Part four, the final!
I want to do a post entirely on my financial accountability project, but needless to say, I found it very helpful to see exactly where I spend my money and where I throw it away. Christmas came and went, expensive as it always is and I think I learnt a few lessons there. My family are not Big Ticket Item people. We tend to buy a number of small things totalling a larger number, rather than one thing at the large number. Buying One Thing seems like such a risk – what if the other person doesn’t like it? Or, if it’s something they actually want, it looks like you’ve shown no great thought by just buying what they asked for. My family have always been like this. Most of my friends have too. We all came from well off backgrounds but with minimal money extra. As teenagers we would have a limit of ten or fifteen pounds and would try to see how many things we could get for that. As we grew older and had a little more spare cash, gifts still held that same ethos: lots of little things. The problem is that inflation rose with us and the little things are now a little bit more expensive. We’re maybe buying six bubble baths for the price of one good hardback book.
At the moment, my friends and I are all roughly at the same stage with roughly the same amount of spare cash at the end of the month, and it’s not lots. Those of us who aren’t spending hundreds of pounds on flights home for Christmas, have mortgages or are on maternity leave with babies. Or having weddings to pay for. Or have gone freelance. Or have had a career shift and suddenly need to squirrel money away for rainier days. There’s less money for buying a Good Thing and the Topper things that make up the whole gift. And we have enough money ourselves to buy the little things – the glass nail files, the cute lipbalms and the weird chocolate bars (lime and salt is not a great idea, actually, take it from me).
I took a slightly different tack this Christmas and just outright asked people what they would like as a gift. Rather than buying two things I think they’d like and then “rounding it off” with some smaller sillier things, I bought the things they asked for and things I thought they’d like. It felt VERY strange not to be wrapping a whole bundle of gifts. And, to be honest, it felt a lot less wasteful. I knew that people would definitely really like the three books I gave them, rather than like the book I gave them and wondered what to do with the bubble bath set I hoped they’d like but wasn’t sure and felt I had to buy something else to make up the budget I’d set. I’m not really explaining this very well and I’m afraid of coming across as a skinflint or buying gifts that aren’t considered – I don’t think that’s the case, but it’s interesting that I am already defensive about how I spent my money on people.
Where I fell down this year was completely missing gifts with some friends. I’d not expected to exchange gifts with them, hadn’t budgeted, then panicked and overspent. I didn’t like that. I also don’t know how to fix it. How do you break the gift-cycle? How do you say to someone, “Look, I like you and cherish our friendship, but I don’t think we need to mark it with tangible items this festive period.” It seems so harsh!
Where I did well was saving my credit card reward vouchers (from the M&S credit card) and Amazon vouchers that I’d accrued for Christmas. The M&S card actually isn’t good at all for rewards now, as they’ve changed their T&Cs and so I shall be smart and switch to something better. That was one thing I did learn from my ex who worked in finance – don’t just GIVE your credit to some bank – it’s an asset, so you should receive something in return. I’m looking at either a cashback or an airmiles card.
Speaking of airmiles, I was smart enough to book flights in the BA sale in January (although not using airmiles) and so saved myself a little there. Stupidly, I have to move one of my flights, because I hadn’t put something in the diary, but you live and learn.
Over Christmas I had food poisoning and had to totally relinquish planning to my sister (who managed admirably, of course) and the rest of my family. It was quite difficult for me but I didn’t really have an other option. My sister did everything wonderfully and my mum had everything organised in her own haphazard relaxed way. Everyone still had a good time, even if the plates didn’t match. There’s a lesson there, obviously.
One thing I did learn while I was away, holidaying with someone else’s family, is that I need to be connected to MY people to feel relaxed. Fritz and I had a bit of a discussion where he was slightly miffed that I was on my phone when we had some time alone. Not all the time, but for about fifteen minutes. I felt bad about that until I realised that, actually, this was not mindless scrolling through Instagram or Facebook and ignoring him. He was on holiday with his family, revelling in the connection and relationships he had. While they’re lovely, they’re not my family. I was in Italy where I didn’t speak the language, where I was on someone else’s timetable and utterly cut off from My People and what was going on with them. I realised that Facebook and Instagram were giving me back a little corner of my world when I felt so alien in the real one. Skiing was tough and it was a bit lonely being in a class of strangers. While it’s great to be included in someone’s family, I wasn’t up to speed on in-jokes and I missed that. Social media gave me a moment of belonging to my people and connection. I didn’t feel quite so lost and on my own (even though I wasn’t!) – it was also great to let people know how stressful I found skiing and hear from friends who agreed, not to make me feel better, but because they had also found it difficult. I can relax around strangers when I’ve topped up my reserves of familiar people.
By the time I got back to London after skiing and generally living out of a suitcase since November, I realised that I wasn’t doing super well. I was constantly fighting off a migraine and being overwhelmed by my To Do list. And so for a week I tried to be in bed for ten pm. I shut my phone off at 9.30 so I could get ready for bed and then read for a little with a nice candle before turning out the light. It was remarkable the difference. It was also remarkable that I only lasted for three days. It was a lovely idea, but I have friends and family in different timezones and if I don’t have my phone on, then I’ll miss them and weeks can go by without us catching up. Also, a friend texted with big news at 9.28 and it would have been churlish to just cut that off after two minutes. I haven’t worked out the balance, but this is something I need to do.
If I wanted to switch careers, I’d be in good company. Every third person I know seems to be jacking in their career of a decade and doing something utterly different and terrifying and brave. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m thinking of options. That being said, writing cover letters is the most soul destroying activity in the world, so I’m in no rush.
On the career front, I have discovered that I am not a bad manager at all. I had a very immature trainee for a little while, who had never been away from home before, took everything personally and was terribly difficult to work with. She also burst into tears at the drop of the hat, which disrupted the department and other departments! This was not ideal. The organisation I work with isn’t super at human relations or communication and the attitude was essentially “she’ll leave soon enough, let’s not make a fuss” which I didn’t think was actually that great a solution. So I sat with her on a number of occasions and had Some Difficult Conversations. Hilariously, I had to talk to her about how to be an adult in the world.
She was bright, but she wasn’t independent. She was used to being the centre of attention and not having to try very hard and now she did. She was a good kid, she’d just never had to work at anything. I had to establish how to teach her how to do the job without losing my patience or being unkind or sarcastic, but also without mollycoddling her. I also had to put the good of the team before my own personal feelings of exasperation. I also had to be firm when usually I would wuss out. In the end, she was much improved and so was I. I’ve learnt how to ask questions and speak softly, rather than charge in with a funny-but-cutting remark that will shut down the other person. Being right and having the other person know it, damn it, isn’t always the goal.
The list of projects is ever increasing. Oh, so many. But slow and steady wins the race. Some I’ve timetables for later in the year, some I’ve realised felt more burdensome than rewarding and some have been chipped away at bit-by-bit.
I’m loving my Bullet Journal and also the List Book I was given for Christmas. I’m juggling a paper diary, my BuJo, the notes in my phone and at least two pieces of paper floating around, but at the moment I seem to be fairly organised. I’ve done a little Marie Kondoing, I’ve resolved to be more intentional about the blog and I’ve got plans in the wings. I’m getting there.