in a financial rut and are desperately trying to get out, what I am trying to illustrate is that lack of knowledge is often the most costly mistake we make, when we look at people that are financially savvy what we are actually seeing is people that have worked out how to not give all their money away, they look for value in expenditure and they look for return on debt, if you have a house that provides more rental income than the mortgage outgoing then this is good debt, if you consume any service or utility make sure that you are only paying for what you take, and never take anybodies word as gospel always check yourself where possible so you can say with certainty that you know how much you are getting charged and why.

Conclusion

As human beings we are forces of nature, we have the proven ability to change the world and explore other worlds, we can create our own futures, and deal with our pasts, capable of great acts of kindness and huge atrocity the human drive and spirit is the most voracious and uncompromising force known to man.

Make a list of every thing that is keeping you awake at night and worrying you in the morning, everything that makes you snap at family and friends because you are pre-occupied when they speak to you and realise that you do have the power to change it, end the cycle of debt by not taking anymore out, pay off credit cards quickly and realise that if you can’t do that then you can’t afford the lifestyle you are leading, but if you put that lifestyle to one side for a single year you may very well be able to afford a much better one, and not pay somebody else for the privilege.

Obviously I am not a financial adviser and any situation should be looked at on an individual basis to determine the correct course of action, but you cannot lose if you find a way to pay less interest to lenders, and borrow money or goods on inflated interest because we haven’t got a “perfect credit score”.

Work Until you Die? or make a stand now ?

This article confirms what I have thought for some time now, we need to make a stand because for most of us the future is set in stone and it is cold, hard and very unpleasant.

https://www.theguardian.com/membership/2017/mar/29/a-world-without-retirement

Photo by THE COLLAB. from Pexels

Should Privacy Be a Right?

A bit of a departure for me, but something that is very close to my heart, Privacy I don’t mean people not knowing what I look like on here or the fact that I choose to put pictures and my opinions on the internet for all to see, I mean the data that I do not choose to share, the buried tracking cookies, the carefully worded “terms and conditions” that essentially boil down to you agreeing to being tracked and profiled in order to use a service, and when that service is Google or Facebook, it is difficult to make the decision to not agree and to walk away from the service because they have become so ingrained in our society, life can genuinely be difficult without them.

I want to deal immediately with the first argument that people come up with when faced with this point “if you have nothing to hide what is the problem?” the problem is that I do not want to share ever aspect of my life and if you think about it I bet neither do you, secondly I want to choose what I allow people to know about me and my family, and third I want to know what information is being gathered about me and how much care the organisations that have that data are taking over it.

I work in network security and as such have always been one of the “tin foil hat brigade” because when you understand the nature of a thing you see just how powerful it actually is, that said the event that triggered my latest rant had me baffled as to the mechanism in the background that allowed the transfer of data, and it concerns the setting up of an account with the same avatar that I have on here, I like a lot of people run Plex media server at home, it is run on a local server not in the cloud and has three accounts on it, I will not name the site that this happened on and have only named Plex as it is important to understand that this was a local server, I created an account on the other site and added the avatar, the next time I went to log into Plex it had updated my profile picture (previously blank) to the new avatar, there is no discernible connection between the two and to this day the way it pulled that information is a mystery.

The Giants of the tech world log and track our lives By Default removing our ability to be in control of our own information, they use this information to shape the world we see and as we become more and more dependant on social media and devices to run our everyday lives algorithms are working in the background make sure we never see something that doesn’t interest us, but think about that for a minute, if we never see anything that they think would not interest us and the knowledge they have is only built from things that we have searched for or looked at previously then where is the diversity? where is the random nature that makes humans so interesting, all our visual cues while online will be similar and our browsing experience will be shaped to appeal to what the system thinks we want.

Computers like uniformity, they thrive in a binary predictable environment where an action equals a programmatic and logical response, and of course it is a marketers dream, consistent advertisements, news stories suggested feeds and search results that all point to a single direction will ultimately push an individual into a course of action even if the only reason is frustration at the seeming lack of options.

The boom in devices for children that require an account to tailor the results and media to the younger audience simply means that this cataloguing of the human race begins earlier, and our children provide information without a care in the world, a slightly more sinister way of looking at is with the ability to shape the content that they consume it is not a major stretch before you arrive at the ability to condition and influence an individual or in the case of YouTube and Facebook, a generation effectively allowing tech companies to provide the generation of the future, and the Best case scenario for this is that they shape consumerism, the worst case doesn’t even bear thinking about.

