Dry January: My Experience

Talking to a couple of my friends about their drinking habits and they only tend to drink at weekends. I asked them if they go out drinking during the week or have some drinks in the house.

They don’t.

Having to get up early, sort the kids out, take them to school and go to work themselves they find it’s just not worth it to drink during the week. They say I am lucky to be able to have a drink whenever I want.

I’m self-employed, I work from home, I’m single and I don’t have kids.

If I have a few drinks in an evening then I can roll out of bed at 8:50am and be at my desk for 9am. If I had one two many I can divert my calls to a call answering service and sleep in until gone 10am.

My friends think this is amazing.

I used to think it was.

It’s not.

My drinking habits have gradually and progressively got worse.

What started off as drinking a couple of cans while watching a film on a night in, progressed to drinking quite heavily several nights a week in-front of the TV.

It was a slow build-up and quite uneventful. Over time though, and the more I drank the more it started affecting other aspects of my life.

  • I lost the motivation to go to the gym
  • I was waking up later and later
  • I was eating more takeaways
  • I was putting on  weight
  • I was just trying to get through the working day, rather than being proactive and productive

I went through a phase where every night I would watch a motivating film (things like Rocky et al) and swear that I’d wake up early and go to the gym or for a run.

Instead I woke up late, with a hangover, craving something greasy for breakfast and dragged myself through the day, only to do it all again that night.

I never drank during the day, did anything stupid like drive for more beer or even left the oven on. It was all very tame and very slow to progress. That’s why I didn’t notice.

So, I decided to do Dry January.

I didn’t struggle, I didn’t have any kind of withdrawal, I didn’t crave alcohol and I didn’t count down the days until I could drink again.

  • I slept better
  • I lost weight
  • I found it easier to exercise
  • I found it easier to eat better
  • I started sweating less
  • My skin looks better
  • I read more books and watched less TV
  • I had much more time to do things
  • I was more productive at work
  • I was able to drive whenever I wanted

There were zero downsides for me doing Dry January.

I did have a little bit of a sugar craving for a few days where I ate brownies, cookies, Ben & Jerrys and a whole chocolate cake – but I still lost weight and still felt better than waking up with a hangover.

Some people who cut out drinking do so because they think they might be an alcoholic. Going into Dry January I did ask myself this.

After doing dry January I know I am not. I think I got into a very bad habit and I think it did me a lot of harm but I know I am not addicted.

Since doing Dry January I have drank once. It was my birthday and I went for a night out with a friend. I enjoyed it, I didn’t drink to excess (I was drunk but he was much more drunk than me) and I haven’t fancied a drink since.

Drinking during the week, or in-front of the TV (mindless drinking) isn’t something I will ever do again. There are no positives at all to doing it for me.

I think if you want to improve your life, improve your health, fitness, career or finances then the first place you should look to do so is by cutting down on your alcohol consumption.

Also I saved a ton of money, around £300.

Not With A Bang, But With A Whimper

When people say they hit rock bottom you tend to think of a colossal, terrible, one-off event. They drink-drive and kill someone, they have their home repossessed and are left homeless, their Wife finds out about an affair and takes the kids. There’s a continuous build-up followed by a cataclysmic event – or so I thought

I have hit rock bottom.

There has been no terrible one-off finale, no-one was injured and it’s all rather mundane. I’m sure many people before me have suffered much more life-changing rock bottoms, but this is mine and it’s the turning point for me.

Over the last 5 years:

My health and fitness has deteriorated. I drink too much, eat too many takeaways, don’t workout and have put on weight. I’m not happy with my appearance, how clothes fit, how my skin looks or how I feel in general.

My business has deteriorated. I started it 10 years ago and it has been in steady decline since. More competition, dying market, not something I can or want to improve on. I’ve halfheartedly tried other projects for years but more as a ‘showing face’ exercise. I’ve not had the motivation.

