Priced Out – the value of houses can go down as well as up

I bought my first house in 1989. Bad choice – the guys in the office said prices were overrated and Lawson’s boom and canning of mortgage interest relief was going to artificially inflate prices.

I was young and knew everything, so not only did I buy the house at the top of the market, but I also took out an endowment mortgage, despite my parents warming me up to the fact there’s no point for a single bloke with no dependants that was my youthful self. That’s the advantage of being such a clever cocky young pup, you get to pay for your very own mistakes too 🙂

So when I spin PriceOut’s calculator with my 1989 figures it doesn’t look like things are so different now! Continue reading “Priced Out – the value of houses can go down as well as up”


making cold frames from old windows

We recently had our windows changed, and the old ones had secondary glazing fitted to the original single-glazed frames. The secondary glazing was aluminium-framed and mounted on the inside of the windows, running in channels, and it seemed criminal to waste it when the Oak Tree needed cold frames.

Finished Cold frame
Cold Frame made from two secondary glazing window panes

By matching up the front to back dimensions I ended up with four usable pairs of panes. The widths of the panes were all different, but this was not a problem. The frames were made of 2×2 inch pressure-treated wood and the cheapest way of doing the siding was using weatherboard, which ends up with quite a pleasant appearance.  About £120 worth of wood means we now have four decent sized cold frames about 50 inches deep and 70 to 90 inches wide.

Big cold frames can be surprisingly expensive – this large cold frame is smaller than our smallest one can costs more than what all four cost put together, showing that going DIY really scores on saving costs, we got £800 worth of cold frames for less than a quarter of the cost!

Timber carcass of the cold frames during assembly
The cold frame being constructed

Window companies usually trash the large fixed window panes in the process of removing them – they take the glass out then make some saw cuts in the frames, collapsing and folding them out of the opening. However, the openable side panels can usually be salvaged intact if you ask the guys nicely. With older wooden frames you even get a nice set of hinges to mount to your timber frame. We were particularly fortunate in that the secondary glazing meant that we could recover the large panels intact, saving the glass firm trade waste and re-using them.

I also discovered the value of local firms here. I sourced the wood from a local sawmill, Nelson Potter Ltd. I have no table saw or other power saw, but taking the dimensions to them James kindly sawed the pieces to the correct lengths, which also made it a lot easier to transport. However, I forgot one piece, so on a Sunday I thought I would get this from B&Q, since Potter’s are a bit far away for just one piece of wood.

I located a piece of 2×2 pressure treated wood, and thought I’d make use of their cutting facility. So I wander up with my piece of wood, and I observe I can have four cuts. After that it is some outrageous price per extra cut, but fair enough. I only need one to be able to get the wood into the car. So I press the button, and after a while the guy comes up. I’m out of luck though. Sharp intake of breath “oh no sir, pressure treated wood. Contaminates our waste sir, we can’t do that”. So I have to buy the wood as is, and take it out in the car park and use my own tenon saw to cut it, across a trolley. They wouldn’t even loan me a saw to do it because of ‘elf ‘n’ safety.  Jobsworths. I knew they wouldn’t lend me a saw (they used to years ago) as I’ve been had by their game before. I’d have to buy the damn thing, which is why I always have one with me if I am buying material too long for the car. To add insult to injury, the one timber cost more than twice as much as it would have done from Nelson Potter’s.

How not to join the corners 🙂

I am no talented carpenter. It did disturb me at the time to be screwing into the end-grain of the 2×2 pieces of wood, and I have since learned how I should have done this had I started over, with the risers on the inside of the horizontal frames so I could have avoided the ends. However, the weatherboard gives the whole thing more structural integrity – these are pretty solid in their final form despite the dodgy carpentry practices. It goes without saying that screws, nails and any other hardware needs to be galvanised or otherwise plated.

Isn’t it quiet without aircraft noise today

My, isn’t it lovely and quiet in the countryside without the infernal ever-present noise of jet engines.

A cloud of volcanic ash is drifting over Europe from Iceland and has turned Britain into a no-fly zone. Can we have this every weekend, please?

I’m sorry for everyone who is being incovenienced. That’s why I’d like no-fly to be scheduled for every weekend 😉

That way nobody’s plans get changed at the last minute but we get our peace and quiet back.

Each aircraft carries 500 passengers but the noise takes away a little bit from the quality of life of millions of people.

Thank you Eyjafjallajökull

As a public service here’s some aircraft noise if you feel in the need of a fix …

[audio:|titles=Aircraft noise at LHR residential area]

As an added bonus we ought to be getting some great sunsets, unscarred by vapour trails. Clouds weren’t right today for that here.

Growing food sustainably

Food is one of those fixed costs that you can only reduce to a certain level, and one of the classic ways to reduce the cost is to grow it yourself. As well as being a damn sight cheaper, it also tastes one heck of a lot better, if you are any good.

