Confessions of an avocado addict

Avocado millennials

(Curse you avocado. The downfall of millennials everywhere.)

So a while ago I read an article about a millionaire who had said that the reason that millennials were struggling to buy houses was because they insisted on going to brunch every weekend to eat their ‘smashed avocado on toast.’

‘Rubbish’, I thought, as I had another bite of my mashed (which is totally different to ‘smashed’) avocado on Waitrose olive bread.

No seriously – that’s actually what I was eating.

There were a number of things about this statement which irritated me. Firstly the assumption that the reason this generation is struggling to buy houses is not because the housing market has rocketed to such insane levels that wages simply can’t keep up with. Nor perhaps that previous generations had significantly less tuition costs than this generation, whilst at the same time facing an increasing expectation from employers that you will have a degree. No, clearly it’s because the millennial generation are feckless spenders who like to waste their money enjoying life instead of socking away all their pennies under the mattress. THAT’S the problem.

‘Grrr,’ I thought. As did many others.

Now apparently I am a millennial. I don’t really know what that means, but I’m reliably informed that I am one. And this millennial decided many moons ago that she would like a house. So my partner and I made that our goal. We had no idea if or when we would reach it. But we worked really really f-ing hard, and saved everything, and sacrificed a ton of things with that goal in mind.

We definitely had some luck and help along the way (although I do believe you make your own luck to an extent) and we did eventually manage to buy our first house, in the South-East of England, when we were both still on tiny wages (him an apprentice and me in training for my current role). We were in our mid-twenties. This was way sooner than we’d ever dreamed of.

So now skip forward to a point several months after that article was published. I’d now decided to tackle our ever growing pile of house renovation debt, in an attempt to meet our new goal of debt-freeness. And you can imagine my irritation when I finally added up the cost of all those avocado breakfasts and realised that maybe – maybe – that bloody millionaire had actually had a point after all! Goddammit!

Turns out that the little things really do add up. While the amounts in question may seem so small as to be insignificant, actually it is those little costs, those treats, the ‘one-offs-which-are-actually-pretty-regular’ costs, that eat up all your spare cash. And that is extra cash that you could be adding to your savings or paying towards your debt.

So if you are truly committed to your financial goal, then yes – I’m afraid for now those lovely things may have to go. Sacrifice. It’s a necessary part of success.

So here we are. I still think that the ‘avocado issue’ trivialises the real uphill struggle faced by this generation in affording what the previous generation have managed fairly easily. But now at least I am saying that while eating my daily bowl of shreddies instead of avocado on toast. That is sacrifice, my friends.

Having said that – oh avocado, how I miss you! Shreddies are just not the same… Fear not, we will meet again. Just as soon as this millennial has cleared her debt.

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Credit cards: Friend or Foe?

I love my credit card

(“Whoop! I just looove my credit card, like, soooo much!!”)

Ok, before we start, I’m just going to say upfront that I do currently hold significant credit card debt. However, it was planned debt. We’re doing a house renovation and we always knew we would have to incur a certain level of debt to finish it. (We haven’t finished it – not even close, but that’s another story! Gah!)

So it wasn’t day to day spending that racked up the credit card debt. And we would have been scuppered without the ability to put a significant level of spending on them (yes, more than one). They’re all long, zero interest cards which we’re committed to clearing by the time any interest kicks in. It’s not ideal but we’re in control of it.

However, in the past I have definitely struggled with using a credit card responsibly. In fact, I’d always hated the idea of them.

I was brought up on the understanding that, if you can’t afford something, you don’t buy it. You wait and save, and then you buy it with cash that is yours – not borrowed. Only exception maybe being a house.

So I never even had a credit card for most of my life. I was offered one as part of my student account (which I think is despicable and wrong, by the way) but refused. I also resisted the interest free overdraft that came with the account. If I didn’t have the money, I just wouldn’t spend it. (The bank employee really struggled with this: “But, but – you’re a student! It’s interest FREE!” “Er, yeah. But it’s still debt, right?!”)

Credit card

(“Gurrrl, no! Credit cards are, like, sent, from heaven!” – This is what the banks want you to think.)

