Monday, 13 February 2017

One Year Of Organised Redhead


Just a very quick post today to acknowledge the fact that Organised Redhead has turned 1 year old! It was a year ago yesterday when I published my first post, and what a journey it's been.

I had no idea when I started this adventure where it would lead me to. In the space of the year I have continued to grow my experience and confidence with blogging, as well as avidly following my fellow FIRE seekers' blogs and cheering them along the way.

The most exciting part of the journey has been my discovery of ways in which I can earn extra income through activities such as Kindle publishing, affiliate marketing and matched betting. It's been a year of discovery, and I look forward to many more to come.

For those of you who have joined me on my journey this far...

THANK YOU!

I really appreciate it, and hope to share many more tales with you along my continuing journey.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

My Revised Roadmap To Freedom for 2017



Last February I formulated my strategy for how to achieve retirement by the time I'm age 50. In my Roadmap to Freedom I set out the savings goals I would need to achieve on a monthly basis.

I think it's important to revisit this Roadmap frequently to make sure that I'm still on target with my savings each month. This post is the result of my 2017 review.

I have revisited all my calculations from last year, including:

  • My expense projections considering:
    • Ages 50-57 (the ages between which I'll be retired but won't yet be able to draw my Personal Pension)
    • Ages 50-62 (the ages between which I'll be retired and still have mortgage repayments to make)
    • Age 62+ (when I'll be mortgage free)
  • The current value of my Freedom Kitty and my Personal Pension

So without further ado, here is my revised Roadmap for 2017 onward...

FI Before 50 Roadmap

Freedom Kitty  must reach £190,000 by Jun 2025 (age 49) 

    To be achieved by saving on average £1,268 per month from February 2017 - May 2025 (assumes 4% interest)

Personal Pension must reach £446,300 by Jul 2032 (age 57) 

   To be achieved by saving on average £1,090 per month from March 2017 - May 2025 (issues 5% interest)

This results in a total average monthly saving goal of £2,358





My FI Before 50 Roadmap suggests that I need to save a total of £2,358 each month until June 2025. This splits out across my Personal Pension as £1,090 and my Freedom Kitty as £1,268 per month. The amounts I actually want to set as my saving targets for 2017 have been slightly adjusted from those suggested in the Roadmap:

SAVINGS TARGET
Freedom Kitty - £1,666 per month
Personal Pension - £1,000 per month


Equals TOTAL Savings Target: £2,666 per month 
(£308 more per month than the Roadmap states is needed, but split differently across the 2 savings pots)

Although my 2017 pension target is £90 per month lower than the Roadmap suggests, it is hoped that the fund will grow by at least 5% per year. Furthermore, savings into my Freedom Kitty are planned to be approx. £480 per month higher than the Roadmap requires, any excess in my Freedom Kitty can be used to supplement my Personal Pension if it has not met the required amount by age 57. The reason for paying more into the Freedom Kitty is to maximise the new £20,000 ISA allowance in 2017/2018.

I feel very confident in being able to achieve the Personal Pension target. The Freedom Kitty target will be more of a challenge, but I'm going to give it my absolute best shot.


Have you set any financial targets for 2017? I'd love to hear of them, let me know in the comments...

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

How did I get on with my 2016 goals?


Looking back on 2016 and my aspirations to provide a monthly update on how I got on with my goals, things didn't quite go to plan! I knew it had been a while since I last posted but I didn't realise that my last goals update was for March. So here's an end of year review of how I got on with my goals for 2016.

