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Buying Experiences Not Things

Steve’s _IMG_4540I stopped buying things last year, choosing to focus on buying experiences instead.  Although it’s been a fantastic success I’ve been slightly conflicted because some of my best experiences depend on buying the things that enable them.  For example some of my most cherished experiences this year involved listening to audiobooks while on solitary walks.  Some of those walks were in the rain and so depended on good outdoor gear.  I love cycling, but for that I need a bike.  I’ve managed to cope without buying these things so far this year because I already have a huge audio book library, great outdoor gear and two bikes.  Last year I concluded that I already had all the things that I needed, so stopping buying anything new made sense for a while. It also made for a more interesting experiment.

This not buying anything experiment won’t continue for ever though, so I need to refine my attitude to buying before it gets too constraining.  I’m happy buying things that truly enrich my experience of life.  Buying more clothes than I need won’t count, nor will buying expensive watches, or a fancy car, but I’ve decided that there are some things I will be happy to buy, for example:

  1. healthy food and drink, including meals out
  2. experiences, like movies, concerts, holidays
  3. new or improved things that eliminate significant frustrations from my life, for example a new iPhone 6 to replace the frustratingly slow 4S with its half day battery, or a new bed to improve the quality of my sleep
  4. essentials that I can’t do without, for example consumables like new shampoo, fuel for the car
  5. replacement things that I loose or break, provided those things are essential and/or enrich my life, for example replacing a broken iPad that I use for two hours every day
  6. things that enable experiences I want to continue or undertake or do more of, for example hiking safety gear that allows me to do winter hikes, a fitbit to encourage me to walk more
  7. things that are themselves experiences when used, like books or DVDs
  8. things to repair other things, like paint for the garage, or grout for the bathroom tiles
  9. plants for the garden

I’m not planning to go crazy though, having bought almost no new things for 250 days, I’ve realised that I need very little stuff to be happy, but I also don’t want to constrain my happiness by not buying things that enrich my life. 

I’ve also found great satisfaction in having saved a lot of cash this year and having broken the spending habit I’ve no compulsion to spend it, it just sits there ‘comforting me’ because I know I have enough money to replace anything or buy anything should I really need to.

The photo is of Filey cliffs on what turned out to be a rainy day, without good waterproofs I would have stayed inside but instead I got to enjoy a wonderful, relaxing hike, listening to one of my all time favourite books

Books and Blogs About Retirement

2014-05-29 17.16.29I’ve struggled to find good books about retirement, most of them focus on financial aspects and these are often specific to the US.  These are the few that I’ve found and read.

Brilliant Retirement, a reasonable book, providing a good grounding in the things you need to consider in planning for and living as a retiree.  The financial stuff is relevant to the UK and the author seems to be well versed in that area.  It gets good reviews on Amazon, but I didn’t rate it that highly.

The Joy of Not Working: A Book for the Retired, Unemployed and Overworked- 21st Century Edition, another reasonable book, full of ideas for what to do in retirement.  It’s an optimistic book and it filled a few days while on holiday last year but I didn’t learn much from it.

The Psychology of Retirement: Coping With the Transition From Work. A very boring and uninspiring book, that seems to be trying to find even slightly relevant psychology studies that relate to retirement, but that provide very little insight.  I admit that I didn’t finish it so it might have improved, but Amazon reviewers agree with my impressions.

Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence. An excellent book, although US centric.  This is the book that inspired my approach to retirement when I first got ill about 12 years ago and decided I needed to take retirement planning seriously

and some blogs, you will quickly see a theme emerging:

Early Retirement Extreme— a combination of simple living, anti-consumerism, DIY ethics, self-reliance, and applied capitalism

Mr Money Mustache is a thirtysomething retiree who now writes about how we can all live a frugal yet Badass life of leisure

Simple Living in Suffolk – breaking free of the rat race and living intentionally

Retire by 40 – a mostly personal story about a guy who retires early to be a stay at home Dad an live a simpler life, although his wife continues working

I read a few of these books sitting on or admiring the beaches of the east coast.  The photo today is of Scarborough south bay.

Coping With Declining Energy and Resilience In Retirement

2013-10-30 11.51.46 (x200's conflicted copy 2014-06-19)When I envision my retirement it’s mainly characterised by movement, mostly cycling and walking.  I’ve written my retirement planning series during a wonderful pain free month so that’s perhaps no surprise.  Right now I’m in a flare and so it’s a good time to write this post.  What am I going to do with my life if it turns out that I don’t have the energy and physical resilience for all that exercise.  I need a contingency plan.  Luckily I think technology, price deflation and creativity will deliver that plan for me over the next few years.  So here goes with that contingency plan:

  1. Although electric bikes today are expensive and a bit clunky I think that within 5 years they will be great.  Although I will still have to contribute to the pedalling, most of the hard work on the hills and against the wind can be mitigated by the electrical assistance.  I’m confident that this will be affordable and keep me cycling even through the flares, provided my arms can cope.
  2. I love driving, but it’s expensive, it does however provide an alternative to walking.  I can drive through amazing countryside, the wilds of Scotland, Wales, The Lakes.  I can camp to keep my costs down and I can stop for short walks, enjoy the cafes, pubs and views.  I think driving will become affordable in 5 years time as well.  By then we will have seen two more iterations of electric cars and this will have brought the price down considerably, the range should be 200+ miles and chargers should be everywhere.  Electric cars are much simpler and hence cheaper to maintain and the fuel cost is minimal.
  3. We have a fantastic range of health clubs within walking distance where I live.  Swimming and gym work are both ideally suited to declining health, allowing resistance to be adjusted to capability.  I will be able to make much more use of them than I need to now.
  4. Virtual reality will be mainstream, I will be able to pop on the goggles and be anywhere in the world to enjoy the scenery or visit family.  It’s not quite as good as being there but, as they say, ‘’beggars can’t be choosers”.
  5. I love TV and books and pottering around the garden. I’m looking forward to learning new skills and drawing/painting so I should have plenty to do.

I’m writing this post while enjoying a quiet cafe hopping morning, I’m at Caffe Nero right now but will be moving on to the Deckhouse Cafe soon, with it’s amazing beach views including the end of the old pier which is the subject of the photo.  It’s the perfect way to spend a pain dominated day.

Practising Retirement

2014-07-28 12.42.13-1When I first read the ‘4 hour work week’ many years ago, it’s recommendation to take mini-retirements throughout your life resonated strongly with me.  Retirement should not be like jumping off a cliff into the unknown.  For every other major life change we normally get to practice, we get to date before we get married, educational institutions prepare us for work, we get parenting classes before we have our first baby.  But when if comes to retirement we are expected to just transition from working 40 hours a week to zero over a weekend, maybe holidays could be considered a form of practice, but honestly 2 week practices are not long enough to prepare us for living well for the next 40 years.  In some ways I’m fortunate because my health conditions mean that I don’t work a 40 hour week, so in my run up to retirement I do have an opportunity to do a bit of practicing, I’ve already started and I plan to do a lot more.  This post explores my main areas of focus.

In my previous post I described my outline plan for what I want to do in retirement, which I summarised as:

I will be spending about 40% of my time in St Annes following my daily routine, about 30% of my time I will be on day trips hiking, cycling or learning and the remaining 20% of my time I will be away from home on a mix of short and longer breaks.  That seems about the right mix of home and away, stability vs. variety and low cost vs. medium cost, with no extravagant costs.

This yearly pattern isn’t too far off my current working pattern.  This last year I did take 12 weeks as holiday and 12 think weeks, spending the rest of my time at home in St Annes following a pattern of reading, meditation and exercise in the mornings, working in the afternoons and leisure in the evenings.   This has worked well, but there are a few areas that need more practice:

  1. I need to find ways to reduce the cost of my holidays and to increase their variety.  This means trying out low cost forms of transport like the mega bus and weekly rover bus passes.  It means travelling to new places and staying is different types of accommodation including B&Bs and Youth Hostels rather than more expensive caravans and self catering cottages.  It means taking advantage of last minute deals.
  2. I’m hoping to spend a lot of time travelling without a car, given my health challenges and fatigue I’m not sure how practical this is going to be, to test this out though I need to practice travelling light, otherwise it’s a non-starter
  3. I need to spend more of my think-weeks in interesting and inspiring places, like big cities, working in libraries, going to conferences and the like
  4. I anticipate spending a lot of my retirement learning new things and I should practice this idea by using think-weeks to learn new skills that are relevant to work, to see how I get on
  5. I’m planning to spend a lot of time walking and cycling, whilst I’m happy to do this in the local area 3-4 days a week, I’m expecting to spend perhaps 2 days a week on day hikes or rides and I need to discover a lot of new places to go for these.  I’m not very adventurous so this will take some determination
  6. I need to get better at coping with rainy days.  I need to get better at cycling and walking in the rain, but I also need to get better at doing rainy day activities like learning, art or lazy mornings at the health club
  7. I love cycling when the wind is kind to me, but I rapidly get exhausted when it’s not.  I need to see if I can build up my stamina or find other ways to reduce the fatigue

There are two critical areas that I’m worried about:

  1. How I will cope with the changing pattern of social contact, can I find ways to keep the level of social contact I have now, find new forms of social contact or learn to cope with less
  2. How will my body respond to higher levels of activity.  So far I’ve found that more activity generally improves my health but there’s a tipping point where it becomes too much for me and I flare. I’m hoping that with practice I can increase the activity levels that I can cope with.  My body also doesn’t recover/repair itself very well after exercise and basically wears out much quicker than most people’s,  I’m hoping to find ways to improve my resilience and increase my levels of Human Growth Hormone.

The photo is from todays day hike with Debbie in the fells to the south of Windermere town, east of the lake, it was wonderful, but true to form even though I exercise every day I’m more exhausted than Debbie is and my tendons are tender!

How I Plan To Spend My Time In Retirement

2014-07-09 11.02.56The series of posts that I’ve been writing so far on this blog have been focussed on planning for retirement because I believe that preparation is key to successful retirement.  Planning what I’m actually going to do once I retire is less important though since retirement is all about freedom to do what I want and I certainly don’t want to close down any options now by fixing my mind set too early.  I do want to gradually transition to my retirement lifestyle though over the next few years, so I want to practice some ideas to see how much I like them and I want to be confident that I know what I’m letting myself in for.  The last thing I want to do is have some idealised retirement concept that is a big disappointment in reality.  Five years of practicing ideas seems to be a pretty good test of whether I will get bored and should generate a good range of additional ideas.   Unfortunately I won’t be able to practice all of my ideas until actually retire because I don’t have the time and energy to do them while I’m also working.