And all was well in my credit card free life. Until one fateful day when I booked a trip to Ireland and decided to hire a car for the first time.

Now I’m sure you’re all laughing at me for my naivety but it never occurred to me for a single second that a credit card might be necessary. Up until then, anything I’d needed, I’d whipped out the old debit card and paid right there and then.

Not so for a hire car company. Nope. Credit cards are queen and nothing else will do. I’m still not sure why. Presumably there’s an added level of protection that they have by taking your credit card details. Regardless – that’s what they want. And I didn’t have one.

Cue me going absolutely crazy, ringing pretty much every hire car company in Ireland trying to find one that would accept my poor little debit card. I did find one eventually but it cost me an absolute fortune. Like, hundreds more than it would have done otherwise. I was fuming but I didn’t have a choice.

So when I came home, I applied for a credit card. ‘Just for emergencies’, I said. I didn’t look for any great deals – I just got one with the bank I was already with. Wasn’t planning on using it, see?

Yeah. Great. Soooo… that didn’t go as planned. A couple of big expenses got put on there. Just one offs. Then petrol, and other bits and pieces when I was short of cash at the end of the month and didn’t want to go into my overdraft (yeah, I also had one of them too). I’d pay it off on payday, I told myself.

Except, payday would come and, well, if I cleared the whole card I’d just be in the same situation at the end of that month! So, it was minimum payments only (plus a little bit) and, voila. I was stuck in endless, ever so slightly increasing, credit card debt that I wasn’t making any real headway with. With a rubbish interest rate on top coz I wasn’t on a great deal.

It was all quite stressful and depressing. I mean, it wasn’t keeping me up at night but it did kinda hang over me constantly as something to worry about and I didn’t seem to quite have it in me to address it head on.

Embarrassingly, eventually my partner bailed me out. I wasn’t really being open with him either about it. I’d casually mention – ‘oh and of course I need to deal with the credit card etc.’ – but I wasn’t saying, ‘By the way babe, I’m a couple of thousand in debt and I’m not really making any headway with sorting it.’

Once I finally cracked and told him, he insisted on paying it off. This fundamentally goes against everything I believe in. I mean, we were living together and had bought a house together, so my money situation did impact him too. But I felt strongly that this was MY debt and not his responsibility. None the less, he paid it. I was incredibly grateful and also, weirdly, kinda resentful. Like HE was the one that was making me feel all guilty and crappy about the situation. Which of course is crap. It was all on me. He was just helping me out.

Anyway, it all sucked and I’ve worked hard to make sure I never got back into that situation. No careless spending on credit cards.

It was eye opening to me to find myself in that situation so easily. Especially as I thought I was fairly careful with money. Lesson learned.

Of course, credit cards do have their uses. As I said, we currently have a large (planned) credit card debt which is enabling us to sort out our house. We would struggle without that option being available. The difference is that I looked up the best rates and planned it all out, and now we’re paying them off, with the promise that no more debt is going on them. Because it is just too easy to lose control of it.

So if you’ve been there or are currently in this situation I feel you! I can only recommend facing up to it and making the commitment to sort it out, otherwise it’s not going to get any better. I know how lucky I was to have my partner help me.

Credit card

(Well she clearly still loves her credit card! 👍 How do you feel about yours?)

Working your money muscle

Money muscle

(Oooh – check out those money muscles!)

Ugh. Money muscle. Sounds really gross – sorry ’bout that. It’s the best analogy I can think of.

At the beginning of this year life was proving majorly stressful. We had to move out of where we were staying really suddenly with no notice, and relocate to somewhere that was absolutely tiny (we’re talking two rooms and a bathroom basically) with all of our stuff and no parking. With a toddler. And a dog.

It was chaos.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so completely stressed out in my life. I generally resist change and love a settled routine. It felt like there was nothing I could cling to that grounded me – like I was in a free fall spiral. Weirdest feeling. Not pleasant. Like if one more thing went wrong, I would crack. So I joined a gym.

I am generally a gym’s dream member. I regularly sign up, pay my monthly fee on time every month, and then never ever go. And sadly it has proved thus this time as well. But for a few weeks/months I did use it and I really really needed it. Mostly I’d just go and do 30 minutes of yoga on a mat in the corner. It was the only place I felt I could escape and regain some control.

