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Category Archives: Self-Improvement

Budgeting Score – November


These next last few reports are going out fairly quickly, so not much pre-amble to go here:

Essentials Lifestyle Savings
Target score: 50% 30% 20%
Actual score: 55.2% 46.3% -1.5%

So things took a bit of a dive in November.  That can almost entirely be put down to a very large number of pet-related expenses (35% of my total budget in fact).  A good chunk of these were unavoidable vet bills, which while I have a piggybank to handle wasn’t enough for this month.  The rest though was new toys for a kitten we got this month.  I take some comfort in knowing that if this hasn’t been such a pet-centric month then it could have been a rousing success, but there’s no point dwelling too much on “could haves”.  Something else to take away is that if I’d done these reports on time I would’ve noticed how much the expensive the pets were starting to get.  More reason to make the effort do these on time for a change.

November’s final score:

0/10 – Too many kittens

Past scores:
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Posted by on January 3, 2015 in Budgeting, Self-Improvement

 

My single New Year’s resolution for 2015


I’ve had a few thoughts on what I could do for the upcoming year.  There’s some areas I could work on to improve my software development, a range of different household tasks I could learn to do to keep a better home, or I could finally get around to learning a new language.  I’ve already been trying to do those first 2 things for a few months, and that’s not something that’s going  to change in 2015, and I don’t really a resolution that’s just more of the same (learning a language is something I’d like to come back to though).  Instead what I’d like to do in 2015 is make a video game.

In the past I’ve tried to make a video game several times, both with friends and by myself, but for one reason or another they’ve slowly petered out and stopped.  I’d like to make 2015 the first year where that doesn’t happen, and get something put together which I’m happy with.  I will say that I’m not doing this with the intent to make any money from it.  I don’t plan on creating the next Minecraft, and while I’d hardly say no to $2 billion, I don’t expect to make a single penny from it.  This is purely for the joy of finally completing a game I set out to make, and to get enough experience doing if I ever do want to try this professionally.

So here’s how I’m planning on doing this.  There’s a number of things that I need to sort out before I can get started.  First off, I need a concept and a rough design for what this game will be.  In the past I’ve heard of plenty about design bibles, and Game Design Documents, and while they certainly have their merits when you’re working with large projects with a hundred people working on them, the idea of one person doing that reeks to me of the same Big Design Up Front and Waterfall methods in software development that are pretty outdated.  As I’m just a team of one, without any experience designing games it’s not only unnecessary, it’s also pretty wasteful.  I can easily imagine spending weeks designing features for later in the year, but by the time I get there I might realise it just doesn’t fit with the rest of the game that’s been built.  Skipping out on design entirely doesn’t seem sensible either though, so I’m going to take an iterative approach, which can be summed up along these lines.

  1. Analysis – Figure out what I want to do.
  2. Design – Work out how I’m going to do it.
  3. Implementation – Make it do it.
  4. Testing & Evaluation – Did it do what it meant to do?

I’ll be doing “sprints” of 2 weeks going through all these stages, although this number might change over time.  I’ll also be putting together a roadmap of sorts with a list of features I’d like to create, and any pre-requisites needed, but these will be only speculative for all but the current and next sprint.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t have hands-on experience with games design, so I need to do some research into game design theory, techniques and pitfalls.  Some of this I’ll be basing off my past experiences with games, trying to take Id software’s original approach and making a game that I’d like to play myself.  But there’s still a lot of things I just don’t know about.  Doing a little research around the area already, a good start will be reading through James Schell’s The Art of Games Design, which has recently had a new edition released.  After this I’ll be doing research on a case by case basis on any topics I feel unsure about.

I’ll also need to figure out how to use the all software involved in making this game.  For the most part this will involve learning how to use Unity, which seems to be the go-to choice for a lot of free and professional projects.  I’ll be working through courses on Digital Tutors, and filling in any gaps with various web articles and Youtube videos.  There will be other work involved though, like putting together some basic graphics to make the game playable.  I’m not much of a graphic artist, so I’ll need to do some research there to find out how to put together something that works well enough for now.  By the end I’ll have to see what I can do about improving them, but the focus for me is getting something that works first, then make it pretty afterwards.

I’ll be posting updates every few weeks or so, depending on how well that particular sprint has gone.  Most likely the first one will involve me learning to learn Unity and fleshing out the concept I have in mind.

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2015 in Gaming, Self-Improvement

 

Budgeting Score – October


These next last few reports are going out fairly quickly, so not much pre-amble to go here:

Essentials Lifestyle Savings
Target score: 50% 30% 20%
Actual score: 65.6% 24.9% 9.5%

Finally started to get back on track this month.  That can mostly be put down to actually looking at the state of my budget one week in, and realising how badly I was slipping.  Thankfully there weren’t any disasters this month so I was able to claw my way back into the positives.  I also managed to keep my takeaway/eating out spending to just £2 over my set budget, which is a personal best for me.  Most of the time that’s normally not where I’m going wrong, but it’s nice to hit one of my targets for a change.

