12 Jun

Is A Smart Phone Really A Smart Idea?

A few weeks ago we were lucky enough to spend 9 days in the Canary Islands, soaking up the sun and I really enjoyed the time away from my desk.

I almost always take my phone with me wherever I go. It’s only a cheap and cheerful Blackberry Curve, but it gives me access to email and web when I “need” it, but for this particular holiday, the phone didn’t come with me. It was never really my intention to leave the thing at home, I’d always thought I’d have it with me so I could keep on top of things with my business and projects etc. But the decision not to take it was kinda forced upon me as by default, Roaming is not enabled on mobiles from Virgin Media, meaning the phone just won’t work abroad.  So with no roaming set up, and the thought of outrageous call and data charges being clocked up on my bill if I did get it enabled, I decided it was best to just leave the thing behind. I would in theory though have access to email etc in the evenings via my tablet, so I wouldn’t be totally disconnected.

Having no phone for those 9 days was, I have to say… unusual! It felt very weird. I first noticed it standing queuing in Costa Coffee in Birmingham Airport, while my Fiance and Daughter had wandered off to another shop. The first thing I normally do when I’m waiting on my own is check my phone. 9 times out of 10, there’s nothing new, or worth even looking at, but I always check it. Maybe it’s a comfort thing… or just an addiction.  But this time, it was weird! I had no phone… nothing to pass the time. It was like I’d been hit by a wrecking ball!

I looked around me, and all I could see were people on their phones… Heads looking down, engrossed in their own digital world. I could count the number of people without a phone or other device on one hand! It was crazy! The whole world seemed to be permanently engaged in some kind of virtual existence… Not one was having a real conversation or taking notice of the world around them.

This continued on holiday too. The longer I was without my phone, the more I began to really notice what other people where doing. There we were, on this beautiful, hot, sunny island in the middle of the Atlantic, with the sea, beautiful blue skies and fantastic surroundings and so many people were still engrossed in facebook and twitter, completely missing the amazing world around them, in favour of living in an electronic world on a “Smart Phone”, that didn’t even exist a few years ago. Yes in some ways it’s amazing, but come on… This planet is a fantastic place to live… Who the heck would want to miss it?

The more I noticed other peoples behaviour, the more it rang alarm bells with me too. This was what I’d been doing… and it made me feel quite embarrassed to be honest. The amount of time I’ve spent glued to my phone and missed out on conversations with friends, family and loved ones. Checked my email constantly looking for that nugget of something to put a smile on my face like a notification of product sale, or an ebay auction ending etc. Continuously pushing buttons in the hope of winning a prize, when all around me are prizes galore (not literally, but you know what I mean).

As the holiday went on, the more I came to the conclusion that a Smart Phone might be “Smart” by nature, but it might not be a “Smart” idea from a Living Life point of view. Do we really need to be that connected? Do we really need access to email all the time? Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest etc… Yes it’s nice to share stuff, but how often do you check your Facebook feed, looking for something exciting, something to like, something to entertain you for a few milliseconds, then after 5 or 10 mins of looking down your feed you realise “hmm… not much happening”? I’ve done it. A lot!

At the end of the holiday, I’d really become accustomed to not having instant access, and it actually felt fantastic. Liberating in fact. I was now more “connected” with the world around me than with the online world and it felt brilliant.

Returning home, I really didn’t want to even bother turning the phone on! I made a bit of a pact with myself to really get to grips with what I used the phone for, how long I spent on it and when etc. It really wasn’t as important a thing in my life as I’d come to believe and decided to put a bit of an action plan together to really cut my usage down, and allow me to be more present in real life. Some of it may seem a bit drastic, but it’s 2 weeks since we came home and I’m still going strong! I still have the ability to connect  to the web should I need it but for the most part, it’s totally unnecessary.

  1. Turn off Data completely! Yep, I switched off data access on my phone 100%. Now the phone is… erm… just a phone! No web access by default. If I really need it, I can turn it back on.
  2. Email, Facebook, Ebay and all the other things can wait until I get home. There’s never really anything that urgent. If it’s life threatening, everyone that matters has my number.
  3. Turn off email on the phone.
  4. Turn off all visual and audible notifications (except for sms… sms is still enabled in case family need me etc)
  5. Have a serious cull of my Facebook timeline… Less stuff to see means less time spent on there and more time doing stuff that really matters.

I honestly thought I’d struggle with this, but I haven’t at all. If anything I’ve become more aware of just how negatively, maybe, smart phones are affecting the world and society. No one seems to live in the real world any more. Go and sit in a public place when you have a minute and people watch. Turn your own phone off or even… leave it at home. Count how many people pass you in 10 minutes & how many of them have their heads buried in their phones… It might just shock you!