So yeah. Now I’m focused on my money goal (eliminate my debt), that monthly fee really hurts me. It’s like a kick in the teeth each time. But it’s hard to regret my decision to sign up – it was a complete lifeline at the time and allowed me to cope.

Anyway – that was a whole rambling intro to what I actually wanted to say and that is, that dealing with your personal finances takes commitment. A bit like the gym. The more you work at it, the easier it gets. It becomes a habit and then you can think about it less.

The other side to this is that it can also be really easy to fall off the wagon. To become complacent.

I’m thinking about this today because it’s nearly payday 💰💰💰 (tomorrow – yay!) and I find that my steely resolve to control my money really weakens towards the end of the month.

I start off at the beginning of the month with a brand new monthly spreadsheet, and I begin by tracking my spending meticulously. But by this point of the month I’m slipping a bit. It’s like I think that this bit doesn’t count – like I’ve done so well up until now and, hey, if I’m only a little into my overdraft then that’s pretty good and it’ll all be wiped away shortly anyway when my pay cheque comes in. Cha-ching!

Bad, bad money brain. It’s the same bit of me that flakes in the face of committing to exercise. If you allow yourself to start saying it doesn’t matter – that you’ll have today off but get back on it tomorrow – then before you know it, it’s all fallen apart.

So I guess I’m saying – don’t be like me. Commit to keeping track of your progress and know that if you do start making excuses, you’re only hurting yourself. But it’s easy to get back on the wagon.

Oh – and don’t sign up for a gym membership unless you will use it. Or you really really need it.

What is your financial end goal?

Financial goal

(Who needs a face to get to the finish line?)

Do you know where you are going in life?

Sorry – that came out a little more deep and meaningful than I intended.

What I mean is, when you think about your financial situation, do you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve? A financial goal?

If not, then I highly recommend sitting down and really facing up to that question. If you are in a hole of debt so deep you can’t see the sky, then I understand that it’s not easy to have that conversation with yourself. But actually, in your case the answer should be really simple: get rid of that awful black cloud in your life. Get debt free. Full stop.

If you don’t have debt then the answer might be trickier to land on. Do you want to get a deposit for a house together? Maybe you want to pay off your mortgage? Get an emergency fund sorted? Build a savings pot? Save for a special holiday? Save for ANY holiday?

It could be any number of things but I think it’s really important to settle on what it is that you want to achieve – because how else are you going to identify the steps you need to take towards it?

I once heard a saying, “if you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it.” And it’s so true. If you want to achieve something, you have to aim for it first and then go headlong towards it.

For me, there have been various goals at stages in my life – including almost all of those listed above at one point or another. Today, at the moment, it’s clear the tens of thousands of pounds of debt that I’m currently in. I do have longer term goals I’d like to achieve after that, but until the debt is gone these are complete pipe dreams.

So I’ll put my head down and push towards that goal. And every decision I take should be with that goal in mind. Easy to say, not easy to do. But I’ll never achieve it if I don’t try. And neither will you.

So what are your financial goals you would like to achieve?

The dumbest thing you’ll ever do

Expensive car

(Vroooom. I am expensive and shiny.)

I want to be clear and upfront about something right now: I am not here to judge. If it was easy to make our money work for us and be sensible with it then we might all be bloody millionaires by now. I don’t know about you, but that definitely hasn’t happened for me yet.

So chances are we’ve all made financial errors along the way and some silly money mistakes too. Sound familiar? Yeah, me too.

So – no judgement here.

But there is one financial decision that thousands of people make every day that I just don’t get it.

Why, tell me WHY, do people ever buy brand new cars?

I mean, really? I can’t think of any other situation where you would happily hand over anywhere between £10,000 to £50,000 (or more) of your hard earned money (after tax!) and gain an asset that is IMMEDIATELY worth approx 10-20% less the moment you get it, 40% less after the first year and 60% less after three years! Seriously – WTF?!