What is noticeable though, is how much I’m spending on pets.  I guess you don’t realise the cost of vet bills, litter, new bedding, food, and just the occasional new toy, but this month it’s taking up a whopping 10% of my spending money.  This tells me I really need to get on top of figuring out how to cut some of these costs.  Some things like vet bills can’t really be compromised on, but with a bit of research I might be able to find somewhere to buy a similar quality of litter and food for a lower cost.  New toys are nice, but it’s so easy to dote that I think I need to take a step back and really consider whether they “need” a new toy, or if I’m just buying it to feel good about getting them something new.  Food for thought I guess.

October’s final score:

4/10 – Not great, but getting back on track

Past scores:
 
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Posted by on December 31, 2014 in Budgeting, Self-Improvement

 

Budgeting Score – September


As these posts are all going up with short gaps between, there’s not much pre-amble to go through.  So here’s the figures:

Essentials Lifestyle Savings
Target score: 50% 30% 20%
Actual score: 70.6% 30.5% -1.1%

Last month was pretty bad, but somehow I managed to make things worse.  The biggest event from this month was mine and my wife’s birthday, but while that made it more expensive than the typical month, it wasn’t responsible for making it as bad as it was.  In general I think the main cause was the same thing that’s been responsible for my bad months in the past, I stopped paying attention to my budget.  There’s definitely a theme here, and if I want to get my budgeting back on track and keep it there, then I’m going to need to make sure I’m always paying attention to what my bank balance is like and how much I have in each piggybank, even when other major events are going on around me.

Another problem if I’ve noticed from leaving my budgeting spreadsheets for too long is that it gets harder to figure out what some of the items on your bank statement are for.  For most of them it’s easy to thing out which budget group they belong to (food shopping, restaurants, etc) but a couple are a bit harder.  I’ve got one item that’s appeared twice in my statements from July through to October, and I’ve got idea what it’s for.  It’s got the town I live in as part of the name, so I know it’s somewhere local, but that’s as much as I can figure out.  Since it’s local I don’t think that it’s a result of someone stealing my details, but I’m going to have to keep a close eye on my account in the near future to see if I can figure it out.

September’s final score:

0/10 – Double Fail

Past scores:
 
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Posted by on November 26, 2014 in Budgeting, Self-Improvement

 

Budgeting score – August


As these posts are all going up with short gaps between, there’s not much pre-amble to go through.  So here’s the figures:

Essentials Lifestyle Savings
Target score: 50% 30% 20%
Actual score: 65.6% 33.2% 1.2%

Yeah, that’s looking pretty bad, especially compared to the success I had during the last couple of months.  As you’ll see in the upcoming posts, this is a trend that didn’t really go away until mid-October, which is when I finally got around to writing up these reports again.  Essentially what happened at the very start of August is I received some quite worrying news.  What the news was isn’t relevant any more, but what is important is what happened next.  As part of my reaction I spent some money on several things which seemed very important at the time, but I hadn’t budgeted for in any way.  At this point it seemed so important that I put my budget on the back-burner for a while so I could focus on this new task, which resulted in me not keeping an eye on my bank statement and not paying any attention at all to how much was left in my piggybanks.  In the end, I went back to my bad habits of spending almost every penny I earned.

Those things I bought ended up not being quite as important as they should have been, and while they weren’t bad purchases as such I didn’t approach them in the sort of rational mindset I should have done.  If I’d spent more time looking, I could have gotten some of these items for far less than I ended up paying for them.  One of these items was an exam with a fixed price that I couldn’t get cheaper anywhere, but did have a lot of studying that I hadn’t yet done, but I was determined to try to fit in while in the remaining time I had.  Unfortunately while you can make plans to study for X hours a day and cover a certain amount of material by certain dates, this doesn’t always work out.  In the end I came pretty close, but just fell short of the passing mark.  If I’d left this until I’d already studied a significant amount of the material I’d have had a more realistic idea of how long it would take and how ready I was, which would have ideally resulted in a passed exam, but could have also ended with me re-evaluating how likely I was to pass it and putting it off until a later date.  Definitely some hard lessons learnt here, and it’s unfortunate that they took my attention away from my budgeting to the point where it took me nearly 3 months before I started to get back on track.

August’s final score:

0/10 – Fail

Past scores:
 
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Posted by on November 19, 2014 in Budgeting, Self-Improvement

 

Budgeting score – July


This one’s going up ridiculously late.  It was mostly finished before August hit, but then some pretty big life events popped up at the very end of July, which took priority until late September.  At that point I had 2 months worth of budgeting spreadsheets to fill out, and 3 blog posts to write up, and so I pushed it back.  I eventually forced myself to get back on track with this in mid October, and now that I’ve sorted out the number crunching side of things I’m ready to get on with writing up the blog posts again.  I’m aiming for around 1 a week, which should let me all of them out before the end of the month.  So let’s start with July’s post:

Essentials Lifestyle Savings
Target score: 50% 30% 20%
Actual score: 63% 21.4% 15.6%

Slightly worse than last month, but not bad all things considered.  I only just climbed out of my overdraft though, so that’s one big milestone reached (hooray!).  Now begins the slow, hard process of continuing to stay out of it while I save up for a mortgage.