In previous posts in this series I’ve worked through the basic ingredients that I think make up a good retirement, the types of activity and the things I’d like to learn so I’m not going to repeat those here.  This post is about the broad structure of how I see my life in retirement.  One of the challenges in writing this post is that while my current working life is quite similar all year round, I’m expecting my retired lifestyle to vary considerably through the year and from one year to the next.  I will do my best to make sense of this change in this post.

The best way to think of my retirement lifestyle design is as a daily pattern of activities interspersed with big events, challenges and holidays to add variety.  The events, challenges and holidays will be tuned to the season of the year. As well as describing the lifestyle ideas I’m also going to make some attempt at working out how much it’s going to cost, over and above my basic cost of living. 

First up the daily pattern that gives structure to my days at the moment, this pattern has served me well for the last ten years and works well in most weather. Whilst there’s some variability I expect my typical days go roughly like this: 

I will be waking up early and having a nourishing green smoothie before setting off for a walk or cycle ride to a cafe where I will read for a couple of hours before heading to another cafe about an hour away for brunch and more reading.  I will then walk or cycle home and have another smoothie.  My afternoons will be spent doing housework, gardening, DIY, learning, creating or volunteering with some more exercise and meditation thrown in.  I’ll have dinner with my wife and then spend the evening with her and/or my kids.  If the weather’s bad I will probably spend time in the health club rather than walking/cycling.

My guess is that I will probably spend about 150 days a year like this, it’s a relaxing way of life, chock full of healthy habits that keep me fit and rested.  A day like this costs about £12, so that’s £1800 a year and I will treat myself to a cake every few days and replacement cycling, walking gear etc. so in total that’s £2400.  Once a week my wife and I will go out for a meal and the movies so that will cost an additional £20 a week or about £1000, giving me a running total of £3400.  Since Debbie will be working she will cover her own pocket money and car costs.

At least twice a week I will go on a day hike or longer cycle which means some additional travel costs but the food costs will probably be the same.  I will assume an average drive of 80 miles which will cost £28 so that’s £2800 for 100 days of day hikes and £1200 for food, making a total of 250 days and a running total cost of £7400.

I currently take a 5 day holiday each month and I’m expecting to continue that, although some of these holidays will include walking and cycling challenges.  I will probably skip these breaks in winter which means I will go on longer breaks in the spring and autumn.  A 5 day holiday averages about £250 in accommodation, £100 for travel and the same £12 for food.  That’s a total of £6000, making a grand total for 310 days of £13,400. 

Finally we will probably go on a 4 day (3 night) short break every month, these trips will include shows and conferences like TEDxSalford.  These are likely to be pretty low cost for travel and accommodation since we will use low cost coaches and Premier Inn type accommodation.  I’m assuming £30 for travel and £120 for accommodation and £15/day for food.  So the total will be £2500.  Giving a grand total of £18K for the year, assuming that Debbie covers her own food, travel to work and clothes etc.  These costs include her holidays with me.

Since our basic cost of living is about £14K this makes a grand total of £32K per year which is what I consider to be my maximum lifestyle cost of living.  I can scale back these costs quite a bit if I need to.

In summary this means I will be spending about 40% of my time in St Annes following my daily routine, about 30% of my time I will be on day trips hiking, cycling or learning and the remaining 20% of my time I will be away from home on a mix of short and longer breaks.  That seems about the right mix of home and away, stability vs. variety and low cost vs. medium cost, with no extravagant costs.

The photo is of Windermere from the eastern fells, for me it’s walks and views like this that will hopefully define my retirement!

Do I Want To Work In Retirement?

2014-07-26 10.47.33Now I’m getting to one of the most thorny issues in my series on retirement planning, do I want to continue to work?  Since I started with my auto-immune illnesses over ten years ago work and health have always been inconsistent with each other.  I’ve struggled endlessly to find that balance where I’m engaged and enjoying work but also have the time, energy, discipline and low stress levels that I need to look after my health.  After all this time I think I’ve finally found that sweet spot. I now work for about a day a week, on average but I do some research and thinking about work for another day a week without any commitments.  When I retire it’s going to be tough to find a job that provides me with anything like the same benefits: excellent money, working mostly with good friends, lots of flexibility, a focus on non-time critical activities.  It would be perfect if the job wasn’t filled with global politics, mismanagement, frustration and moderate stress levels. 

As I start to write this blog post I really have no idea how to answer the opening question, here goes my attempt to work it through.  There are a few options that I need to consider:

  1. How long do I stay working in the job I have?
  2. Do I need to work in retirement?
  3. What characteristics would work need?
  4. What would my ideal work be?
  5. What are my realistic options?
  6. What would I do if I didn’t work?

How long do I stay working in the job I have?