1. Experience the joy, satisfaction and contentment of living with my partner (TheBF) for the first time
  • Accepting suitable offers for the sale of my house and TheBF's house, with both proceeding to sale completion

  • Finding a new house to buy with TheBF which meets all our purchase criteria
RESULT: DONE!
We successfully sold our houses and moved into our lovely home together in May 2016


2. Gain the freedom to choose what I use my time for, removing the necessity of doing work that does not inspire me simply because it pays the bills

  • Pursuing financial independence
    • Create a 2016 financial plan/budget [by February 29th 2016]
    • Create a "FI before 50 Roadmap" containing steps I need to take to become Financially Independent before the age of 50 [by March 31st 2016]
    • Follow the 2016 financial plan/budget
RESULT: DONE!
The plans were created in the first quarter of 2016, after which I followed and achieved the savings targets specified in the 2016 financial plan

  • Researching alternative options for spending my time which could eventually help to replace my current mode of work
    • Create and maintain a blog site to track my goals and interact with the online community
      • Research suitable blog site & how to use it, and set-up blog - DONE
      • Deliver at least 1 post per week on average
RESULT: FAILED
Sadly when I began a new full time work contract in June 2016 the regularity of my blog posts suffered. Most of my free time was spent pursuing side income generating activities such as book publishing

  • Research new alternative sources of repeat income
    • Generate at least £1 this year from a new source of regular income
RESULT: DONE!
I discovered Kindle publishing and successfully published my first ebook in July 2016. I generated considerably more than my £1 goal (which was set to effectively inspire me to research and find ways in which it might be possible to earn additional income). By the end of the year I'd made £162.35 profit from a combination of publishing and matched betting


3. Become a better person by the end of the year, than I was at the start of it.
Can be measured in terms of knowledge & skills gained, health & fitness improved, relationships circle expanded & strengthened, internal beliefs challenged & reviewed, positive habits created


  • Completing a personal development challenge with my sister (100 day challenge or something similar)
RESULT: DONE (We completed The Magic one month challenge)

  • Reading at least 6 new books
RESULT: NEAR MISS
In the end I didn't quite manage to read the 6 books I was hoping for - I completed 5.5*:

Given that in 2015 I didn't even read one book this was a good achievement for me nevertheless

  • Losing 10lbs in weight by the end of July and maintaining the weight loss through till the end of the year through good diet and exercise
RESULT: FAILED
I ended the year at about 1lb below my start weight for the year! This is one of the hardest goals for me to achieve. It feels like my whole life I've been struggling with trying to attain my ideal weight (which for me is just to be a healthy weight). Sometimes I lack willpower and I genuinely think that some people are more biased to be overweight than others. That's not intended to be an excuse, but being overweight is something which runs in my Mum's side of the family.
This is a goal which I fully intend to carry forward into 2017 to see if I can attack it once and for all. On the bright side, at least I can say that I didn't gain more weight in 2016.

  • Going on at least 12 planned "date nights" with TheBF in 2016
RESULT: DONE!
In fact we went on more than 12 dates, although not all of them were specifically arranged by me in the end, I think this still counts as a pass.


  • Going on a family holiday to France where I can spend quality time with TheBF, my parents, my sister, brother-in-law and niece
RESULT: DONE!

  • Researching and booking a mini-cruise with family
RESULT: PARKED
Due to all the time and effort required for selling and moving houses during the year, this goal did not feel attainable in the end. However I'm hoping to research a cruise holiday in 2017 with my parents and TheBF

  • Introducing a routine of regular meditation
    • By the end of the year, I will be meditating a minimum of 3 times per week
RESULT: I'm going to say DONE
This goal was a difficult one to assess the success of because some weeks I meditated every day, and other weeks I didn't manage 3 times. The main point however is that I did start meditating in 2016 and continue to do this consistently every week. 
As well as meditating, I have introduced several other short activities which I endeavour to complete daily:
Exercising (20 mins)
Yoga (about 15 mins)
Meditation (10 mins)
Gratitude (3 mins)
Affirmations (3 mins)
Visualisation (3 mins)
Reading (15 mins)
Goal Reviewing (3 mins)
Journalling (3 mins)
My goal for 2016 ended up turning into achieving 60% of this daily routine each week

* affiliate links, if you purchase through these links the cost to you will be the normal Amazon price but I will earn a small commission for directing you to the product


4: Use my unique personal skills and abilities to help others achieve happiness.

