Categories
Lessons from the lockdown Money

Returning to normal?

I did three things this week that I haven’t done for a long time.

Firstly, I went to the pub for the first time since 15th October. Secondly, I went to the barbers for the first time since 13th October (a 183-day wait for a haircut compared to the 166-day wait between January and July last year). And thirdly I had to get cash out from a cash machine.

This is the first time I’ve had to get any cash out since December. I’ve not had much reason to spend cash though as the only thing I’ve had to buy with cash recently has been the occasional takeaway place that doesn’t take card. However the barber only takes cash and it’s easier to split a group beers bill with cash.

I’ve found all the times I’ve taken out cash over the last couple of years and plotted it into a graph:

The orange dots show each date I’ve taken out cash, whilst the blue line shows the amount averaged by the number of days until I next took out money (I don’t always take out the same amount each time but averaging it should make it comparable). The massive spike in December 2019 is for Christmas meals, because as I said, it’s always easier to sort group events with cash. And that was the last time I had any great need for cash.

Since then, my cash usage has dropped off massively and has been practically non-existent over the last few months. Maybe the cash usage will pick up again as things start to open up again and we can be more social, but maybe the days of using cash are over (other than for occasional beers and haircuts).

Categories
Pondering

In the office

Whilst I was going through the data for last week’s post, I noticed that most of my journeys where travelling to or from work, particularly in 2020 when travelling for fun wasn’t allowed. It seems quite obvious that I’m now working from home more often. But in previous years I would have had more days out of the office: on training courses, on business trips, on leave (yes, I have taken some in 2020, but not as much as before). So just how many days do I normally spend in the office each year? To be clear, this is just talking about how many days I’ve been *in the office*, not how many days I’ve been *working*.

Some days it’s easy to tell when I went to the office, I made a morning peak journey in one direction, and an evening peak journey back in the other direction. Some days it’s more complicated as I come back a different route, or get off at a different station to walk a bit further, but it’s still generally obvious that I’ve been into the office. Other days it’s more complex as I’ve gone somewhere else after work, but I generally always head home afterwards. Although strangely I have travelled to work more times than I’ve come home, mainly as a result of occasionally running home instead. There’s also the possibility that I’ve travelled into the office and then gone elsewhere for the bulk of the day, and there’s a number of half days which I didn’t count specifically, but hopefully it should all balance out. Suffice it to say, these values are all very approximate.

I think there should be 222 possible days in the office per year (365 – 52 Saturdays – 52 Sundays – 8 bank holidays – 31 days leave). Yes, I’m ignoring leap years and that some years may have extra weekends or bank holidays. As I said this is approximate.

So, counting up all my journeys, here’s what I get:

YearDays in
office
% of working
days in office
201421094.6%
201519186.0%
201620491.9%
201720793.2%
201818282.0%
201917880.2%
202015368.9%

And whilst 2020 is lower than 2019, it’s not dramatically lower. But is quite a bit lower when compared to the high of 2014. It’s hard to tell if this is a general downwards trend, or is just related to some jobs/time periods having more business travel. For 2021 I’m currently at about 61% in the office, but given that we’re only six weeks into the year this could obviously go up or down before the end of the year.

And coming back to my initial reason for looking into this, I spent approximately 25% less last year on travel around London than in 2019, but I was only in the office 14% less than than the previous year. I’m not sure what the point behind those calculations is – I’m sure I could draw something else out, but that seems like enough for now.

But with a dataset of all my journeys for the last seven years there must be more that I can discover. What else would be interesting to know? My longest journey? My day with the most journeys? How many stations I’ve been to? Let me know in the comments.

Categories
Money

Annual Travelcard, or Pay As You Go…

Just over seven years ago, I moved to London. Before that I had always had houses and jobs that I could either walk or drive between. Now though, I had to get the train every day, and also to pay for it. I started off paying for each journey from my Oyster card top up balance, but in January 2014, I realised that I was topping up a lot and that it might make more sense to get an annual travelcard. The main advantage of a travelcard being that all journeys within the chosen zones would essentially be free, so the more journeys made, the better the saving.

So why is that relevant? Well, I’ve kept a record of every journey I’ve made, and every January I compare how much I would have spent on pay as you go versus how much I paid for the travelcard (plus the extra journeys outside my travelcard zones). Unfortunately I no longer have the exact statistics for the first few years, but in 2017 I saved £246.50 (and I think a few of the earlier years were even bigger savings).

2017 Travelcard2017 PAYG
£1581.70£1828.20

Fast forward to 2018 and I moved house from zone 3 to zone 4. Now, not only was the travelcard cost more, but there were fewer transport options so I was less likely to use public transport. The calculations were more complex because I moved halfway through the year, but I think I ended up spending £96.40 extra by having a travelcard and not making the most of the journeys.