You have just overpaid by thousands of pounds and you will never ever see that money again. You have gained nothing for the benefit of those lost thousands. The moment you sign the papers and are handed the keys, that brand new car is no longer brand new. It’s worth a whole ton less and will continue to lose value far quicker than a second hand car would.

I just don’t get it. It seems to me to be the most baffling thing that anyone could choose to do with their cash, regardless of how much money they have.

But even more mind-boggling is the fact that people are buying new cars on finance because they don’t actually have the money to afford the full amount. This is even more strange to me – why, oh why, are you buying an asset you can’t afford, and losing thousands of pounds in the process?

On what planet does that make sense?

So yes, as I said, no judgement here. We’ve all done silly things. But this financial decision seems to me easily one of the worst you can make. If you want to throw away thousands of pounds for the sheer hell of it, just send it to me instead. I promise to do better things with it than the car salesman you were going to give it to.

On the other hand, I’m nothing if not open minded, so please – if you can explain this one to me in any way that makes sense, I’m all ears.

Spreadsheets are sexy

Spreadsheets

(O.M.G. – look at that sexy spreadsheet! Phwoar.)

Ok, I’m lying. Spreadsheets are not sexy – except perhaps to a really niche audience. I do not recommend bigging up your Excel skills by way of a chat up line. Not gonna work.

But spreadsheets are, nevertheless, a vital part of the money mission. To push this analogy to its limits, they are the Spanx of the money world. You need a decent robust spreadsheet underpinning everything and keeping it all together so that you can swan through life looking all sexy and money savvy. Ergo, spreadsheets are sexy.

Step one for me wrestling back control over my finances was to set myself up with a spreadsheet. Now I’m no Excel master. I’ve wrestled with many a table and graph in my time, and rarely do I win. But I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way and on a good day I can plug in a simple formula. This is helpful – it speeds things up. But it’s not vital. A calculator will do the trick too.

Basically the idea is to track your money. Some people call it a budget but actually I think that’s the next step up on the ladder. If you don’t know where the hell your money is going then there’s little point in setting unrealistic limits on what you spend. You’re just gonna blow straight through your budget without even thinking and then give up. Sadly I speak from much experience.

So step one is to track your spending. For a long time I told myself that this was pointless – I can see where the money is going from my bank statement. So why do I need to do the job of the bank and log it all separately myself? Waste-a-time.

Nope. This is your bad money brain talking. Truth is, it is nearly impossible to keep track of all your spending via your bank statement. Particularly if you are hiding from that statement at various points in the month (i.e a week before pay day, right?). Plus a statement doesn’t categorise spending so how are you gonna know just how much your coffee habit (or – because we’re millennials – avocado habit) is actually costing you a month? You might have a guesstimate in mind but chances are it’s wrong.

So: You need a spreadsheet.

There’s a ton of suggestions and pro-formas online for tracking spending which can get you started. I initially started out with one from the ‘Frugal Living’ forum on Money Saving Expert.com, but that was really aimed at setting an annual budget and didn’t really allow me to see where the cash was going each month. So I changed it and made it my own.

I set up a number of categories in columns along the top (which will be entirely personal to you) and put the days of the month down the side. Then I plugged in each item I bought. Yes – each time I bought a packet of crisps or a toy for my kid (or an avocado 🥑🥑🥑) on it went to the spreadsheet.

Now your spreadsheet has to work for you. Mine doesn’t happen to include household spending because my partner and I sort that separately, but it captures all my personal spending, which is the bit that was out of control. Obviously yours can include anything and everything you need.

And then you keep a running total of how much you’re spending in each category along the bottom. And voila – you promptly die of shock at JUST HOW BLOODY EXPENSIVE LIFE IS and that is the best realisation you will come to. Ever.

Because it is not possible to spend mindlessly when you know you have to remember how much a thing cost, in order to plug it into a spreadsheet later. And you become very aware of just how much you’ve already spent in that category this month and, who the hell knew that it all added up to so much anyway?? Jeez!

So, yeah. Spreadsheets. Track your money. Don’t worry too much about budgets just yet. It sounds a bit tedious and it is, but it also becomes mildly addictive. You start to see how you might actually get control of this situation one day and that feels great.

Just don’t expect it to be a great conversation piece at parties, that’s all.