What ever happened to the idea of a 15-hour week? (A tale of priorities and the value of time)

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What ever happened to the idea of a 15-hour week?

(A tale of priorities and the value of time)

“The love of money as a possession — as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life — will be recognised for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity.” John Maynard Keynes..

The one thing most people have in common is that we would all like more time, leisure time that is. Whether it is the all too familiar experience of spending your Sundays wishing you could just have one additional day off (don’t you just love Bank holidays for this reason) or the data that shows absenteeism almost doubles on Mondays & Fridays, it’s obvious that most people want more time to do the things that they want instead of spending it (time) doing what their employers want.

Lack of time has many casualties, be it the pain of getting home late having missed seeing your child that day, your children’s important milestones and events missed by commitments in the office, the perpetual rush from one task to the next without time to pause, reflect and enjoy the natural world which surrounds us, or the lack of time to invest in doing something for which you are truly passionate about. In Bronnie Ware’s ‘The top five regrets of the dying’, the biggest regrets of those on their deathbed were not that they wished they had earned more money, lived in a bigger house, accrued more personal wealth or bought more stuff, it was the two things that our ‘work all hours’, wage slave lives. consumer culture take away from us the most; they regretted never having the freedom (financial) to live a life true to oneself and the lack of time with which they were able to spend with their children in their youth/partner.

The truth though is that it is this way because we have chosen it to be like that, it’s probably always been like that, the only trouble is that maybe we’ve never stopped to actually consciously consider whether that way of living life is the best way or not? Or do we do it purely because it is the only option that we have been raised with? Our herd mentality to follow the flock and to go with the majority.

“Live like no one else does now so that you can live like no one else does when you retire.”, Anonymous

In 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes famously told the world, in his essay entitled ‘The Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren’, that in just 100 years it might be plausible that no man (or woman) would have to work for no more than 15 hours a week. He predicted a scenario of ‘our grandchildren’ working a five day, three hour shift pattern, a total of 15 hours, from which enough of a salary could have been earned to satisfy the ‘economic problems’ of life, the struggle to survive, leaving us all with the remainder of our days to do what we deemed best.

Now I know what you’re thinking, a 15 hour working week is a joke, a pure fantasy only to be found in Utopia, I myself am writing this article having worked a 50+ hours week, but if we all thought, acted and consumed differently then it’s a dream that we could become within touching distance of. How? Most people go to work to earn money with which they exchange for various things…your mortgage payment, utility bills, food etc, but a huge part of that goes on unnecessary expenses, expenses that certainly weren’t around at the time of Keynes writing about the economic possibilities for our grandchildren.

You may even be thinking ‘but’ 50% of my salary wouldn’t even cover the bills, and you could even be right, but how many of your bills have, like many a luxury, entered your house as a guest and settled down to become the host? Could you live without two cars (or even without cars altogether)? an expensive mobile phone contract? satelite TV? holidays abroad? eating out in restaurants? the latest must have gadgets? regular wardrobe/home updates? expensive entertainment choices? lavish gifts at easter, valentines, birthdays and christmas (there are other ways of show how much someone means to you).

‘I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.’ Tyler Durden, Fight Club

Of course, you might even ask yourself what would I do with all this free time? Every man and woman needs to live with a purpose but what they don’t need is for work to be their sole purpose. Life should be more about the never-ending cycle of working, resting from work and indulging in retail therapy (to make you feel better about having worked!).  Every person has it in them to be more than just a full-time consumer and to adopt an approach of spending their leisure time with purpose, producing rather than consuming. Learn to play an instrument, become part of a community group, volunteer your time to help others, try to make something, spend more quality time with your family, begin a new hobby (photography, art, hiking, sailing), go for a walk in the woods/on the beach, learn a new language, read more books or even try writing one! The list is endless, you may even begin to do something that you both enjoy and produces an income, an opportunity to be your own boss and to be in control of your own life.