  • Offering tips, support and conversation online through my blog, social media accounts and getting involved in the FI and Personal Development communities
RESULT: DONE
This was another goal which was actually difficult to track whether it was achieved or not, because I hadn't really made it specific enough. Given that I started my blog, wrote about my FI plans, regularly read and commented on personal finance blogs throughout 2016 and I attended the March FIRE escape gathering, I feel that this was achieved.

  • Offering tips, support and help offline through any face-to-face opportunities should they arise, (meet-ups, coaching, training, speaking engagements)
RESULT: DONE
Again another goal which was difficult to say whether it was definitely achieved. As I did attend the FIRE escape gathering and also participated in Facebook Groups for UK finance bloggers and Fincon (which I also purchased a ticket to attend in 2017) I feel that I can mark this one as done

  • Supporting my chosen charities through a spread of donations totalling £350 this year
RESULT: DONE
This was a success for me, I donated to the charities who I have regular giving set up for, as well as sponsoring several of my friends in their charity endeavours.


So all in all I feel very happy with my progress in 2016. It's the first year in a long time that I have set a list of goals for myself, and it's definitely the first year ever where I have consistently tracked my progress toward achieving the goals. This for me is the biggest win of all. It has made such a big difference having goals to work toward (some of which felt unattainable when I set them) and being able to tick many off the list. I am looking forward now to 2017 and achieving my new list of goals. You can find out about my 2017 goals in my next post...coming soon!


How has 2016 for you? If you set yourself goals, did you achieve some or all of them? Have you set any goals for 2017?


Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Happy New Year

2017 - A Year Of Great Things To Come

I'm conscious that it's been way too long since I last posted an update. I think part of the reason for this is that I'm too much of a perfectionist and I find that each time I write a post it takes me many hours of revisions and formatting to make sure that everything is just perfect.

So an experiment today! I'm sat in the break room at work taking my lunch hour and now that I've caught up on some reading (Financially Free By Forty's 2017 goals) I thought I'd open up Blogger and just see what I can achieve with a short post.

I do intend to continue writing and sharing my goals and progress in 2017, I also plan to share a quick review on how I got on with my 2016 goals.

I hope to chat with you more as our journeys to FIRE (financially independent/retire early) continue.

In the spirit of breaking my 2 month plus silence and "just doing it" I'm going to publish this post just as it's been written.


I'd love to hear about your plans for 2017, how you're getting on with your savings and goals, and just to say hi...so please do leave me a comment...

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Life's Simple Pleasures: Halloween Pumpkin Carving


It's been a while since I wrote about my simple pleasures, so a new post is long overdue. As I've said before, I'm a firm believer that happiness can be found in the little things in life. My personal view is that when we focus our attention on appreciating these small things, we can experience a more peaceful, contented and ultimately happy life.

Today I found myself with the biggest smile on my face as I experienced a rather creative, yet simple and fun pleasure...


Happy Halloween!


Yes it's that time of year when many people choose to have a bit of fun dressing up in ghoulish fancy dress, decking homes and streets with cobwebs, skeletons and all sorts of other spooky decorations, and getting into the spirit of all things halloween (pun intended!) 

I've always enjoyed the theatrical nature of Halloween. I love finding new suitably frightening costumes to wear as well as experimenting with spooky make-up techniques. Then of course there's decorating the house with items from my "Halloween box of goodies" such as my flickering haunted house, bubbling cauldron, and spiders web candelabra. I always find it fun when the local kids stop by trick or treating, and this year we have made sure to have some sweeties ready - it's the least we can do when they've made so much effort with their costumes.

Sticking with the theme of Halloween, while I was out investigating our new local Aldi store today, I decided to purchase a couple of reasonably large pumpkins for the bargain price of 99p each, with a view to having some fun carving them.

I don't seem to find the time these days to allow my creativity to flourish, so this promised to be an opportunity not only to share some fun time with The BF, but also to let my artistic side have a bit of an outing.


There were a lot of seeds to remove and scraping out
 to do before we started the carving!

