A Design For Life

“I was not; I have been; I am not; I do not mind.”

The ‘Epicurean Epitaph’, a quote attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, often now used at humanist funerals.epicurus-3

I found myself thinking about this yesterday, prompted by a Facebook meme.

It doesn’t just apply to a way of looking at death. It can also be a way of looking at life.

The basis of Epicurus’ philosophy after all, his lifestyle and that of his friends and followers, was looking for the things that make us happy and then as much as possible having those things in our lives.

Not in Hedonism: self-indulgent and unrestrained behaviour – a common misunderstanding of his ideas – but more in a satisfaction with life: involving moderation, respect for others and friendship.

“I was not; I have been; I am not; I do not mind.”

This could just as much be about happiness as it is a way of coping with the concept of our mortality. We all have peaks and troughs in our lives. There are times when things seem to be going well, when we’re making progress, when we’ve achieved some of our goals and are looking to continue onwards.

There are other times when life seems bleak, when nothing seems to work, where everything is going wrong – even to the extent that we give up hope.

Basic needs like food & water, shelter, safety, health, relationships. Simply said – not so simply achieved! Certainly not all at once. Sometimes we seem to have them all; other times none of it!

“I was not; I have been; I am not; I do not mind.”

‘A while back’ – I’m shocked sometimes when I think about just how long ago it was! – I was living and working in and around London, working in Finance.  I was “doing OK”, not great, but “OK”.

I met a girl, we moved in together. She was also “doing OK”. We went to restaurants, pubs and gigs: together and with friends. We travelled a lot. We moved to Brighton, then to Sutton Coldfield. We got married, then had children. Twins: Jake and Ellie. Great kids! Having been made redundant earlier I became their full time stay-at-home Dad: for 3 years, until they started pre-school in preparation for school proper. By this time we were here in Wales.

Now, 5 years later, we’re separated. I live alone, in a small house: fine just for me but nothing like our old family home. The children who were my life I see now just 2 days a week: most of 1 day on the weekend and 1 evening after school.  And to be honest I’ve struggled to pick up with my career where I left off. The industry is very tech-driven and seems to have moved on, irrespective of all my experience. My age counts against me too I think; having to start again as it were a lot of the jobs I am qualified for I think are taken by young people.

We had a big house, and a good lifestyle: travel, good food, fun. Now I sometimes struggle even with the basics. Then I spent nearly all my time with my beloved Jake & Ellie; now I often feel like I hardly know them, like they’re growing up without me.

It’s very easy to look back and think things were perfect though isn’t it? I know they weren’t, even then.

Further back –  in New Zealand, for instance, before I found my feet career-wise here – I sometimes struggled, financially and socially. Even after I moved to the U.K. there were difficult times: I got caught up in the mortgage interest rate crisis of the ‘90s, and leaving the somewhat extreme religious group I got mixed up in was necessary, but still difficult, not least as it meant cutting myself off from all my ‘friends’ & having to start again socially.

“I was not; I have been; I am not; I do not mind.”

I had tough times before, some good times, and now difficult times again. Life has its ups and downs. It’s just a question of perspective isn’t it? I’m trying to be grateful for what I do have. Great children who love me, food & shelter, safety, reasonably good health, friendships.

That’s more than millions of people all over the world can say. In many ways I’m lucky, despite what the reality of my life seems to be a lot of the time.

“I had not; I did have; I do not have; I do not mind”

I’m trying very hard to improve the things I can, while learning to accept and make the most of life as it is.

Thank you Epicurus: those are indeed wise words.

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Three Beautiful Things

Some time ago there was a meme doing the rounds of the internets called “Three Beautiful Things” (3BT). It may still be there and I just hadn’t noticed, in some corner of the internet that I haven’t caught up with yet: it’s quite possible.

The basic idea behind it is that no matter how bad your day seems to have been that you can always try to find good (‘beautiful’) things that have come out of it. “The Power of Positive Thinking”, and all that. It’s a cliche, yes, but it works: as long as you’re not blinded to reality to the extent that you completely ignore your problems. The buggers have a habit of sneaking up on you when you’re not expecting it and biting your backside if you ignore them for too long, in my experience!

‘3BT’ is particularly good when you’ve had ‘one of those days’ where everything seems to  go wrong, or you have a setback of some kind on your otherwise Glorious Golden Path of Progress.

On days like that you sometimes find yourself scratching around to find some positivity! The “Three Beautiful Things” are still there though: you just have to look.  They may seem trivial, unimportant even, but they’re still there: and that’s what matters. They are still things in what seems like a bad day that can lighten the gloom. “Small is Beautiful”. When you find them you can realise that maybe your day hasn’t been so bad after all. ( I believe psychologists and life coach types call this sort of thing “reframing“). 

