Saturday 23 April 2022

How to stop worrying about money

I'm feeling unusually chatty this weekend. It's partly because I have (mostly) recovered from a two-week super-cold. It's partly because I have begun, a week late, to make Polish Easter food. And it's partly because a young person told me he/she didn't think about his/her spending habits and didn't want to. Thus, I was interrupted just as I was about to mount my hobby horse and go for a refreshing gallop. At the same time, though, I recognised my youthful past self in the young person, and therefore saw a future penny pincher. 

How exciting! 

Naturally I wish I had become more interested in household finances 13 years ago, when I was closer to the young person's current age and was about to get married. This is what I would tell my real younger self, as naturally that audience would be more receptive to my words than anyone else. 

How to stop worrying about money

1. Neither you nor your spouse has to work until you drop. You don't have to be born with an "independent income." You can invest in something that will eventually give you an independent income. 

2. Get a job. 

3. Sign up to online banking and check your accounts every day.

4. Write down all your expenses to figure out where your salary is going. 

5. Aim to save a certain sum each month.

6. Use this certain sum to pay off your highest interest debt. That would be the credit card.  (Another option for the very lucky is to convince a very kind relative to pay off the highest interest debt and then use the certain sum to pay him/her back religiously.)

7. When the credit card is paid off, celebrate by putting the credit card in a plastic envelope and then putting the plastic envelope in an ice cream tub filled with water. Then put the ice cream tub in the freezer. 

8. Pay off the lower interest debt. That would be your student loan.

9. When the student loan (or any other lower interest debt) is paid off, celebrate by opening a special savings account for your emergency fund. The emergency fund should cover 3-6 months' worth of expenses. In emergencies, dip into this instead of thawing out the credit card. 

10. Do some math and seek advice. Would it be better, in the long run, to buy a property in your neighbourhood, or to keep on renting? Do you want to keep the flexibility of renting, or is homeownership your dream? How do you feel about buying a multi-family dwelling and renting out the other flats? Does this sound amazing or horrifying? It's up to you. 

11. If you decide you're an embryonic homeowner, start saving for a down payment on your future home. In 2015, put the money in a UK Government Help-to-Buy Investment Savings Account (ISA)--which B.A. and I did in 2016, actually. (Nota Bene: It was B.A.'s idea.)

12. If you decide you'd prefer to continue renting (or build a tiny home on the family farm, or travel the continent in a motorhome, etc.), start investing in something relatively safe and boring that might, if all goes well, earn you, on average, 6%+ interest every year. Make sure it's tax-sheltered. In the UK that could mean a SIPP (self-invested pension plan) or an ISA (investment savings account).

13. If you want to buy a home, get a home report, read it throughly, and do your research (or hire a professional) to get the best possible mortgage at the best possible rate. 

14. If you have bought a home, figure out if you'd like to pay off your mortgage early, or start investing like the renter, or do a combination. It is possible that if you make  big overpayments on your mortgage (check how much is allowable before you are penalised), you will be able to refinance at a lower interest rate. Research, research, research. Ask experts questions and read all fine print. 

15. Keep on saving and chucking the money into paying off the mortgage (which is a form of saving) and/or your relatively safe and boring investments. 

16. Be fantastic at your job so you get raises (which go into the mortgage and/or the relatively safe and boring investments), and/or get a part-time job/side hustle to make extra money to put on the mortgage and/or the relatively safe and boring investments. 

Have a forgotten anything? If so, I will come back and add. But to recap: Get a job, be able to find out in seconds the state of your bank account, know exactly how much you spend and why, save to pay off debt, save to create an emergency fund, save for a down payment on a home then/or to invest, increase your income.  

Update: If it isn't obvious, this is not a guide to getting rich quick. It is also somewhat dull, like happiness. But it is a path to no longer worrying about money. 

Update 2: It may also seem glacially slow, depending on how much or little you are able to save each month. Celebrate your small successes. 

Friday 22 April 2022

From the Author of 'Escape Everything!'