Could it really be possible? Whilst the dream of a 15 hour week may not be in the reach of most, a 4-day a week most certainly could be. On the days of the week in which my son is looked after by others, after taking in the consideration of childcare costs, the associated transport costs for getting to/from work, additional pension contributions, taxes, national insurance payments, I calculated my daily take home pay to be less than £30 (around $45), meaning I could essentially work 1 day less a week, for just £120 less a month. I’m sure there are plenty of people reading this whose situation is very similar.

Debtfreeminimimalist say: If we continue to follow the same-old path of filling our lives with excessive amount of material possessions (and its companion, consumer debt) we will forever continue on this treadmill of overworking and lack of time. But what not try the alternative? Live a simpler life, a life with more time to enjoy on your own terms (rather than the one dictated by your employer). It’s time to take a moment to examine your true priorities in life, to decide what you truly value in your life. You may even find that you’re a satelite tv subscription (or car payment, gym membership, iPhone contract, luxurious holiday, new kitchen etc..) away from the possibility of working a little less and enjoying life a whole lot more!

Are we all just working for the banks?

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Are we all just working for the banks?

One of the biggest hurdles to living a simple, minimalist life are long working hours, a working week for some of 40+, even 50+, hours, hours, the consequence of which leads us to frantically, cramming in what constitutes a life into the remaining few hours left of each day. But why work such long, anti-life hours? Wouldn’t we all enjoy life a little more if we worked a little less? The answer to these questions will normally return to a central subject, a simple four-letter word. A word which in previous generations was not welcome past the front door of our homes but is now just another part of the furniture in our heavily-mortgaged homes…the word of course is….DEBT!

So are we all just working for the banks? It can be an eye opening moment to consider what proportion of your grueling, working month is spent earning the money which is paid immediately out just to cover the interest and repayments on money that has been borrowed. That chunk of money which, before barely touching the insides of your bank account on pay day, is already accounted for and immediately paid straight back out to pay for numerous possessions that had been bought with funds kindly lent to you by the willing banks.

If you think this doesn’t include you then you’re probably mistaken. Whilst mortgages (or rent) are undoubtedly the biggest repayments (rent is just a repayment of the actual homeowner’s debt) which will be paid out of your monthly wage packet, don’t be fooled, you could also have car finance, student loans, personal loans, overdraft interest, credit card interest (which you don’t clear each month), insurance installments, furniture installments, tv installments, heck even your mobile phone contract involves spreading the payments for the phone over the industry standard 24 months (would you really hand over £500 cash for that iPhone 5 in your pocket?). Give yourself a mark out of 10, if it’s ten then you may be best to start writing ‘bank bitch’ as your main occupation!

Whichever type of debt you possess, from a £250,000 mortgage to a £250 overdraft balance, the one thing for certain is that you will be paying for the privilege of it. Interest on debt provides banks with a huge slice of their annual profits, and it’s an income stream that they’re keen to protect, and keep wide open, for as long as they possibly can. Supported by their friends in government, through schemes such as the National Loan Guarantee Scheme (NLGS), banks are bending over backwards, enticing us with ever tempting rates of interest, to lend us money which they hope, along with our desire for ever more material possessions, will stoke the flames of economic growth for just a little longer.

The interest charged on debt forms a significant proportion of mortgage repayments, especially so in the first ten years of a mortgage. Clever banks have even persuaded us that time periods of 30 to 35 years are an acceptable time span for which to pay off a mortgage, with many experts predicting ‘lifetime’ mortgages to become the ‘norm’ of the future. On a £200,000 mortgage, 35-year mortgage (5% interest), your monthly payments of £1,009 would consist of a staggering £829 interest and a paltry £180 debt repayment. 5 years down the line this means out of your £60,000 mortgage repayments, your actual debt could have only reduced by just £12,000, the banks meanwhile, sitting quietly in the background, would have enjoyed profiting to the tune of £48,000, an average of £9,600 interest per year!