Without boring you with the details, my day today has been a bit like that – so here are my Three Beautiful Things.

    • I got my hair cut. I tend to let my locks – what’s left of them! – get straggly, and – as with many other things – put off getting them cut. Today I decided to get smartened up, and a lovely lady named Helen gave me a good smart cut, along with an equally smart beard trim. We had a good chat as well; chattiness is a skill most hairdressers have along with their cutting prowess. I look and feel much better.
    •  I treated myself to a big greasy bag of chips. With salt and vinegar: all the trimmings, a guilty pleasure!
    • I found a site for freelance writers which I think suits my skillset and experience, and which I think could prove very rewardng in days to come.
    • I updated one of my CVs with my recent experience to help with the possibility of finding some sort of ‘real job’  – as my well-meaning friends keep telling me  I should – in addition to my self-employed earnings.

Yes, I know: that’s four, not three.

Maybe my day really wasn’t so bad after all!

5 Tips for Raising Money-Smart Kids

A guest post by Karl Wittgenstein

If parents ask who you want to see your child in the future – rich or poor – the majority, of course, respond that they want to see their son-daughter affluent and career perspective. But you need to understand: a financial genius does not wake up by itself in the child – it is important to lay the foundation in early childhood.

So, today we will talk about proper financial education of children.

Tip 1. It would be the best option to instill a financial culture in children by your personal example, experienced parents note. A talk or deliberately simulated situations have much less influence than the behavior of parents and others. If the child is taught to save money with words, but he sees the parents who splash them out, it is unlikely that the child will listen to the words. In this case, actions will be much more influential. Therefore, it is desirable for the parents to understand whom they want to bring up: an altruist, ready to share the “last shirt”, or an economical person. Then you can develop a strategy for training such a person.

It’s better not to speak about the money, but it is necessary to teach the value of things in the first years of child’s life. We need to educate the careful attitude to things, even toys, and explain: this thing is expensive, it is necessary to treat it gently and carefully and put them in place because if the thing breaks, parents will not be able to buy the same. Parents should understand that they do not need to react like “It’s okay” when something is broken deliberately or because the child is too unmindful. This lays the improper attitude toward money in the future and one day your child will not only splash out the whole month-budget but impudently ask you “write my essay”.

Tip 2. With the three or four years old child it is already possible to explain what money is. It is necessary to show the child coins and banknotes and explain the difference between them, for example,you can explain why the banknote is more valuable than coins (although there is only a piece of paper alone, and there may be lots of coins). When your child is five or six years old, according to the psychologist, it is advisable to explain to children where the money comes from. In this case, there will be an occasion to talk about the professions, it is important to explain to the child that the money does not appear from anywhere. Explain that you earn them by working hard. Then if it is possible, show what you do all the day round when you are at work. This approach triggers respect for parents.

Tip 3. Play role games

The Proper attitude towards money is better formed in the form of a game, according to the parents: the nature of finance is complicated, so it is desirable to make the whole process both entertaining, informative, and understandable. You can imagine that you are in the hospital, at a hairdresser, in the shop, train or even play the traditional” Monopoly “- imitate real situations where you can use the money. These games are useful because they can be played with the whole family, and you will be able to monitor the behavior and emotions of the child and if.. your child has committed financial errors you can suggest how to fix them”.You can make fake money by yourself or with a child: cut paper and paint – it is, in particular, develops fine motor skills.

Tip 4.Cash. How much and how often should we give our children pocket money – a topic for another conversation. According to parents, allocating small amounts of money should be when a child has learned to read and write. It is important to establish clear rules of financial relationships within the family. Pocket money for children — is a salary for them, so appoint this salary once a week , because they still do not know how to plan the expenses and all the monthly budget can be immediately spent on candies and other things. In fact, the child.. can be given the freedom of choice in the purchases, but it is desirable to restrict purchases of unhealthy sodas and chips. It is useful to give a piece of paper with a table on it, where it is necessary to fill in the column “balance at beginning of the period”, column “income” (ie money that can be made by cleaning house or helping grandparents etc), column “expenses” (where the child writes down all your expenses for a week + in total) and the column “ending balance”. As long as parents do not get this report from the child, a new piece of pocket money is not issued.

As for the size of the amounts for pocket costs, psychologists recommend allocating money for specific purposes – transportation, lunch in the dining room or on the cinema, for example. “But if the child says he needs more money, ask him to sign the budget and justify why he needs the increased amount.

Tip 5. Family saving

Many parents do not like to go with the kids to the store because the smallest one will need to buy all the sweets and toys there. Experts advise not to be afraid to reply “no”, but always explain the reason for the refusal.