In my last post I mentioned that I’d talk a little about what I was going to do with my savings once I have them again, so let’s get into that.  Right now there seems to be 3 main options that are worth doing:

The first is a cash ISA, which offers slightly better interest rates than your standard savings account and doesn’t build up tax.  It’s not the best option, but barring the bank shutting down your money’s not at risk, and it’s easy enough to transfer money to and from without paying extra fees.

Secondly there’s the classic stocks and shares.  Over time these tend to have one of the highest rates of interest and are relatively stable, so long as we’re not hit by a recession…  If you’re handy enough with the numbers to do this yourself you can make a real killing, but for everyone else (like me) you can just put the money into a stocks and shares ISA.  The best bet here is to make sure you spread your money into a number of different options just in case, and even if you choose only low risk options you’ll still receive a higher interest rate than any other bank account out though.  They do carry some fees for investing and withdrawing your money, so it’s best to do this only for longterm savings.  If you take the ISA option it’s also tax free, which is another perk to consider.

The last option is relatively new and is called peer to peer lending.  Essentially you put your money into a pot to be loaned out to businesses and individuals, depending on who you choose to back with.  It sounds like a risky concept at a glance until you realise that this is exactly what happens with your money held in your bank account, you’re just not involved in the process unless it goes disastrously wrong.  Like the stocks and shares option, you can choose what level of risk you’re willing to take, but there’s far less fees involved.  Another difference is that your money’s not loaned out straight away, so if you suddenly drop a large amount of cash into this option you won’t start reaping the benefits until they find someone wanting to borrow that matches your preferences.  Right now this isn’t tax free, but as of next year you should be able to include any interest gained in your ISA.

Out of these options the stocks and shares seems to be the best long-term saving option, but the added costs doesn’t make it very worthwhile unless you’re investing a lot of money in it at a time.  Peer to peer lending sounds like a good alternative, but for now I’d like to take advantage of my ISA allowance.  So for the rest of this financial year I’m going to be putting money into my cash ISA, then when April starts closing in I’ll transfer it to either a stocks and shares ISA, or a peer to peer lending service depending on how it’s shaping up.

July’s final score:

7/10 – Not bad

Past scores:
 
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Posted by on November 4, 2014 in Budgeting, Self-Improvement

 

Budgeting Score – June


This one’s been finished relatively on time for a change.  Not much else to say at the moment so let’s jump to the results.

Essentials Lifestyle Savings
Target score: 50% 30% 20%
Actual score: 57.8% 24.5% 17.7%
As with last month, I’ve managed to keep my any lifestyle purchases under the 30% target, which was pretty nice.  But again it’s ended up being the Essentials that’s gone over-budget.  Nearly all of that is from the usual bills, food etc.  I’m not sure I can get it down much lower without cutting my costs right down by moving house, but I don’t plan on doing that again until I’m ready to buy.  I also managed to cut down the total cash withdrawn in half, and track what I was spending it on for all but 1%.  I think that’s as close to zero as I can reasonably manage, it’ll never hit exactly zero as there will always be cash withdrawn that wasn’t spent that month, or money spent that came from last month.  For the most part though it should balance out.
This is the closest I’ve gotten to hitting my 20% target for my savings this month, and if it wasn’t for a visit to the emergency vets I would’ve reached it with room to spare.  As I mentioned in my last post, my solution for this is to create an extra emergency piggy bank which I can put an amount of money into every month and use that for any big expensive tasks like pet operations, unexpected travel costs, or anything that would fit the bill of “emergency”.  A small amount extra going out each month won’t stop me from reaching my targets and it’ll cover me for those (ideally rare) times when I need to spend a lot of money in a hurry.
As I also expect to get out of my overdraft this month I’ve decided to give myself some money for buying the occasional nice thing like a new game or piece of tech which I’ve avoided so far this year.  Instead of just taking more money out of my main account I’m going to cut how much I’m putting into my “Big one offs” piggybank and put it into a brand new piggybank.  That way I can leave the Big one offs account for anything really big when it’s eventually needed.
The Open University budgeting course is going well.  I was hoping to have finished by this point, but I’m running a couple of weeks behind.  So far I’ve learnt a lot about difference aspects of saving, as well as what best to do with my savings once I have them, but I’ll still need to do some extra research into some of the areas once I’m ready to commit.  I did learn about a relatively recent concept called peer-to-peer lending which seems like a great idea in principle, but sounds like it has the potential to go very wrong one day.  Right now it’s shown itself to be pretty safe and there’s very few horror stories around it, so it looks like it “might” be a good investment option.  If I’ve learnt anything about finances so far though it’s never to rely on a single method for saving.  If I do get out of my overdraft then I’ll have to do something with the leftover money, as just leaving it in my main account will make it lose value just from inflation.  I’ll decide what exactly to do with it at the end of the month and talk about it in my next post.
Overall, this has been my best month yet, and barring any more emergencies it should only get better from this point on.
June’s final score:

8/10 – Pretty darn good

Past scores:
 
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Posted by on July 14, 2014 in Budgeting, Self-Improvement