Continuing my existing job is very seductive, I earn excellent money and live in semi retirement.  It seems ideal but for the fact that I still have one or two flares a month and only get low pain days about 50% of the time.  I know from experiments that I can do better than this, on a two week holiday I often get to a pain free state and when I get back to work those pain levels creep up again and with that pain comes more migraines, brain fog and other symptoms that erode my quality of life significantly.  When I’m pain free I feel like I’m flying, I want that feeling every day!  I’ve conducted many experiments to find the link and I’m now confident that the stress, frustration, worries and sitting associated with work are a significant long term contributor to my health challenges.  Even working for 4 hours a day uses up a lot of my willpower store. Especially on days when I’m working and feeling rough, this lack of willpower means I move even less, eat worse, meditate less, reach for the pain killers earlier.  These moderate negatives tip me from a virtuous cycle of improvement into a negative cycle of decline, that decline might be slight but every day I work it gets bigger until I flare and then it’s a long slow battle to get into a virtuous cycle again.

I’ve done a lot to address these negative cycles of decline with three day weekends and only working alternate weeks.  These mean that I have plenty of opportunity to break the negative cycles although I’m finding recently that working for two weeks and then taking a two week break might work better.

At first sight then it seems that leaving work and retiring as soon as I can is the best option for me, it would give me the time, freedom from stress and frustration, energy and willpower that I need to restore my health.  I don’t think it’s as simple as that though:

  1. I earn a good wage, every year I continue working adds considerably to my retirement pot. If I retire in 4 years assuming no stock market crash I should be able to live reasonably comfortably.  Continuing working though might mean a holiday home, much better and more frequent holidays, keeping my own car, kitting out a nice workshop, a house on the seafront.  Tempting stuff.
  2. My Asperger’s means that I struggle to make friends, but after working with the same people for many somehow quite a few of those work relationships have morphed into highly valued friendships.  I’d probably struggle to replace them and keeping them without the regular contact at work would be hard for me although I’d like to try.  Which means that leaving work might be quite socially isolating. Even if I found a new type of work building new friendships might take me a very long time.
  3. Although I’m reasonably confident that leaving work would improve my health, there’s a non zero chance that it wouldn’t.  Even worse, what if my health declined significantly, leaving me unable to enjoy the walking and cycling that I plan to fill a lot of my retirement with.  Maybe then having a well paying job to keep me busy would be a blessing. I’m grudgingly forced to admit that there’s is a significant chance that my condition might worsen beyond any ability for lifestyle modification to combat it.
  4. Although my ‘grass is greener on the other side of the fence’ brain imagines a life in retirement that’s better than my current work/job mix what happens during those long winter months, work might seem much more attractive then, than it does during this year’s wonderful summer!
  5. As part of my employment benefits I have an excellent health insurance scheme and a extended sick pay scheme that provide my with an excellent level of security.  If my health declined to the point where I could no longer cope with my job I would be paid 75% of my existing pay and I would have private medical insurance too.  If I leave work I have only my pensions (a lot less than 75%) and no medical insurance, only the NHS.
  6. The decision of course might be taken out of my hands, I might just be made redundant

One of the things that I love about writing is that it allows me to carefully work through all these considerations and I’ve got to the point where I think I’ve made a decision:

  1. I will continue working in my existing job until I’m made redundant
  2. UNLESS my ability to cope with my job declines and I need to stop working due to ill health and drop to 75% of my salary
  3. OR UNTIL my retirement pot grows enough to make life away from work significantly more tempting than life at work
  4. UNLESS my current working arrangements change or the environment at work deteriorates to the point where it’s making my health noticeably worse than it is now

Do I need to work in retirement?

After writing the section above the only scenario in which I will truly need to work is if I’m made redundant before I get my pension pot fully filled, or if the stock market crashes.  Otherwise I don’t think I will need to work to live comfortably.  There are a few scenarios though where continuing to work might be worthwhile:

  1. Work provides social contact and potentially new friends (volunteering and clubs also provide this opportunity)
  2. Work provides me with money for the luxuries in life that I might not be able to afford or justify buying otherwise. I want to live a simple life in retirement, but I do like spending on food and experiences.  I can think of a few things that would enhance those experiences,  for example I’d love a beach hut, possibly a mobile home, definitely an electric bike and maybe car.  My guilty pleasure would be some Stressless Chairs to replace our ageing sofa and chairs.

Being able to find work though is not going to be easy.  There’s not many employers who would relish taking on a chronically ill employee who only works an average of at best a couple of days a week.

What characteristics would work need?

I’d need a job that matched most of the characteristics of the job I do now, but maybe with more movement and less political stress and frustration, but basically a few hours a week, doing non-time critical work, that’s social and enjoyable and focuses on advice, and coaching.

What would my ideal work be?

Ideally I’d like to be retained as an advisor by my existing employer or one of our local partners, of which there are a couple.  If I can’t do that and I don’t think it’s likely then I would like to write for myself and maybe make little money from people who like to follow along.

What are my realistic options?

Writing, provided that I learn how to do it over the next few years

What would I do if I didn’t work?

I’ve covered most of those ideas in my other posts in this series

The photo today is of one of the banners at the entrance to the St Annes kite festival.  I watched the amazing kites from the dunes after an early morning writing this post in Caffe Nero and just before finishing it off at the Beach Terrace Cafe.  This is what my writing life would be ideally like in retirement.  Lovely cafes, lovely food, friendly staff and fellow cafe enthusiasts and lots of walking and cycling from place to place.