So the question really isn’t about privacy being a right, or about the ISP knowing what websites we are going to, it is far deeper and more fundamental than that, it is about the right to live your life as you see fit, to have the ability and the information at your hands that makes you equal to your fellow man both in freedom and opportunity, it is allowing your children to grow and choose their paths through their own experience and curiosity not through a pre-programmed journey based upon an unseen authorities view on what they should become.

I guess that for the most part this post is really “my two cents” but I urge anybody that has even a passing thought that I may have a point, to just look at the videos and content that is popular among your children, or take more notice at the lack of deviation in advertising on social media that you see as well as the difficulty in trying to search for a topic outside of your normal interest on Google, look past the inconvenience and think about the long term consequence.

Jeez what a day!

So I am all set now for the start of the Holiday Challenge and one of my brain waves was to go to the local swimming pool to get some widths in to provide a kick start to my cardio for the week, but I could not have been more wrong, if you imagine being stuck on the London underground in rush hour, up to your waist in warm water semi naked (as is a swimmers want) that is exactly what we walked into, I can assure you however close the analogy there are a lot more awkward moments when you are wearing a swimming costume in close proximity to others than when you are in a business suit!

However my daughters loved it, and managed to thoroughly enjoy the slides and chutes as well as the wild water section where an artificial current drags you round a circular pool, one thing that made me laugh was given the close proximity of parents and children funnelled into a whirlpool you really had to look twice to make sure you still had hold of the same child at the end as at the start! but I finally made my way from the play pool to the main boring square one that had no slides, chutes, flumes, whirlpools or plastic dragons firing water at me from varying angles, and so despite the odd cannonball from an over excited child ( usually my eldest daughter ) I managed to get some swimming done before setting off back home for a family barbeque.

I have cooked on a barbeque previously but only for us and relatively small quantities of food, so the prospect of cooking for the in-laws as well was frightening, I was further shaken by all forums and instructions on the NET stating that the charcoal was ready to cook on when it was covered in grey dust and the grill could maintain a steady temperature of 250 degrees, nowhere and I mean nowhere did it make reference to the charcoal being 50/50 black and grey and the temperature a good steady 300 degrees (largely because that was as high as the gauge read) while being put under pressure by a line of people with plates of raw meat, so I just took a chance and cooked on it open, and despite having slightly thinner eyebrows and a stronger facial tan the whole thing was a success.

we even managed to get some gardening out of the in-laws, which is a bonus because I am far from green fingered, and the disapproving looks, sighs of disappointment and the more than occasional exclamation of sheer surprise at the wife’s and my gardening skills is a small price to pay for transformation they seem to be able to make in only the time it takes me to cook a chicken breast to the point that I have to identify it to my daughter as she is picking what she wants to eat.

I am having my before photos done tonight as well as the Mrs did point out that for a fitness and finance blog I have only two pictures of me to illustrate that I have made any progress at all! and as yet nothing on finance, but in my defence I still haven’t found any financial that is worth talking about!

So if you read down this far, thank you, and I will catch up again later.

main Photo by Min An from Pexels

Practice the Preaching ep17

So after my rant about money, the Mrs felt that I should do something a bit more lighthearted, so I thought that I would share some of the highlights from our recent holiday.

We went to Chania in Crete, Agii Apostoli to be precise and stayed at the amazing Seaqueen villa, it is a family affair and so we were with the in-laws, I know daring right? well these in-laws are cool so there was no issues and absolutely no mother in law jokes!

The place is awesome, it is huge and easily accommodates the three couples and our two girls, the pool is perfect and it has restaurants and shops in close proximity, so it is perfect for us.

As you know I have been changing my diet and working out over the last year and one of the reasons behind this was that, when we were there last year I was in such a state physically that I couldn’t join in anything with my girls and spent all my time sitting on the sidelines, I was determined not to have that issue this time.

Pictures of me a year apart

Me a year apart, the first picture was taken in Chania Bay at around 25.7 st and the second was this year at 18.4 st

As you can see above I was much more able to move this year and the heat did not get to me as much, being able to do things with the girls and play without puffing like a steam train was priceless to be honest, and made every hour of effort of the last year worthwhile.

The pool is awesome and last year was something that I could not use, partly through embarrassment at how I looked and partly because at 42 years old I still had never learned to swim, and nobody wants to try and lift a wet fat man from the villa pool, it just ruins the overall good atmos!

So we arrived on Saturday, and by Sunday night I had fashioned a swimming technique that to be fair looked more like controlled drowning but was functional, as confidence grew by Monday I had a reasonable stroke and was swimming up and down with the girls with relative ease, so fast forward to Wednesday and the private yacht that we hired between us, this was an experience like no other and has really fired me up for the financial side of my traineesuperhuman journey.

