My Retirement Week (5)

Not a Brain Surgeon

Bender the Robot: Not a Brain Surgeon

This week, I have been mostly organising my finances, which I posted about on Wednesday. Once I got into the swing of things, I cancelled a few almost “obsolete” costs that I have had hanging around for a while. Firstly, I nixed a backup service I used when I was working, Spideroak, which cost me about £7 a month. It was an excellent piece of software, quietly working away in the background, but these days Google Docs and icloud, with their ultra-cheap storage options, remotely hold copies of my photos, music and documents. I don’t bother keeping movies as they’re pretty much all downloadable these days – and this thought led me to cancelling Amazon Prime and Amazon Lovefilm. I’ve watched about two of their movie downloads in three years, buy less and less from their site, seldom watch the discs they send and have Deezer for music. The latter plays through my Sonos system, Amazon music doesn’t, so Amazon Prime was confined to history. That’s saved £15 a month. What else was I not getting value from?

My digital subscription to The Times was next. It costs £26 a month and I just don’t read it every day. Plus my gym has a free copy of the physical newspaper (if I can beat the pensioners to it, which might be a challenge.) I looked at the website to cancel but unlike Amazon and Spideroak, you can’t simply point and click to cancel, you have to call. I braced myself for a desperate sales pitch offering me the world but instead received an offer for the Sunday Times tablet edition and 7 day access to the Times Website for £8 a month. Deal!

I must have started a trend because next to be cut was EDF energy bill, and amazingly I didn’t even have to ask. I submit meter readings for my joint gas and electricity bills every month because I like to keep tabs on my own usage. I started doing this when I realised I was being systematically overcharged on my annual Direct Debit, then given what seemed like a whopping discount the following year because I was way in credit. The next year, I would receive an increase again. It was a payment rollercoaster that my own laziness was allowing. I decided to get a grip and work out what I should be paying every month based on my usage and started to take a note of and submit regular readings. Now, as a consequence, EDF have reduced my Direct Debit by £15 a month without me having to request it. I would say that was very nice of them, but frankly all utility companies are bastards, so I won’t. I’ll also need to check it as a guard against a big increase after winter. I sceptically assume that if they’re undercharging me, they have a reason for it.

Taken together, those four cuts and reductions have saved me £55 a month or £660 a year. That’s a golf weekend in Spain! Unless I tell the wife.

I also probably save almost twenty quid a month on Kindle downloads these non-working days as I have time to visit the library, but I still have a backlog of titles on my device that I bought during my working life and haven’t yet read. (Waiting for trains at London Victoria meant I’d wander into W H Smiths, note titles I fancied and download them to my Kindle on my 3G connection. Oh, the excesses I indulged in as a wage earner!) So this week, I began one of them, Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery. It’s excellent, definitely one of my better choices, even if it does give me the willies with its tales of mucking around in peoples’ brains with occasional triumphant or disastrous results. We really are physically not much more than the meat-bags that Bender the Robot in Futurama describes us as, although the doctor writing this book was much more eloquent about the metaphysical side of his work:

“It is a source of awe, amazement and profound surprise that my consciousness, my very sense of self, the self which feels as free as air…. the self which is now writing these words, is in fact the electrochemical chatter of one hundred billion nerve cells.”

Where's a shark when you need one?

Where’s a shark when you need one?

Talking of brain cells, on TV I am managing to obliterate millions of them by watching the second series of The Affair. It’s frightening to think that Series One could have wiped out the brain cells that I might have utilised to end global poverty, but there you go. I mention this only because the series fits in with my blog title and ticks three of the boxes with its focus on Sex, Money and Death. Unfortunately, it’s not as well written as my blog and, if you think the writing on my blog is complete and utter shite (which it may well be) well, it’s still not as well written as my blog.

On the subject of well-written blogs, a tweet from Jacob Fisker pointed me to Living a FI where I read through some posts that I was soon wishing I’d written. Or maybe posts that I was hoping to write. Although it’s lengthy, this post on finding a way to stop trying to “fill the unforgiving minutes with distance run” (due thanks to Mr Kipling) put into words a lot of what I’m struggling with in “early” retirement. Filling your days isn’t difficult, but filling them without guilt, or even almost a sense of shame, can be.

25 thoughts on “My Retirement Week (5)

    • I used to buy loads from Amazon and Prime’s free delivery service I saw as value. But the family grew up, Kindle replaced books, Amazon’s tax policy pisses me off (so I want to use them less) and I have more time to shop around while actually buying a lot less stuff these days. So it had to go.

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  1. > Filling your days isn’t difficult, but filling them without guilt, or even almost a sense of shame, can be.