2018 Travelcard2018 PAYG
£1869.90£1773.50

For 2019, I decided to renew my travelcard. Yes, I had lost some money the previous year, but it was complex with moving house, and maybe I would make more journeys this year. And so, in January 2020 I calculated how much I had spent the previous year, and unfortunately found that I overspent by £234 by having a travelcard.

2019 Travelcard2019 PAYG
£2052.80£1818.80

In order to confirm my calculations (there’s daily and weekly PAYG capping I hadn’t taken into account), I decided to do a three month trial of using pay as you go (though obviously on contactless now, rather than having to top up an oyster card) until the end of April 2020. But then COVID and lockdowns came in, so my three month trial ended up becoming a one year trial. With an increased number of days working from home and less travel away from London, it should be clear that PAYG was going to win this year, but by how much? A couple of weeks ago I calculated my travel costs for 2020…

2020 Travelcard2020 PAYG
£2086.80£1354.30

With a £732.50 saving, PAYG was a clear winner for 2020. I imagine it will still be the best option for the rest of this year until things get back to normal again. I’ll review this again next January, but at the moment, I can’t see a travelcard being a sensible option for me, at least until I can make a lot more journeys.

Categories
Discussion

Travel 2020

Having returned to work after my week off, I took in some biscuits as is customary after being away. Normally this is some sort of local delicacy from where you’ve been away to, but in this case, as I had been at home all week, it was just something from the supermarket on the way into the office. Anyway, it started a conversation with a colleague about how no-one has really been away at all this year, and particularly not overseas.

Looking back through my calendar for 2020, I’ve surprisingly been away for around 33 nights, which at 10% of the year seems very high. But the majority of those were in three distinct chunks with a large proportion of those nights being work related, and about a third were staying with family or friends.

But none of those trips have been overseas, in fact I’ve not even left England this year. By my estimation, I should have travelled abroad 5 or 6 times this year, both for work and for fun. My travel has fluctuated over recent years, with a spike in 2015 and last year where I managed 5 trips abroad spending 45 days out of the country (although mostly for work). This is the first year in a long time where I’ve not been out of the country (I can’t remember what happened prior to 2013).

Number of days abroad (solid bars). Number of trips (line)

There’s still over a month of 2020 left, but it’s highly unlikely that I’ll be travelling abroad this year at all. Hopefully things will be back to normal for 2021…

Categories
Life event

Run Along

Towards the end of August, I felt like I was in a bit of a rut and wanted to do something different. Chatting to a friend, he had read about a challenge to run 5km every day in September and suggested we both do it. He obviously ended up not even starting the challenge, but I did. And I finished it. (And I roped in my two brothers too along the way.) Here’s my thoughts on it:

Variety – Even before I started I knew that I would want some variety – variety in when I ran, and variety in where I ran. In the end, this turned out to not be so much of a problem due to my changing work schedule over the month, including being away for two of the weeks.

Planning routes – The challenge was to run at least 5km per day. I was thinking of doing some significantly longer runs in there too, but in the end I decided against this. I generally aimed to have runs between 5.1 and 5.5km in length since the GPS sometimes cuts off bits so I wanted to make sure I definitely hit the 5km and target, but didn’t want to exceed it needlessly. Having decided I would do a different route each day, this meant a lot of time spent planning where to run. My ideal route would be a single loop, starting and ending at the same point. I reckon I spent about 1 minute of planning a route for every 5 minutes of actual running. This obviously depended on the route, but some routes were much more complex. I also needed to have backup sections that I could add on if I hadn’t reached the 5km target when I thought I would (which did happen a couple of times). Only twice did I do an “out-and-back” run when I ran for 2.5km and then turned around.

Distance – My total distance for the month was 156.77 km, which averages out at 5.23 km per day. My longest run was 5.66km whilst my shortest was 5.02km, but otherwise they mostly all fell into the 5.1-5.5km range.

Speed – My total running time for the month was 14 hours, 33 minutes and 10 seconds, with an average of 29 minutes and 6 seconds per run. But since the distances varied slightly, and the terrain and the routes varied every day it’s not possible to realistically compare them all. For example, one of the days I ran through a woodland at night time without a torch, so spent most of the run waving my arms in front of me to make sure I didn’t run into a tree. Knowing that I would have to run every day, I deliberately ran at a pace that was comfortable, rather than going full out (“marathon not a sprint”). Since none of my runs were races, there was also no incentive to actually run fast. My fastest run was one of the “out-and-backs” along a straight country road, which shows that turning corners and crossing other roads slows the pace down. My fastest run was on the final day, probably because I knew it was all over and I knew I didn’t have to run again the next day. [That’s what happens when you write a blog post with three days of activity left to do.]

Anyway, here’s it all plotted on a slightly complicated graph:

As can be seen, there’s not much of a trend across the month in terms of distance or time, other than a slightly above average length run is often followed by a slightly below average length run. The speed has also stayed fairly consistent across the month, although there is a potential increase towards the end of the month. This is probably because I knew what I was in for towards the end so I knew I could go a bit faster without having to pace myself for another 20-something days.