If your income does not allow to buy an expensive toy, then talk about it directly. It is better to say that the entire income is spent not solely on toys but on utilities, food, and travel. But you can postpone the purchase, for example, each month put aside 1/3 the cost of the toy and you will be able to buy it, but it is important to keep the promise if you do not want to lose the trust of a child.

The Gift of Giving

These days I usually spend most of Saturday looking after the twins on my own, allowing the Mummy to catch up on jobs.

I’d got into a habit of buying a toy or gift each to commemorate ‘Daddy Day’. I soon realised it set a dangerous precedent!

It very quickly went from being a nice little treat to something they came to expect. Aside from the house piling up with toys it also was in danger of becoming an expensive habit!

I managed to gradually cut down so that it became an occasional thing & that – I thought – was that.

Then in the car last Saturday (why is it always in the car?)…

Sitting in the back of the car sometimes seems to give them the opportunity to have a little think, Jake especially. Ellie is probably more likely to give us a song! That’s if they’re not arguing, of course.

On this occasion Jake had been thinking back.

“Daddy?”

“Yes Jake?” I replied cautiously.

“Do you remember when you used to buy us presents every ‘Daddy Day’?”

“Yes Jake”

“You don’t do that now. Why have you stopped doing that?”

“Well it costs a lot of money to buy you each toys every week, & I’m not sure I can afford it”

“Oh Daddy: I can give you my money & you can buy toys every week for us again!”

“Oh, you mean your birthday money?”

They each received about £40 cash on their birthdays from their friends, on top of toys & other gifts. I’m pretty sure they have more money than me at the moment!

“No, that’s for me to buy toys with.  I mean the money that I found today. OK Daddy?”

He’s holding up a 10p coin I think he found on the back seat of the car…

Well, as they say, it’s the thought that counts!

 

For more Magic Moments just click the pic:

The Story Behind the Photo

Jake & Ellie, balloons, a clown, the seafront: that was my Silent Sunday Photo yesterday, & a lovely one too I think.

What is it they say? “A picture paints 1000 words”. There are definitely a few words behind this one!

The town we live in was having a ‘Seafront Festival’ , promising rides, stalls & entertainment. There were plenty of stalls alright, & good entertainment, but only 1 ‘ride’ – a sort of long soft-play bouncy castle. Probably just as well actually, as it was £2 for 5 minutes, & of course with us everything is x2!

After an oom-pah band the entertainment was this clown, a Mr T Ricks. He did a great show: he was funny, had great rapport with the kids, made some balloons then did a great ‘Punch & Judy’ show. The twins, & the many other children there, loved it.

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We then wandered off for an over-priced lunch in a nearby cafe, then it was back to the seafront where Jake & Ellie selected their promised “1 treat & 1 toy” – both small! – each, the deal which had been thrashed out in earlier negotiations.

Jake found an ‘Angry Birds’ Pez ,which he loved, & Ellie a slurpy licky sugary juicy thing, which she didn’t. They both decided on loud horns for their toys. Oh goody…

I’d forgotten my earplugs! They sounded a lot like Vuvuzelas.

I hate Vuvuzelas!

After getting ‘tattoos’  – free from the lovely Mr Ricks – they decided they wanted to see his show again.

We’d grabbed a couple of (small!) balloons on the way – Jake a Spiderman one, & Ellie an Elsa & Anna one from her beloved ‘Frozen’. They were helium but were wrapped around their wrists so they wouldn’t fly away.

They were sitting down enjoying the show when their balloons become tangled in the wind. I stepped in to untangle them but somehow in the process Ellie’s came loose & flew off up into the sky!

She was very upset. She cried!

The lovely Mr T Ricks noticed, & actually stopped his show for her! He called her up, & made a special balloon, just for her! It took quite a while, & all the time he was making a fuss of her. And it really was a special balloon – a green-stemmed big white flower with a red love-heart inside the petal!

She still missed her ‘Frozen’ balloon but was very happy with her new one. Mr Ricks sir – you are a star!

We then walked back ‘home’. I was leading the way carrying Ellie’s flower balloon, Jake his Spiderman one, & they were tooting on their horns nearly all the way. We were like a mini-parade, & I was a little surprised all the children within earshot didn’t try to fall in line with us! We certainly got noticed!

We paraded all the way to – strange but true – the Library!

They do a weekly reading & crafting session there, 1 of the twins’ favourite activities. They made sparkly fish, & did a ‘monster-hunt’ treasure trail, & really enjoyed it all.

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Some trees we prepared earlier!

A great day, including a real Magic Moment, courtesy of a very kind clown!

For more Magic Moments just click the pic:

A Parent’s Guide for Knowing Your Credit Score

Credit score (1)Accessing credit and loans, especially for big items such as a mortgage or a car, are of course a regular feature of family finances. Applying to lenders and hoping that they will agree to your request can be a stressful experience. However, it can be made a whole lot easier simply by better understanding how a potential lender might assess your application.

