Macbook worktop

New is not always better. Make do & Mend.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about consumerism, marketing & waste. We are being sold things constantly, whether online, on billboards or TV & radio marketing. I think a lot of us feel immune to it by now, but the fact is, the ads stick in your head. Think about it, how many times have you seen an ad for a new car, or a new laptop or something else shiny and actually thought to yourself “I’d like a new one of those”? Seriously, we all do.

I am exactly the same, I always get sucked into car adverts in the newspaper. I see the low deposit & APR deals and think I would love to own a shiny new car. I’ve even gone into showrooms in the past and almost bought cars on a whim, the deals seem so good. But I haven’t & I’m glad.

I was always brought up to respect what you own & make it last. I became an expert at fixing things, I’d even beg or buy broken items off people and repair them, especially electronics. I did this for years, building PC’s out of bits of broken computers, fixing TV sets and VCR’s. I had very little money growing up but adopting this mindset I had all the same things as my friends. I also developed a great respect for the things that I owned & a wonderful skill set, being able to fix almost anything. I had Frankenstein bikes built out of parts of broken bikes & the best go karts you can imagine.

I maintained this right through my university days up until the point when I started working. At this point, free time seemed precious and I started to think replacing something was easier & would save me time. I did this for a few years before realising how wasteful I had become. I leased a brand new car with no intention of ever owning it, I built bigger & faster computers because I had the money & wanted the best (I never needed it, I wanted it).

This led me down a slippery slope & I soon ended up with all the latest gear and no respect for any of it. It also helped me run up a lot of debt. Replacing stuff for the sake of having the latest without any actual need for it. Over the last few years I’ve taken it back and now I enjoy my old lifestyle again. I enjoy fixing things, I enjoy making things last longer than they should. Only last week a few drops of coffee splashed onto our Macbook Pro. The Macbook is over 4 years old & perfectly good for everything we throw at it, however this drop of coffee killed it. It was stressful. We called a guy who repairs these things and he quoted £280+ so I dug out my tools & dismantled the laptop. After poking around it would appear that the only trace of coffee was a tiny drop on the keyboard. I disconnected the keyboard ribbon cable and the laptop started just fine. Problem found, I hit eBay, ordered a replacement keyboard for £24.99 and the next day repaired the macbook. I saved myself a fortune in repair, not to mention the old me would have just spent another £1100 on a new laptop. This is a great lesson.

It’s the same with cars. I used to run big, posh, expensive cars when I started working & after that, but years ago I ran a G reg Mini (old style). I could take it apart with basic tools and service it myself. It was so simple & it felt so liberating knowing I could fix most things myself. On the posh cars I’ve had gearboxes explode costing many thousands of pounds & putting us into financial difficulty. I now run a 11 year old Fiat Panda. It’s bright blue, very basic & so easy to run & repair. It’s cheap to run petrol wise, insurance & tax is cheap and I can service it every six months on my own drive.

I have loads of examples of this. I kept an xbox 360 running for 11 years. It RROD after 2 years so I repaired it, the DVD drive failed so I repaired that, it had numerous problems & I just kept stripping it down and repairing it. The same story for the original xbox. It’s a great mentality to get into. I even watched a great documentary on the subject of planned obsolescence which helps me feel even better about repairing things (funnily enough I used the same software to keep an old Epson CX3200 printer going, even though it was 8 years old as is featured in this documentary). See below for  The Light bulb Conspiracy documentary on Youtube.

The ability to fix things not only makes you feel amazing, but it saves you money & saves waste. I’m currently writing this post on my trusty Lenovo X200 running free software (Linux & Firefox). This is my geeky laptop for projects but it’s now 8 years old and it’s a brilliant laptop. It still holds over an hour of charge on the original battery.

So next time you see something shiny marketed at you, ask yourself do you really need it & in fact do you really want it, or will you get home and feel guilty for making a pointless upgrade or purchase.

My wife & I now work for ourselves. We earn a lot less than we did when both working full time, but we have time to relax, time to write & time to enjoy each others company. What’s more we have loads of free time & no less than when we both worked full time. The car is less flash, the house is more rural & we don’t have all the latest kit, but we are better people & we get all of those hours back. That is better than money. What’s more, by learning to fix things, not replace on a whim and be more frugal you can live a great lifestyle on a budget. I’m going to write more about this soon, I just felt the need to write this post after fixing the Macbook.

If you are interested in this subject here are some things to get started:-

  • Install Adblock on your browser & on your smartphone
  • Record TV on your PVR and skip over adverts
  • Limit your advertising intake
  • Always ask yourself do you really need to make a purchase
  • Always try to repair, you can find great guides online
  • Consider an item based on the ability to repair it (fairphone is a great example of this)

Macbook worktop

Debt and simple living

Debt – there is no good debt….

Debt is something we all encounter at one point in our lives. Be it credit card debt or student debt. Most of us will need to get a mortgage at some point & most will rely on credit to buy a car.

I’ve had debt for a long time, first I was given a credit card at 18 when I first applied for a student account. At that point I was also given an £1800 interest free overdraft. I didn’t apply for this overdraft, or require it but I kept it simply because at that age I didn’t know any better.

Roll on a few more years and I have a few more credit cards, a maxed out student overdraft and lots of Student Loans. That is a lot of unsecured debt for someone in their mid twenties & recently graduated. I lived with it for a few years, paying minimum payments & juggling here and there.