20 Aug

The preparation for moving begin with the smallest step…

Moving to the coast seems like a huge step at the moment… It’s going to be one heck of a journey for sure, but as the old saying goes, every journey begins with a single step, so we’re taking baby steps towards making our move, to build momentum over the coming months.

De-cluttered: The result of 4 hours work! A job well done.

One thing we still seriously have to do is declutter… There’s little point in taking junk we’ll never use with us when we move. Why pay removal men to cart boxes of stuff we don’t need to the other side of the country? Read More

02 Jun

Can running make you fat?

I was reading an article in the paper yesterday about exercise and the various conflicting theories about how much and which type of exercises you need to do to actually burn body fat. We recently took up running, primarily in the hope of shedding a few pounds before our summer holiday, but also to improve our level of cardiovascular fitness.

6 weeks on, how do things look? Well, both Tina and I have been running 3 times a week for between 20 and 30 minutes per session and the routes we’ve taken have been varied to include running up and down hills, grass, asphalt and gravel. Our general fitness levels have increased considerably a we can both now run for the full session holding a conversation, and neither of us are ready to completely collapse from exhaustion on our return. Recovery time is also far reduced too, with the whole experience leaving us both energised afterwards and ready to face the rest of the days challenges.

Weight loss wise though, it’s a different matter. Neither of us have seen any weight loss at all. In fact I think I’ve put on a pound or two. So the question is what do you have to do to get the burn that body fat? According to the article and the guys at R and O Group it’s to do with the bodies reaction to prolonged exercise or at least exercise that stresses the body out too much. Stress through exercise causes your body to produce the stress hormone, Cortisol. In short, this puts your body into Fat Storage mode! Not something we’d expect from exercising.

Change of approach

A change of direction is therefore required. In their Weapons of Fat Destruction post on their blog Ruben and Ozzie recommend Sprinting over jogging or running for stimulating fast fat burning. Here’s what they recommend…

6 Sprints a day, 6 Days a week. Combined with healthy eating and some resistance exercise which can be done at home using just bodyweight – Push ups, Pull ups, Sit Ups, Squats etc.

Sprinting Program

Work (sprint) Rest No movement
20 seconds 20 secs
20 seconds 15 secs
20 seconds 10 secs
20 seconds 20 secs
20 seconds 15 secs
20 seconds 10 secs

They also reckon that fantastic results can be achieved in just 4 to 6 weeks too… so we’re going to give it a go, see how we get on!

15 Jul

Free Owl Energy Meters

Free Owl Energy Monitor

Free Owl Energy Monitor

The UK Government announced “Free Energy Meters For Every Home” back in 2007, and it’s finally come to fruition in 2009. While you can’t keep the Energy monitor for ever, you can now get a an Owl Energy Monitor on a Free one week loan from your local library, just as you would a book… Nifty!

I’d been thinking about getting one for a while but the cost of the meter vs what I’d save was questionable in my mind, after all, applying a little common sense to your energy usage and you can reduce your energy bill substantially without a meter. But getting one for free, even just for a week was worth a shot.

Easy to Set Up

The first thing you need is Batteries, 6 of the little beggers… I thought it might have come with them, but then unsavoury types that borrow the meter would probably keep them, so hey, no probs. Once the batteries are in, you just sync up the transmitter and receiver and fit the transmitter sensor round the live feed to your consumer unit (full instructions as given). It’s as simple as that. The receiver/display unit should then start to show how much electricity is currently being used.

You can then set the various tariffs up on the receiver display module using the info from your latest electricity bill. Don’t forget to press reset on the Display to start afresh, or you may end up adding the last users consumption to your readings.

Start Logging

Those useful people at our local library had included some templates to use for logging purposes, which was very kind of them. Listed on there were the most common household appliances such as Kettle, Toaster, Dishwasher etc so you could work out the consumption of each device as you used it, and keep a tally over the week.

It Soon Adds Up

It’s amazing how Energy Conscious you become when you’ve got one of these things on your Electricity supply. Even with hardly any gadgets or appliances we found we were paying 2p per hour, which then doubled and trebled as the Fridge & Freezer kicked in. Turn the kettle on and Wham… up to 25p per hour. Dishwasher 30p per hour while it’s heating the water.

Most notable was leaving my Computers switched on over night. Even during Economy 7 hours, leaving 2 computers, a Laptop, 2 external hard drives, router and couple of other gizmos running was costing around 3p per hour. Which even at Economy 7 rates is £25 a year. Doesn’t sound a lot, but me and the Mrs can get a meal out for that. I’d rather do that than leave the stuff switched on!

Get Your Name On The Waiting List Now!

