Enjoying the route to FI and staying healthy during lockdown

Saturday is chores and play-with-the-kids day – especially during times of COVID.  As I was cleaning yesterday I was listening to Episode 288 of Choose FI.  They spoke to Brandon from the Mad Fientist about his own regrets and learnings from his journey to FI.  

He said he wished he hadn’t been so single-minded about his goal to reach FIRE and hadn’t allowed himself to become unhappy in the process.  What he realises he should have done, in retrospect, is focus on mastering his relationship with time, money and happiness. As a prime example, one of his reasons for wanting to be financially independent was to spend time making music, but in fact he could have started his journey to master this while also saving towards FIRE.

This resonated with me as I’m conscious that the irony of my situation is that one of my main “whys of FI” is to have the freedom to spend more time with my kids.  However, even with my best efforts I probably wouldn’t reach FI until they are in their teens and will have less time to spend with me.  

So, it doesn’t make sense for me to be stressed, obsessed or preoccupied with my financial goals at the expense of my time and relationship with my children.  That includes spending time on side hustles that don’t stimulate me or bear fruit or setting up complicated money management processes.  It’s easy, though, to fall into comfortable bad habits so here are the ways that I plan to redirect myself, so that I can learn from Brandon’s insights.

  1. Focussing on side hustles that help me master skills

2020 was a year of experimentation for me and I’m proud that I dipped my toe into new hobbies and side hustles, like starting this blog, learning about different survey sites, opening an Etsy store and even looking into voiceover performance.  I have earned very little from any of these so far, but I’d like to continue to explore some of these, as long as they are either fun or allow me to develop at least one of the skills I’d like to master (ideally both).

The top things I’d love to master are:

  • Writing – Academic and business writing has been a major focus for me but I’d like to loosen up my writing a bit and produce posts that people want to read and come back to.
  • Speaking in large groups and to audiences  – I do enjoy public speaking but I show my nerves more than I’d like to and sometimes feel unable to think on my feet.  
  • Creating engaging, educational digital content – Developing digital content and editing skills would give me more options in terms of working freelance in the next few years.  For example, I could create eLearning content for the field that I work in.  So I’ve been thinking about starting a YouTube channel so that I can practise this.
  • Narration – I’ve always enjoyed reading aloud and used to act when I was at school.  I regret giving that up when I went to university.  I’ve recently started to practice audio narration and do auditions for ACX and I find it very fun.

Having these mastery ambitions in mind helps me make the best use of my “side hustle time” for two reasons.  Firstly, I am ditching side hustles that are not interesting and don’t develop any of these skills (like mindless surveys).  I will carry on ones that I find interesting, such as Prolific studies or well-paid market research (the type you can only get every six months), even if they don’t relate to any skills.  Secondly, when I am working on a side hustle that relates to a particular skill, if I have the skill-building in mind then I make better use of the time.  For example, my blog gives me a chance to practice writing, but then I need to maximise the time I am writing and minimise the time I spend trying to monetise the blog.  

I am conscious that taking this approach may mean that these hobbies are less profitable, but spending all of my free time doing things that are not fulfilling and take time away from my family time to accelerate my road to FIRE does not make sense for me.  

  1. Making the most of the family time that I do have

I need to be honest with myself.  I have a dream that I won’t need to work (so much) one day so that I can spend more time with my kids in a relaxed, undistracted way.  However, right now when I do have the chance to spend time with my children I don’t always make the most of it.  I let thoughts about work spill over into our free time and I focus on herding them into the next part of the routine rather than being connected to them and their needs.  This has taken its toll on my relationship with them.  They both gravitate towards my partner to the extent that my four-year-old says she doesn’t like me when I’m on my own with her.  

This has made me feel so hurt and demoralised recently, to the point of thinking about whether I needed medication for depression.  I managed to lift myself out of that funk – perhaps thanks to a few early nights – and I’ve resolved to be much more present when I’m with them, more playful and responsive. I’ve started reading a book called 15-Minute Parenting by Joanne Fortune which talks about how you can make the most of even short periods to connect with your children more.  

My partner always reads stories to my daughter now because he says my son is too difficult to put to sleep.  Because my daughter always wants him to read him stories I don’t feel I can insist, but I’d like to take turns because I know things were better when I had that time with her every second night.  

I also used to use the time that my son was sleeping and my daughter was watching TV on the weekends to work on side hustles or other hobbies but today I watched a movie with my daughter instead and it was great.  We do like having that “down time” while my son still naps, but even if I’m reading something I want to be there in the room with her.  

It’s better with my son as I have a couple of hours every night with him and he also wakes in the night so we co-sleep, which is tiring but also kind of lovely.

  1. Keep the finances simple

My plan this year is to max out my investment ISA.  As the limit is £20k I will set up a direct debit of about £1600 into my ISA and update my funds that I invest in every month for free so that this is all allocated.  

While we still have childcare costs I don’t expect to have more than this to invest.  Any side hustle income will help me towards this goal as I may struggle to afford the £1600 every month.  However, if one or some additional revenue streams did take off then the extra money would go into my partner’s ISA, which we’ve just opened.  

I’m still overpaying the mortgage by a little over 10% every month but that’s very targetted at being able to meet the 60% LTV ratio when we remortgage so I can hopefully get a longer term fixed rate on a good deal. It’s automated so one less shuffle to do.  I may start putting that money into investments instead if the house value goes up and I think we are on track for 60% LTV earlier than planned, and then use a bit of emergency fund if needed if we are a little short when remortgaging.  

  1. Prioritise my health: exercise, sleep more, relax, eat well

I haven’t been doing a lot of the things that usually make me feel happy and healthy, like yoga, running and eating a really good diet.  Like a lot of people I had a burst of adrenaline at the start of lockdown and started running regularly.  It was spring so it was a little easier to get out.  There was also the novelty of having no commute and all that “extra time”.  The second and third lockdown in the UK have felt tougher.  However, I need these healthy habits more than ever to lift my mood and make me feel more resilient, but it’s hard to get started.

What I have been doing is trying to build up the habits gradually, starting with an early bed time.  We go to bed at 10pm now and having that as a singular focus has been helpful.  Having had a little more sleep every day makes it easier to then choose a less sugary breakfast or to feel motivated to go for a walk.  

The little habits I’d like to build at the moment are:

  • Early bedtime
  • Less sugar and more fruit and veg (taking a meal at a time)
  • Drink water throughout the day
  • A walk every day

These incremental, management improvements are slowly compounding.  1% better is amantra I have on repeat.  While I’d love to set a big goal like being fitter than I’ve ever been before, that approach isn’t working for me at the moment while being more realistic about the level of change I can sustain is (so far!).

I’m so grateful that I heard that episode yesterday because it’s helped me to create these strategies and I think it will be much easier to make better decisions about how I spend my time.  I often feel overwhelmed by how much I want to do and how little time I have, but the reality is that I need to start making better use of the time I do have.  If I’m focussing on mastering skills, creating a healthy lifestyle and building better relationships with my children then even if it takes me longer to attain a level of financial freedom, at least I will have started reaping some of the benefits before I am there.

I would love to hear if this resonates with anybody.  Have you been rethinking how you work towards financial independence, or have you always had this approach?  What motivates you on this journey?  Are you making any changes this year?

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2 Responses

  1. Geordie FI says:

    Great article! I also felt the same after listening to the mad fientist chooseFI episode. It’s important to have good systems in place that you love and enjoy. This will make sure you stay on track and get to your desired outcomes like FI.

    • Annie says:

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting. It was a great podcast, wasn’t it – full of food for thought and really helped me refocus on what matters.

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