My happiness is at an all-time low. I moved to a new City 5 years ago. There should have been lots of new experiences and people but when you’re overweight and your business is dying it’s hard to find the energy.

My rock bottom has come from every aspect of my life getting worse and worse, the false-starts in improving it adding to the overall feelings of being useless.

I’m just tired, worn out and bored of having felt like this for so long.

Imagine on a Sunday when you tell yourself that the new diet starts tomorrow. And then fast-forward to the following Sunday when you realise that you didn’t diet at all, infact you ate terribly all week and put on another kilo.

Now imagine over time things have also gotten worse in other areas so you also start to tell yourself you’ll go to the gym, then start a new business, stop getting drunk midweek, stop eating takeaways 4 nights a weeks. And the next Sunday you’ve not done any of it.

This is how I have felt for the last 5 years, each week feeling worse and worse. A week goes by and not only have I not dieted, I have put on weight, not only have I not started a new business but my current revenue has fallen again, not only have I not stopped eating takeaways but I’ve had dessert too.

I’ve started this blog to document my turnaround and help me see my progress in getting my life back on track.

I Have A Real Problem – I Keep Buying Stuff

I know this problem sounds quite silly, and I know there is is no REAL reason for me to repeatedly keep doing it – but I do, and I have done for years.

I keep, continuously, buying things. Not like food and toilet paper, or weekly necessities, but things I DO NOT need.

I want them, I talk myself into why I NEED them and then I buy them. Then they sit unused while I talk myself into the next purchase.

Let me give you some of the MANY, MANY examples.

My desk. I used to have a nice large desk from IKEA. It was a nice height, nice length, quite deep but not a problem. There was absolutely nothing wrong with it.

Me: “Oooh, those standing desks look useful, great for being more productive, sitting down is so bad for you.”

£500+ later and I have a motorised standing desk + new worktop. I have had if for 4 years now. I can literally count on one hand how many times I have stood at that desk.

My HiFi amplifier was around 10 years old. My cat used to sleep on it, it’s been used lots and the CD input crackled sometimes. If I moved the input to a different channel everything was fine again.

Me: “But you’ve had it ages, maybe there are more things wrong with it. Maybe it sounds really bad now, maybe a new one will sound much better and revitalise your interest in music.”

I bought anew £250 amplifier. I’ve had it 3 weeks and it hasn’t been on in the last week at all.”

Every time I decide to start running or re-attend the gym I decide a new outfit will give me the jumpstart I need. “Oh, but everyone does that” I hear you cry. Nope, if I’m going to start exercising three times a week I best buy three outfits – don’t want to be going in the same sweaty clothes each time.

I’ve done a clearout this week of my kitchen – in the pile of things I don’t want there is: A toaster, an Instant-Pot, a Kettle, a Coffee Machine plus various other bits and pieces such as a motherboard, RAM a power supply. There is over £400 worth of ‘stuff’ that I have bought in the last 12 months.

I’ve written this post because I have literally just spent 2 hours straight looking for a piece of furniture to put my TV and HiFi on in my bedroom. I don’t need more furniture, I don’t need to move my HiFi, I don’t need to spend £200 to £300.

Before Christmas I got obsessed with YouTube. You don’t want to know how much I spent on a camera, lenses, microphones, webcams, lighting – have I got a video on YouTube yet. Nope.

I seem to be able to convince myself that certain ‘things’ are going to help me become more productive. I never talk myself into buying a dress shirt or new shoes, I talk myself into new gym clothes because it will improve my health, YouTube equipment because it will improve my business, cooking equipment so I can batch cook healthy meals, a coffee machine so I don’t have to spend 30 minutes getting a Costa (more time at work).

It really is a bizarre thing. I’m not sure if it’s just habit, me being a marketer’s wet dream, or something more deeply ingrained.

I really need to my spending under control. I’m not talking £3 coffees or buying a sandwich from a deli – I’m talking about spending literally hundreds of pounds on things that I thing will help productivity. Instead I just need to go to the gym more and work more.