Give your local library a ring now and put yourself on the waiting list to get one of these gadgets right now. It’s a real eye opener. Just by having one on a weeks loan, I reckon some of the changes we’ll make as a family to our energy consumption will save us well over £50 a year…

Find your local library here, it’s free to join and costs nothing to borrow an Owl Energy Monitor for a week.
Alternatively, you can Buy your own Owl Energy Monitor online here.

06 Oct

Living Beyond Your Means

For much of the past 10 years, I’ve been pretty much a textbook example of a person living beyond their means. Ok I don’t live like a king and over the past year I’ve been cutting back, trying to control this mess I’m in, but there are areas, particularly where the business is concerned that I’ve operated beyond my means. I’ve made some foolish choices of there past 5 years that haven’t helped matters and I’ve taken some risky gambles. I’ve never put money on horses or gone to a casino, but sometimes I think that might have paid off better.

Personally, we’ve not held back really. I’ve always wanted my family to have the better things in life, so “Putting It On The Credit Card” became a bit of a way of life to be honest. “Don’t Worry, I’ll Pay It Off” could often be heard coming from my direction on many occasions. Looking back I can see just how childish I’ve been. Instead of just coming clean with my family and telling them just how much I owed I kept it quiet and just bumbled on… The debts growing slowly but surely.

My father-in-law to be recently asked me, “does the amount I owe worry you?”

The honest answer is no! It doesn’t worry me. It annoys me that I let it get to that level, and it spurs me on now to do something about it…

06 Oct

Where Am I?

My Fiance and I recently sat down and looked at our financial posision. It’s the first time I’d really come clean about how much debt we were in and how much money we have…

Our current balance sheet looks something like this:

Debts

  • House: £36,000 Mortgage. House Value: £110,000
  • Personal Debt: £5,000 (Mix of credit card and personal loan for the car, plus an overdraft)
  • Business Debt: £31,000 (Mix of credit card and loans)

Yeah… quite a bit of debt then…

Assets

  • Membership sites that earn about £3000 per month
06 Oct

Starting to put it all right…

So yes, finally after nearly 10 years of being what I thought was a business owner, but was really just a Self Employed monkey I’ve finally woken up and I’ve just got a whiff of that freshly brewed coffee. My accounts are now finally 100% up to date… I think I have one receipt and two invoice to enter at present, and I’m about to start out on the long journey of paying my debts off and investing in my future.

I’m 36… not old I know, but I’m no spring chicken either. I’m no fool, I’ve been to University, got a good degree and all that, but my Financial education has been pretty non-existent. Now that I’ve had 10 years experience of working for myself, it’s time to turn this ship around and really do something worthwhile with my life…

Since I was a kid I’ve always wanted to work for myself, but blimey, I didn’t think it would be quite this hard. So lets see if I can do things right over the next 10 years? What do you reckon?

06 Oct

Building An Income

Since the day I’d become Self Employed, I’d always just flown by the seat of my pants. It’s taken me nearly 10 years… 10 long hard years to realize the importance of organization and planning. More often than not, I’ve been my own worst enemy… Nearly every years accounts have been submitted to the Inland Revenue late since I started. I just paid the fines and got them in eventually. Looking back, all I think is, what a fool I’ve been. Not a Fool as in the wise Motley Fool sence, but Fool as in total idiot.

Planning is key when it comes to building a solid income base. In this day and age, Job Security is non-existant, despite what they teach you at school and what your parents say. Security just ain’t there, unless you build that secure base for yourself. If you’re staring your own business, it’s all down to you and you alone to start and put the building blocks of the business, the system that will give you your income for years to come.

That’s not to say you need to do all the work yourself, that’s not what I mean… but it’s down to YOU the owner of the business to make sure the system works and to iron out any creases that can completely turn your business upside down. Looking back at the mistakes I’ve made over the past 10 years, I’ve made some corkers… but do I wish I’d not made them? No!

I’m still in debt, by a substantial amount, but I now know where I went wrong and I’m trying my hardest to put things right now. I know where I went wrong, I know what I did wrong and now understand what I should have done to avoid the massive pile of debt I’ve ended up in.

Building an income takes time, it takes patience, and dedication. It also takes a lot of discipline and determination. Discipline in getting up early in the morning to get stuck in. Discipline to not strip your business of all its profits just so you can have all the things you “think” you need as a business owner, like the nice watch, the nice car, the fancy clothes… Looking back, yeah it’s important to feel good, but for god sake don’t do it at the expense of building solid foundations for your business and ultimately building a long-term income for yourself and your family.

Things I’ve learned, and feel free to laugh cos they’re all so obvious now, looking back…

  • Live within your means
  • Don’t pay yourself more than your business can afford
  • Know your figures… know what your business expenses are at every step of the way and do everything you can to keep them low.
  • Get organized.