In the UK we have a thriving allotment system, which will probably only get more popular as people tighten their belts financially. Supermarket fruit and veg is so deracinated that it is quite remarkable how it took over. My mother would never buy veg from a supermarket, but bought it from the thriving market stalls in Lewisham when I grew up. She considered supermarket produce as second-rate and beyond the pale. In fairness they have upped their game in the intervening decades. As a student and then single man working odd hours in London the supermarket was my friend, and I forgot what decent produce tasted like.

I have to admit that this isn’t my area of expertise at all. I used to grow tomatoes in my small garden, until I got hit with tomato blight two years running, and gave up. However, I’m lucky here as my partner Joanne has been doing this for years, and she has taken it to the next level with the purchase of the Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm, which will grow produce in a sustainable way. This doesn’t just mean energy sustainability.

Part of the reason much of our produce is relatively taste-free is that growing it  with artificial fertilisers is almost using the soil as a hydroponic growing medium, so trace minerals are reduced. There are other reasons – supermarket shoppers shop with their eyes, so varieties are selected for appearance and long keeping times instead of taste, and supermarkets truck the produce long distances, from the fields to hubs, and then often back along the same roads to the local stores, so what taste the produce had to start with begins to fade. In the past people relied on the soil, enriching it with organic material in a sustainable closed loop system, but after the Second World War we started to add nutrients derived in industrial processes from fossil fuels, largely natural gas nowadays.

The Importance of Setting Goals

Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Every so often I’d come across a book like Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and they would go on about setting direction. I hated to-do lists, and here was someone advocating creating the mother of all to-do lists. So I’d skip on to the next chapter, move along, nothing interesting to see here.

It hit me, when I started looking at how I could retire early, that these self-help guys were right. I had a goal, though I hadn’t set it in a formal way. Now that I had a map, I could start to make things happen in a coherent way.

Continue reading “The Importance of Setting Goals”

How I plan to retire early

Firstly, retirement means an end to steady paid employment to me. It doesn’t necessary mean an end to earning money. Early retirees need to make this call. If retirement means your pension arrangements will be your only means of support you will need a much larger pension pot.

It’s wage slavery I want shot of. I also want my time back; my current job is reasonably well paid so if I’m going to be working for the Man I may as well stay put. But I am looking at retiring about 10 years early relative to the normal retirement age for my job.

The keys to successful early retirement are

  • clear debts
  • reduce outgoings
  • save more
  • develop alternative income streams

I owe nobody  – Debt Free and Mortgage-Free

I didn’t achieve this by winning the lottery. It’s taken me two thirds of my working life and it was done the boring way; I spent less than I earned and I paid my mortgage in 18 years, by overpaying for a few years. There are no short cuts; I had fewer holidays than most and stayed closer to home – while colleagues were jetting off to Egypt or Australia I stayed in the UK or Europe with the odd foray to the States.

Unlike many personal finance bloggers who became inspired to master their finances after building up frightful debts, I never ran up traumatic debt and juggled credit cards. I credit my parents for that, they’d even put sixpences into a tin towards the bill when they used the phone when I was a kid.

Clearing mortgage debt is liberating – it means I can focus my efforts on saving over 70% of my take-home pay. By saving half of it in my company pension additional voluntary contributions (AVCs) I keep Gordon Brown’s grubby mitts off it.

Reduce outgoings

I live on considerably less than the take-home of someone on Britain’s minimum wage last year (full-time UK NMW is about 12k gross or 10k net). That’s not as hard as it sounds for me since I have no mortgage or rent outgoings. It does mean no foreign holidays and low-cost staycations, which is hard when working the 9-5 life. It was particularly hard last year, what with some of the nutty practices at work after some dreadful business results meant HR are trying to stress people to leave by abusing the performance management process to avoid paying redundancy money.

There’s no way round it, not getting a decent break is the grimmest part of living frugally but working in a stressful environment. It brings it home just how much holidays were as much a respite from work as a positive acquisition of new experiences. However, I figure a year or two of that is worth it to win a permanent holiday for the rest of my life!

Reducing my outgoings also gives me a dry run on what it would be like on a lower income – the fact that I can do it gives me good confidence in my retirement calulations. I’d recommend it to anybody thinking of retiring early – live on what you plan to retire on and save the rest. That way you test the theory while you can still back off and work for a bit longer if you got the estimates wrong.

Save hard

If you can save 50% of your take-home then for every year you work you can take a year off. It’s obvious when you think about it, the half you don’t use this year pays for your next year.  I thank Jacob from Early Retirement Extreme for bringing it to my attention in his blog post.

Find alternative income streams

I have to admit that I am not really doing that well at this. Most of these need creativity, such as writing, recording, photography, and this is at a low ebb while living frugally while tolerating a poor work environment. I’ve got some ideas and am improving my writing.

And of course I am investing, both in shares ISAs and in pension AVCs, and my ISA and company sharesave holdings are paying dividend incomes. But the stock of capital is pretty low so that is not a large alternative income. And realistically, these alternative income streams are dwarfed by my employment income. At times I am in danger of getting sucked into the one more year before comfort trap that ERE highlights.