View from back of the Yacht

All was going very well until the first stop at a beautiful secluded bay to do some snorkeling, the problems I was about to encounter are best described as “Character Building”, everybody else jumped in and set off toward the shore breathing through their tubes and enjoying the view of the fish while I stayed on the yacht, after all I learned to swim one day ago and this was the sea and not a small pool with no current, but I felt bad as they all disappeared into the distance and when the Mrs came back to get me, claiming that the beach was only a short swim away I thought “why not” after all the water was very calm.

However I didn’t consider two three things, one, I had lost a lot of weight since the swimming shorts I had on had been purchased, two, the sea is salty and tidal, and lastly, three, breathing through a snorkel only really works if you stop using your nose and breathe through the tube, So I jumped in and set off with the wife, about half way across I realised that I was losing my shorts, now that would ruin everybodies holiday and I really didn’t want to have to climb back onto the boat with no shorts on, but as I say I had only just started swimming so as I put one hand down to pull the shorts up I started to swim in a circle, to correct this I would change hands and swim the other way, eventually we reached the beach and spent time in the warm lake on the other side of it, when it came time to come back I chose not to use the snorkel as I had swallowed my bodyweight in salt water already and wasn’t ready for any more, but what I hadn’t banked on was that the water had changed and was now a little choppy and the waves were against me, I am convinced I spent five minutes paddling like mad just to stay still, then the boat started to move away from me as I got close to it just to really finish me off!

It was (despite the near death experience) an amazing day, and I feel very privileged to have experienced the whole private yacht thing, as it turns out I spent most of the holiday in the water one way or another, either in the pool or at the water park that we took the “little fun train” to.

All in all an amazing time that I was able to enjoy so much more due to the hard work that I have put in over the past months, and a huge boost to me continued efforts, which will now include swimming!

Get up not stay up

So many blogs and Instagram stories centre around working as much of the day as possible in order to maximise progress, but quite a large proportion of these are either written by immortals or they are so rich that they have robot stand-ins, constantly we see posts at 4:30 in the morning and then posts claiming that they are still up at 12 midnight, whilst I accept that this can be employed as a temporary strategy it has no validity in the long term, as you become tired you will start to lose cognitive ability, concentration and physical ability will start to fade and you will eventually end up in a heap on the floor.

At which point all your plans, workouts and learning stops while you recover, as the vast majority of us will be holding down full time jobs as well as whatever other activities we are pursuing it serves us better to go to sleep a bit earlier and wake up earlier, this way all you are missing is night time activities which are largely leisure activities, these are the things to sacrifice in pursuit of goals both physical and financial anything else is going to harm you and as I said will ultimately end in stopping your progress completely for at least a couple of days.

If you go to bed at 10:00pm and get up at 4:30am you still get 6 and a half hours sleep, only losing out on half an hour of recommended sleep and you have a good 3 hours to get your goal pursuits in be that training, learning or practicing guitar (quietly of course) most of us finish work at 5:30pm so you still have 4 and a half hours to either carry on working on the future or spending time with the family, that schedule will also fit a lot closer with children so as you and the children start to sync a bit in your rhythms you could even bring some more harmony to that relationship.

Remember all sacrifice is for nothing if you become to tired and ill to keep pushing.

Amazing Downtime

I had an amazing time last night with the Mrs for her birthday, we went to York to a Thai Tapas restaurant http://phranakhon.co.uk/ to be exact and had arguably some of the best food I have ever had (certainly Thai at the very least) and the went on to see The Rocky Horror Show at the York Opera House, the performance was amazing and I even managed a bit of a time warp!

I was able to enjoy myself with an amazing woman in an awesome place with outstanding food and an unutterably good show.

And this morning? Did I go for a 5k walk and did I feel guilty about eating food that isn’t exactly “on plan” ? HELL NO! We got in late and I had an early start at work, so literally did not have the time, we put all the work in so we can cut loose, we eat a sensible diet tailored to our needs so when we go out we can indulge and we stay in shape so that we can enjoy ourselves until the early hours when the opportunity arises.

The only lesson, only lesson here is to work harder, work so hard you turn weekends into weeks, fun and enjoyment into simply “life”, I was feeling a bit deflated before going out but now ready to take on the world.

There is an adage about a struggling salesman buying a bigger car to help him sell, sometimes we need to just get out and enjoy ourselves to remember what we are working for.