Building a business, building an income takes some serious determination, so if you want to make a go of it… be prepared for some hard times. I’ve never had a problem with getting up early, getting the work done, but I’ve never been any good at the organizational side of things… Accounts? What are they? Planning? What? … no idea what you’re talking about.

01 Oct

Let there be light…

Now all I can hear in my head is the mighty vocal tones of Bon Scott belowing out Let There Be Rock… Hmm…

Lightbulb Moment #1

So the lightbulb moment, where it all began… Back in 1999 I worked for an Industrial Controls company in Nottingham. I drove me nuts and I hated every single minute of it, not least the commuting in to Nottingham every day which ate up nearly 2 hours of every single day. Then through a contact of my Fiance I got offered a job, working freelance for an internet entrepreneur, doing graphic design… Yeah, at last, a chance to work for myself… do work sub-contract, but be able to do my own thing when I was free. Plus I had the chance in sharing some of the profits from the sites and graphics I created… Dream come true this.

Making the jump was easy to be honest. Took me all of about 5 mins to make up my mind… Freedom from the drudgery of travelling to Nottingam every single day… Whoot Whoot.

So working for myself was great… While my better half was out at work, I could get stuck in to making my own money… the harder I worked, the more graphics I pumped out, the better it got… Then hmm… It maybe wasn’t all it seemed… yeah the harder I worked the more I made, but there was often corrections to be done… not cos what I produced was crap, as it definitely wasn’t, but just because the goal posts kept changing.

So I took the decision in about August 2000 to really fly solo… which really brought me down to earth with a bump… No income… well hardly… Tear, tantrums, arguments… oh god, we had it all… from me too! haha.

Then then work began to come in, working on design projects for a variety of large(ish) clients and I started to make a bit of a living at last. The I suddenly had a brain wave… the first lightbulb moment… lets get back into the industry I was doing the graphics for before, but on my own terms.

Things really took off… incredibly well to be honest and within a year I was reknowned as one of the top designers in the business… fame and fortune at last haha. But as with many people, who suddenly get a step change in income… it goes to your head. I don’t drink to excess, don’t smoke, but I do like nice things, and nice things we had. Nice watches, nice cars, trips to Las Vegas, trips to Miami, it all followed and I saved nothing, let me repeat NOTHING! Ok we had no debts really, but we spent everything we earned… what fools.

Looking back I regret that so much… but we’ll get to that later.

Lightbulb Moment #2

Then after 2 or 3 years of being a Top designer, I got bored and kinda distanced myself from the business. Working so hard for those few years, I got a little burnt out I suppose, wanted a bit of a change. Christmas 2003 my other half bought me a Scalextric set, just like I had when I was a kid… they were becoming popular again and I had lightbulb moment Number 2! There’s got to be money in them there toy cars.

So shortly after Christmas, I got on the phone and started calling suppliers. I could buy the cars from a local distributer and get about 30% mark up. We did some basic calcualtions and thought, yeah, lets go for it…

On went the rose tinted glasses… we could make a fortune selling these things. There were even some budget cars we could buy and the sell on via Ebay and double our money… We bought a bunch of the cars and things started to go ok… so I started to invest in more stock… it grew nicely…

The Rot Set In

Then unfortunately, things started to go a little off the rails, but at the time I didn’t see it. God only knows why. I decided to branch out into Model Railways too, but rather walk before I could run, I thought, nah… lets RUN! I started buying in stock, built a nice flashy website. It was all there, ready to make a fortune. Sales grew from £100 the first month to £150,000 turnover in the first year. I started to borrow money to finance buying in more stock, instead of just re-investing the profits. I carried on paying myself at the rate I paid myself when I was doing design work, which added fuel to the fire.

Shipping parcels, dealing with customer issues etc got worse as sales grew, I was getting bogged down and working on my own, trying to do everything, except some of the packing which my parents and finace did, really got ontop of me. I wasn’t keeping control of things. The debts began to spiral…

Down to earth with a bigger bang…

January 2007… I’d had enough… yes, yet again… I was fed up… Although I was fed up with the Money situation that I’d got myself into… My fiance didn’t really know how much of a pickle I was in… she thought we were fine. Why the hell hand’t I said something? I don’t know. I really don’t know. Didn’t want to admit failure I suppose.

Now what do I do?

In a bid to start to dig myself out of this massive hole, I started to look for design work again, and a few good sized projects did come my way. I Also began to look for new projects I could work on, but this time, just promoting other peoples products, not actually stocking anything at all, so there would be no shipping, packing or lost parcels to deal with…

And then…

It’s now nearly 2 years on from when I called it a day as far as Model Railway & Scalextric stuff is concerned, and this is where the real journey begins…