I’m going to start keeping a spending diary – hopefully the daily ritual will keep it at the forefront of my mind.

My Loan Got Approved And I’ve Already Spent It

My loan took a couple of days to approve, then they had to send out he agreement which I had to sign and return so it’s taken 3 or so days but yesterday I received the money in my account.

An extra £10,000 certainly made my bank account look healthier so I knew I needed to get rid of it as soon as possible.

I completely paid off my Barclaycard and paid the rest into my American Express account. I’ll have to check back next month though and see what interest I have accrued on my Barclaycard and be
sure to pay that off too.

So, my stats for today are:

Halifax Credit Card: £7095 – Interest Free Until Nov ’18 – £70 Minimum Payment
American Express: £1261 – 20%ish Interest – Was £98 Min payment but should be around half that now
Santander Loan: £12480 inc. Interest. £260pcm over 48m
Total Debt: £20,836

The amount I pay each month hasn’t reduced dramatically but I’m actually paying back the capital now, whereas with my Barclaycard it wasn’t even making a dent in reducing the balance each
month. So from the figures, after taking out my loan it looks like my debt amount has increased by £2.4k, but in reality my £8,600 Barclaycard debt was actually a lot higher. If I would have
paid it back at £260pcm (what my loan repayment is) it would have taken far, far longer than 48 months to repay. (n.b When I next have some free time on my PC I’ll have a look and see if I can
calculate how long it would take to pay off and how much more expensive it would be over my loan.)

I know taking out loans to pay back credit cards is frowned upon by a lot of people, instead choosing to ‘snowball’ their debt and not take out more debt but taking out a consolidation loan
has certainly made me feel like I’ve taken a step in the right direction and has also focused my attention on making a conscious effort to get my remaining credit cards paid off.

I’m going to focus on my remaining American Express balance now as it’s only small (well, the smallest of what I have) and it shouldn’t take too long to pay off. The mental benefit of having
one less credit card will help too.

The interest-free period expires on my Halifax card in November. I was initially thinking, when shopping for my loan, that I’d next have to shop around for Balance Transfer Deals and try and
move it onto another interest-free card, but, I think it would be a good challenge to try and get both that card and my Amex paid off before then. I actually transferred my balance on 18th
November 2016 on a 24 month deal, so that means I have 10 months from today before the interest-free period expires.

So, the challenge is to pay off my remaining £8,356 in 10 months, on-top of the £2600 I’ll pay back during that time on my new loan.

According to all the popular blogs and forums I should now start selling all of my possessions on eBay, buy toilet paper in 24-packs, shop at 3 different supermarkets, meal-plan and batch-cook,
drop a brand, fill out surveys until my fingers bleed, become a mystery shopper, turn into a ‘womble’ and start looking for pennies on the floor and looking for dropped receipts in
supermarkets to claim loyalty card points from. Oh, also I shouldn’t be buying Lattes any more.

Wish me luck!

My Credit Card Debt Is Actually £18,355.93 not £17,000

At the start of the year I made an estimate of how much I had on my credit cards (guessing is easier than actually logging in and looking, right?), I guessed £17,000.

Yesterday I logged in to my three credit card accounts and got the actual amounts, which add together to the grand total of £18,355.93.

American Express = £2662.66 (Minimum payment £75)

Barclaycard = £8598.10 (Minimum payment £210)

Halifax = £7095.17 (Minimum payment £75 – Interest free until Sep/Oct 2018)

Now I don’t know exactly what the interest rates are for Amex and Barclaycard are but every time I paid £250 to Barclaycard it reduced my balance by around £50 – so it must be high.

£400 in monthly payments!

Paying it back!

Now I know a lot of ‘financial advice’ suggests snowballing your credit cards, paying back the highest interest one first and consolidation loans are largely frowned upon – but that’s the route I’ve decided to go.

I’m not focusing on my Halifax card for the moment as that is interest free for the next nine months – I’m focusing on the other two.