    You’ll get there. Shoot that inner Calvinist. It’s where Millennials have the edge – YOLO, One Life – Live it and all that. The second half of life has a different point to the first half, and using the compass that served in the first half is hazardous, it knows not the north of the second half 😉

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    • I read an article the other day about Millennials and how they have a different view of the working world. They want to be able to work and live too. They don’t want to be tied to the job and want to ‘mix it’. They want to have breaks from working, go do things then go back to work to earn the next pot of money. The old work routine of working for 45 years then retiring is expected to change to work a bit, take time out, work again. With everyone living longer the idea of a pension will become obsolete.
      The only problem is that employers have not adjusted to this yet and still see people who have a work break as lazy and lacking commitment. Laughable when they are happy to require commitment but happily lay you off when ever they want without any commitment to you as the employee?
      (Oh, am I becoming a cynic or what..I need to get out more!…lol..)

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      • I’m not so sure. My son is at Uni and I feel he is under much more pressure than I was to “succeed”. Maybe it’s a middle class thing, but the focus on exam results at school, just for starters, is immense. Never mind the Facebook “Look where I am/I’m so popular” culture. After that conditioning, where next?

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    • Thanks, both, for the feedback. I wish I’d read the post on Living a FI entitled “That Guy” about twenty years ago! It would have given an alternate aspirational role model that I’d never even thought about. Although I wonder what my life would look like now if I had….

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  2. Funnily enough, I cancelled my Amazon Lovefilm this week too.

    I’ve also got a stack of unread Kindle downloads, some purchased 4-5 years ago that I’ve just never gotten round to reading. I intend to continue using the library and will try to read my Kindle books too before I start buying again.

    Been reading Living a FI for a while now – it’s a great read.

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    • I’ve often thought about taking the magazine three month trial offers – they’re always great value, providing you are allowed to shelve them as soon as the offers expire (and can be bothered to do it.) Then I could find out if I’d actually read and enjoy them. The one subscription I’d dearly love to bin is Virgin Media. Everything worth watching on TV (IMHO) is free, somehow, somewhere. But that would threaten my marriage!

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  3. Thanks for the link to Living a FI – hadn’t seen this one before.

    “Guilt” and “shame” are pretty strong words to use but I understand the feelings that could have prompted them. We’re so used to (being fooled into) valuing our time by metrics tied to paid employment/making money in some way that we find it difficult to measure any other type of benefit (either to ourselves or others ). I don’t know what the answer is but I’m hoping to have a chance to find my way through it soon if VR comes my way next year. 🙂

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  4. Hi Cerridwen, I admit I thought about “shame” as being a bit strong, if not ridiculous, before I posted. It is quite difficult to put into words the nagging feeling you have that really, you should be working, contributing, being useful, building something for something other than our own edification. As Ermine says, it’s our Protestant Work Ethic refusing to lie down. But then, if we’re not religious, where else are we going to get our “guilt” from? 🙂

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  5. Another great post! I do enjoy reading your blog and wish I was just as funny and could come up with good quips to make my posts come a live.
    I can’t believe how much you have saved on subscriptions! Wow. I only had one magazine subscription that was £24 per year and I have just cancelled it. I have read the mags a bit more now that I am not working but not enough content in them for me to really get enjoyment. It was great when I was working and just reading snippets every now and again but now I have real time to read, I find it a bit dull, so its binned!

    Well done!! £55 per month saved. It goes to show how much we spend when we are working to try and fill our commuting times. I have never subscribed to The Times, Ouch, £26 per month is madness. I liked reading their site until they made it a pay-to-view one. I also used to buy the Sunday Times and read the articles all week but I binned that too once my Sunday routine changed.
    I canned a few insurance polices last month as I don’t need them any more and I cut down my car insurance by changing some of the criteria! (reduced mileage, different occupation, etc, etc…).
    My boyfriend subscribes to BlinkBox as he does not have a TV! (Yes, you heard right, no TV and no TV licence) so he watches catch-up TV, YouTube and BlinkBox. He is not happy at the thought of having to pay for iPlayer and other catch-up media in the future. Although to view some of the programme you now have to pay-to-view, so it is beginning to change. I have a TV licence and try to view anything I can via free services. I think paying the TV licence is enough!

    I like your energy monitoring. When I was at my last house living with my ex, we had a really good go at cutting our energy bills – funny, it was about the only thing he would be frugal on – but he was a power engineer! Anyhow, we had our DD fund refunded, over £500 and they came round to check our meter as they thought it was faulty as the consumption has gone down so much!
    I now have a reminder setup and I submit meter reading every month. I also make sure that if there is a price change, I submit a reading on the last day of the old rate so that I get charged the correct amount – not an estimated amount that favours the utility company!

    You may not be working for a living but you are working towards a better life!