The hardest part wasn’t actually the running though. The hardest part wasn’t even finding the time to go for a run each day. The hardest part was probably actually having the motivation to go out running again each day. The weather was never particularly bad and the sunset/sunrise times were still reasonable, but it was sometimes a struggle to want to run again. Generally though, once I had started running it didn’t feel as bad.

Now that I’ve achieved this, am I pleased? Yes. Although I feel that I’m more pleased that I don’t have to run tomorrow. Was this the different thing in my life that I was looking for? Probably not, but it was fun to try. Will I do it again? No. Well, maybe. At least not until this is so far in the past that I’ve forgotten about how painful it was.

Categories
Money

Student loans

Somehow it’s been 10 years since I finished university. With this week’s news about the new student loan repayment tool, I thought I would write a post looking at my student loan repayment over this time (Disclaimer: I actually started writing this post weeks ago, it’s just fortuitous that it’s in the news at the same time).

I started university in 2006, the first year that the (then) new and ridiculously expensive tuition fees of £3000/year came in. For a four year course, this amounted to £12,000. I also received the maintenance loan at another £3000/year. In fact, each year was slightly higher than the previous year because of inflation, and on top of this, interest was added from day 1, so that by the time I graduated, I owed £26,823.07.

This doesn’t start getting paid back until the April after graduation, so when I did start paying it off, it had reached a total of £27,056.05.

The repayments are based on a percentage over a certain earning amount. As a recent graduate, my starting salary wasn’t especially high and so my first repayment in April 2011 was £52. And whilst I don’t have the exact figure, the loan gained approximately £35 in interest that month. This certainly wasn’t going to be quick to repay.

(Note: some years have interest added monthly (where known), whereas other years only have interest added annually, therefore the slight increases each April can be ignored from the trends)

Fast forward 9 and a bit years from when I started repaying and (as of today) I’m down to only owing £16,365.82. By my estimation that’s around 40% paid. At the current repayment amounts and interest rates I should be paid off in just under 7 and a half more years.

Having produced a graph of the amount owed over time, I was hoping it would highlight some really interesting trends but there’s not really much to say about it. For the first couple of years, the repayments were only slightly higher than the interest gained and so the total mostly flat-lined. Increased wages (most noticeable in early 2014) have caused the total to decrease quicker. There have been some drops (and rises) in the interest rate and in the earnings threshold too, but these have been relatively small and have had less impact on how quickly it’s paid off (possibly balanced out by salary inflation?). Without any major increases to my salary or the interest rate (both fairly unlikely), the downwards trend should continue at its current rate.

What does seem sure (at least at the moment) is that I’m not going to get to the 25 year point where any outstanding debt is written off. Come back in another 7 years and 4 months to see how things have gone.

Categories
Miscellaneous

Running along

After thinking about it for a long time, last week I finally got round to replacing my old running shoes (I had been waiting for shops to reopen, but I went online in the end).

In the fifteen months I had these shoes I ran just under 1200km*. That’s way, way over the recommendation of replacing running shoes after 500-800km. My usage averages out to about 2.3km per day. Obviously I didn’t run every day – some days I ran more and some days I didn’t run at all.

*I’m not sure this is quite right as there’s some activities which I wouldn’t have used these shoes for but are recorded with them. Conversely, not all my runs get recorded so it may balance out. Anyway, it still shows I went way over the recommended usage limits.

Distance (in km) against time

There’s a few interesting trends to pick out from this data:

  1. It’s possible to see where I had big races in my schedule. I ran half marathons (21km) in March 2019 (the Big Half), September 2019 (the Great North Run) and early March 2020 (the Big Half again). These all show as an increase in training over the proceeding weeks (more distance covered), a small step increase for the race and then a reduced mileage afterwards.
  2. I also ran a half marathon in August 2019 (the Thames Meander Half Marathon) which again shows as a small step increase, but this was part of my training for the Great North Run so doesn’t have it’s own associated training increase/decrease either side.
  3. I appear to have taken a fairly long break from running in March-April 2019. This was partly from resting after the previous race, but also mainly because I was out of the country. I had taken an older pair of shoes to save on weight (not because my older shoes were lighter, but because I could use them for non-running purposes too – something I wouldn’t do in my almost new shoes).
  4. I also ran less in December 2019-early January 2020. I had a cold/illness at this point (even if my family didn’t believe me) and I didn’t feel like running for most of the Christmas period.
  5. Since the most recent race at the beginning of March, and during the lockdown, there’s been a steady stream of runs, some slightly longer ones but balanced out by some extra rest days. Without any races planned, I guess that’s what my regular running pattern looks like (i.e. when not training for a race and not resting after one).

Anyway, after almost 1200km and four half marathons, it was definitely time for them to be replaced. Time to see how their replacements hold up…