Here's a quote from an author who, more than any other, made me think about the relationship between household financial management and happiness: 

What is the good life? I will tell you. After scratching my head over contradictory philosophy and social psychology books, after reading the diaries of the terminally ill (see Escape Everything! for that sad story), and after paying attention while living in the alternate modes of Wage Slave and Free Radical, I can reveal that these are the keys (if not the very substance) of the good life: health, friendship, love, lots of free time, purposeful or purposeless intellectual fulfillment, sensual pleasure, an appreciation of our existing surroundings (as opposed to working hard to achieve a better situation), a satisfying creative output in which we can take personal pride, a clean and dignified place to live. 

Robert Wringham, The Good Life for Wage Slaves

When Not to Blog

I enjoyed both The Benedict Option and Live Not By Lies, so I could be described as a Rod Dreher fan. I used to read his columns in The American Conservative every day because he is an engaging writer, his topics are interesting, and we share a similar horror at the disintegration of Christian and classical values in the West. At a certain point, though, I tired of feeling frightened and disgusted in my spare time. 

Yes, I read enough bad news for work, which is fine. It is even necessary. Interest in transgenderism and the other letters in LGBTQ is a raging social contagion among Canadian 11-year-olds now, and this--I told a less frank family member--is why we fight.  

There is a difference, though, between fighting for society and exposing your own pain to the public at large. I'm thinking about Rod Dreher's recent TAC posts about his upcoming divorce, which include this week's "personal crucifixion" piece, followed by yesterday's "miraculous personal resurrection piece," which I couldn't finish. At a certain point, it just seemed unhinged.  

I have blogged on and off (mostly on) for 15 years, and despite the praise that I received after writing of my personal misery about this or that (insomnia while single, for example), I count myself fortunate that at first I focused so much on other people. That is, I looked up potential models for successful Single life and wrote for other Single people. When I was too miserable to do that, I wrote serial stories which released me from the prison of myself for at least two hours a day. 

My entire life was transformed for the good by blogging, but by blogging happily and for other people. The moment to become a  Dr. Taylor Marshall-style podcaster passed me by---and, really, as every wedding anniversary goes by, I am less and less a credible advocate for the Catholic Singles community. As a happily married lady, I may also be rather dull. Happiness is awesome but lacks dramatic tension. 

Readers love dramatic tension, and I have encouraged my writing students to pile on the agony in their fiction. One is particularly adroit in this, putting his heroes through ever worsening disasters until they are dead or broken old men crushed by their own sins against the Fifth Commandment. However, I think writing of one's own dramas can be dangerous because it traps you in them. "Why I am still a Catholic" is not as exciting a read as "The Church betrayed me, and I'm outta here," and NYT bestseller author Rod Dreher is much more likely to bring the latter to the attention of millions of readers who have never heard of you. 

I was never a fan of the Angry Young Man confessional school of writing, and I'm not a fan of the new Angry Middle-Aged Christian Man confessional school of writing. You do what you must to feed and clothe your families, of course, but holy cow. Men exposing their emotional pain--through their work!--was not a conservative value when I was young. And the men I admire most--including my dad and my husband--do not expose their emotional pain. My dad doesn't even complain about his physical pain, and if B.A. complains about his, it's from having a cold, not from having the sneaky remnant of a brain tumour. 

However, freedom of speech, the right to make an income, and all that. I just don't think men writing continuously for the public about how betrayed they feel by other men and women (or God) is healthy for them or for society. Once, yes. Definitely yes. It may help others feel less alone and, more importantly, take the steps they need to heal, forgive, move on. But going back to that well again and again, no. 

Meanwhile, I have discovered that one thing that makes me feel enormously happy--in fact, euphoric--is speaking or hearing foreign languages with a high degree of fluency, so I'm now going to stop this and study some Polish. I only thought to write about it because I'm worried about other excellent male writers I know going down the Exposing My Personal Pain path, which would rather interfere with my enjoyment of their writing. 


Saturday 9 April 2022

Diem is carped

Excellent news! Work has permitted me a four-week sabbatical (unpaid) to study Polish this summer. I shall be in Lublin for three weeks and in darkest Silesia for one. After five years and bouts of repetitive stress injuries, I definitely need a long, almost-UK length, holiday from reading, writing, and editing news and political opinions. 

I envision long, warm mornings of grammar, followed by prolonged lunches featuring soup and schnitzel, then two-hour bouts of Polish conversation practise, followed by long walks hither and thither, and reading in the evenings. 

