Sunday, 19 August 2012

By way of an Introduction...

I can hear you yawning already – not another self-righteous blog by some rich git about how it's possible to live cheaply by boiling the snails you find in the garden, making fuel briquettes from animal dung, eating roadkill and generally reverting to a standard of living which was tough enough in the seventeenth century.....hopefully you'll find a bit more than that to engage with in this blog.

I'm a Chartered Engineer, but I'm also a time-served Fitter from an apprenticeship in heavy engineering (honestly, such industries did exist in the UK in those days), having gone on to university much later in life than most, after I'd already been working for around 10 years or so.

After a series of staff jobs (i.e. as an employee), I formed my own consultancy company initially as a tax-efficient way of continuing to do long-term contract work for the same sort of companies as I'd worked for in the past.  IR35 wasn't even a glint in Dawn Portillo's eye at that time (for the unenlightened, under the current IR35 legislation in the UK, those working full-time as a contractor for a single employer are subject to complex rules which effectively compels them to account for their own company's earnings in a specific way and to pay basically the same total amount of taxes as they would if they were a direct-hire employee).


Soon after setting up my company, I began getting requests from former employers to do specific designs and calculations for their more specialist projects.  I continued with my 'day-job' for several years until the early hours of one morning when I was still working on completing one of these other jobs in order to be able to deliver it next day, but knowing that I also had to be up early the same morning to go into work for my regular employer. 

That night, I decided that this situation was untenable in the long term, and that something had to give, so I went into work in the morning and resigned from my 'full-time' contract position to concentrate all my efforts on the other jobs I was picking up.   At the time, I had only around £8,000 in the company's bank account, but I reasoned that if ever the balance fell below that level then I could always go back into full-time work for one employer, so I never felt the financial risk was excessive.

However, after going it alone, I managed to get many more smaller jobs through word of mouth and so my relative independence continues to this day and hopefully long into the future – there was one period when I took an expatriate staff job for a single year in a low-tax country, and that significantly bolstered the reserves, but I also managed to retain many of my previous clients by working evenings and weekends.  The downside was that I could see I was getting back into the same rut as previously, and so I resigned from that post and we returned to the UK.

We then started looking around for another home, and had the great fortune to chance upon our current place a few years ago.  It's on the fringes of the countryside and surrounded by farmland, with only three other houses in the immediate vicinity but close enough to a few mid-size towns as to not be too remote from civilisation.   Due to its location and relatively-low asking price, there was a lot of competition from others in buying this house, and the previous owners had 22 viewings in the first week alone !   But we had something the others didn't have, i.e. the cash to buy the property outright without a mortgage, and it seems the previous owners unfortunately had financial difficulties and needed a very quick sale, so we managed to buy the house within a few weeks.   Although we were very fortunate, it's also proof of the old adage, that "cash is king".

The extent of the previous owners' problems were apparent in the lack of time and money that they'd managed to spend on its upkeep (the house dates from the 1930s and needs fairly constant attention), and so the first four months were spent in almost completely renovating the place before it was ready to move in.  However, the place is very solidly built, it's in an excellent location and we're blessed with great neighbours.

We also still own our previous house, which is a constant pressure on our peace of mind, our time and resources, but that's for a future post.

I've always liked playing around with inventing and making things, and I've a couple of machine tools in the garage, a lathe and a small CNC milling machine.  Moving these machines from the old house to the new was a project in itself, but it was sorted in the end.

In our old home, I had to keep any noise down in the early mornings and late evenings to avoid disturbing the neighbours, but I have none of these problems here and so I've continued to work on my own projects and experiments, which is my only significant hobby apart from the gardening.

Our new house is already surrounded by quite large gardens, and we're in the process of buying another strip of land adjacent to the western fence to make it even larger.   I should add that the rear of the house faces due south and the garden is totally open to farmland to the west, ideal for those solar and wind experiments and microgeneration projects.  There's also a wealth of other things we can, and intend to, do on the plot of land we have.

The nature of the paid work I do tends to be intermittent in its nature, and luckily this gives me a reasonable income and also a fair amount of free time to indulge the hobbies.

However, having a sporadic income stream also means having to keep one careful eye on the pennies, and so the hobby projects are generally designed with the aim of providing some sort of personal financial or other domestic benefit.  Being an engineer, it's natural for me to keep comprehensive test results and financial records etc, and so in the future I expect to be able to share some of the data and analyse whether or not my projects do indeed have any real cost benefits.

There are lots of inspirations for this blog, far too many to acknowledge, although a special mention must go to my wife.

Unlike a lot of similar blogs, I don't describe myself as being 'retired' under any definition of the word, because I really enjoy working (but on my own terms) and it still takes me all over the world for short assignments, but just being able to pick and choose the work I decide to take on is very liberating in itself.

There'll be very little politics in this blog, I don't intend (not too often, anyway...) blaming Thatcher, Blair or Brown for any particular economic woes.  Things are simply the way they are, at any point in time.  Macro-economic issues are generally out of our sphere of direct influence, and so we simply need to make the best of what we can actually control.

I don't regard reducing my personal expenditure as some sort of devout evangelism to be exalted.   This is not an ideological crusade or a tirade against capitalism (or even socialism, for that matter).   Here, having money and resources to fall back on is a very good thing, and absolutely necessary to maintain and protect your chosen way of life.  

I like my experiments and microgeneration projects with low-cost and renewable energy sources, but primarily for the personal satisfaction of carrying them out and their economic benefits to me and others at a personal and domestic level.   If anything I do should prove to be commercially attractive, then I will certainly try to exploit its potential.

After all that, welcome to my Blog ! 

I'll try to post regularly, occasional work commitments permitting, and hopefully with topics of interest to like-minded individuals. They'll generally be on economising while maintaining your standard of living, my microgeneration experiments and projects, savings and investments, doing it yourself, growing your own food, the local wildlife and anything else in a similar vein that takes my fancy.....
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