Then came the sting in the tail. My student overdraft was converted to a standard overdraft at 29.9% apr & all of my credit cards came out of their interest free/low interest introductory periods. The interest alone now cost more per month than I was previously paying in minimum payments. This meant my repayment amounts shot up and the balance wasn’t actually coming down. I barely covered the interest. This became a cycle for years. Add to that a real quiet year in our business, a terrible few years personally with a major family illness, car troubles (expensive, posh cars) and generally a complete lack of common sense & things got very interesting indeed.

This was a low point for me & also a major turning point. I sold a lot of stuff, including my car, gave up my house & moved back in with family to pay down the debt. My wife & I gave up everything to start again & I’m so glad we did.

Our debts are by no means cleared, but they are much more manageable, all at 0% and we are paying large chunks off each month. We no longer have any overdrafts and only have one credit card each with 0% apr.

At this point in my life I would say that there is no such thing as good debt. There are necessary debts such as a mortgage and student loans, but I would advise anyone to stay away from the others.

Car finance is not a good debt. Even if you get a good APR on your car loan, you take on all the risk in owning the car & you take the depreciation hit. I run a 12 year old small city car (Fiat Panda) which I paid £2000 cash for. I saved up the cash to buy it and I maintain, service & repair it as much as I can. Your best investment when buying a car would be a Haynes manual and a set of tools. I’ve saved many £££ in car costs in the 18 months or so that I’ve owned this car. Before I had big flash cars, now I have a cheap and cheerful used car.

I do around 12,000 miles a year in this little car, regularly driving the length of the UK and I don’t have any problems. I don’t owe anyone for this car & if the worst thing happened I can cut my losses and pick up another cheap car. No commitments and no payments.

Credit card debt is an awful debt. There isn’t an end point with credit card debt. You clear a bit and then you put something else on them. We use them like a crutch to support us when we need a little cash, but if we never pay that back the only winner is the credit card company. Also, if you are maxed & overcommitted you can’t play the companies off against each other & bounce the debt around. Steer clear of Credit Cards.

Overdrafts are handy if you don’t count them as your own money. If you are nearing zero in your current account, live like you are. An overdraft is an emergency buffer, but useless if you live in it.

Store cards, insurance paid monthly with APR and anything else with an interest rate that costs you should be avoided. I know it’s hard to claw your way out of debt, I really do, but until you start you will always be at the mercy of the banks. Also if you have no debt and little money you are much better off than the person with all the latest stuff & a mountain of debt. You can’t take risks in life & career if you owe a monthly payment. It’s an ongoing commitment and a drain on your finances. Payments always need to be met or the costs can spiral.

My first secret to living a simple life is to pay of your debt. Sell whatever you don’t need or want, once you clear a balance, focus all of your attention on the next balance and don’t spend on any debt. If you owe nothing, you aren’t trapped. You are free to give up your lease or sell your house and pursue something entirely new. Quit your job, go back to college, start a business, spend some time travelling. It’s all so much easier when you are starting from zero, or even better from savings.

A big part of this will be controlling your spending. I no longer buy anything on a whim. I consider every purchase & never make impulse purchases. I cancelled all of my TV subscription services (Sky/Netflix/Amazon Prime etc.), and make sure everything I buy is paid for with my own money. It’s so much harder to spend when it’s your cash. I’ll go more in depth with this too in my next post

I will go deeper into my own story in later posts. In these initial posts I want to give a brief outline of the things I’ve learned since starting simplifying. I’m sure some people will disagree with these points & I’m no finance expert, just someone who has learned hard lessons from personal experience.

John Signature

Taking in my new Cornish surroundings

Welcome to Zen Again

I’ve been thinking about starting this blog for a long time. A lot of the principles & steps I will talk about have been in motion for a few years now but I’m far from finished. The purpose of this blog is to share with you ideas, plans, tips & tricks to de-stress, de-clutter & simplify every aspect of modern life.

I’ve lived a few lifetimes it feels in my 32 years on this planet, and I can already look back and glean great wisdom from those lifetimes. I’ve made huge mistakes, but I’ve always managed to learn from them. I’ve lived in massive houses with flash cars & I’ve never felt so low. Living a lavish lifestyle almost cost me everything, both financially & emotionally, but thankfully these mistakes were used as lessons and not roadblocks. And I’ve achieved massive things, like self funding my way through 2 degrees & now having a Masters.

I’m now half way through my journey. A lot of the debts I ran up both as a student & as a small business owner are well under control and on the way to being cleared. There is still plenty to do and I’m far from being a relaxed and content human being.

Three months ago My wife & I moved to the coast in Cornwall. It seemed like a very good move to make, we where both really stressed out after staying with family for a while and paying down a lot of debt. The culture down here is so different to my native Manchester. It’s a slower & less competitive way of life. A place where happiness seems to be put before salary. The perfect place for a life reboot. The slower pace of life must be working already as I’ve just set-up this blog, after a long walk around the coastal path & I’m sat writing to you with a warm cup of Earl Grey tea and the sun beaming through the window. Life is definitely improving, but don’t think this is some sort of country idyll, I still have a lot of things to overcome & a long way to go. I do hope you will join me on that journey.

John Signature

Taking in my new Cornish surroundings

Taking in my new Cornish surroundings.