Like A Rolling Stone

So much has happened in the past month that I didn’t really know where to begin! I was going to break it all down into smaller posts but that has just led me to procrastinate typing it all up so I’m going to just write it all in this post!

A couple of weeks after our first foray into viewings, we were back at it.  This time we went by ourselves and had a look at a small village about ten minutes drive away from the first town we had a look at.  We quite liked the quieter feel while still being close to town.

We viewed four properties that day.  There was one definite ‘no’ due to a lack of natural light and a small garden and two definite maybe’s for various reasons. The last one of the afternoon I didn’t even recall booking the viewing for.  We loved it.  It needs some work but not nearly as much as the other place we looked at did.  It had three bedrooms, a garage and a huge garden.

After the viewing, we went to the local pub to discuss what we had seen.  We started chatting to the bartender and she told us more about the area (and the other local pubs!).  Talking about what we wanted from our forever home really cemented our decision and we put in a lower offer on the final place we saw.

A few days later we found out we had been successful and our offer had been accepted! We were both in a bit of shock, we fully expected the offer to rejected as it was last time.  Over the next week there were a flurry of emails from the real estate recommending mortgage brokers and solicitors to us going to comparison websites and doing our own research.  We ended up going with the real estate agents recommended broker and finding our own solicitor via the comparison website and this seems to have worked out well.

We had a homebuyer’s report done on the place to make sure there was nothing serious wrong with it (again, we used a comparison site to get the best deal).  Thankfully there wasn’t.

So as it stands, our solicitor is making the final checks on the property and we are still awaiting the outcome of our mortgage application.

We are still in two minds about potentially leaving London.  I’ve gone over the pros and cons in my mind more than a few times and there are advantages to both options but  ultimately I believe we can make a good go of living in this new area.

I look forward to letting you knowing whether we are going to be homeowners or not in the next post!

Reflecting on our experience of Shared Parental Leave

On Friday my husband spent his last day at home caring for our son.  This week our little boy started with his childminder and my husband returned to work.  He’d met up with his colleagues for after work drinks on the Thursday and had a chat with his managers about his role returning to the company.

I’ve taken some time to reflect over the past 10 months of our shared parental journey and share my thoughts with you.

One thing I’ve been very grateful for has been the positive reaction to our decision.  Sometimes you read articles where women have been ‘mummy-shamed’ about their decision to return to work early or the father is questioned why he isn’t providing for his family (the internet can be the worst sometimes).  We have received no judgement from family and friends or our workplaces and we feel incredibly lucky for this.

One of the main reasons we chose SPL was financial.  Since I am the main breadwinner, I was keen to get back to work once my maternity pay had dwindled. As it turned out, we had saved enough to safely cover emergencies (thank you PF/FIRE community!). Good thing too as we had to purchase a new car and pay a one month deposit to the childminder.  Would we have done SPL if my husband earned more? Probably as there have been other benefits too.

My husband has had a valuable chance to bond with our son and develop his own style of parenting.  We have different approaches and sometimes I question why he is doing something a particular way but then I have to stop myself.  His way is no less effective than mine, only different so I have learnt to respect his judgement more.

Some of the downsides have been I have lost some of the friendships I had developed when I was on maternity leave since going back to work now that I can no longer hang out on weekdays.  Some may say this isn’t much of a loss but I do miss having people to talk about parenting with and children of a similar age for my son to play with. Thankfully I still have a couple of people that I still get to see on the odd weekend and of course all of our other friends, with or without children!

Setting up SPL was a bit of a pain as it is still reasonably new and there was a bit of paperwork to complete.  We almost had to be experts ourselves before approaching our HR departments.  There was an issue with my first month’s pay back at work full time as I hadn’t been put back on payroll so there was a flurry of activity and a lot of anxiety on my end as they sorted it out.

I think my husband found the change of pace challenging at times and although the landscape is changing slowly, he would still sometimes be the only man at our son’s activities. We also had to consciously make time for each other, rather than just ‘changing shifts’ when the other parent got home from work.

Overall though, it’s been an amazing experience and I highly recommend looking into it, even just to give yourself more options when deciding on childcare.  I have had colleagues of both sexes ask about how we set it up and about our experiences and I hope we can help them as they decide the best course of childcare for their families.

More information about Shared Parental Leave can be found at:

https://www.gov.uk/shared-parental-leave-and-pay

http://www.acas.org.uk/spl

https://www.maternityaction.org.uk/advice-2/mums-dads-scenarios/shared-parental-leave-and-pay/

 

Things I learnt when my brother-in-law moved to Denmark

Two weeks ago we said farewell to my brother in law who has finally made the move to be with his long-term girlfriend in Denmark.  They have been long distance for almost the entirety of their relationship so it’s great to finally see them living together.  Now that he has somewhat settled into his new home, I had a chance to reflect on what his life changing move has had on us.