Suddenly I am reminded of my six-week stint in Germany, long ago, and the disappointment of being in a class with people who are there only because work told them they had to be or because (really) they were trophies plucked from the beaches of the Dominican Republic by much-older Germans of the opposite sex. Although these people were certainly interesting, they didn't do their homework and dragged down the rest of the class, as it were. And the lingua franca of the break room was, alas, English.  

Therefore, I shall strive with might and main over the next 15 weeks to imprint upon my stubborn brain and tongue the abilities needed to get into an advanced course with the keeners and Slavic-language native speakers. 

My ultimate goal is to write and read Polish with much less recourse to dictionaries, to understand whatever is said to me at once, and to respond without needing to think or saying "Co to znaczy po polsku...?" (What is the Polish for...).  

And naturally I would like to be able to speak to my Polish god-daughter, read her stories, and get her used to the whole Foreign and Anglophone Godmother concept in the gentlest way possible.  

I thought I wouldn't be able to do any such course until after I retired, but I thought I would seize the day, and I have been rewarded for it. 

This week I wrote a post in defence of Fr. Michael Rowe, a priest in Australia who cares for the Traditional Latin Mass community of Perth and, when on pilgrimage, of England and/or Scotland, too. 

Did I mention that my Traditional Latin Mass community will not be moving from our little wooden church? Somebody old enough to have known better than to cry out at church blurted "YES!" at the announcement. (Some odd-looking woman with glasses and fuzzy ginger hair sticking through the holes of her lace mantilla.) Otherwise, the reactions were quiet but terribly pleased. 

The decision came from Rome itself, and although, ultimately, it was based on a point of canon law about what-is-a-parish-church, I believed we were saved by our sisters and brother in wheelchairs. It's a wonderfully Chestertonian paradox that the children will be able to run in and out of the church hall in perfect safety, raiding the cookie dishes before running out to do joyous battle in the green, because of two women and one man who cannot walk at all. 2 Corinthians 12, innit?  

Friday 1 April 2022

Home Economics: March Report

Hello! Here I am again after a busy three weeks. Not incapacitated--just stricken by repetitive stress injuries. I did write some posts for work you might enjoy, namely the one about the family miracle, the one about being watched watching by your phone, the one about "the earth of Heaven," and the one about the Holy Name saucepan. The devotional ones are better than the phone piece. 

Meanwhile, it is Lent, which means we have reined in our lust for sugar and booze. This means savings that will be passed on to our favourite charities, which hurts worse than fasting, if you're penny-pinching me. However, as the Polish bishop said, the three duties of Lent are prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. 

March 2022: Groceries: £277.72; RBCT (Restaurants, Bars, Cafes, Takeaway) £115.24. Total: £392.96.

Obviously this is an improvement on February and January, although not on March 2021, when we did a better job keeping out of pubs, etc., possibly because of COVID restrictions. 


February 2022: Groceries: £307.15; RBCT: £166.80. Total:  £473.95.

January 2022: Groceries: £313.05; RBCT:  £267.00. Total: £580.05. 

March 2021: Groceries: £308.75; RBCT: £25.30. Total: £334.05.

Now I shall dive into our RBCT spend, so as to enjoy in memory our Shrove Tuesday meat feast, the stress-reducing emergency croissant, and the companionable beer. 

1.  Shrove Tuesday meat feast at Nepalese restaurant.

2.  Coffee and avocado toast at favourite cafe (D).

3.  Coffee and tea with pupil at favourite cafe (D).

4. Sesame prawn toasties after 17th century music concert.

5. Pasty from Gregg's (B.A.)

6. Emergency cappuccino and croissant (D).

7. Beer at Edinburgh pub while waiting to go to a dinner party.

8. Coffee at the National Library (B.A.)

9. Coffee, avo toast @fav cafe (D) + companionable beers at Cafe Royale.

10. Soup in the cathedral cafe (B.A.). 

And now my budget planner for the British tax year 2021-2022 is entirely used up, and I can put it away. I have already begun April 2022 in my new budget planner, which you saw above. Keeping the budget planner is one of the best ways of being rooted in reality I can think of. Once upon a time, I didn't even look at the bank balance but just gaily demanded cash from machines and trusted in the overdraft.