Your bank bitch ratio: To consider how this affects your life, add up your total unavoidable monthly repayment charges (mortgage, credit card, overdraft, loan repayments, insurance installments etc.., and divide it by your daily rate of pay (after tax, pension contributions etc..). The resulting number will be the total number of days you currently work each month just to pay your banks. Just think what alternative, life-fulfilling ways you could choose to be spending your time doing if you could reduce this ratio?

Reducing your bank bitch ratio: This can be easier that you think you and is just a case of being more mindful of what you actually spending your wages on. Find that extra £160 p.m. to pay off your mortgage each month means over 5 years you could actually save yourself £2,400 in interest charges. Over ten years the extra repayments against the actual capital sum borrowed means you would have paid £6,000 less in interest, whilst you may also want to consider the fact that you would have also paid off a staggering £25,000 more of your mortgage.

Other suggestions aren’t quite so headline grabbing but ‘many small leaks can sink a great ship!’. It’s not just mortgage payments that are making large inroads into people’s pay packets either. Of course you could you buy less stuff, but that can be hard, so when you do how about following that old age rule of ‘only buy what you can afford?’. It may sound simple but think of the majority of non-essential purchases you have made over the 2-3 years and ask yourself ‘Did I pay with them using credit?’. If the answer is ‘yes’ then the repayments end up as another small leak into which your monthly wage pours. How many of the purchases would you have hesitated over if the payment was made in one-single cash/debit-card transaction?

Avoiding interest charges: Ensuring you have enough funds to pay for your annual insurances/taxes in one single payment, as opposed to using a 12-month installment option, can save you £150 a year in interest charges, not using your bank overdraft and avoiding bank fees (unauthorised overdrafts, late payment charges etc.) will save you a further £200-£500 a year and of course, clearing any credit card balances (£490 interest p.a charged on average balances of £2,000) will all significantly reduce the proportion of your working month that you’re slaving away just to pay the banks.

The debt-free minimalist approach: Life many of the approaches I suggest, the approach is one of a slow evolution of your personal finances. First is is important to understand that some benefits, for example reducing the term (length) of your mortgage, will only be realised later in life, when your friends and neighbours are still having to slave away in jobs, for many years to come, just to cover their home repayments. In the short-term set yourself small targets over 12 month periods, focusing on those areas of your finance which carry the highest penalties. First try to build up a small cash surplus of around £1000 ($1,500), this will eliminate the need for any short-term finance products such as payday loans (3000% APR), credit cards (30% APR), installment plans (25% APR) and overdrafts (15% APR), which all charge high to extortionate rates of interest. Finally adopt the save and pay approach to all non-essential purchases, only paying for items when you have worked and saved for them.

This essay is best summed up in this simple Chinese proverb:

‘Borrowed money, shortens time’

And time is one thing that you just can’t buy more of!

Try out the MSE mortgage calculator (see link below) and see for yourself the effect that increasing your monthly mortgage repayments has on the term of your mortgage.

http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/mortgages/mortgage-rate-calculator#result

Time to ditch a time-stealer!

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                                             Time to ditch a time-stealer

Most people have one thing that they’d just love to do, an activity of genuine value that will allow you to flourish in some way, but, for some reason or another, you don’t just have the time. Maybe its learning a new instrument/skill, shedding a few pounds, taking up an evening class, calling up a friend/relative who you haven’t spoken to for a while or in my case writing a book and blog. The reality is that everybody has the time to do one of these things, you could start tomorrow, but most won’t as they inadvertently choose to spend their time on a time stealer. You may not even be aware of it! Time-stealers have a funny way of sneaking into your life, setting themselves up as part of your daily routine, quietly soaking up the precious little time that you have in our lives to do something for ourselves. We all have a time stealer, maybe two or even three, so today’s the day to give one up and start living.

