One of the challenges of starting again with work options is that it has a far-reaching effect beyond what is actually being done in ‘office hours’. Priorities need to be re-examined in all sorts of different ways, and for me, with particular reference to finances.
Near the start of my ‘bridge year’ planning process, I had to check that the proposal was economically viable and out came the family finances spreadsheet that I launched back in 2005 upon becoming the proud owner of a certain suite of programs without which, it seems, the world might not function. With renewed purpose, a full day was spent catching up on lost entries in order to prove that we were indeed solvent. It is a wonderful thing when everything adds up into neat coloured columns, and there is nothing like a beautifully laid out set of numbers and the odd graph, to aid the feeling that everything is under control. Even though the spreadsheet suggests that there is going to be a significant deficit, at least the picture is now clearly presented and can be acted upon.
With the evidence documented I have been able to shelve the worry of not knowing whether our abrupt loss of income is going to lead us into financial ruin. It is a bit like writing a list of things to do – even knowing that the list is impossible to achieve, it helps. Progress can be marked and a sense of realism about the possibilities is arrived at. Expectations are readjusted and take the place of blind optimism heavily underpinned by internal panic.
It seemed that there were remarkably few certain ways of cutting costs. After stopping Gym membership and reviewing money that we donate, switching supermarkets and reducing transport costs are the most likely candidates for making an impact on outgoings. The holiday budget is ring fenced – take those funds away, and the prospect of being unable to recharge drained batteries, instantly drains the batteries. Not good.
This week then, I have taken to riding my bicycle. For a whole five days, the Skoda sat parked outside the house and my bicycle and I formed a new friendship. Admittedly, the first day, this friendship was a little closer than I expected. It being a gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon and with a couple of hours in the park in prospect, a skirt was quickly wrenched from the depths of my summer wardrobe. Having decided that my modesty was not at risk, and addressed my safety with a helmet, my husband and I set off at speed towards the park. About half way I noticed a tugging which I unwisely dismissed as meaningless – after all, the bike seemed to be running along smoothly and I was enjoying the ride. Arriving at our destination I attempted a nonchalant dismount. Disaster threatened as it appeared that my elasticated skirt was going to detach itself from me far more readily than from the bike.
As if by magic, a knight in shining armour appeared and released the brakes from the wheel so freeing my skirt, which now sported additional repeat patterns stamped around its circumference. As I casually muttered something about signing up for a bike maintenance course, behold, he put a card into my hand with details of the very same. Cycle training was indeed his trade. Now that is a course I must sign up for this year.
Barring that little episode, all other rides, and in particular the route to and from my new placement, have been delightful. OK so I have not encountered steep hills or stormy weather, but I am quite enjoying this particular economy drive. My trip to work now takes just 15 minutes, of which the first 10 consists of a scenic jaunt through the local country park. No sacrifices there then.
In fact, taking the bike out in this manner has provided the opportunity to rediscover an affinity with nature. It is, in particular, the sound of birds singing that enlivens the soul first thing in the morning.
As regards to progress in other areas of cost cutting, the supermarket savings are proving something more of a challenge just now. The clash of interests when faced with choosing fair trade over economy or free range over factory is heightened. But I tell you what – at just 50p a pot for chicken livers, that alternative bolognaise recipe which has the added bonus of coming from my ‘Cooking with Care’ healthy eating cook book, is set to make a regular appearance in this household.