Late this afternoon, we took some time to have a go at carving our masterpieces. TheBF had never carved a pumpkin before, and I had only carved about one or two basic attempts in years gone by.

First we began by cutting a large hole in the top of the pumpkin, then scraping out any seeds and pumpkin pulp.

There was lots to scrape out                     
Scraping complete!

Next we searched the internet for inspiration of what to carve. TheBF opted for a Pikachu style image, and I found a fairy image to carve. We printed out images to fit the size of our pumpkins and taped them onto the pumpkin so that we could use these as a guide.


Template applied and ready
to commence carving

I used a dressmakers pin to mark out the outline of the fairy (this took sometime and I now have sore fingers from putting the pin in and out so many times!) After this I was able to remove the paper image from the pumpkin and carefully use a knife to cut out the image of the fairy.

Pins for marking the outline                  
Something to keep me going...
well it was Saturday night!

After I'd fully cut-out the image of the fairy, next I wanted to create a "swoosh" of magical stardust trailing behind her. To do this I used a drill with different sizes of drill bits.


While I was doing this I switched the house lights out and popped a small torch inside the pumpkin to see how it was looking.

All in all, I think this mini project took me about 2-3 hours and I was thoroughly engrossed the whole time. In short I loved the process and better still I loved the end result.

A little bit of magical fairy dust

TheBF's pumpkin carving was fabulous too...

Pikachu!

So now we're all set for the next couple of evenings, these babies will be taking pride of place outside our front door, facing onto the square where we live.
A pumpkin welcome!

After the pumpkin carving was complete, it was time to decide what to do with all the contents which had been scraped from the insides! A quick internet search suggested that we could turn the many (many!) seeds into a tasty snack. So we decided to give it a go.

It was really easy to do, and I have to say the results are delicious. We put the pumpkin seeds in a colander and rinsed them, then placed them on a baking sheet where we drizzled them with Olive Oil and sprinkled with sea salt.

These went into the oven (at 180 degrees fan assisted) for 16 minutes (anywhere between 10-20 mins is good depending on your oven), after 10 minutes I checked them every 2 minutes to see whether they had browned.

Our roasted pumpkin seeds hot out of the oven
Once out of the oven, I put the seeds onto kitchen towel to pat off any excess oil, then popped them into a serving dish and they were ready to sample. They're a lovely savoury snack, reminding me of a type of bar snack one might be offered!

Removing the excess oil                        
Tasty pumpkin seed snack
                                         

So that's my simple pleasure for today - the enjoyment of taking some time to be creative both in carving, and in coming up with a new tasty snack for us to try.


Have you tried carving a pumpkin this year? How did it go? If you have any pictures, let me know using the comments or my contact form and if you're happy for me to do so, I'll be in touch to see if I can list them in a follow up post!


Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Now You Can Trade Gift Cards, With A Free £5 Credit For You To Try

Have you ever found yourself after Christmas, a birthday or even a wedding, having received a generous gift card but unfortunately it's for a retailer who you have nothing particular you wish to buy from? Or perhaps you have won a gift card in a competition? Or been sent a gift card as a reward for being a loyal customer elsewhere and you'd rather have received the cash value instead? 

It's possible to end up in a situation where you are scouring a retailer's online site or store simply to find a product to purchase so that you can make use of the gift. It's a lovely gesture, but sometimes it falls flat when you'd rather be able to spend the value at a retailer of your own choice. Well that's where handy site Zeek comes in, solving the problem by allowing you to sell your gift card (for a small fee) so that someone else can purchase it who actually wants to use the retailer in question.

Not only does Zeek allow you to sell unwanted gift cards, you can also find generous savings on a vast array of gift cards available for purchase



Recently I was kindly offered a £50 credit to check out how Zeek works so that I could share the experience with all of my readers in an honest review. Unsurprisingly I couldn't wait to jump straight in and give it a go, particularly because I also have the opportunity to offer £5 free to all new members signing up using this link.

So, here's how I found the Zeek user experience...