Keep your eye on the prize

Not that his girlfriend is a prize to be coveted, but once they had gotten through the initial ‘honeymoon period’ of their relationship, they both started to think about their future together and where it would be.  Both the UK and Denmark were considered but ultimately, my BIL’s job was more transferable and his girlfriend had just started her university degree (which might I add is fully funded by the state… not envious at all…) so Denmark seemed like the logical place for them to begin their lives together.  Once this was established, they set a date for him to move and steadfastly worked towards their goal.

The importance of regular saving and an emergency fund

As you can imagine, it can be a bit expensive moving to another country.  I know firsthand after moving to London from Auckland, New Zealand but my brother-in-law had never saved substantial amounts of money before but soon realised that he would need to in order to make his dream a reality.

He moved back home in order to save money paying rent, gave up expensive habits such as smoking and cut down on going out with mates to the pub.  Once he started saving a bit more, this motivated him to increase his monthly savings so he had a good cushion once he arrived in Denmark.

Time spent in planning and preparation is rarely wasted

To be fair, his girlfriend takes most of the credit for this next point.  My BIL is laidback almost to a fault so she found affordable accommodation near her university for them to live, researched the documents you need to live and work in Denmark (think the equivalent of a National Insurance Number in the UK) and started finding potential jobs he could apply to.  My BIL started learning Danish and has enrolled in a Danish school. He updated his CV and had an interview booked the same day he arrived, which he got. As a stroke of luck, one of his new coworkers is from the same town in the UK!

Read the T’s & C’s before you sign!

Unfortunately there was one pot hole in the road in the lead up to the move.  After deciding he would sell his car before moving to add some more money to his savings, he was a bit shocked to discover that he had purchased with PCP (Personal Contract Purchase) finance. With this kind of finance, rather than paying off the entire value of the car, you instead pay how much the finance company predicts the car will lose in value over the term of the deal (usually 24 or 36 months) minus the deposit you’ve put down. This means that the monthly payments are usually lower.  At the end of the deal, you can either give the car back or trade it in for a new one (less penalties for going over stated mileage or damage) or pay a balloon payment to own the car outright.

My brother-in-law had been hoping to add to his savings pot but instead found himself having to pay to give the car back.  Thankfully he had an emergency fund to cover himself but it does highlight the importance of carefully reading contracts so you know exactly what you are signing for.

Support networks are crucial

As I mentioned before, his girlfriend has worked very hard to ensure his adjustment to Danish life has been as smooth as possible.  Both her family in Denmark and his friends family in the UK have tried to do everything they can to support the couple as they enter this next chapter of their relationship. They have offered practical advice, reassurance when fear creeps in and moral support over Skype.  Although many people have moved long distances alone, knowing that there are people out there willing you to succeed can certainly help you when having a down day.

 

Have you or one of your family members moved a long distance away? Did you find yourself reflecting on the experience? What did you learn?

Where to live? Our predicament

*ugh, this post took far longer to write than I ever intended. Sometimes life just gets in the way!*

Earlier this afternoon we signed a contract with our new childminder who will be looking after our son three days a week starting in May when we both return to work full time.  I will be applying for childcare vouchers and my husband has drafted his application for flexible working to send to his manager tomorrow.

One of our dilemmas with our house hunt has been where we want to eventually settle.  We currently live in Zone 3 London however my husband’s family live about 90 minutes out of the city.

Stay in London

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Oh to live this close to the centre of London!

We love London. It’s where we met.  It’s the only part of the U.K. that I’ve ever lived in.  I love that you can go out any night of the week and you’ll find something to do.  We’ve lived at our current home for nearly four years and have built our lives and our interests around the area so in that respect it would be rather difficult to start again.

However, we couldn’t afford to stay where we are.  Living 25 minutes from the city centre is a great perk but when we sat down and thought about it, we rarely go into the city, we much prefer to stay around our local area so is it really worth paying the premium?

London outskirts

By this I mean staying within the M25 or Zone 6.  Places are a bit cheaper out here and we’ll still be able to commute into London for work and play.  We also have our car so we can get around fairly easily and we’ll both be able to keep the same jobs.

We would have to get used to living in a new area and building up new community links and it is still expensive but this could definitely be an option.

Move closer to family

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Not their actual town, imagine a town just like it

We have a great relationship with my husband’s parents.  They are amazing with our son and have not kept it secret that they would like us to move closer to them.  Having just paid the deposit for our childminder, not having that huge expense over our heads would be tempting.  Properties around here are a lot cheaper and we would be more likely to get a 3 bedroom property under the stamp duty limit for first time buyers.

My husband grew up in the area and many of his childhood friends who he grew up with are still in the area.  They have welcomed me into the group with open arms and they are great people but I haven’t got a network of my own in the area.  Also more likely than not I would need to find a new job as the distance isn’t easily commutable.  This would be the option most like starting again.

It feels like a really tricky decision to make, especially since buying will tie us in for several years.  What would you do in our situation?

Thanks for reading!

Shared Parental Leave: How we choose to afford childcare

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my husband and I opted for shared parental leave rather than the traditional 12 months maternity leave on offer in the UK.  I went on maternity leave in May last year until December and then my husband took over from the start of this year until May.