The key question for any lender is the chances that you will repay a loan in full and on time. By assessing the risk involved as best they can, lenders can make an informed decision. As a result, most lenders will refer to a credit score constructed by one of the UK’s three registered credit reference agencies. Your credit score is a snapshot of your credit status. It isn’t too difficult to understand your credit score – It is based on a 0-999 scale and the higher the number, the lower the risk.

So, how do the agencies assign your score? A major although not the only factor is your credit report. This is compiled by credit reference agencies from a whole range of available information to paint a picture of your financial reliability. Whether you know about it or not, there is a credit report on you and you can expect it to be the first port of call for any potential lender.

Credit report (1)Your credit report includes personal information such as date of birth and address. It also contains details of your credit accounts and money you have borrowed and your repayment record during the past six years. Although it may seem trivial, even if you have paid a mobile phone bill late or missed an electricity bill, it may appear on your credit report and have a detrimental impact. It is therefore important to make sure that you and your family pay bills in full and on time. If you haven’t listed yourself on the electoral roll, then do it. This is one of the resources used by credit reference agencies and gaps in your residency may seem suspicious. Another thing worth noting is that if you are making mortgage overpayments, make sure that you don’t miss out on an entire monthly payment. Even if you are overpaying in order to reduce outstanding debt or guard against interest rates, a missing mortgage payment could be a red flag on your credit report.

Thankfully, it is very straightforward to check your credit report and it is advisable to do so regularly. You can simply request it from any of the credit reference agencies who will likely post it to you within a week. Once you receive the report, make sure that you check it thoroughly for accuracy. If you spot any mistakes, then you should contact all three agencies to have the report rectified. If there is an error connected to family members with whom you have no financial link, then you can ask to be “disassociated” from them through the agencies. If there is an inaccuracy concerning your credit record, then your first port of call should be the creditor who can update their records and then inform the agencies. If the creditor does not agree to amend their records, then you are entitled to attach a 200 word “Notice of Correction” to your file, explaining the disagreement.

Hopefully though, your credit report will need no corrections, in which case you are well advised to simply check it regularly and make sure it remains up to date.

 Written in collaboration with David Taylor, finance writer from Leeds

6 Reasons Why You Should Get Started on Your Dream House Today!

It is good to have dreams, but at some point you have to take steps to make your dreams come true. Whether it is a big home on a large plot of land, a flat in the middle of London, or a modest cabin on the edge of a nature reserve, now is the time to find your dream home. If you have been dreaming about the home of your future, why not take steps to make your dream a reality?
dream house
1. If you don’t start now, you might never start.         

Sure, it’s easier to sit back and be content with what you have. Maybe you are renting and you are simply complacent, paying the mortgage off for your landlord. The time to start reaching for your dream home is now. You will never be any younger or more motivated than you are today to start the process of getting into your dream home. Start investing in your own future by finding a property you love and making it your own.

2. Mortgage rates are at an all time low.    

Mortgage rates are incredibly low throughout the world and in Australia, rates are as low as 2%. With the expectation that home prices will remain stable and economic growth will occur in 2014, Australia is a great place to find your dream home and make your dreams come true. With the help of 1300 Home Loan you can own the home of you have always wanted. The only place for mortgage rates to go is up and as rates go up, home affordability goes down.

3. It is still a strong buyer’s market.            

Prices are stable throughout the world and buyer’s still have an advantage just about anywhere over home sellers. The markets have enough supply unless you are looking in a city such as London, and with lower mortgage rates homebuyers can purchase homes that were once considered above their means.

4. Foreclosures are still going strong.

Homeowners are still trying to get out of bad mortgages and are unable to keep their large homes. You will be able to get a better home for your money, but not for long. The rate of foreclosures is expected to decrease as the market continues to stabilize and the economy remains in a pattern of growth.

5. Confidence in continued economic growth is high.

No matter how you look at it, economic growth is happening and is expected to continue. We’ve all been living in a period of economic decline for years and the economy is taking a turn for the better. Home prices are low and only expected to rise. Job security is strengthening for employed workers and most experts agree that now is the time to buy for the best return in your investment over the years.

6. DIY Home Restoration and Interior Design Is Easier Than Ever

Whether you are tuned into HGTV or regularly check websites like Fine Home Building, the knowledge is out there on how to do redesign projects and make the changes you want for your dream home. It will save you money, so if you’re holding back because of a few thousand dollars, you can make up the money when it comes to the design aspect of your home.

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My personal circumstances have changed dramatically recently – more on this later! – so this is particularly relevant to me at the moment.

Written in collaboration with David Taylor, a finance writer from Leeds, England, who also spends time in Melbourne, Australia.