Problems With Paleo

2014-07-09 13.38.57I’ve just started to read The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease, Heal Your Body. It’s an impressive well researched book with with a massive ‘science based’ restricted food list. This focus on restricting natural foods seems to increasing characterise paleo books and it’s in stark contrast to similar whole food diets which really just promote the avoidance of processed foods.  Whilst I like the concept of paleo eating, I find myself having more sympathy with moderates like Michael Pollan who  promotes a much simpler message “Eat whole food, not too much, mostly plants”.  The Paleo fans though are on a mission to eliminate huge swathes of whole-foods from our diets, even more for auto-immune sufferers.  It worries me, even though I am a big believer in the basic paleo hypothesis, I worry about the reductionist “this scientific study shows that this micro nutrient is bad” approach can lead us in the wrong direction.

This is where the problem lies though for me. We know that prior to the introduction of agriculture humans seemed to be healthier, but we also know that different groups ate a hugely varied diet and to a large extent they all thrived.  They thrived even when some mix of grains, nightshades, beans, honey and starchy tubers were part of their diet. 

I know from my own personal history that I can thrive on many different diets, for example when I was at school, and quite an athlete, that I ate mostly bread, biscuits, fruit and cheese, in my late twenties and very healthy I ate mostly bread, ham, granola, cheese, milk, apples and pears.  Not exactly a paleo diet, but then there are much more extreme modern examples like picky kids that grow up mostly eating custard cream biscuits or students who do great on toast, baked beans, pasta and alcohol.  My 70 year old mum who is healthier than most 20 year olds eats a mostly vegetarian diet.

The lesson seems to be that we can do ok on an incredible variety of diets, but that MOST OF US thrive on whole foods of all types.

The Paleo fans though are on a science inspired mission.  They have trawled through every scientific paper they can find that identifies a negative food effect and added the offending foods to the ‘don’t eat it’ pile.  Eggs and dairy cause allergies, beans contain anti-nutrients, grains damage the lining of the gut and on and on and on.  This wouldn’t be a problem if all this science applied to real life diets and to most real people, but looking at the world around me tells a different story.  I’ve no argument with the improvements that a paleo diet brings over a processed food diet, my concern is just that a very appealing dietary ‘approach’ is being made too restrictive by cherry picking science to support almost a religious point of view. 

In particular it’s the obsession with scientific papers investigating single anti-nutrients in foods that worries me.  On the one hand paleo fans seem content with widely varied macro nutrient ratios being acceptable, but unable to accept that in real diets a mixture of mostly nutrients and a few anti-nutrients might be just fine too.  Similarly I think when I’m exercising a lot a small amount of low nutrient dense food like sugar or oats seem to be exactly what my body is craving, not yet more vegetables or fat!  Strongly promoting Ketogenic Diets is a worry as well, I think we have much more evidence of whole food diets (including whole grains) being healthy for large populations of people in the long term (think vegetarians) than we do Ketogenic Diets.

Several of my relatives lived well into their 80’s and 90’s eating many of these banned foods, many of my peers are much healthier than I am but eat a much worse diet.  I’ve tried the strict paleo approach and eliminated these banned foods for 30 days and felt no benefit at all.  For example I’ve never felt better in my life than when I ate a small bowl of toasted oats every day, eggs seem to be the most nutrient rich and versatile foods on the planet, a stick of Red Leister cheese is more desirable to me than chocolate and completes my day.

Personally I find Chris Kresser and his Paleo Template approach to be a good interpretation of the paleo concept.  It takes paleo as a starting point and then adds additional modern foods into that diet if they are tolerated well.  This seems a much better approach than rejecting any food that wasn’t available or convenient 10,000 years ago or that contains a substance that some scientific study found issue with, , but even Chris isn’t happy with 50g of oats every few days, I am.  If I worried about every science study that found a risk factor in life I would never eat anything, I’d never go out in the sun, get on my bike, or go hiking either.

But I do still like the paleo approach.  I think it makes sense to eat the most nutrient dense whole foods as the basis of our diet, but I don’t see these other foods as poisons to be avoided at all costs.  For me that makes Paleo, a fad diet no better than a vegan diet.  I cringe when Paleo diet books say it might be acceptable at a family party to have a few BITES of cake,  for me this is insane, just eat a full slice and be done with it, actually have two slices.  I don’t think a glass of skimmed milk a couple of times a week is going to cause me any problems nor are a couple of tea spoons of sugar a day, the human body just isn’t that fragile.

So given this rant, how do I personally eat?  I follow what I consider a simple strategy:  The core of my diet is 6 cups of vegetables, a table spoon each of coconut and olive oil, 3 cups of berries, half a banana, a couple of servings of meat, a couple of free range eggs and some full fat cream.  On days when I don’t exercise I won’t need to eat anything else, but if I do exercise then I might add some mix of 85% dark chocolate, a protein shake, some wheat free cake, a small bowl of oats, some nuts an apple, or some cheese.  Every few weeks I will eat a couple of slices or toast, a home made sausage roll, a custard tart or a bar of MILK chocolate and not worry about it one bit.

