I am reminded how quickly the seasons change. I can’t even imagine what summer felt like. It’s 6.46pm on a Sunday evening. I am in my pyjamas, with an additional jumper layer, fluffy socks, slippers, my dressing gown and I am wrapped in my trusty Slanket, my hands cupping a steaming mug of camomile tea as I watch a film I downloaded for free.
It’s already dark and I have three candles burning in my front room in lieu of electric light, now banned as I try to keep my fuel bills down. This may sound desperate (it is), but I bet I’m not the only one. Heating? So far it’s only been needed on the coldest of evenings, though we’ve had a few of those already.
I have done my fuel calculations and my bill will be up a quarter per month mid-winter based on my current tariff rise and despite my new usage cutbacks. I am treading water, but I am minimising the damage as best I can. There is nothing else I can do right now.
I expect more tariff rises IF my supplier survives the winter, which I think is unlikely. If they go under, my bill is going to be considerably higher. I am on the cheapest provider around. But at least by tracking my usage, I have some semblance of knowing what I am in for.
I have managed to cut about £2,000 from my outgoings this year compared to 2020. I’ve achieved this through a combination of spending less on my business because this year has been different to last year, and by cutting back, using less and basically doing nothing in my personal life. I’ve also managed to replace of some of this year’s income with bank switching bribes, doing surveys and the odd cheque from my parents. Even so, it looks like I am going to average about £97 a month short on my total income this year.
I don’t use my car for anything but essentials, I don’t go into town. I buy practical, necessary basics. I work, I craft, I read, I bake, and I write. Oh, I spend a lot of time writing. It’s a kind of therapy. But this is no way for anyone to live their life long-term. I feel like I am letting the months slip by with very little to show for it. But it’s what’s on offer right now, and especially as we move into winter with an uncertain pandemic outcome and as household bills creep up. I recently spent a couple of weeks at my parents. They don’t suffer the same challenges as me. The first thing I notice when I arrive is how ambient the temperature is. And how nice the house smells. As I unpack my suitcase I can smell the damp coming off my clothes. It comes from the cold atmosphere but also from it taking several days to get clothes dry at home. When you live in it, you don’t notice it. When you are elsewhere, it seems like the most obvious thing in the world. And I hate it.
It wouldn’t be half as bad if we were in summer. Warm weather tempts me outside and I can throw open the windows all day, and I love that. But trapped indoors on a more than usual basis because of the cold and driving rain is frustrating. But it is the way of things.
The most exciting thing about my Monday morning is checking the Morrisons app for money off deals I can use that week. I am sitting tight, not just because the seasons have changed, but because this is what getting by now looks like. But for what and for how long? Six months? A year? The rest of my working life?
Self-employment, which is where I am financially, is hard, but I wouldn’t swap it for a soulless commute to an office to sit under strip lighting for 8 hours making money for someone else. I have a different work life balance now, and at least I am working for my own business rather than someone else’s. But even those in work who were previously ‘okay’, now aren’t, and we are all faced with the additional challenges of being at home more, isolated and unsure what’s coming next.
I am a little fish in an unbelievably massive pond when it comes to work, but that was always a given. I never expected to make a million. That’s not how things work. For small business owners like me, 2020 proved just how much has to change to shrink that pond enough to make a better income by strangling the competition and collapsing the import markets, forcing people to shop on home territory. We learned a lot from that year of lockdown, but we haven’t learned enough to use it for good.
But last year also demonstrated that my frugal and economic lifestyle set me up to survive lockdowns financially, mentally and physically with little disruption. It was okay for me, and it worked for lots of us who were already working from home and relatively self-sufficient. But it’s been a little concerning to realise that I was already living my life in a kind of lockdown.
This year it’s been unnerving to watch things starting to return to normal which means a return to the old struggle of making enough to live on versus cutting back to balance things out. Thankfully, 2021 has created some new opportunities to keep the balance. Side hustles are starting to reappear. Savings interest, bank switching bribes and loyalty schemes are slowly gaining traction again. It’s a nudge in the right direction at least, and has helped to close the gap between last year’s earnings and this year’s.
Next year I need to do things better if the financial climate allows. Cabin fever is beyond setting in now, and I think by the time Spring come around I will have gone completely crazy so I am starting to sow the seeds of ideas for things I can do to make life a little more interesting.