First things first, with my frugal hat on I checked on Quidco and TopCashback to see if there were any cashback deals to be had for signing up with Zeek. Sure enough Quidco offered 4% and TopCashback offered 4.04% cash back for first purchases, nice! I found the sign-up process very quick and simple, opting to sign-up with my Facebook account (though there were also options to use your Twitter, Google or email accounts).

Since I didn't have a gift card to sell, my experience was instead from the perspective of a buyer. The great thing about Zeek is that you can pick up a bit of a deal, because you can buy gift cards for less than their face value, so I was excited to see what was on offer.  I found the site easy to navigate with options for "Buy Gift Cards" and "Sell Gift Cards" always present on the top navigation.
Just some of the many gift cards available to purchase at a discount

Selecting the Buy Gift Cards option, I was presented with a vast array of well known brands including NEXT, Debenhams, iTunes, Argos, Tesco, Boots, Pizza Express, Prezzo, John Lewis, Toys R Us and many, many more. I had been a bit sceptical about how much choice there might realistically be, but I wasn't disappointed.

Under each brand a percentage was displayed to indicate the maximum discount available, though the exact amount of money-off depends on the individual gift card being purchased. Since the cards on sale at any given time depend entirely on what has been sold to the site by other Zeek users, the denominations of card available for each brand can be quite variable.

On selecting a retailer, it was then possible to see any gift cards currently on sale, with the purchase price for each clearly listed. 
For each retailer there are a mix of card values to purchase with varying levels of discount

I opted to buy a £25 Debenhams card for online use, and a £30 physical card to use at Cafe Rouge, enjoying 8% and 7% discounts respectively (total cost £50.80).

For online cards, once purchased they're available immediately to spend, and can be accessed via a handy wallet option on the Zeek site. Physical cards are posted via recorded delivery to be received within 7 business days.

So my Debenhams gift card was available to use immediately from my Zeek wallet and I received my Cafe Rouge gift card in the post about 4 days after my order was placed. Unfortunately the Cafe Rouge card which I received was for £20 instead of the £30 I'd ordered. I immediately contacted Zeek to explain the problem and I have to say they responded very quickly and were keen to rectify the mistake. My personal view is that most companies will make a mistake at some point, but it's how their Customer Services handle the challenge of making things right that makes a good company really stand out.

Zeek, didn't disappoint, offering me two options to resolve the Cafe Rouge situation. I could either post the £20 gift card back, and once received, they would send me a £30 card (assuming they had one available for that value), or, they offered to credit my account with the £10 I was missing plus an additional £5 as an apology for the situation. I opted for the latter which meant I had another £15 to spend! This time I decided to opt for another online card, so I purchased a £20 Interflora card for £18 at a 10% discount.

In total I spent £58.80 for gift cards of value £65.00 which meant I'd saved £6.20 (nearly 10%).

Although I haven't tried selling an unwanted gift card to Zeek yet, the process sounds relatively simple. Gift Cards can be sold as long as their value is between £10-£500. The cost of sale is 7% of the card value (with a minimum fee of £3).

There are some things to consider when deciding to use Zeek for gift card trading:

  • For gift card sales, some of the face value is forfeited due to the sale fees (though this is nothing new - sale commissions are common practice across vendor sites on the internet)
  • You're not able to resell a gift card through Zeek if it was already purchased through their site
  • For purchasing, it would be nice if you could see the expiration dates of cards you are buying, as far as I could tell this wasn't an option to check before purchase (although for some of the retailers the duration is stated on the purchase page). Having said this, the 3 cards which I purchased all had long expiration dates on them (the earliest expiration being October 2017)
  • There's no easy way to search using the denomination you're interested in buying, instead you have to click into each gift card retailer to see what is on offer. A few times I clicked on a retailer to find that they only had £100 gift cards available, sadly outside of my budget
  • Turnover of gift card values available for sale can be fast, so you have to be quick if you see a card that you want
  • At the moment this service is only available in the UK. Although Zeek have advised that you can follow on Facebook, Twitter and their blog to find out when they're launching further countries