I believe in animal welfare, nutrient dense whole foods comprising mostly vegetables, but I also believe just as strongly in the resilience and adaptability of the human body.  I believe in ‘everything in moderation including moderation’.  I freely admit that I feel better following this type of diet than one based on grains, but I’ve found have no room for fanaticism of any kind in my life so far.

Photo was taken in Kendal after a long day’s hiking.  I was on my way to Caffe Nero to enjoy a lovely guilt free Chocolate Torte:

This deliciously rich cake is made using premium Belgian chocolate, eggs, sugar and butter. We have incorporated a two stage bake process to achieve the perfect texture. Important: This cake is made without flour. However it is not a gluten free product, because it has not been kept segregated in the bakery, and because of the risk of cross contamination.

Reducing My Cost Of Living In Retirement

2014-07-11 12.39.33Foremost in my mind while planning for retirement is how to balance my costs and income and key to making this work is my assumption that my cost of living won’t rise that much in retirement.  There are many reasons for this optimistic view, some of them are just general economic trends, some my own lifestyle choices and the rest are down to decisions that I’m planning to take about my investments.  I definitely concluded that my cost of living will stay fairly stable or decline and that I won’t be the victim of inflationary lifestyle costs (I might fall victim to inflation eroding my savings, but that’s not the topic of this post).  When I’m developing a strategy at work I try to make sure that it’s resilient to uncertainty and so being able to vary my cost of living to match my income is an approach that I highly recommend and I described that in a separate post.

So let’s get on with looking at costs in more detail, but before I do it’s worth pointing out that I own my own home and have no debt, which makes planning a lot simpler as does cultivating low cost hobbies like playing musical instruments, sketching, reading, walking, listening to music, gardening, DIY and meditating.

Minimising ‘Fixed’ Costs

The first and most important strategy is to live simply, to resist the temptation to link satisfaction in life with owning stuff, in fact I think the inverse is true. Beyond a certain level, more stuff leads to less life satisfaction, stuff weights me down.  I’ve believed this to be true academically for many years, and I’ve read enough by proponents of simple living to know that’s it’s true in real life for some people.  I’ve personally practiced not buying stuff for nearly 8 months and I’m now confident that it’s true for me too.  It’s a shocking personal revelation because even though I had this academic understanding, prior to this experiment I’d been an avid acquirer of gadgets, tools, clothes and books.  Having broken the addiction to buying things I’m well on the way to controlling my costs.

The second key factor is minimising the cost of replacing and fixing things that break.  There are several beliefs and approaches that I’m currently using or planning to use to minimise these costs.  First up is the belief that in many areas of consumer goods costs are falling not increasing, pretty much anything high tech is following this trend, provided I don’t buy at the high end. These deflationary pressures seem to apply to Software, TV’s, computers, games consoles, cycling and hiking clothing and shoes.   I do have some top quality second hand waterproof jackets and trousers, but people tell me these will last for over a decade, so I considered them a good investment, they contrast nicely with the low cost end of line, end of season and just plain cheap stuff I normally buy.

Then there’s all those ‘white goods’ fortunately I have a strategy that has worked well for me there too, buy high quality products with 10 year warrantees.  I might pay a little over the odds, but they really do seem to just keep on working and they are repairable.  Then we have household furniture and decoration where I will again be following a strategy that’s worked well for me for the last 30 years, decorate with paint not wallpaper, buy quality leather sofa’s and chairs, select solid wood furniture and lay laminate flooring.  Most of what we have bought in the last 30 years is still just fine.  Charity shops are a great source of replacements.

The last big area of cost is maintaining the house and here the strategy has three key elements, all of which I have already done, replace wood with materials that don’t rot, get to know a few local tradesmen and finally wherever possible do the work myself.  Learning the skills to fix stuff, and then fixing stuff with those skills are both very rewarding activities. 

Finally get loads of insulation in the roof and the walls, minimise draughts, fit porches to minimise warm air loss through doors and get a high efficiency boiler, with on demand water heating.

Minimising Food Costs

Not long ago I would have been the worst person to ask about minimising food costs.  I love to eat out, I used to buy most of my food from M&S, I bought what I liked regardless of season and always bought animal products from sources with the highest animal welfare standards.  I haven’t really compromised any of these standards in a big way, but I have reduced my costs considerably through a few changes:

  1. I’ve replaced two meals a day with green smoothies.  These have allowed me to buy a whole range of cheap vegetables from Aldi without much consideration for quality, because it all looks the same blended.  I can mix up a smoothie for about half the cost of a traditional salad and get more greens.
  2. I’ve turned over almost all of my vegetable patch to berries and greens, especially fast growing ones like kale, spinach, lettuces, spring onions and the like, I get three or four crops a year and that’s about half of what I eat for 6 months.  Where I can, I now also get frozen veg rather than fresh (sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, runner beans …) and veg that keeps really well like Red Cabbage.
  3. Debbie and I eat a berry salad each night, but we add a heap of spray cream to it that makes it much easier to eat fruit that’s a bit battered, under-ripe or otherwise not top quality without noticing, we buy cheaper and throw away a lot less
  4. Instead of expensive beef, I eat supermarket fresh ‘best quality’ 100% beef burgers and I eat free range chicken joints rather than skinless breasts saving nearly 50%.
  5. For a treat I eat a mini 85% dark chocolate bars from Aldi, from a pack of 5
  6. For infrequently purchased expensive foods I have an Amazon Prime subscription giving me typically 25% off shop prices with no delivery or transport costs
  7. I no longer take any vitamins, because I have such a nutrient dense diet
  8. When I do a lot of exercise and need some carbs I’ve swapped the expensive cheese cake for the 40p a severing Super Nutty Granola from Jordan’s, which is much healthier, has no gluten and tastes great!
  9. When I eat out I drink tap water,  when I go to cafe’s and don’t want the expense of eating I buy a bottle or water or diet coke
  10. When we go out for meals now we are transitioning to picnics in the summer and friendly local eateries where we can get a good meal served by people we know for £5 per person.