In this post I want to go a little bit more into why we chose this for our family, how we set it up and some of the perks and challenges along the way.

Why did we opt for shared parental leave?

  1. Ultimately, the main reason was because I earn more than my husband.  We did some calculations in the early stages of my pregnancy and in order to comfortably pay our bills and continue to save towards our dream of owning our own home I would need to go back to work sooner.
  2. My husband wanted to be a hands-on father to our son.  This arrangement wouldn’t work unless both parents are 100% on board.

How it works

Both parents need to have been at their job for at least 26 weeks before applying.  Along with the usual paperwork you need to complete for maternity leave, I had to complete a form confirming that I would be ending my maternity leave early in order to begin Shared Parental Leave. Once you opt to end  maternity leave, your decision is final, so you need to be absolutely sure you want to do this!

Once you have indicated you will be ending your maternity leave, you need to decide how you are going to take your Shared Parental Leave.  You basically have 50 weeks less any maternity leave taken and you can either take your leave in turns or at the same time. You don’t need to decide this right away but you do need to give your employer at least 8 weeks notice.

How has it been going so far?

Just over one month in, I’d say it’s going pretty well.  I have quite a supportive employer and they have allowed me to work from home occasionally.   My husband is doing a great job and is loving watching our son learn and grow right before his eyes.  I miss baby during the day but I make the most of our evenings and weekends together.

One of the things I was worried about was perhaps being questioned why I picked my career over my child (not true!) or my husband having trouble fitting in at our local playgroups and activities but the reality could not be further from the truth.  Everyone has been very supportive and there are even a few fathers at the playgroup.  The only downside has been a lot of the mum friends I made on maternity leave are still off work and prefer to meet on weekdays so I don’t catch up with them but I have enough friends with children that I don’t feel like my son or I am missing out.

What about when SPL ends?

We are still discussing options once my husband goes back to work in May.  Childcare in London is expensive and childcare for babies under 18 months is even more expensive. There’s no other way to describe it so it is going to take a hit on our finances.  My husband is looking into applying for flexible working at his company so we won’t need to pay for 5 days a week childcare.  We have been viewing childminders and nurseries in the area trying to find that golden balance of quality and affordability and we think we’ve found a few good options.

Ultimately, you know your family best and what will work best with childcare however after experiencing it, although a bit complicated to set up at the beginning, we would highly recommend considering Shared Parental Leave.

For more information about Shared Parental Leave in the UK, take a look at the ACAS website

Emergency funds: A True Story

Hello again.  I am now back at work full time while my husband stays home to look after our son temporarily (here is some more information about Shared Parental Leave).  Receiving my first full pay cheque after several months of maternity pay was a welcome relief and I made sure that we went back into full savings mode.  This included a £300 lump sum into the Lifetime ISA and slowly increasing the other regular payments I make into our other savings accounts (for more information about how we’re saving for our house, see my previous post on the topic). One of those accounts is our emergency fund.

Now, any personal finance blogger worth their salt will say something about saving an emergency fund (usually 3-6 months of your fixed expenses).  There are literally thousands of posts on the topic which I think is part of the problem.  It all becomes white noise and you don’t really think about doing it. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, save an emergency fund, but tell me this! How do I become the next Warren Buffett?!”

Anyway, I hadn’t really started our emergency fund until I was about 6 months pregnant and was a bit worried that we wouldn’t be able to afford our rent once my maternity pay kicked in so I began putting money into our regular saver for a rainy day.  Thankfully we never needed to use the money towards our rent but we did need to dip into it.

For the past year we had been driving a 1998 Ford Focus.  It was old but we had bought it for £600 and it had low mileage and had been running well.

Ford-Focus-Mk1
It looked a little bit like this

It had breezed through it’s MOT when all of a sudden we started having engine problems.  One mechanic suggested it was the clutch so although it was an expensive repair, we got it done as we figured that the car should keep going for a long time afterwards.  Unfortunately two weeks later as I was driving home with my son, it broke down again at a set of traffic lights.  Thankfully a bystander helped me push it off the road and I had breakdown cover.  A friend who lived locally picked up baby and drove him home and I waited with the car until the tow truck arrived.  After this breakdown, we decided it was time for a new car.  Not the most frugal decision however the repair costs were becoming more than what the car was worth and I never wanted to be stranded with my baby like that again.

Our emergency fund gave us the freedom to put a deposit on a good used vehicle from a local car dealer.  The new car is also a Focus but it has a much more efficient engine so we have been making big savings on petrol and also has a lot more safety features which as a new parent does put my mind at ease.

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What can I say? We like the Focus!

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst and take what comes

We’re thankful that we had the money put aside for a rainy day and have worked hard to replenish our emergency fund.  When we one day own our own home, we will hopefully have enough put aside to take care of any unexpected expenses.  All I can say is that I no longer ignore those articles about emergency funds, you never know what you may learn!