The things which I really liked and why I will continue to be a Zeek customer are:

  • The concept itself is a really good one - I love a bargain, so being able to essentially buy "money" for less is always a winner in my book. Plus it's nice to have an outlet for disposing of gift cards I simply wouldn't get around to using otherwise
  • The site is easy to use and the purchase process was quick and simple
  • The discounts I saw while looking through the different brands ranged all the way up to 25% off - certainly not to be sniffed at!
  • The handy Wallet feature allows you to easily see all cards purchased, and keep track of which ones have been used, as well as the all important expiration dates
  • I cannot fault the Customer Service, which was always super quick and very helpful
  • Zeek offer a referral program, which means that you can invite your friends to sign-up and they will receive a £5 free credit (as will you)

If you're interested in signing up to Zeek to make use of the promotional £5 credit, I would recommend following these steps:
1. If you already use a cashback website such as TopCashback or Quidco, navigate to Zeek via these to get your 4% cashback! (correct at time of publishing)
2. Sign-up for a Zeek account
3. Hover over your profile in the top right corner of the site and select the Promo Code option. Enter the promotional code: 23R7773N so that your free £5 will be applied to your account
4. Ensure that you spend your credit within 10 days of applying it to your account, because otherwise it will expire

Alternatively, if you don't use any cashback sites simply follow this link to sign-up and get your £5 credit (and importantly, remember to spend it within 10 days so that it doesn't expire).

PLEASE NOTE: In the interests of transparency if you decide to use the free £5 credit offer, I too will receive a £5 credit in my Zeek account. If you don't like the idea of this, please don't let this put you off giving Zeek a try, here is a non-referral link to Zeek from which I do not benefit whatsoever (though obviously you wouldn't benefit from the free £5 either should you use this). I also use other affiliate links in this article for the cashback sites I mention. Happy shopping!

If you give Zeek a try I'd be really interested to hear your thoughts and feedback, do drop me a line in the comments below...





Saturday, 1 October 2016

Look out Dallas, FinCon2017 here I come!



While I was reading my favourite blogs this week, I noticed in Mrs Frugalwood's latest post that she had not only attended FinCon16 but their website won the Best Frugality Blog of the Year Award in the 7th Annual Plutus Awards. Many congratulations on a well deserved win!

I've never attended any sort of conference before despite the fact that it's something I've always wanted to do. I guess I'd previously assumed that attending conferences was for employees of companies who decided to send "the chosen few" (of which I was never one). However, having entered into the blogging world earlier this year, and indeed venturing into Kindle Publishing as an income generating opportunity, I feel that attending a FinCon event could actually really help me get to a whole new level. Most importantly I suspect that I would enjoy it tremendously.

So this morning I bit the bullet and bought myself a ticket! I have to confess I am slightly daunted about going. For a start this means solo international travel to Dallas, a reasonable amount of expense after ticket, flights and accommodation are accounted for, and throwing myself into a situation where I'm likely to know no-one. Having said all that I'm also incredibly excited and will look forward to this immensely. Hopefully I'll get to meet fellow UK and non UK bloggers alike and maybe even make some new friends.

The early bird catches the worm
The real driver that nudged me into taking the plunge was the fact that there is currently a "List Sale" price for purchasing FinCon2017 tickets that's a significant reduction on the regular ticket cost. Until October 3rd 2016 the sale price is $189 per ticket compared to the normal $449 price. If anyone is interested in going here's where you can purchase your ticket. If you miss the October 3rd cut-off I'm not sure whether there will be any other form of "early bird sale" but it's always worth checking.

If you do decide to go (or indeed already have your ticket), or if you have attended FinCon before please let me know. We could share tips on getting there, what the best things to do are, best places to stay etc. Heck we could even arrange to meet up in person there!

No doubt I will do some sort of write-up on the event after attending (even though that simply feels too far into the future to even be thinking about just yet!)