Minimising Experience Costs

The previous section covered all of those hard costs that are difficult to avoid, we try to minimise these costs because we (especially me) don’t believe in stuff.  I want to save up money for experiences. 

When it comes to experiences though I like cheap too.  I’m at my happiest when walking and cycling and these have the benefit of reducing my pain levels and increasing my resilience too.  We live two minutes away from a 30 mile coastal walk and cycle path so we don’t need to travel, but if we do we are an hour away from the Lake District and 30 minutes from the Rivington reservoir system for fantastic hill walking, lakes and canals. 

When we want to get away for a longer break we like low cost options, like Premier Inns and off season caravans.  When it comes to holidays I much prefer five, off season, low cost weeks in UK beauty spots to one week abroad.  This is especially important as I have 12 weeks holiday a year and this will be even more true in retirement.

These exercise related experiences can get even cheaper though because in retirement we have even more out of season flexibility and the option to enjoy low cost B&Bs, youth hostels, house swaps and camping to make longer adventures affordable, like hiking the long distance footpaths.

Many other forms of entertainment experiences are reducing in cost as well though, here’s a small sample:

  1. Low cost afternoon movies for the over 50s
  2. 2 for 1 movie nights
  3. Free music streaming services
  4. Public libraries and their eBook lending services, audiobooks, physical books and magazines and cafe like reading spaces
  5. Free TV and movies from Amazon prime
  6. Amazon book subscription service, coming soon to the UK
  7. Free online courses
  8. Amazing free podcasts and blog posts
  9. Newspapers making much of their content available for free
  10. Low cost public transport for elderly people and for everyone like Megabus

Non-obvious cost decreases

There are a lot of cost reductions and new opportunities that we can expect to arrive in the next few years and even more in the next 10-20 years.  Some of the things I’m already seeing are costs lowering as a result of additional automation, we can expect these to filter through into restaurants and shops, my health club has just reduced it’s costs through automating the car park and reception.

Some of my favourite areas of innovation that are going to have a big impact on my costs or enjoyment include:

  1. Cost effective electric bikes and soon cars allowing me to travel more often, further and on more days of the year
  2. Improved public transport
  3. Virtual 3D HD tourism experiences allowing me to visit the wonders of the world ‘from the comfort of my own home’
  4. Employment will reduce and so the average number of working hours will reduce to share jobs around more fairly. I think wages will fall a little and people will have more time to volunteer.  Older people who are struggling will likely benefit from this.
  5. While the costs of caring for the elderly is likely to increase in the highest quality nursing homes, we have four children to help with that a little but more importantly I’m expecting that dramatic improvements in home assistance robots, home safety and health monitoring, drone deliveries of essentials to the rear patio etc. will allow me to live in the comfort of my own home for a very long time

Cost Increases

There are a few areas where costs will increase, but not many:

  1. I expect the cost of heating and lighting my home to increase, but I’ve hedged against this cost somewhat by buying solar panels a few years ago.  I’m going to be enjoying those feed-in-tariff payments until I’m over 70
  2. Food prices will increase, due to shortages and fuel costs but I’m hedged against those a little too because I can grow a lot more of my own food than I do now and I already buy quite a bit of locally grown quality food which won’t increase as much

Overall then I’m very optimistic, but I’m also very thankful that our fixed living costs are fully covered by our index linked pensions!

The photo today is of the old quarry, part of the wonderful Rivington Reservoir system that in just a few years time will be just a short hop away from our house in an affordable electric car, fuelled up for free from our existing solar panels.

Filling My Days In Retirement

2014-07-15 11.19.17Over the last couple of years I’ve been adding to a list of things that I like to do, or would like to do in the future.  This isn’t a bucket list, it’s a list of the type of things that I enjoy, mixed in with a few ideas and links to web sites.  I used to keep this list in Simplenote, but then I discovered that they don’t keep a backup so I’ve decided to move the list over to this blog.  It makes a nice complement to the series of articles I’ve been writing on retirement.  Most of the things on this list are daily activities, a bit like a checklist for what a ‘day lived well’ would look like.  Unfortunately there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything on the list, but over a week there should be a good mix of most of these types of activity.  I’ve already gone some way to achieving this balance and I know that because I keep a track of what I do each day in an app called lift. Tracking is useful because it makes it impossible to lie to myself, but just scanning the list each day and updating it with what I’ve done provides a nice gentle reminder or nudge to do better tomorrow, or keep up the good work.