The main culprits are gadgets, anything with a screen, be it watching t.v., gaming on a console, or browsing the web on a smartphone, tablet or laptop. The average Brit now spends 3 hours and 45 minutes per day watching T.V. and a further 30 minutes surfing the web (Ofcom, 2012). Sound familiar? For most it’s habit, a sub-conscious choice that’s made, the television goes on once home from work, remains on, lurking in the background, even when eating dinner, until it’s bedtime and you all switch off for the night. Then there’s the daily web check: First there’s the mandatory check of depressing tales of murder, rape and economic meltdown in the local and national news, before moving on to finding out what second rate celebrities may have been doing (or wearing) that day and finally some aimless searching for the material crap that you really don’t need (see Blog #1 ‘I don’t need much’). For most, these habits feed one another, a couple of hours of watching some apparently harmless fashion/home-improvement/gadget show, coupled with the targeted advertisements in the middle, may feed a new desire to acquire a new item of clothing or to redecorate a room etc…

The debt-free minimalist approach: Switch it off… it’s that simple! Not that I’m suggesting that you go completely cold turkey! Make small changes to your daily routine and you will quickly begin to discover the time that is needed for you to really flourish and engage in something that truly adds value to your life.
Most news is bad news: I decided a few months ago that I no longer needed to know the news, the, broadly-speaking, depressing tales of the mass media filled me with fear and anxiety and yet I was actually choosing to spend my time throughout the day listening, reading or watching it. Even on the days that I have to commute to work by car I now listen to digital music, an audio book, stimulating podcast or ,God forbid,….sometimes I just have pure silence.
The 8 p.m. rule: I realised, especially after the birth of our first baby, that i’d work all day longing to get home to see my wife (and son), but in reality some evenings we’d barely speak. Baby to bed followed by 3-hours straight TV/browsing the internet, meant most conversations lacked the full attention of at least one of us. Now we sit down together for the first hour of our evenings, T.V. off, engaged only with ourselves and after dinner there’s always time to do something for ourselves before we switch on the t.v to watch something we have really been looking forward to seeing.
No more dross: If I was to make a guess, I would say 95% of what’s on television is crap, mindless dross, that serves no other purpose than to fill an empty space in the T.V schedule (and your own). Revisited (repeats) shows that were only aired a couple of years ago, reality T.V and of course… Daytime T.V, dominates the T.V guides. The other 5% however can be stimulating, enjoyable, captivating, great viewing, so do yourself a favor and don’t just watch something for the sake of it.

After all, it’s your life and you could be doing something with it ‘that you’d really love to do!’.

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Is the iPhone such a smart phone?

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                                              Is the iPhone really such a smart phone?

It seems that almost everyone these days has an iPhone (even my 13 year old nephew), and I can’t blame people for wanting one either! A beautifully engineered combination of curved polished aluminium and sleek velvet glass, containing a crystal clear retina display, they feel perfectly at home nestled in the palm of your hand. Then there’s the highest kudos value attached to any gadget out there, on par with only the irresistible iPad. But don’t fool yourself, kudos never lasts, its value, just most like new material possessions, will fall from day one, and even more so when it is no longer the latest reincarnation (just ask any owner of one of those old iPhone 4s/iPad 3s). At a push, in the current premium smart phone market, that gives you about twelve months of kudos followed by the remaining twelve months of your contract longing for your next upgrade!

But is it such a smart phone? All that style and kudos certainly doesn’t come cheap. The cheapest you can currently find the latest iPhone 5 is £33 per month which equates to an annual bill of £396 exc. extra charges! That means a decade of being an iPhone owner, as you know that you will upgrade at the end of your 24 month contract, will cost you a staggering £4,000!  In the UK, where the average consumer is walking around with £5,946 of personal debt (Credit Action UK statistics, December, 2012), it is mindless to own one of these style icons whilst at the same time owing money on credit/store cards, overdrafts or personal loans.

The debt-free minimalist approach: Yes I have a smartphone, many minimalists don’t have a phone at all, but my phone is not labelled with a costly brand name (spot it in the photograph above) and it will not be replaced at the industry standard 24 months. The result; less debt, less electrical waste pollution and a simpler life. The debt-free smartphone is renewed every 40 months, costs £7.95 per month, £95 per year or over the decade, £950. That’s £3,050 less personal debt and one more size able step on a pathway towards a debt-free life of minimalism. It is your choice after all.