I applied for a loan with my bank two days ago and got confirmation today that I have been accepted and the money will be in my account tomorrow.

The loan is for £10,000, over 4 years and costs £260pcm. I will use this to completely pay off my Barclaycard loan and part of my Amex, which will then leave me with a balance of around £1126. As I will not have to start paying back my loan for another month I can put the £210 ‘budgeted’ Barclaycard amount and make a payment of £300 which will bring me below £1000 for that card. That is the card that I can then focus on paying off soonest.

The loan won’t bring down my monthly payments significantly, but it will mean I am actually making a dent into paying back the money, rather than just keep paying interest ad infinitum.

I actually feel much better knowing exactly how much I owe and having a plan in place to start sorting it out.

What I will be certain to make sure of is that as soon as I pay off my Barclaycard I will cancel it, don’t want to give in to putting any more on it at such a high interest rate.

I’m Not Where I Expected To Be

Next month I am 35. By this age I feel I am expected to be married, have a mortgage, have children or the possibility of some on the way, have a career and stable job, Have a good income,
savings, a pension and pretty much have my life sorted out.

Erm, nope.

I am single, I have recently split up with my Girlfriend of five years, I rent a crappy terraced house for £700pcm and have done for the last five years, I am self-employed and work from home,
I have no pension, my savings have dwindled to zero and I am now in debt to the tune of £17,000.

This is not what I expected my life to be like at 35.

Where did it all go wrong?

I keep asking myself this and at the moment I don’t really have an answer. I think one of the main mistakes I made was not jumping ship earlier from my chosen business. I could see it was a less
and less popular product I was selling, but instead of biting the bullet and saying “enough is enough, I’m going to do something else” I just half-arsed things during the bad weeks and then thought “well
things aren’t too bad” during the good weeks. Unfortunately over time the good weeks have become less and less good, and less and less frequent.

Also, over the last five years my Girlfriend was very ill. I’m not going to go into too much detail but it was Cancer-related and involved numerous operations and treatments over the course of
four years. When the person you love is too ill to get out of bed, is constantly feeling sick and tired and has multiple hospital appointments every week it’s very hard to think about other
things. It saps all your energy and it takes everything you have just to gt though each day – thinking about new business ideas and being motivated enough to start them isn’t even a possibility.

This isn’t a sympathy post, it’s mainly me tying to work out in my head why things have gone downhill for so long without me picking up on them and doing something about it.

It’s the start of a New Year, my Girlfriend (recently-ex although we’re still good friends) is on the mend and I’m feeling positive about making a start on improving my life – it’s been going
downhill for far too long.

So, at the age of (nearly) 35, here are my vital statistics:

  • I am single
  • I have no children and my cat died in April
  • I have no savings (five years ago I had £20k saved)
  • I have no pension
  • I am £17,000 in credit card debt
  • My business consistently makes less and less money
  • I live in a ‘seen better days’ rented terraced house at £700pcm and have done for the last 5 years
  • Up until recently I have been drinking around 50-80 units of alcohol a week, every week
  • The heaviest I have weighed in the last month is 107Kg
  • In 2017 I spent £975 on Just-Eat – just for me
  • I have had a gym membership since December 2013 and have probably been 50 times total

So just looking at the above it’s pretty easier to read the story of my life. Things got difficult and instead of responding to it positively I drank more, ate takeaways, stopped going to the
gym, worked through my savings and eventually went into debt.

In hindsight and with it all laid out in front of me it’s easy to see the, gradual decline, savings being spent before debt being built up but there was no lightbulb moment, there was no one
point where I said “enough is enough, I need to do something about this”.

Although it has taken a long time I think this is it. Time to assess the damage, create a plan to turn things around and get working on that plan.

I am actually quite excited about it. It’s daunting to be so open about things but that’s just on of the benefits of anonymity on the internet – no-one should find out.

I’m going to post to this blog regularly with my thoughts and progress to keep me motivated in hopefully turning things right around.