Onto the list:

  1. Fix/improve something every day (paint, weed, oil, repair)
  2. Create some thing every day (blog, art, make, poems)
  3. Tend (look after) something every day (garden, collect litter, tidy, clean)
  4. Help someone every day (answer questions on the web, do DIY for elderly, garden for someone, deliver lunch, volunteer at http://www.ncirossallpointfleetwood.co.uk/)
  5. Keep mobile most of the day (walk, cycle, swim, housework, gardening)
  6. Learn something every day (read books, watch an online course, learn by doing – craft) here are some examples, crafts, cooking, photography, programming, running, drawing
  7. Appreciate beauty every day (music, art, photography)
  8. Have fun every day (laugh, run, jump, play games)
  9. Spend time with people every day (go out for meals breakfast, lunch, dinner, chat, TV time, cafes, talk to strangers on walks, say hello)
  10. Spend some time relaxing every day (meditate, yoga nidra, listen to music)
  11. Have somewhere to sit and read that’s perfect for different weather conditions
  12. Save up jobs for rainy days, so I have plenty to achieve
  13. Have lovely spaces to learn in & create & experiment & read – study, library, greenhouse, workshop
  14. Read the classics, read other series of books, start reading new genres
  15. Go on challenges (coast to coast, Pennine way …)

As befits the random lists of activities in todays post, I chose a random photo to go with the post.  It’s a picture of a ‘dog rose’ that I spotted by the footpath that runs alongside the Royal Lytham Golf Course.  We used to have hundreds of these growing through the brambles in the orchard, at the bottom of the garden, that was a major feature in my childhood memories.

Retirement Lifestyle Design

10173524_10152733331030828_824944048215180311_nThis post is part of my series on planning for retirement. It’s going to be a short post because it just provides an overview of how I’ve been thinking about the shape that I want my retirement to take and some of the considerations that I’ve factored in so far.

Foremost in my mind is the need for a resilient approach to the uncertainties of retirement, these include:

  1. The weather, I need a mix of activities that will occupy me regardless of the weather, but I also want to get out and about in bad weather which means nice places to go, not too many icy hills and as good a weather as we can affordably get in the UK
  2. My health, currently about 10-20% of the time I’m in a flare and struggle to get around on foot or bike, but ideally I still need to move about as much as possible.  That means a swimming pool close by and ideally not too many hills.
  3. My cost of living, inflation might be an issue and healthcare costs might increase so we don’t want our fixed cost of living to be too close to our income, in other words we need to have variable costs we can reduce if we need to
  4. My income, we want 70-80% of our income in low risk, inflation linked investments or defined benefit pensions
  5. Where our children end up living, our children might end up all over the world, so we might travel more than expected, so we don’t want to be too tied down by where we live.  This means not too big a garden, don’t get a dog until we have retired and have a better idea of travel

Next up what type of activities do I want to fill my retirement with,  this is what’s been going through my mind:

  1. Making progress towards a goal is one of the most important things to me, and I get a great sense of fulfilment from creating things
  2. Working in a state of flow is extremely enjoyable, flow states are also linked to creating things
  3. Movement is hugely important to my health challenges, but also to my general health and enjoyment of life
  4. When I’m in a flare I won’t be able to work in flow or get much enjoyment from movement though so I need some enjoyable activities saved up to look forward to during these bad days
  5. Rainy day activities are important
  6. Although I’m happy being alone, I do like to get a fair bit of social contact each day in addition to family time at night, even if it’s just saying hello to people in the street, or in cafes much better are walks or cycle rides with friends …
  7. Be more mindful, pay attention, count my blessings, savour the good stuff, be open, express my joy in life
  8. Pursue a calling, something bigger than myself, I have one idea in this area which is to try and get Lytham St Annes to become a Transition Town.
  9. Give back probably through volunteering
  10. Possibly have some flexible way to supplement my income
  11. Learn to slow down

As I mentioned earlier spending as much time as possible in a state of flow is important, here’s how it’s described:

One must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals. This adds direction and structure to the task.  One must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and his or her own perceived skills. One must have confidence that he or she is capable to do the task at hand.  The task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback. This helps the person negotiate any changing demands and allows him or her to adjust his or her performance to maintain the flow state

Keeping a healthy brain becomes very important in retirement,  my work keeps me challenged at the moment so I don’t give it much thought but I can’t take it for granted, some ideas I have:

  1. Play games to challenge my mind – chess, word and number puzzles, jigsaws, crosswords and memory games
  2. Pursue a new interest such as learning to play a musical instrument, taking a course or going to the theatre
  3. Break up my routine – take a different route to the shops, breakfast in different cafes, change the order of my morning routine, go on hikes or bike rides in new places, read books I wouldn’t normally read
  4. Read a book – discuss it with a friend or online
  5. Pursue cultural activities like going to plays, museums, concerts, galleries, conferences
  6. Go to community meetings, take an interest in local politics
  7. Read the paper (maybe not)

Subsequent posts in this series will build on these basic ideas.

The photo today is nicely in keeping with todays post, having fun playing on the beach, just a few miles up the coast at Cleveleys, it’s not often that the sea comes close to shore in St Annes and it’s all sandy so we don’t have skimming stones.