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  6. Thanks S, it’s funny how I give myself a hard time for doing “nothing” in retirement when I’m actually getting around to doing quite a lot in areas that previously I’d have classified as somewhat unnecessary “hygiene factors”. And this is only the stuff I’ll admit to publicly. So far!

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  7. Hi, I change utility companies every year, usually using U-switch …..the last time I even got half a case of wine out of it for some reason – ironically, to try & avoid the hassle, I always ring up the incumbent provider first, outline the deal I want to switch to & ask them to beat it – so far it hasn’t worked. After they explain why it can’t be done, I switch, then another arm of the same corporation sends me a circular offering me new deals – since it makes good business sense for them to be too big to fail so they can get tax-payer bailouts, a lot of these unwieldy entities act in an unco-ordinated manner.

    I recently went TV free to not have to pay the TV license any more – 2 years ago I couldn’t even envisage that ‘sacrifice’ but suddenly realised I was watching everything on free channels anyway …..& it wasn’t intentional, it’s just the way TV media is evolving.

    I totally agree about the feeling guilty & shameful about ‘slacking’ even if you’re active all day long – finding Jacob’s ERE site really helped me with that. So, like wiping dysfunctional & obsolete software off a computer if you want to change what you use it for, before loading the new programs, it’s a sort of re-framing of your whole perception of life & your own purpose that you have to do ….. even so, I still have to remind myself every now & then 4 years later! I think it’s because it feels too good to be true when you look around & see all the worker ants scurrying off on their groundhog day commute but you’re different now, holding your ground when the flock is stampeding feels weirdly wrong. I just had to accept that I was lucky & the next phase of life I didn’t have to be a sheep any more; what I was next was limited mainly by my own imagination – & you can take as long as you want to figure that out too – because nobody owns you any more. You’re essentially deciding that your time is most valuable to you, that that is your right & also nobody else’s business if you owe them nothing & aren’t hurting anyone.

    You will still get the majority disapproving of your choices because those don’t conform & even friends & family might try & ‘help out’ by finding things you can do for them to ‘fill the time’ because you ‘weren’t doing anything anyway’ So you have to learn how to say no; if it makes it easier, I say I’m working from home & in finance …..self-employed – you do monitor/manage your investment portfolio & financial affairs after all. 🙂

    The great thing about Jacob’s attitude is he is so clear/strong on being able to do what you want & that you’re capable of so much more than you think. He seems immune to judgement, so refreshingly comfortable that the system doesn’t have to be followed, that the norm is not the only way & there are always so many choices. I think his particular character helps with that, but would guess that the longer a person has been on the corporate hamsterwheel, the more rigid they have become & longer it will take for their creativity & imaginations to revive from the years of being smothered & forgotten. [& from his background, it looks like he didn’t stay on the ‘default career program setting’ long before realising it just didn’t need to be that way]

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    • Ah, that “free half case of wine” incentive. Virgin sent me an offer yesterday that offered a “£100 case of wine for £50” while omitting the line “that cost us £5.49 to buy”. Been there, drank that.
      Jacob Fisker, and his way of thinking, was a revelation for me. And he went back to work, which I initially thought was a negation of what he stood for, but now I think was just him being himself. Which is what we’re all striving to be.

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  8. In my case, the wine was actually good 🙂 quality, [I chose 3 good bottles rather than the 6 mediocre] but that was by-the-by, I was going to go for the deal anyway – that’s my simple rule, only go for a so-called bargain if it was something you found good enough anyway in that it was still the best deal around at the time.

    I didn’t know Jacob went back to work, but I have just gotten to a point in traversing his articles where he quite honestly says he would easily consider it if something interesting came along; so I’m not too surprised. Like you, I would earlier have maybe considered that a betrayal of principles, but am now seeing it more flexibly, in that that view misses the point. If the real/purest intention of FI/RE, [for me anyway] is freedom, then that shouldn’t exclude at least having the option of ‘official/formulated working’ again if it interested me. So the beauty is to have that choice in the first place, like almost nobody else, then if things at work turn, change of project/boss/company direction say …..& you don’t like it, you can simply bale out without breaking a sweat.

    Unless you can create a new life with the positive aspects of work, you will likely yearn for the past – I miss the cameraderie & some parts of the intellectual challenge at the moment, so am trying to revive my imagination enough to create that elsewhere. If I somehow can’t, I could also go back to work, but could then afford to be picky about what I took on.

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    • Thanks Stockbeard. I was reflecting last night, while reading some of the US FIRE blogs, that there’s still just far too much positivity about Retiring Early. And such a relentless obsession on money, money, money. It wears me down. Sometimes it’s good to let a little doubt enter your mind. 😉

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  9. I’m not surprised that Electricite de France (EDF) didn’t quibble. With the current exchange rate, they must be making a fortune from their UK customers.

    Steve

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